• Walter

Creative Midrash: Noah and Animals

Midrash is a body of Jewish literature from late antiquity, and a method of reading sacred text. It combines close reading with far-ranging imagination to create law and stories. Biblical narratives are retold, and non-narrative passages are explained through parables.

The Genesis 6:21 (King James Version, KJV) is what I consider one of the earliest signs toward the rights of animals.

And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them.” (Gen. 6:21)

Midrash on Noah: The Preservation of Species

1. And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten : R. Jonah said: What did it mean for Noah to have to gather food for all the creatures in the world? R. Levi quoted: And Noah found grace in in the eyes of the Lord (Gen. 6:8): He trusted the Lord and he knew which animal was to be. R. Simon interpreted the text And take [thou unto thee] for you of all the food that is eaten : He took pressed figs with him;[1] he took in branches for the elephants, for the deer, and for the ostriches, vine shoots for the vine plantings, fig saplings for fig trees, and olive saplings for olive trees.

2. ... it shall be for food for thee, and for them : R. Samuel said: this meant something that is [equally] for you and for them. More so, means you are the principal and they are secondary because it says, gather it to thee , and people do not store up anything unless they need it [for themselves].[2] R. Jeremiah said: It is written that He giveth to the beast his food (Psalms 147:9) : meaning, he followed God’s command to save and preserve what He created, as it is stated, for he commanded, and they were created (Psalms 148:5).

On Taking Care of the Animals

The following explores the difficulties Noah faced.[3]

1. And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them , R. Judah said: What was it like in the ark? How were the animals set up?

R. Johanan said: It was God who brought the animals to Noah according to the flood story, they came to the ark on their own (Gen. 7:9), but only Noah could gather or instruct about all the food that was necessary for both, their time in the ark, and the time when they would leave.[4] Another interpretation is linked to Noah’s knowledge and being called perfect in his generations (Gen. 6:9) as it took tremendous skill and knowledge about each animal for Noah to be able fulfill this task.[5] After all, Noah's knowledge about the needs of the other species is itself a sign of his close relationship to God and a consequence of his mission.

R. Judah interpreted the text as it is written, for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation (Gen. 7:1).

R. Samuel b. Ammi said: The task could only be done by Noah because he was “perfect”, as it is written, A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast (Proverbs 12:10), meaning requiring an extraordinary amount of labour and knowledge.[6] In either case, Noah carried an extraordinary knowledge in order to undertake the task of feeding all the animals that were with him.

[1] This particular fruit was very common in the region. [2] This is where Animal Protection shines: once we accept the obligation to protect other species, there are many difficult tasks and choices that arise. Noah and his family had to neglect their own needs in order to take care of all the animals on the ark.

[3] The twelve months that Noah was in the ark included difficulties such as the responsibility for feeding the animals. How often the animals were fed, was that only every second day/night, or what animals were chosen to be fed first based on size.

[4] From an ecological perspective, it was necessary for Noah to do both things in order to succeed in his mission. [5] It is common knowledge that Noah, as most men in the region, was a farmer and as such, full skilled in the field. [6] In our own experience, sometimes protecting other species can hurt people economically or require them to make other sacrifices. We also face difficult choices when there are conflicts between human needs and actions, we need to take to protect other creatures. Only by careful observation was Noah able to fulfill his task.


© 2020 by Walter Luzzi