י״ב במרחשון ה׳תשע״ח (November 1, 2017)

Sanhedrin 108a-b: Life on the Ark

According to the Mishna (107b), the entire generation of the flood lost their portion in the World-to-Come. This teaching leads the Gemara to discuss the story of Noah in some detail. Among the descriptions that are brought we find a discussion about what life was like on the ark during the full year that Noah and his family shared close quarters with the animals.

Rav Ḥana bar Bizna described a conversation between Avraham’s servant, Eliezer, and Noah’s son, Shem. Eliezer asked Shem about the passage (Bereshit 8:19) that indicated that the animals left the ark by families, implying that they kept to their normal activities and behaviors while on the ark. How was Noah’s family able to manage the needs and desires of an entire menagerie?

Shem told Eliezer that life on the ark was very difficult. Noah’s family had to feed the nocturnal animals at night and the diurnal animals during the day. The lion fell ill with a fever, and went for a time without eating, surviving on his body fat. There was one particular animal – the zikita – that they didn’t know how to feed. Once, when Noah was peeling a pomegranate, and a worm fell out, which was immediately eaten by the zikita. Only from that time on did Noah learn to prepare food for this animal.

What was this zikita?

According to the Ge’onim, the zikita was a small bird. A more popular identification of the zikita is a chameleon, a common type of lizard that is found around the world. A chameleon can grow to between 20 and 30 centimeters, and its skin color can change according to the light, its mood or the background that it is standing on. It eats insects that it catches with is long tongue (up to 45 cm. long). There are many legends told about chameleons, including the story that it does not eat, rather it lives on air, which may be the reason the Gemara emphasized that Noah discovered that it did need to eat like any other living creature.

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