Someone was recently looking at my post titled On Kids and the Museum of Natural History and asked some questions. I felt it would be better to answer them in another post, rather than in the comments section of a post that is two months old.
My anonymous commentator asked:
Its been a while since I checked in on this blog...Doesn't the Torah state that there was a worldwide Mabul. One that covered everything...one that (l'havdil!)was Kevin Costner Waterworld like (despite the fact that Noach didn't get any awards for his role either)??How far is Ararat from Eretz Yisrael (pardon my obvious lack of geographical knowledge); and, if it wasn't worldwide, wouldn't some things have survived?? If areas weren't destroyed and other animals survived, what is the big deal over Noach saving the animals in the Ark and being "rewarded" with the permission to eat meat after the Mabul?
Now, I certainly don't claim to have all the answers. Heck, if I did, I'd be a famous Rav. But I can offer my own perspective on the questions asked.
The first question asked was:
Doesn't the Torah state that there was a worldwide Mabul. One that covered everything...one that (l'havdil!)was Kevin Costner Waterworld like
My response to that is:
When the Torah says "the entire earth," it does not necessarily have to refer to the entire planet. For example, while bringing the plagues on Egypt, HaShem says that He is bringing so that L'ma'an sapeir sh'mi b'chol ha'aretz (so that they should tell (of) My name in all the land). Do you think that the Native Americans that were here then were in any position to hear of the Makkos? Or the people in Japan or Polynesia? No, obviously not. When the Torah there says "b'chol ha'aretz" it's referring to the local nations, not the entire earth. Likewise, when the Torah says that the entire earth was covered, it need not necessarily mean literally the entire earth.
The next question asked was:
if it wasn't worldwide, wouldn't some things have survived??
And indeed things did survive. There are giant Sequoia redwoods today out in California that have lived for the last five thousand years. How would they have survived a world-wide mabul. Indeed, how would plant life in general (which wasn't taken into the Ark) have survived?
The next question asked was:
If areas weren't destroyed and other animals survived, what is the big deal over Noach saving the animals in the Ark and being "rewarded" with the permission to eat meat after the Mabul?
Firstly, while it says that Noach was given permission to eat meat after the Mabul, there is no explicit pasuk that says that Man did not eat meat beforehand. I believe it is recorded in the Midrash, however. But, in any event, even if we accept the Midrash at face value - Noach did save the animals that were indigenous to his region - and it was those that he was given permission to eat. One could argue that as long as man was eating meat, it no longer mattered whether he was going to eat those that were saved by Noach and those that weren't.
Of course, the assumption that every single animal in the world was on the Ark leads to a very serious question (setting aside space issues). The question is - how did the kangaroo get to Australia? How did the dodo get to Mauritius? Did the passenger pigeon fly all the way from Ararat to North America? What about the llamas of South America?
In short, there are many species of animal life on the planet that exist only in certain locations. If one is going to posit that the only living examples of these animals came off the Ark, then one has to ask how these animals got to the places where they now reside. How did the llamas get to South America? Did the flightless penguins walk all the way to Antarctica? How did the flightless Dodo get to Mauritius? Did the lemurs swim to Madagascar?
Of course, my answers are open to refutation - as they should be. But at least I'm willing to think critically about the answers.