After the Mabul (flood), Noach left the ark and brought several sacrifices to give thanks to Hashem for saving him, his family, and in fact, the entire world. The Torah tells us that Hashem then promised that the world order would never again be disturbed, and that each of the four seasons will follow one after the other, forever.
An Orderly Four Seasons
It is well known that each and every season is important to the world’s existence, with each season repeated in its own correct order. For example, autumn comes after summer when the earth has been depleted of its nutrients. The falling leaves, dying plants, insects, and animals all provide abundant nutrients to replenish the earth. This bounty is in addition to the outstanding beauty of the season. People travel from far and wide—in particular to New England and southern Canada—to see the trees: a breathtaking display of nature as it occurs only in season.
When winter blows in, the earth seems to sleep. Some animals hibernate and much of the earth lies fallow. At the same time, under blankets of snow, a great deal of unseen activity is taking place. Earthworms, insects, and bacterium are hard at work, breaking down dead foliage and fauna, preparing the earth for the coming season, spring.
With spring, the earth awakens from its slumber to “spring” into action. Now the world is like a Garden of Eden in full bloom, the favorite season of many. But only when summer comes around do the crops fully ripen and the outdoor playgrounds fill with children once again.
We can see that each and every season has its own unique properties and advantages. Every season does its part to provide the earth and its inhabitants with all that they need to exist. This being the case, a question is asked: How did the world manage to function in the time before the mabul, when there were no seasons to help things along?
In Rashi’s explanation of the verse“I am about to destroy them with the earth,” we find one key to the answer.
Rashi explains that due to the mabul, three tefochim (about 20 cm.) of topsoil eroded. In geological terms this is a calamity of the greatest magnitude—that is when we take into account that the entire depth of fertile topsoil is only a few meters deep.
We therefore understand that the earth emerged much weaker after the mabul than it was before. But in the healthier pre-Mabul era, the earth was fertile enough to handle continuous farming, to being cultivated all the time, year after year. The position of the sun and the pattern of the rains also differed from how they are today, as will be explained further on. These natural phenomena aided the growth of the crops, preserving the power and effectiveness of the earth. There were also plants specific to that time that were capable of replenishing the earth in a healthier way.
The Sforno gives an elaborate scientific approach of the post-mabul world versus the pre-mabul prototype. According to the Sforno, before the mabul, the world had one season all year round. The sun was running a single course—one 12-month spring. But the Sforno states that the mantle of the earth was so fertile that it provided all the nutrients necessary for a healthy life. Therefore, the world was able to function properly without the refreshing period that our present-day winter provides.
The Sforno then goes on to explain that before the mabul, all the iron and protein necessary for life came from the earth. Only after the earth was partially destroyed did Hashem allow animal consumption to supplement the deficit. At the same time, the earth was tilted on its axis, which brought about drastic geological changes.
It is well known to science that great parts of what is now glacier and permafrost was once inhabited by animals used to a more temperate climate. Huge mammoths have since been dug up from under the ice with buttercups in their stomachs, indicating a sudden, extreme change in conditions at some point in time. (When thawed, the meat of these mammoths was still so fresh that it was fed to the sledge dogs!)
The Zohar Chodosh tells us that at the time of Creation the world was comprised of a single continent. It is interesting to note that Eretz Yisroel—the Land of Israel was very much at the epicenter of this original world map. One might infer from this that the earth split up into parts at a later time. Even more intriguing is the mention of seven continents here, in a time long before the civilized world knew of the Americas.
This splitting of the world into seven continents may be what is meant by “the great deep burst open” נבקעו תהום רבה. From Rashi we learn that the meaning of ויסכרו מעינות “And the fountains were stopped up” refers to the fact that the mabul caused most of the hot springs to close. According to Rashi, however, Hashem left חמי טבריה—the hot springs of Tiberias open. The Tiberias hot springs is what Chazal—our sages of blessed memory could point to because they existed within their vicinity: they knew about them. But the truth is that everywhere there are volcanoes and earthquakes, such as in the Ring of Fire, there are many hot springs, such as those found in Iceland and in California. These phenomena are due to the location of the faults that lie between the earth’s tectonic plates.
To us, the natural events described by our sages and commentators seem outlandish, but there is much scientific evidence to back these accounts. For instance, we can easily see the how the coastlines of Africa and South America match up as if two pieces of the same puzzle, suggesting a split between the two continents at some time in the ancient past. Fossils on both continents bear a striking similarity, and offer more evidence that the two were once one. Even more compelling is the makeup of the soil that supports similar fauna and flora are similar.
The Main Achievement of the Mabul
In addition, in cosmic terms, the Gemara—Talmud in Brochos 58b tells us of great changes taking place in the Heavenly Bodies at the time of the mabul. All in all, we see that huge upheavals were happening at that time. We understand from this that Hashem was trying to teach us a lesson of great proportions.
The main achievement of the mabul was to teach us that adverse behavior has consequences: When we behave badly, we are punished. That lesson has left an indelible mark on mankind. We know this because of the large body of ancient folklore that tells of a man saved from a deluge of water. The story of a massive flood appears on painted objects and cave wall paintings, shared even by the people of nations and places where the Torah was unknown for hundreds of years.
But perhaps the most important lesson of the mabul is that Hashem always conducts His world with the utmost chessed—loving-kindness. He did so before the mabul and continues to do so until the present day. Even when changes must be made to put us on the right track, the result is and was always the same: a world built on loving-kindness. To see and appreciate that kindness is our greatest task.
Submitted by Rabbi Gavriel Lamm