Often, one question on the story of Noach and the Ark is overlooked: Why did Hashem flood the Earth for forty days and forty nights? Additionally, why did Hashem destroy the world with water?
By differently understanding punishment, perhaps we can answer our questions. Gehennom, the fiery process one must endure before entering Olam Haba (the world to come), is not meant as a form of punishment, but rather a cleansing process for all sins. This idea can also be applied to one's punishment for a Biblical sin in this world. Accordingly, lashes cleanse the physical body in which a person sinned. The Maharal explains that even though the Torah states (Deuteronomy 25:3) “Forty (lashes) shall he strike him,” the Sages rule that only 39 lashes should be administered.
According to the Maharal, a baby's body is formed during the first thirty nine days of development, while a soul enters the child's body on the fortieth day. Therefore, the Sages ruled that only thirty nine lashes are needed because one is considered to be a new person by the 39th lash, just as the baby on its 39th day of development. Moreover, once the sinner's body has been cleansed, the sinner's soul is now able to reassert itself back into the body. The number forty represents the number in which one is created, cleansed, and reborn.
In Kohelet (1:2), the word “Hevel”, which means “waste” or “futile” appears three times in singular form and twice in plural form. Commentaries explain that each plural “Havel” corresponds to two “Hevel”s; as a result, the word “Havel” actually appears seven times, representing the seven days of creation. The connection of “Hevel,” waste, to creation shows that Man has the power waste God's creations.
Noach's generation committed sinful acts, such as Chamas (Rashi explains this as theft) and “Hishchit Kol Basar,” “all flesh had corrupted” (BeReishit 1:12), which, according to Rashi, means to that different animal species mated with each other. Many believe that this strange occurrence happened because humans also mated with animals.
All living things need water to survive. Water, also known as H2O, has a molecular weight of eighteen atomic mass units (amu). The Hebrew word Chai, which means life, has a Gematreah (numerical value) of eighteen.
The generation of the Flood had the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply.” However, Man desecrated this commandment by mating with other creatures. As a result, God destroyed the generation with the substance on which life is dependent. Just as a newborn baby emerges from the amniotic fluid, a whole world was reborn from water in Parashat Noach.