Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
This parasha series is
le-zekher nishmat HaRabanit Chana bat HaRav Yehuda Zelig zt"l.
This parasha series is
in honor of Rabbi Menachem Leibtag and Rabbi Elchanan Samet.
By Rav Yehuda Rock
happens in the cycle of weekly Torah readings, this weeks's parasha –
Noach – starts in the middle of a story.
The last four
verses of Parashat Bereishit are unquestionably an introduction to the
story of the Flood:
"And God saw
that the wickedness of man was great in the land… and God repented for having
made man in the land… And God said: I shall wipe out man whom I have created
from the face of the earth… but Noach found favor in God's eyes."
seems that the story of Noach begins even earlier. When Noach is born to Lemekh, a
descendant of Shet, we read (5:29):
"He called his
name Noach, saying: This one shall comfort us (yenachamenu) for our work
and the toil of our hands caused by the ground, which God has cursed"
It seems clear
that Lemekh refers here to the curse dating back to the sin of Adam
"And to Adam
He said: Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree concerning which
I commanded you, saying, You shall not eat from it,
the ground for your sake.
sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life, and it shall bring
forth thorns and thistles for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. By the sweat of your brow shall you eat
bread until you return to the ground, for from it you were taken; for you
are dust, and you shall return to dust."
Noach's lifetime the curse of the ground is nullified (8:21):
the sweet savor, and God said in His heart: I shall not again curse the
ground for man's sake, for the inclination of man's heart is evil
from his youth; nor shall I again smite all life, as I have done…."
promise here, in the wake of the sacrifices that Noach offers after leaving the
ark, represents the realization of Lemekh's hopes in naming his son "Noach."
closer inspection, the connection turns out to be less simple. There are actually two separate
curses. The curse of the land,
imposed at the time of Adam, concerned agricultural labor. It meant that growing produce would
involve great effort and difficulty, and that the ground would yield "thorns and
thistles." The curse that was revoked following Noach's departure from the ark,
on the other hand, concerns the annihilation of man from the face of the
earth. To which of these two
curses, then, was Lemekh referring?
parallels would appear to support both exegetical options. At the same time, each has its
difficulties. If Lemekh is
referring to the curse from the time of Adam, why does the Torah describe the
revoking of the curse, when Noach leaves the ark, in language that recalls
Lemekh's declaration? Furthermore, we would expect some continuation of this
story: either a fulfillment of Lemekh's words with the cancellation of the curse
of the land imposed at the time of Adam, by means of some sort of agricultural
progress, or some explanation as to why his words were not fulfilled. However, the Torah goes on to devote no
attention at all to the cancellation of the curse, "In sorrow you shall eat of
it all the days of your life." Thus Lemekh's words seem to represent no more
than a wish, with no implications or connection to the rest of the story, and it
is not clear why the Torah records them at all.
understands Lemekh's declaration as referring to the curse of Adam, and he views
it as a sort of prophecy which comes to be realized. Basing his explanation on the Midrash
(Tanchuma Bereishit 11), Rashi (commenting on 5:29) "fills in" that which
the text omits in the story of the realization of Lemekh's words by supplying
the agricultural enhancement: "Until Noach's time, people had no plowing
instrument, and he made one for them.
The land (until then) had produced thorns and thistles when sowed with
wheat, because of Adam's curse, but in the days of Noach the land was
text, however, contains no hint of this development.
Some of the
later commentators have gone even further and locate the fulfillment of Lemekh's
words in the story of Noach, a man of the ground, planting the vineyard
(8:20). According to this view,
"wine makes man's heart glad," and this gladness is the comfort for the sorrow
of toiling over the ground. In
Mishlei (31:6-7) we read: "Give strong drink to one who is about to die,
and wine to those of bitter spirit; let him drink and forget his poverty, and
remember his toil no more." Similarly, in Yirmiyahu (16:7) we find the
concept of the "cup of consolation."
of this answers the question of why the Torah chooses to describe the revoking
of the curse, after Noach leaves the ark, in language that is reminiscent of
On the other
hand, if we propose that Lemekh's words are realized in God's promise not to
annihilate man ever again, we must ask why such a scenario would have occurred
to Lemekh at all, prior to the Flood.
