Where did they put the phoenix on Noah’s Ark? That’s the question you had while reading again Parashat Noah, right? Where did the imaginary animals fit in? Or what about those too big to hitch a ride, like the wild ox? And how on earth did Noah keep all of those animals from responding to their, well, instincts to create other animals while in the tight confines of the Ark?
The great rabbinic sages of our tradition spent a surprising amount of time answering these questions.
Animals overeager to perpetuate their DNA were only allowed on with their pre-existing mates:
Talmud Sanhedrin 108b: “Of every clean animal you shall take seven pairs, males and their wives [OT:$i):w $yi)]” (Genesis 7:2). Is there marriage between animals? Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani says that Rabbi Yonatan says: The reference is to those animals with which the transgression of relations with another species was not performed. Therefore, the Torah underscores that the animals that entered the ark were husband and wife.
Animals that were too big either boarded when they were pups, or were tied up to run or swim behind the boat:
Genesis Rabbah 31:13: The wild ox did not enter the ark, but his whelps did. Rabbi Nehemiah said: Neither he nor his whelps, but Noah tied them to the ark and they ran behind.
And the phoenix? About the phoenix is the best story of all:
Talmud Sanhedrin 108b: With regard to the phoenix, my father found it lying in its compartment on the side of the ark. He said to the bird: Do you not want food? The bird said to him: I saw that you were busy, and I said I would not trouble you. Noah replied to the bird: May it be God’s will that you shall not die and the blessing was realized.
What are we to make of these tales, other than a rabbinic rejoinder to their Jewish mothers? If our tradition is willing to take such great care with the fantastic and the seemingly superfluous, how much the more so with important matters!
Join us next Saturday morning for Torah Study at 9:00am in the WRJ Room.