Our Parasha spans the Flood, its causes and aftermath, leading to events
related to the
In Parashat* B’resheet (in Gen. 5:29), Noach’s name was explained: “Now he called his name Noach, saying, this one will comfort us“. The root of “comfort” in this instance, is n.ch.m (nun, chet, mem), pronounced nachem. Noach’s name, however, does not contain the consonant “m” (the letter “mem” in Hebrew). And whereas in his evil generation he was a comfort to Elohim, his name actually means “rest” (n.u.ch, noon, vav, chet). At the end of Parashat B’resheet (6:6) there is another reference to the root n.ch.m. We read there, “And YHVH repented [or “regretted” that is, “was sorry”] that He had made man on the earth”. In this case “regretted” is “(va)yinachem”. But how is “comfort” related to “regret” or to “being sorry”? The root n.ch.m’s primary meaning is to be “sorry” which indicates that only deep empathy with another’s sorrow can be a source of genuine comfort at a time of grief. Moreover, a close examination of Lamech’s words reveals what it was that he was lamenting and why he was hoping that his newborn would be a “comfort” concerning (literal translation): “our toil and sorrow of our hands, from the ground whom YHVH cursed”. In his lament, Lamech was echoing YHVH’s words in 3:17 to Adam (literal translation): “Cursed is the ground for your sake, in sorrow you shall eat of it…” The three identical terms which Lamech repeats are “sorrow”, “ground” and “cursed”.
Back to the current Parasha. At the end of our Parasha, an explanation is given for the name Ba’vel (
Last week we dealt with the root of “erev” (“evening”), which means a “pledge” and a “mixture” (being but two of its several meanings)… This time it is the “raven” (“orev”) which shares this root. The association between “raven” and “evening” is found in the Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) 5:11, where the beloved’s dark curls are compared to the dark raven. The black fowl, therefore, borrows its name from the evening’s fading light (i.e. darkness).
Mankind’s corruption is highlighted in 6:11. The word used there is “tisha’chet”, of the root sh.ch.t (shin, chet, tav), which primarily means to “destroy or destruction”. In verses 12, 13 and 17 derivatives of this root appear four times as “corruption” and also as the verb for the “destruction” which YHVH was about to bring upon the entire earth and its inhabitants (v. 13). Inherent in the verb “sha’chot”, therefore, is corruption's self-destructiveness. In Yishayahu (Isaiah) 11:9 (and 65:25) we read the following: “They shall not hurt nor destroy – yash’chitu - in all My holy mountain”.
Interestingly and in a strangely similar way the condition of ‘no destruction’ is also characterized by water, as Isaiah 11:9 continues: “… for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of YHVH as the waters cover the sea”, which in our narrative is the agent of annihilation. Additionally, the impact of the verb “sha’chot” (with the letter “tav” at the end) receives an extra emphasis, as it evokes a similar sounding verb ending with a different “t” consonant (“tet”), which is to “slaughter” (e.g. Exodus 29:11,16, 20).
Planted right in the midst of these descriptions of corruption, violence and pending destruction, is the only (potential) solution: the ark - "tey'va". More than a millennium will pass, when another would-be savior will be protected by a "tey'va" (though translated "basket" in English), which will also float on water. This will be Moshe. In the process of building this ark, our attention is first drawn to the act of propitiation and atonement: “kippur”. “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood… and… cover it inside and out with pitch" (6:14 italics added). The verb and noun for the action (of “covering”) and the material itself (“pitch”) are of the root k.f.r (kaf, pey/fey* resh) – which makes up “kippur”. Thus, this ark was to become a shelter, offering a protective covering from the disasters resulting from the sins of the age. The rabbis believe that anyone among those who had watched it being built, through the many years of its construction, could have also found refuge in it. Instead, the spectators chose to scoff and ridicule its builder. In most other cases, the verb and the noun stemming from the root k.f.r are used directly in connection with ‘atonement’ (e.g. Daniel 9:24), or as “payment of a price, or ransom” (e.g. Num. 35:31).