And what sort of consolation would Noach then have brought, relative to
the situation at the time of his birth, when the idea of the Flood had not yet
arisen? Furthermore, how do we then explain the significance of the linguistic
parallels to the curse of Adam?
ignores the linguistic parallels and asserts that Lemekh's words are realized in
the fact that it is Noach who gives life to the land, by reviving the world
after the Flood. To Ibn Ezra's
view, the reference to Noach as a "man of the ground" is connected to this
idea. In order to answer the
question of how Lemekh would relate to this possibility, Ibn Ezra proposes that
this was a real prophecy, conveyed by a real prophet (Adam) to Lemekh, or
derived himself "through wisdom" (apparently, he refers here to astrology). However, all of this supporting theory
is likewise absent from the text.
Furthermore, while it addresses the technical question of how Lemekh
could have known what would happen during Noach's life, it does not explain how
this "prophecy" was relevant during Lemekh's time.
It seems that
Lemekh must have been referring to the curse of the land from the time of
Adam. From a literary perspective,
the reader – at this stage of the narrative – is aware only of that original
curse; hence, the meaning of Lemekh's words, viewed in context, is the
expression of a wish or prayer that his son Noach would somehow bring about some
comfort from the curse upon the land from the time of Adam. We must therefore seek the significance
of the linguistic connection further on, after Noach leaves the ark, and also
explore the fate of Lemekh's wish.
addressing these questions, however, let us first examine the brief unit that is
located in between Lemekh's wish and the continuation of the story of Noach –
the story of the "distinguished men" (benei ha-elohim, literally
"children of gods" or "children of judges") and the daughters of man.
read as follows (6:1-4):
And it was, when man began to multiply upon the face of the earth, and
daughters were born to them,
That the distinguished men saw that the daughters of man were beautiful,
and they took wives for themselves from all whom they chose.
And God said: My spirit will not forever strive on account of man, for
that he also is flesh; and his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.
There were Nefillim in the land in those days and also after that, when
the distinguished men came to the daughters of man, and they bore children to
them; these were the mighty men of old; men of renown.
The first two
verses of this unit describe two groups: the "distinguished men" and the
"daughters of man." Whether the "distinguished men" here are regular mortals or
not, it is clear that the "daughters of man" certainly are. In these verses the "distinguished men"
are active, while "man" (Adam) and his daughters are the passive victims.
God's words in
verse 3 are open to various interpretations: they may be meant as an expression
of reconcilement, or the opposite – an expression of punishment or
retribution. In any event, it is
clear that God is talking here about "man," in the wake of some unworthy
behavior on his part. This is
puzzling, since in the preceding verses, as pointed out above, mankind is the
passive, injured party. Even if, in
the formal sense, the "distinguished men" are included within the category of
"man," from a literary perspective the differing usages of the word make for
very confusing reading, and serve to break the literary flow.
this unit combines two separate levels of meaning, or "aspects."
We adopt here
the exegetical methodology known as the "shitat ha-bechinot," developed
by my Rav and teacher, Rav Mordekhai Breuer. (Rav Breuer sets out his approach, and
the commentary in which he implements it, in his books Pirkei Mo'adot,
Pirkei Bereishit, and Shitat ha-Bechinot Shel ha-Rav Mordekhai
Breuer.) According to this approach, God writes the Torah in layers, with
narratives or halakhic units that parallel one another – different "aspects" –
each of which is able to stand alone and to be read in its own right, such that
sometimes they appear to contradict one another. Often, these aspects are intertwined,
creating a complex or multi-layered unit.
This complex unit blurs the points of transition between one aspect and
the other, but highlights the difficulties inherent in these transitions. Each story expresses its own independent
content, which is important in its own right; however, there is some
relationship between them, which justifies their integration into a single
text. By delving into the
difficulties that arise from the joining together of the two aspects – such as
repetitions or contradictions – we are able to expose the two independent
"aspects," and thereafter to explore their significance.
