The story of Noah begins earlier than the start of our Torah portion. In Genesis 5, Lemech fathers a son and names him Noach. What’s interesting, is he is the fourth to be given a name of significance.
- Chavah is named by Adam because she is the mother of all living.
- Cayin is named by Chavah who acquires a son with Hashem.
- Chavah names Shet because Hashem has given her a son instead of Chevel.
- Noach is named by his father Lemech because out of the ground that Hashem has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the pain of our hands.
The Rabbis have a great deal to say about the pain of our hands, but to address this would take a full blog entry, so I will not delve into this topic.
Noah was 500 years old, then he fathered Shem, Ham, and Japheth. If you had to guess, who is the firstborn and who is the youngest? Keep that in mind and let’s see, as we progress through the text, if you’re right.
Genesis 6 begins to explain the state of moral decay in the world. It speaks of taking wives, of giants [or nephelim], and of the evil dwelling continually in the heart of mankind. While taking a wife is not necessarily a bad thing, it does seem two things were going on. These men are finding whomever they like and were taking them as a spouse. It doesn’t even seem that her marital status was even a consideration for the text says, they took as their wives any they chose.
The rapidity of the text gives the impression that courtship was not present. This hurried pace is mirrored in the text describing the sale of the birthright, wherein it says, Jacob had given Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way and Esau despised his birthright. Also, in the text of the sale, Jacob repeatedly used the phrase “this day,” appealing to the instant gratification Esau sought. Hardly a cognizant thought crossed Esau’s cranium, and those before the flood, likewise, snatched whomever they desired.
When it speaks of nephelim, you would do yourself a great service to remember a simple rule. The Hebrew Bible worries more about the function of people and objects, not the form in which they appear. Even when the text describes a person or object it’s said in order to enhance the understanding of the item’s or the person’s function. If we keep this in mind, we allow the text to interpret the phrase nephelim for us, for it says, These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. In today’s world, an example of a nephelim would be PM Netanyahu, President Vladimir Putin, or President Obama. Whether you like them or not, or whether they are short like Putin or not, his has no bearing on the fact they are men of renown.
In light of the kidnapping [for wives] and the violence [the Hebrew uses the word chamas], Hashem gives humanity 120 years to perform teshuvah, but as the story progresses, we see no one repenting and turning back to Hashem. After all, they don’t have a reference point to which to say, “this is the benefit of teshuvah and this is the penalty for disobedience.” [When Adam sins, he is removed from Gan Eden. When Cayin murders his brother, he is banished. There are no Biblical examples of Teshuvah where someone can return to his or her former place with G-d.]
Hashem’s heart is grieved. it says, God regretted that He had made man on earth, and He was pained to His very core. But it also reads, VeNoach matsa chen be’eyney Adonay: But Noah found grace in Hashem’s eyes.
Noach was a righteous men. Do I need to tell you how great this man was? I mean, look! Torah calls him a tzaddik without qualification. Do you have any idea how many are called tzaddikim in Torah? While we can name many tzadikkim in Torah, the only other one called a tzaddik is Joseph… and that reference is found in the haftarah where the text says, and you sold a tzaddik, a supposed direct reference to Joseph. Some commentators try to reduce the significance of this bold statement by saying, “if he was living in another generation he would not be so righteous,” but then again, you could say, “how much more righteous would he be if he lived in another generation!” Keep in mind, the qualification of in his generation is not tied to his being a tzaddik, but on his being tam, where it says tamim hayah bedorotav, or he was innocent in his generation. The juxtaposition of these two phrases are significant in that one is considered positive and the other not so positive [i.e., he is this… but he is also that]. He is a tzaddik, which is positive, but he is tam, [or innocent] in his generation, which is not so positive. This indicates his innocence was viewed as weakness or as a negative trait by those in his generation and was not able to positively affect those of his generation. Sadly, we see this to be true when only eight people [Noach and his family] entered the Ark.
After 120 years, Genesis 6:18 says, But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. In like manner, Genesis 7:7 says, And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Genesis 7:13 also says, On the very same day Noah and his sons [Shem, Ham, and Japheth], and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark. This wording is significant. So is the wording when the flood was over. Genesis 7:15-16 states, Then God said to Noah, ‘Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you.’ Genesis 8:18 yet says, So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. Our sages say that while the world died in the flood, there was no intimacy between husbands and their wives while on the ark. This is why they are listed as separated. In Genesis 7:15-16, Hashem instructs them to come out as couples, but Noah and his sons did not. Something appears to have happened. The man who so willingly toiled for over a century suddenly neglected to adhere to the spirit of Hashem’s command. As the story unfolds, we see further emotional decay. Noah ends up becoming a man of the soil. He plants a vineyard, gets drunk, and is found by one of his sons passed out on the floor. The sheer magnitude of the deluge-related death must have placed him into a depression and he self medicated. Think about it. It is foolhardy to think Shem, Ham, and Japhat were his only children. Likewise, Noah’s brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews all perished. It is imperative to understand Noah was not emotionally unaffected by the flood. In our near past, we lost six million friends and family members and the scars from that event still haunt us today.
It’s Noah’s son, Ham, who finds him in a compromising position. Unfortunately, he runs to tell the tale to his brothers. However, Ham finds himself alone in his ridicule, and here, we begin to discover the birth order of the three brothers. Genesis 9:24 states, “When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him.” The remaining clue to their birth order is found in Genesis 10:21 where it reads Jephet hagadol, or Jephet the elder, as it is often translated. Some debate exists because my go-to Medieval Rabbi, Ramban, understands the elder as referring to Shem; but in saying this, an important recurring theme in Genesis is lost — a theme we will discuss in a future post.
Ham was the youngest, but whatever he did to his father cursed his progeny; sadly it seems, because of the events in the lives of Ham’s descendants [and the comments from our Sages], it appears something beyond simple gossip and ridicule occurred. What is prominent in the family of Ham is that almost every act of sexual impropriety in Torah involves a descendants of Ham:
- Pharaoh attempts to misbehave with Sarai
- The whole story of Sodom
- Potifar’s wife and Joseph
- Judah’s wife and his sons
- Ishmael was likewise completely inappropriate [these stories are found in the Midrash, which says he tried to love his neighbor’s wife as himself]
I don’t get the chance to share little tidbits very often, so please indulge me. Whenever Hashem mentions animals in Torah that are korbanot [sacrifices], the holy name of G-d [Hashem] is used. When G-d mentions animals that are not korban, the text uses the term Elohim. This holds true in our story of Noah as well. When the text is speaking of the animals that come two-by-two, the term Elohim [G-d] is used [Genesis 6:13-22, 7:8-16a, 7:17-8:19], but when the seven pairs are mentioned [some of whom are to be used as korban], Hashem [or the L-RD] is used [Genesis 7:1-5, 8:20-22].
After the families disembark and begin to settle on the land again, Hashem gives a promises to Noah and states the Noachide laws. Unfortunately, there is an unfortunate side effect to our disobedience and it becomes perfectly clear that the curse between humans and the ground (the earth or the land) appears now to be complete. To understand this, we need to look back at Gan Eden. Genesis 3:17 says, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. The ground, from where Adam was formed, has rebelled against the humans. No longer is it going to produce what is desired. But now in Genesis 9:2 it says, The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Now, the curse is complete. The ground from which we were formed now fights against us. The plants and the animals that are formed from the land and the water now understand the terror of mankind and no longer trust us. How far we have fallen from our idillic beginning; like Noah, we need to find grace [chen] in the eyes of Hashem.