Why “Be Fruitful and Multiply” was Commanded to Noah

Free translation from a talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.

Presented with permission from the publisher, Sichos in English. Source: Sichos in English, Shabbos Parshas Noach, Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, 5751 (19’90)

From the context of the Biblical narrative, it appears that the command to Noah [“Be fruitful and multiply; swarm over the earth and become populous upon it”] is not merely a renewal of the command originally given to Adam, but rather a different command in which certain elements were added.

To explain: After the flood, the totality of existence took on a new dimension as reflected in our Sages’ statement that Noah “saw a new world.” This implies a renewal, not only in comparison to the world’s situation during the flood, but rather, that all existence took on a new and higher dimension than existed at the beginning of creation.

On the surface, it is difficult to understand: How can the newness brought about by the flood be compared to the newness at the outset of creation, when all existence came into being from absolute naught?[1] This concept can be explained as follows: The purpose of the flood was not merely to punish the wicked, but primarily to purify the world. [...]

At the beginning of the creation, the world’s fulfillment reflected the fact that it was G‑d’s creation and was not related to the world as it exists within its own context. Therefore, the potential existed — and, in fact, was actually expressed — for mankind to cause the world to descend to the level which made G‑d regret having created man and which left Him no alternative to refine the world except to wipe out all existence.

In contrast, after the flood, a new phase of service began which — through the service of teshuvah [repentance] — allowed the world to elevate itself despite the fact that it was on a low level. This service was begun by Noah who, despite the depravity of the people of his generation, was a perfectly righteous man. Through this, a new dimension of strength and stability was contributed to the world as reflected in G‑d’s promise never to destroy the world again. Thus, the “new world” which Noah saw reflected a new potential within existence: the ability for the world to elevate and refine itself.

The above concepts are reflected in the name Noah [Noach in Hebrew] which means “rest” and “satisfaction.” From the repetition of Noah’s name in the verses, “These are the generations of Noah. Noah was…,” the Zohar explains that Noah brought about two dimensions of rest and satisfaction: “rest in the higher realms,” and “rest in the lower realms.”[2]

In this context, the flood is called “the waters of Noach,” for it brought about purification, rest, and stability throughout the world.[3] In particular, this represented a twofold activity: a) the purification of the world through negation of the depravity which had existed previously; b) positive activity to refine the world without breaking its nature.

The first dimension of these dimensions was contributed by the flood which washed away all the negative factors, and the second dimension was contributed by Noah and those with him in the ark. For this reason, G‑d commanded Noah to bring species from every element of existence into the ark. All four forms of existence, humans, animals, plants, and inert matter, were brought into the ark.[4] Within the ark was manifest an idyllic state of peace which reflects the Messianic era when “a wolf will dwell with the lamb.” The existence of our world as a whole in such a state granted the potential that, in subsequent times — after the command, “Leave the ark” — the world could be refined and elevated and brought to a state of rest and satisfaction.

This service is also alluded to in the instructions G‑d gave to Noach for building the ark, “el amah tichalenoh milama’alah” — “It should be a cubit wide on top.” The word [for cubit,] amah (אמה) is an acronym for the Hebrew words, E‑loheinu Melech ha’olam (“our G‑d, King of the universe”), which alludes to the service of crowning G‑d as King of the universe. Furthermore, olam (translated as “universe”) is related to the word helam meaning “concealment”: i.e., even in a situation of concealment, G‑d’s sovereignty will be felt.

In this context, we can understand the new dimension contributed by the command to Noah, “Be fruitful and multiply.” G‑d’s command to Adam was of a general nature, expressing the ultimate goal of man’s activity within the world, to establish a dwelling for Him within the world. To allow man to accomplish this goal, G‑d gave man dominion over all the other creations.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of creation, since man’s service did not come about from his own nature, but because of the influence from above, there was a possibility for — and, in fact, an actual — descent. “The evil of man multiplied on the face of the earth,” and therefore, “G‑d regretted that He had created man.” The blessing and the command, “Be fruitful and multiply,” was rescinded because man was not fit to receive it. Instead of man making the world a dwelling for G‑d, the world had to be destroyed.

In contrast, after the flood, when “a new world” was revealed, a new blessing and a new command were necessary to allow for the new service of making the world, within its own context and according to its own nature, a dwelling for G‑d.[5] In this context, we can understand the difference in the phraseology used by the two commands. In the command to Adam, G‑d used the expression “And conquer it,” i.e., rule over the world against its nature. To explain this concept using Chassidic terminology:

Both malchus (“kingship”) and memsholoh (“dominion”) are terms that reflect sovereignty. However, the nature in which this sovereignty is established differs. Malchus refers to a situation in which a nation of people willfully accept a person as king. To borrow a phrase from the liturgy, “His children beheld His might… and willingly accepted His Kingship upon them.” In contrast, memsholoh refers to [a ruling] power which is acquired by force, against the will of the populace. “Conquest,” like memsholoh, involves exerting one’s authority against the will of the entity which one conquers.

To apply this concept within the context of our service in making this world a dwelling for G‑d: After the creation, before the world had undergone the purifying influence of the flood, the concept of fulfillment in the world was dependent on G‑d’s creative power and was not internalized within the world. On the contrary, the world as it existed in its own context was not a vessel for G‑dliness. Therefore, it was necessary that it be conquered.

In contrast, after the refinement of the world effected by the flood and by the service of Noah, the emphasis of man’s service was not on conquest, but rather on effecting changes within the context of the world itself. Therefore, the concept of conquest was not mentioned. Instead, the emphasis in G‑d’s command was positive, “Be fruitful and multiply,” (a willful activity which brings satisfaction and rest). Furthermore, the potential was granted to “swarm,” to multiply in great numbers.

This two stage progression is necessary. In order to emphasize that the dwelling for G‑d is established in “the lower realms,” the world had to first exist in a state in which it was not a vessel for G‑dliness. Then, man had to begin its refinement through conquest. Afterwards, through the refining influence of the flood, man’s service changed and the potential was granted to elevate the world within its own context.[6]


1. The creation from absolute nothingness is not merely an event of the past, but, as the Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya, a continuous happening, taking place every moment of existence.

2. This also alludes to a unity between the lower realms (as they exist within their own context) and the higher realms.

3. Noah revealed the potential for man to rest as he lives within the context of the world itself.

[Director's Note: For example, Noah invented metal farming tools such as the plow, which allowed mankind to accomplish more agricultural work with less time and effort, thereby allowing more time for people to have rest and relaxation.]

4. Chassidic thought emphasizes the all-inclusive nature of the ark, explaining that its three storeys represent the three spiritual worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah.

[Director's Note: The lowest spiritual level of the world Asiyah is our physical world; see http://asknoah.org/faq/heavenly_levels ]

5. It is, however, possible to explain that the command to Adam also included the potential for the service of Noach. Nevertheless, that service could not be actually realized until after the beginning of Noach’s service and the new command which he received.

6. Nevertheless, at certain times, even after the flood the service of conquest is necessary.