Thursday, October 03, 2013

when the foxes and lambs came together -- coexistence in Noach's ark

“When the nations of the world heard the thunder that accompanied mattan Torah, they came to Bilam, their prophet, and asked whether Hashem was bringing another mabul.” (Zevachim 116).

The messianic prophecy of wolves lying down with lambs strikes us as incredible, but we don’t give a moment’s thought to the fact it already happened once in history.  For a full year the wolves and lambs, the lions and sheep, and all the other animals managed to coexist peacefully in the very confined space of Noach’s ark.  Given how well known Yishayahu’s words are, you would think this miracle would catch our attention, yet somehow it slides right under the radar screen.  Why?

R’ Meir Shapiro, the Lubliner Rav, whose 80th yahrzeit is next week (see here), explained that there is a fundamental difference between Yishayahu’s prophecy and what took place in the ark.  At the time of the mabul, all the animals faced the threat of extinction.  When there is a forest fire, for example, all animals in the forest start running out – they don’t stop to eat each other because to do so would endanger their own lives.  The same was true at the time of the mabul.  The animals had no choice other than to coexist, contrary to their nature, because to not do so in the cramped space of the ark would have endangered their own lives.  Yishayahu’s prophecy is that animals will coexist even in a time of peace, even when there is no threat to their own existence and nothing to run from.  That miracle will have to wait for moshiach.

Now we understand what the gemara in Zevachim is telling us.  The nations of the world did not understand how Klal Yisrael came together to accept the Torah “k’ish echad b’lev echad,” with total unity.  “Is there a mabul coming?”– is there some existential threat forcing people to exist in harmony, contrary to their nature?  Where’s the forest fire that is causing people to stop trying to each other alive?  Bilam answered that there is no fire and no existential threat.  There is kabbalas haTorah, the best unifier of them all.


  1. Subtext: the amazement was because it was the Jews. Goyim seem to have no such problem, from the time of Bavel through the UN, because they always have a unifying concept: על ה' ועל משיחו

  2. Don't understand R' Shapiro's answer - What would the lions lose out if they ate the lambs once they were both on the Teiva? "cramped space would have endangered their own lives"... how so?

  3. Imagine how out of control things would be if all the animals started chasing each other around this little boat -- it would be chaos.

  4. I guess I was thinking more that the lions could just walk over the lambs and devour them since there would be little room for the sheep to go. And that it would not cause that much chaos.