Noach and the Animals


Yaakov Trachtman




One prominent element in the story of Noach is the idea of gathering the animals. The command to gather them takes two different forms. First in chapter 6 verses 13-26 Noach is informed of the forthcoming destruction of the world and is commanded to build an ark and to gather two of every species in order maintain a secure habitat from the flood which would allow the creation to be maintained. Then in Chapter 7 verses 1-5 he is commanded to gather the animals together and to board the ark.


If we contrast these two stories a number of differences stand out.

  1. In the first command there is no distinction between the “pure” and “impure” animals; all animals are to be brought in pairs. In the second command he is commanded to bring 7 of each “pure” species but only one pair of the ‘impure'.
  2. The reason given for the command: In the first command the reason is because the world deserves destruction so Noach will insure that the natural order will be maintained. In the second command Noach’s righteousness is given as the reason for his being saved.
  3. The name of God that is used: In the first command the name “Elokim” is used. In the second command the name “YKVH” is used.


To answer these questions we have to understand what is the difference between the two types of animals. Based on Breishis 8:20; the commentators all explain that the purpose of the 7 “pure” animals were to be brought as korbanos upon Noach’s exit from the ark. In other words the bringing of animal pairs was for their sake, while bringing the extra ‘pure’ animals was for Noach’s sake.


How did having animals for korbanos help Noach? The year on the ark was not exclusively meant as a practical removal from destruction, but rather as an educational experience for Noach. The world he would rebuild would have to be removed from the mistakes that necessitated the Flood in the first place. In order to do so, Noach had to gain knowledge to further distance himself from his generation.


What is the significance of ‘pure and ‘impure’ animals? The distinction between them is not a natural one. Unlike Adam who was educated in Gan Eden through naming the animals[i], based on natural categories, Noach was not at a level to involve himself primarily in that study[ii]. Such study necessitates bringing the self into a completely natural identity; such that he could view his existence in contrast to the animals. ‘Pure’ and ‘impure’ are identities that categorize animals based on their suitability to be used by people to approach God, specifically through ‘korban’.


Noach was an ‘Ish Adama[iii]’, a farmer. Chazal identify him as the inventor of the plow[iv]. For a farmer, even a creative and inventive one, the categorization of animals will be in terms of their utility in farming. He would distinguish between strong and weak animals or domestic and wild animals. The Mitzvah forced him to consider animals in terms of bringing man closer to God: distinguishing between animals that are ’pure’, i.e. appropriate for divine service, and those, which are not. Instead of bringing extra plow animals for his own use he brought extra animals for korbanos[v].


However, even though Noach’s primary study was in the framework of ‘pure’ and ‘impure’, changing his concept of man from being self important, where animals are a tool exclusively for his own material achievement; to being a creation of God, where animals assist him in that quest; he needed to keep in mind the greater framework of which Halacha is a subset of; the complete natural system. Only by keeping in mind the saving of all species, even the impure ones, and subjecting himself to that system, would he benefit from the in depth study of animals as a means towards serving God. He had to know that the animals’ existence is ‘good’ even without a benefit to man and that ultimately he was moving towards recognizing God through the complete natural system[vi] instead of a limited homo-centric viewpoint.


This also explains the distinction between the two divine names. The idea of ‘Elokim’, which reflects divine justice, is used to reference God as the all-powerful cause of the natural order[vii]. In this framework man is but a small part whose role is at most facilitator and recognizer of the order. ‘YKVH’, which reflects divine mercy, is used to reference God as the one who actively directs man in developing towards perfection[viii].


The two commands were referencing these two causes of his rescue. The first reason he was saved was because God’s will was that the world should exist. He was appointed as the caretaker of the miniature ecosystem of the Ark. However, he was also saved because he was righteous, a person who would be able to benefit from a divine education.


The commentators also explain that the animals, which were being saved, came on their own, while the ones which were for korban had to be actively gathered. Those that were being saved were acting in line with their nature which was to act in the interest of self preservation therefore it was appropriate for God to cause them to come on their own. However the korbanos only could come because of Noach’s active involvement with them to redirect them towards being vehicles of divine service.


These ideas are significant for us also. We essentially relate to God through the gift of the Halachah but we must keep in mind that it is “only” a ‘small thing’[ix], and ultimately we hope to relate to God through the ‘great thing’ of recognizing Him through the creation.


Additionally the Mitzvah[x] of distinguishing between the ‘pure’ and ‘impure animals’ becomes clear. It is insufficient just to abstain from non-kosher animals; we must actively categorize the animals that we are eating. This categorization cannot be based on taste or other subjective measures. We must categorize them based on an objective study of how animals are instrumental to approaching God.

[i] Breishis 2:19

[ii] This should not be viewed as a denigration of Noach, Noach was a prophet and is considered righteous by God. If we could reach his level we would be in great shape.

[iii] Breishis 9:20

[iv] Rashi Breishis 5:29

[v] The Korbanos reflect the idea that man is fundamentally different from the animals, at least in potential. They force him to consider what the difference is and whether he lives life like an animal or a true human being. Each step in the korban forces him to realize that in terms of his physical makeup he also could be on that altar. He realizes that the good for man is in serving God with his mind and that all of his practical pursuits must be directed towards that goal. He will still be involved in drawing sustenance from the earth, but satisfaction and leisure will not be ends in themselves but means towards developing his mind.

[vi] Of which he is but a small part

[vii] Also known as Hashgacha Klalis

[viii] Also known as  Hashgacha Pratis

[ix] Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 4:21

[x] Sefer Hamitzvos Positve command 149 and 150