Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

Noach’s Ark was by all counts an impressive craft. The dimensions are given in Bereishit 6:14: 300 amot (cubits) long; 50 amot wide and 30 amot high. That, in modern terms, is approximately 564’ x 95’ x 56’ (according to the Chazon Ish) – the length of two football fields, the width of five giraffes standing on each other’s head, the height of a seven-story apartment building.

This may not seem big when we compare it to the largest ships today, but considering it predated and surpassed the Greek Syracusia (180’ x 46’ x 43’), the largest known archeological ship of antiquity by 2,100 years, it was colossal.


A seven-story structure with that length allows for a large number of compartments to house Noach, his family and all the animals. The Midrash (Bereishit Raba) conducts a lengthy debate as to exactly how many compartments there were (R’ Yehuda says 330 and R’ Nechemya says 900).

A similar discussion in the Midrash describes the allotment of space. There were three decks. According to one opinion, the lowest level was for the disposal of waste, the middle level for Noach, his family and the pure animals, and the upper deck for the impure animals. Other opinions are variations of this. One opinion says that each compartment had a trap door that Noach could use to sweep the waste out directly into the sea.

Regarding portholes (windows) in the Ark, there is a debate as to exactly what the tzohar mentioned in our Torah portion was. Some opinions say it was a window to let in light; others say it was some kind of precious stone that radiated light. Either way, the purpose of the tzohar was to light up the Ark.

Upon deeper analysis however, a number of questions arise as to the logistic feasibility of such a concept.

The first question is how all those animals managed to fit in the Ark. A brief research survey online will reveal that there are millions of species of animals today (back then there were probably more, before they became extinct); the question is only, “How many millions?” How is it possible to fit even one million species on a vessel that size? Each needed their own compartment with their relevant environment to survive, etc. Just the four elephants alone (two African, two Indian – male and female) take up a huge chunk of floor space. It is physically impossible.

The second question is where they stored all the food for those millions of animals. Each animal eats different food. How was it possible to keep that food fresh for the 365 days that they were all in the Ark?

How could it be that the animals did not attack Noach and his family, or kill each other? They comprised all different rungs in the food chain.

We know that intimate relations were forbidden on the Ark for Noach and his family, and also for all the animals. Imagine if all those animals were breeding – not only would Noach have to feed them and clean up after them, he would also have to engage in animal husbandry. How do you get animals to defy their animal instinct?

As a result of these and other questions, many so-called “Bible scholars” regard the story of Noach as a myth and something that could never actually take place.

The answer to the legitimate questions raised above is as follows:

When Avraham first saw Mt. Moriah from afar, how far away was it? We don’t know, because the Torah doesn’t say. When Yaakov lifted the rock off the well when he met Rachel, how heavy was the rock? We don’t know, because the Torah doesn’t say. Only twice does the Torah give exact measurements, the first time in our parsha – the exact measurements of the Ark, and the second, in the Book of Shemot – the exact measurements of the Mishkan and its components.

Hashem’s purpose in creating this world was so that His Shechina (Presence) could dwell here. The Shechina needs a specific spiritual “structure” in which to reside; the Shechina cannot reside in inappropriate surroundings. This required structure is defined by the Mishkan/Mikdash. The parameters specified there are the “blueprint” for a structure that can house the Shechina. If Hashem was destroying the world with a flood, He needed somewhere for his Shechina to reside in the interim, a structure that matched the blueprint of the Mikdash. This structure was the Ark.

When we understand this, everything becomes clear. If you are talking about the equivalent of a Mikdash, then the laws of nature do not apply. Reality is now governed by miracles. Pirkei Avot 5:5 describes some of these:

How was it possible for millions of people to fit in the Mikdash on Pesach to bring the Korban Pesach? There was a miracle – it was crowded when they were standing, but spacious when they prostrated. Just like the municipal area of Jerusalem expanded and contracted miraculously to accommodate however many people were in it, so too did the Ark expand to accommodate all the animals.

The meat from the korbanot never smelled or spoiled. The Lechem Hapanim remained fresh by a miracle. Even though the Kohanim only received a kezayit measure of the Lechem Hapanim, it satiated them. It was similar with the food on the Ark.

In the time of the Mikdash, snakes never bit and scorpions never stung anyone. Similarly, in the Ark, there was no inter-species aggression.

To enter the Mikdash, you had to be tahor (pure). Someone who engages in intimate relations becomes impure until the following day. Since Noach, his family and the animals were in a Mikdash, they were forbidden to engage in such relations.

Just as the Mikdash was illuminated by the Menorah, the Ark was illuminated by the tzohar.

The Ark was not a vessel, it was a floating Mikdash.

Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: There was one unwelcome guest in the Ark; who was it?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: What is the common name for the “Pishon” river mentioned in Bereishit 2:11? The Nile River in Egypt (Rashi, ibid.).


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Eliezer Meir Saidel ([email protected]) is Managing Director of research institute Machon Lechem Hapanim and owner of the Jewish Baking Center which researches and bakes traditional Jewish historical and contemporary bread. His sefer “Meir Panim” is the first book dedicated entirely to the subject of the Lechem Hapanim.