Aside from the
local division of this unit into "aspects," we may divide Sefer Bereishit
in general into two aspects. The
one refers to God only as "Elokim," while the other uses (also) the
Tetragrammaton. Obviously, there
are also further stylistic and thematic characteristics that differentiate
between the two aspects.
The story of
the "distinguished men and the daughters of man" is usually categorized under
the aspect that uses the Tetragrammaton to refer to God. However, in light of the difficulty that
we have indicated above, it may make more sense to divide this unit. In verse 3 we find the Tetragrammaton,
and therefore the categorization of this verse is clear. Verses 1-2, which represent a single
unit which does not continue on to verse 3, would appear to belong to the aspect
that is characterized by the name Elokim.
Verses 4-5 mention explicitly the events referred to in verses 1-2, and
therefore they too belong to the aspect of Elokim.
We shall not
discuss here the meaning of the verses belonging to the aspect of Elokim, nor
the significance of the merging of the two aspects into a single textual
unit. For the purposes of our
discussion, we shall focus only on the aspect characterized by the
Verse 3 is the
only portion of unit that falls into this category. Clearly, this verse cannot stand alone;
it must be read as the continuation of some previous verse. Hence, we must seek the last preceding
verses belonging to the same aspect.
Chapter 5 is
devoted to the "generations," as evidenced by its introduction, style, and
structure. For various reasons,
which we shall not analyze here, such genealogical chapters are usually
categorized under the name Elokim, even where they contain no Divine Name at
all. In chapter 5, however, there
is one verse that deviates from the otherwise fixed structure and which uses the
Tetragrammaton. We refer here to
the verse cited above, describing how Noach received his name: "And he called
his name Noach, saying: This one shall comfort us for our work and the toil of
our hands caused by the ground, which God has cursed." Had the
Tetragrammaton aspect stood alone here, the Torah would have presented Lemekh
and the fact of Noach's birth in accordance with the style of that aspect. However, since the text interweaves both
aspects, the fact that a son is born to Lemekh belongs exclusively within the
aspect of Elokim. The aspect of the
Tetragrammaton covers only his name and its meaning.
the Tetragrammaton aspect, verse 3 of chapter 6 should be read as a direct
continuation of verse 29 of chapter 5:
"And he called
his name Noach, saying: This one shall comfort us for our work and the toil of
our hands caused by the ground, which God has cursed.
And God said:
My spirit will not strive forever on account of man for that he is also flesh;
and his days shall be a hundred and twenty years."
verse must be understood as referring to the curse of Adam. Accordingly, the word "yidon"
(strive) is meant in the sense of judging and punishing; i.e., "I shall not
continue to argue with man and punish him by cursing the earth."
If this is the
case, then the verse is indeed meant in a spirit of appeasement, and the rest of
the verse should be understood as proposed by Ramban, in accordance with
Tehillim 78:38-39 –
"For He is
compassionate, forgiving sin, and not destroying; often turning away His anger
and not stirring up all of His wrath; He remembers that they are mere flesh; a
wind that passes and does not return."
Here, in the
wake of Lemekh's prayer, God declares that He will indeed turn away His wrath
from man and no longer judge him according to the strict demands of the
Attribute of Justice. Man is in
need of the Attribute of Mercy, for he is mere flesh and blood – a mortal who
departs from the world after a brief hundred and twenty years.
the exegetical direction that we are now taking, Lemekh's wish does receive due
attention. God accepts his prayer,
in principle, and declares that through Noach consolation will come to mankind
for the curse of the earth.
