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by Mordecai Kornfeld
of Har Nof, Jerusalem
Founder of the Dafyomi Advancement Forum

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Parashat Noach 5757


In the 600th year of Noach's life, in the second month on the 17th day of the month all the fountains of the deep burst forth and the windows of the heavens were opened to let forth rain upon the earth for forty days and forty nights. (Bereishit 7:11-12) The day of the year which marked the start of the Great Flood seems to be entirely random. What made the 17th day of the second month such a fateful day? A friend of mine, Harav Chagai Preschel (presently at the Tikvat Ameinu High School in Moscow) offered the following explanation.


Rebbi Eliezer (Rosh Hashanah 11b) informs us that the "second month" of the verse quoted above is Cheshvan, which is the second month counting from Tishrei -- the month during which Hashem created the world. On the previous first of Tishrei (Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment) Hashem deemed the world to be unworthy and decreed upon it the Great Flood (Rosh Hashanah 12a). When the city of Ninveh was to be punished Hashem granted them a 40 day reprieve, giving them one last chance to repent and change their evil ways (Yonah 3:4). This is the way of Hashem; even after He decides to eradicate a city or nation as punishment for its sinful ways, He still allows them an extra 40-day opportunity to repent. When the Jewish People sinned by serving the Golden Calf (Shemot 32), Hashem did not wipe them out immediately, as had been decreed. Rather, He gave them 40 days to repent during which Moshe prayed to Hashem, Who accepted his prayers and forgave the Jewish People (Rashi, Devarim 9:10). Before bringing the Great Flood as well, Hashem gave the world 40 days to repent. But 40 days after 1 Tishrei only brings us to 10 Cheshvan -- why did the Flood begin only seven days later, on 17 Cheshvan? Rashi provides us with the last piece of this puzzle: "In another *seven days* I will bring rain upon the earth..." (Bereishit 7:4) -- the seven days mentioned here were the days of mourning that followed the passing of the righteous Metushelach (Methuselah). In order to allow people to pay their respects to Metushelach, Hashem delayed the Flood for seven days. (Rashi Bereishit 7:4, from Sanhedrin 108a) On 17 Cheshvan, exactly seven days after 10 Cheshvan, the Great Flood began!



Rav Preschel's suggestion is indeed eye-opening. Unfortunately, however, Rebbi Eliezer's opinion that the Great Flood started in Cheshvan is not agreed upon by all. According to Rebbi Yehoshua, the "second month" of the verse, during which the Flood started, was *Iyar*! As the Gemara tells us:

Rebbi Eliezer said: The world was created in the month of Tishrei... Rebbi Yehoshua said: The world was created in the month of Nissan...

Consequently the two differed as to when the Great Flood took place. Rebbi Yehoshua maintained that the rain started on the 17th of Iyar... while Rebbi Eliezer said that it began on the 17th of Cheshvan. (Rosh Hashanah 11a, 11b)

There remains a controversy among the early commentators whether we accept the opinion of Rebbi Eliezer or Rebbi Yehoshua (See Rashi, Tosafot and Ritva to Rosh Hashanah 8b, 12a, 27a; Parasha-Page Noach 5756). Is there any way to explain why the Flood began specifically on 17 Iyar according to Rebbi Yehoshua?

In a Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 29:1), Rebbi Eliezer tells us why 1 Tishrei is the yearly Day of Judgment. The first man was created on 1 Tishrei. He sinned, was judged and was granted life despite his sin on that same day. Hashem chose to judge mankind on 1 Tishrei every year as an omen that they too will merit atonement and be granted life on that day.

As the Ran (14th cent. Spain) points out (Rosh Hashanah 16a), this only accounts for the opinion of Rebbi Eliezer. Why should the Day of Judgment be on 1 Tishrei according to Rebbi Yehoshua, who is of the opinion that man was created in the beginning of Nissan? (See Parasha-Page Rosh Hashanah 5756). We may suggest a novel approach to this question.

The Torah tells us that although Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the New Year, when it comes to numbering the months Nissan is month #1 (that is, the New Year begins with month #7!). We count our months from Nissan in order to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt which took place in Nissan (Shemot 12:2 and Rashi). Radak (13th cent. Spain) to I Kings 8:2, Ritva (14th cent. Spain) to Rosh Hashanah 11b and others point out that it seems clear from the verse in Shemot 12:2 that *until* the Exodus, Tishrei not only marked the beginning of the *year*, but it was also labeled "month #1" in the order of the months. Nissan was granted its special status only after the Exodus, in order to commemorate that event.

This is all, however, only according to the opinion of Rebbi Eliezer. Since Rebbi Eliezer held that the world was created in Tishrei, there was no reason for Nissan to be the first of months before the Exodus. According to Rebbi Yehoshua, however, the world was created in Nissan. Shouldn't Nissan have been considered the first of months, then, from the beginning of time?

The answer to this question is perhaps that before the Exodus, Nissan *was* indeed both the first of months and the beginning of the year according to Rebbi Yehoshua. What changed at the Exodus was that the beginning of the *year* -- not the beginning of the month-count -- was shifted. In order to make Nissan a unique month for the Jewish People (who left Egypt in Nissan) and for them alone, appointed Tishrei (the month of the autumnal equinox rather than the vernal equinox) as the beginning of the year for all of mankind! The curious situation whereby we celebrate the New Year and its accompanying Day of Judgment in Tishrei while counting our months from Nissan, makes it clear that Nissan does not derive its elevated status simply out of chronological precedence.

In Rebbi Yehoshua's opinion, before the Exodus *Nissan* was the beginning of the year, the time for judgment and the beginning of the month-count only *after* the Exodus did 1 Tishrei become the beginning of the new year and the Day of Judgment.

We can now apply Rabbi Preschel's formula to Rebbi Yehoshua's opinion just as simply as we applied it to Rebbi Eliezer's opinion (in section II). The Great Flood started exactly 47 days after 1 Nissan, according to Rebbi Yehoshua, because that was the Day of Judgment during the era that preceded that Egyptian Exodus!

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