Bar-Ilan University

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Daf Parashat Hashavua

(Study Sheet on the Weekly Torah Portion)

Basic Jewish Studies Unit


The Wife of Noah

The wife of Noah is mentioned five times in the flood story ( Gen. 6:18, 7:7, 7:13, 8:16, 8:18) though she lacks any personal identity. The midrash in Bereshit Rabba 23:3 fills this void: "And the sister of Tuval Kain was Na'amah" (Gen. 4:22). Rabbi Abba bar Kahanah said: Na'amah was the wife of Noah, and why was she called Na'amah (pleasant one)? Since her deeds were pleasing , and our rabbis said: There was another Na'amah, and why did they call her Na'amah? She played melodies on the drum to accompany idolatry".

In part this midrash seems to fit the definition of Yizchak Heinemann in his book "Darchei Ha'agadah" (1974, p.2) "Not all midrashic explanations which ignore the plain meaning (of a text) are without scientific value. In the opinion of several important scholars there seem to have remained in the hands of our Sages of Blessed Memory historical, geographical, aggadic and especially halachic material which prompted them to explain texts in a manner other than that of their plain meaning". The agreement of the two conflicting opinions that the wife of Noah was, in fact, Na'amah points to a common historic tradition which provides a significant detail unavailable from a simple reading of the text.

Still, the basic difference of opinion in the midrash is maintained: our Rabbis saw the wife of Noah as having no visible identity, since, in their opinion, her name is not mentioned in the Torah and we have no idea who this Na'amah was. Her anononimity may be attributable to her lack of individual merit, as explained by Nachmanides (Gen. 6:9) "Noah was a righteous, perfect man..." and since Noah was righteous and undeserving of punishment, his sons and family deserved to be saved upon his merit as it would have been a punishment inflicted upon him had his seed been cut off".

In contrast, the latter opinion provides a comprehensive family background for the wife of Noah and, in addition, gives specific reasons why she did not perish in the flood. Although it is said of Noah alone: "For I have seen you before Me as a righteous man in this generation" (Gen. 7:1), this in no way negates the possible righteousness of his wife. Human society in the first part of the Book of Genesis is described solely through the male line of descent and its fate is determined, for better or for worse, only by the conduct of its men. Moreover, according to the first opinion no satisfactory explanation exists for the survival of the wife of Noah whereas such an explanation can be offered for the survival of his sons. Regarding the sons there are two possibilities, one, according to Nachmanides that they are his seed, or, as in the words of the Midrash Shocher Tov (1,12) (see also Bereshit Rabbah 26,2): "(The righteous is like a tree) that produces its fruit in season..."(Psalms 1:3) - Rabbi Yudan said: All men of his (Noah's) age begat children at age fifty, sixty or seventy - and he at the age of five hundred. As it is said: "when Noah was five hundred years old Noah begot Shem, Ham and Japheth"(Gen. 5:32). Rabbi Chia in the name of Rabbi Acha said: "The Holy One Blessed Be He closed off his stream that he should not beget children so that he would not have a son one hundred years old at the time of the flood for such a son would have perished, since the Heavenly Court punishes only those one hundred years old or more; and if you say that there were in the generation of the flood those who were less than one hundred years old and perished I will tell you that they took part in the sins of their fathers and were punished as it is said: "For all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth" (Gen.6:12). Alternatively, why did He close off his stream? So that he should not beget and multiply his seed to perish with the generation of the flood and thus he would have been saddened by them; and if they had been righteous he would have had to build many arks! Therefore, G-d closed off his stream for five hundred years". Clearly from this midrash, Noah could not have protected his sons had they been of an age of legal responsibility for themselves, as in the words of Ezekiel (14:20) "Were Noah, Daniel and Job to be there,as I live, says the Lord G-d, they would save neither son nor daughter but only their own souls by their righteousness". Why, therefore, should the righteousness of Noah save his wife?