We must now
re-read the concluding verses of Parashat Bereishit (6:5-8) which, as
noted above, are actually the introduction to the story of the Flood:
"And God saw
that the wickedness of man (ha-adam) was great in the land, and
all the inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the
time. And God repented
(va-yinachem) for having made man (ha-adam) in the
land, and He was grieved to His heart. And God said: I shall wipe out
(emcheh) man (ha-adam) whom I have created from the face of
the earth (ha-adama) – both man (me-adam) and beast
and crawling things and birds of the sky, for I repent (nichamti)
that I made them. But
Noach found favor (chen) in God's eyes."
repeated expressions involving the root a-d-m; as well as regret/comfort
(nechama), wiping out (mechiya) and favor (chen), and
expressions of action (a-s-h) and of melancholy (itzavon). These alliterations serve to link these
verses to the words of Lemekh: "This one will comfort us (yenachamenu)
for our work (mi-ma'aseinu) and the toil (itzavon, literally –
"melancholy") of our hands, because of the land (adama) which God has
Man is a
transitory creature; he passes on and does not return, but his wickedness has
already become a matter of enormous scope and proportion. Man's evil inclination admittedly arises
from the fact that he is mere flesh, but this inclination of his heart is only
evil, all the time. For this
reason, corresponding to "zeh yenachamenu" ("this one will comfort us")
we find "va-yinachem Hashem" (God repented), and corresponding to
"me-itzvon yadeinu" ("for the toil of our hands") we find
"va-yit'atzev el libo" ("He grieved to His heart"). God would like to comfort man and
relieve him of the melancholy of his heart, but the situation has reached a
point where man's wickedness is grieving God and causing Him to regret having
created man in the world. This
being the case, God decides to wipe man off the face of the earth. Instead of "nechamat ha-adam min
ha-adama" (comforting man for the melancholy of the cursed ground), God
brings about "mechiyat ha-adam min ha-adama" (wiping man off the face of
direction of the world balances two considerations. On the one hand, man's weakness requires
a measure of compassion, a "sweetening of the verdict." On the other hand, it is
specifically his importance in God's eyes that causes God to be so grieved by
his actions, and intensifies the severity of His retribution. At the time of Lemekh's prayer, the
former consideration prevailed. In
the wake of the behavior of the generation of the Flood, the latter
consideration came to take precedence.
change in approach does not nullify Lemekh's wish completely. Along with the Divine decree comes a
note of hope: "But Noach found favor in the eyes of God." Noach may still bring
about some sort of comfort and consolation.
Noach leaves the ark, builds an altar to God, and offers up his sacrifices. Then the text tells us (8:21):
the sweet savor, and God said in His heart:
I shall no
longer curse the ground (adama) for man's sake
(ba-avur ha-adam), for the inclination of man's heart is evil from his
youth; nor shall I any more smite all of life, as I have done. For as long as the earth remains, sowing
and harvest and cold and heart and summer and winter and day and night shall not
his sacrifices, "reminds" God that there is good in man, too. The consideration that "the inclination
of man's heart is evil from his youth" is similar to God's statement at the time
of Lemekh's prayer: "For that he also is flesh; and his days shall be a hundred
and twenty years." Man's fundamental weakness arouses God's compassion, and He
is reminded of His decision not to "strive" with man forever. On the other hand, man's increasing evil
apparently makes it impossible to return to the situation prior to Adam's sin
and to cancel his curse. Instead,
God decides to fulfill Lemekh's prayer, but in a different way: through
nullifying the possibility of absolute melancholy and the eradication of man
from the face of the earth.
Lemekh's prayer and God's promise – "My spirit shall not forever strive on
account of man" – are realized literally, but not as intended. Noach brings a certain consolation in
that there will not be another annihilation of man from the face of the
earth. However, along with this
promise comes the assertion that the punishment of "by the sweat of your brow
shall you eat bread" will not be cancelled; rather, "sowing and reaping… will
rejected the possibility that Lemekh's words are fulfilled in Noach's planting
of the vineyard. However, the
vineyard may yet be connected to this story. Seemingly Noach, who grew up imbibing
the prophecy of his father, was deeply disappointed by God's assertion that
"sowing and reaping… will not cease." Out of despair and disillusionment, Noach
tried to single-handedly bring about a nullification of the curse, by providing
the consolation of wine. However,
Noach's attempted evasion of God's decree was also a flight from reality. Its results were shame and humiliation,
instead of the joy and comfort that he had intended.
Translated by Kaeren Fish