The very principles of atonement, and the reasons for its requirement, also find expression in our Parasha. Thus, we read in chapter 9:4-6: “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning … From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed…” Indeed, for atonement to be effective blood is imperative.
The importance of covering is brought out one more time in our Parasha, in the
story of Noach’s three sons’ respective responses to their father's drunken
stupor. Cham (Ham), the son who looked upon his father’s nakedness, was
condemned to slavery by a curse which was pronounced upon his son,
The other two siblings, on the other hand, are said to have covered their father’s naked body.
"And it happened in the six hundred and first year, at the beginning, on
the first of the month that the waters were dried up from off the earth. And
Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked. And, behold, the face of the
earth was dried!” (8:13). “Dried” in both instances in the
above verse is “cha’rvu”. In 7:22 we read, “All that was in the dry
land, died”. Once again, “dry land” is “charava”.
Both the verb, as well as the noun, are of the root ch.r.v (chet, resh, bet/vet)
which is also the root for “waste, desolate, attack, sword, plunder, wage war,
fight” and more. In Hebrew thought “dryness”, denoting lack of water
and rain (and hence drought), is commensurate with terms associated with
lifelessness and destruction, which points to the shortage of water
When they emerged out of the ark, Noach and his family were given the same ‘marching orders’ as did Adam, their predecessor. Humanity’s survivors were to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (9:1 with the following verse’s addition pointing to the major change that had taken place since similar words were said to the first humans). The injunction to be fruitful is “pru”. In the 10th generation, one of Noach’s descendants, Avram (Abram), will be informed by the bestowal of a blessing that, he will become “fruitful” (Gen. 17:6), while four generations after that event, Avraham’s grandson will be named, in faith, “multiple fruitfulness”?-?that?is,?Ephraim. However, one striking difference between Elohim’s blessing and charge to and over Noach and his sons and the one over Adam’s, is that this time the Almighty declares that “the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast… bird … and on all that moves on the earth, and on all the fish…” (Gen. 9:2). Notice that the “fear and dread” are absent from YHVH’s word to Adam regarding the latter’s “subduing” of the earth and the “dominion” he was to have over all that lives and moves (ref. Gen. 1:26, 28).
is the Hebrew word for
In the following generation we have the son of the third cousin, Shelach, whose name was Ever, who is of the firstborn lineage. It is his name which is given to the entire race - the Hebrews (“Ivrim”) who are to represent Elohim’s Kingdom on earth. The name Ever is derived from the verb to “pass or cross over”, a fact that this race will be demonstrating throughout biblical history, beginning with Avram. We will observe the Hebrews passing over from one place, or condition, to another, whether in a physical sense or otherwise, in order to earn the name of their forbearer.
The generation of the “cousins” (is it a coincidence that one of them, as mentioned, is actually named “Dodanim”- cousins?) is unique, having left its imprint upon humanity to this?very day.
It says that
Noach and his sons were to “fill the land/earth”. It is quite likely that this
“filling” was not meant only in a physical sense. Nimrod and the other
inhabitants of the
Earlier, in 9:19, it says about the sons of Noach that, “the whole earth was populated by them”, with the verb “populated” being literally “scattered” (the same one as used in 11:4, 8). The “scattering” was YHVH-initiated because, “indeed, the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they will begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them” (11:6). “Propose to do” is “yazmu”, which in Modern Hebrew refers to “initiatives” and “entrepreneurship”, but in Biblical Hebrew the root y.z.m. means “unrestrained activity”, and not surprisingly is analogous to the verbs “zamom” which is “to devise wickedness”, and “zimah” which is “to lust”.
At the very end of the Parasha (11:26ff), we are introduced to the “exalted
whose goings forth, preceded by the command “lech lecha”
will be reported next, in the Parasha?by?the?same?name.
*Parashot - plural of Parasha (feminine gender)
* The p and f sounds are designated by the same letter and may be pronounced as “p” in one form of the word, and as an “f” in another. The same is also true about the “b” and “v” sounds.