Bible studies with Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary (also spelled Abarbanel) has withstood the test of
time. For over five centuries, Abravanel has delighted – and enlightened – clergy and layman alike,
offering enduring interpretations of the Bible. In Genesis chapter 7, the Bible details and describes the flood that wiped clean an
entire planet, after repeated Heavenly warnings fell on deaf ears.
“And the flood was forty days upon the earth. And the waters increased,
and lifted up the ark. And it was carried above the earth. And the waters
prevailed, and increased greatly upon the earth. And the ark went upon
the face of the waters.”
In the chapter that conveys how Heaven unleashed the great flood, Abravanel notes the redundancies.
Multiple verses appear to go over the same material – “increasing waters” and “prevailing waters” etc.
He asks: Wouldn’t it suffice to write of these things once?
Abravanel introduces his answer after he wryly remarks that other Biblical commentators attempt, in
vain, to get the right read. They fail to adequately explain the reason why the verses repeat key terms
pertaining to the flood. The best these commentators could come up was literary license and emphasis.
Namely, increasing and prevailing waters claimed the lives of every single inhabitant of the world, the
lone exceptions being the passengers on Noah’s ark.
Bible 101 presumes this: Holy Writ does not waste words. No verbiage. Each word, each letter serves a
purpose. Indeed, they impart divine knowledge. Working with that assumption, Abravanel provides a
rationale for the seeming redundancy of this chapter’s description of increasing and prevailing waters. In
addition, Abravanel explains why the Bible seems to repeat itself when the chapter turns to outlining
“And all flesh perished that moved upon the earth, both fowl, and cattle…and every man. He blotted out
every living substance…and they were blotted out from the earth. And only Noah was left, and they who
were with him in the ark.”
Abravanel spells things out. God’s flood obliterated the planet. The Creator desired to give the world a
thorough scrubbing from its moral turpitude and stench. Earth was sorely needful of a redo. Water
would do the job. “Living substance” in the verse above does not narrowly refer to living beings. Instead,
it takes on a broader scope. Specifically, according to Abravanel, “living substance” takes into account
nature at large, including majestic and mighty trees, vast forests and jungles.
“Living substance” means more. It refers to urban and societal accessories, institutions, and
achievements. They all came crumbling down, the sprawling palaces, neighborhoods, and cities.
Needless to say, even the more modest and makeshift structures like cattle sheds and nests made of
sticks met their end, no differently than “impenetrable” city walls and “impregnable” defense systems.
In a word, whatever had any association whatsoever with the “living” melted away, vanished in flood
When the deluge receded, not a trace of life stood in its former place. As the Talmudic sages taught:
Even household implements like mortar and pestle disappeared, gone for good. “He blotted out every
living substance…and they were blotted out from the earth. And only Noah was left, and they who were
with him in the ark.”
In sum, Abravanel teaches how our chapter alludes to the annihilation of a world gone awry. God had,
after dispatching Noah to warn people, resolved to vanquish His creation. From its most intricate and
majestic forms to its most jejune and rudimentary parts – all were swept away in a maelstrom. Each
verse lent additional information, and imagery, about the utter ruin to befall an expendable world.
Based onAbravanel’s World of Torah, by Zev Bar Eitan