Can the interpretation of Rabbi Abba Bar Kahanah be taken literally? His exegitical technique is to fill an informational gap with extraneous information. In retrospect, this fits the definition given by Heinemann which contrasts the manner in which scientific research provides missing details with that of Rabbinic literature (Midrash) (p.21) "The way of science is to make obscure that which is clear no less than to clarify that which is obscure! Specifically, scientific biblical research casts doubts as to names, dates and details passed down in tradition while demanding of the scholar to justify his claims (though in point of fact some of the proofs used to establish the dating of texts are rather weak).[1] On the other hand, legends - not only those of the Jewish People - fill in details imaginatively in order to find answers to the questions of their listeners and to arrive at descriptions which will touch their hearts". One such imaginative way to fill in detail, says Heinemann, is to identify specifically mentioned Biblical names with otherwise anonymous characters. The principle reason for making such identifications stems from the words of Nachmanides in his commentary to Exodus 6:23, "Why mention a name if we do not know who it is?" (Heinemann, p. 29). ýý

A further examination shows that far from being mechanical, the midrashic method flows from a careful, in depth reading of the text and an investigation into the structure of Genesis. The reader will find it difficult to determine if the material at hand is literal explanation (pshat) or not. Rashi, following the Midrash Tanchuma in Vayeshev-1, presents the following structure of Genesis: "And Jacob settled ...(Gen. 37:1) - Having described the settlements of Esau and his descendants in brief - since they were not distinguished or important enough to relate in detail how they settled , an account of their wars and how they drove out the Horites - it (Scripture) explains clearly and at length the settlements made by Jacob and his descendants and all the events which brought these about, because these are regarded by the Omnipresent as of sufficient importance to speak of them at length. Similarly, too, you will find in the section dealing with the ten generations from Adam to Noah: "So and so begat so and so"; but when (Scripture) comes to (the story of) Noah it dwells on him at length. Likewise, it reports of the ten generations from Noah to Abraham in brief; but when it reaches Abraham it deals with him fully. This may be compared to a jewel which has fallen into the sand, a man searches through the sand and sifts it in a sieve until he finds the jewel. When he has found the jewel he throws away the pebbles and keeps the jewel".

The following diagram - Table 1 - illustrates the structure of Genesis and points out an apparent flaw in the structure.

+-----+     +-----+      +--------+       +-------+------+      +--------+
|Chap |     |Chaps|      |Chaps.  |       |Chaps  |Chap. |      |Chaps.  | 
|1-4  |Ch. 5|6-10 |Ch. 11|12-     |Ch. 25:| 25-   |28:10 |Ch. 36|37-50   |
+-----+-----+-----+------+25:11   | 12-18 |28:9   | -35  +------+--------+
|Adam+|ten  |Noah+|ten   +--------+-------+-------+------+      |(38:    |
|Eve  |gen- |his  |gen-  |Abraham+|desc-  |Issac+ |Jacob+|desc- |Judah+  |
|Cain/|erat-|wife |erat- |Sarah   |endants|Rebecca|Leah, | end- |Tamar)  |
|Abel/|ions |Shem/|ions  |Hagar/  |of     |       |Rachel| ants |Joseph+ |
|Seth |     |Ham  |      |Ketura  |Ishmael|Esau/  |Zilba,|of    |Ossnat  |
|     |     |Japh-|      |Ishmael/|       |Jacob  |Bilhah|Esau  |Menashe/|     
|     |     |eth  |      |Issac   |       +-------+12    |      |Ephraim |
+-+---+-----+---+-+      | sons of|               |sons  |      +--------+
  |Chap. 4:3-24 |        | Ketura |               +------+
  |Cain+his wife|        +--------|
  |(verse 18    |
  |4 gen-       |
  |   erations) |
  |Lemech+Ada,  |
  |Tzilla       |
  |Jabal/Jubal  |
  |Tubalcainh+  |
  |Na'amah      |
  +-------------+

The essential data in the detailed description of each of those beloved by G-d, the jewels, are first, the revelation of G-d to him and, second specific mention of the naof his wife and her family background.[2] The exceptions to this rule are Cain and Noah.

Cain, whose descendants perished in the flood - and they therefore appear in Table 1 as an appendix unconnected to the progress of mankind - is not a precious gem. On the other hand his life is described in detail, G-d speaks to him twice - therefore Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler calls him a prophet![3] Though his wife is not named, other women in his family are so honored - and Na'amah more then the rest. About Na'amah we know her paternal lineage to Adam, the name of her mother and those of her brothers.

Noah, on the other hand, merited the revelation of G-d because of his righteousness and a detailed description of him and his family as well, but, as we have seen his wife remains anonymous though she is mentioned often. The extraneous information about the family of Cain, and the missing information about that of Noah raise a question. If all the descendants of Cain perished in the flood why do we need to know their names? In contrast, the wife of Noah is the mother of mankind - a second Eve - mother of all who live - surely, we, her descendants should learn who she was and why she deserved to be saved from the curse of the flood ? Is she mentioned in the flood narrative and saved solely because she was "a part of the body" of Noah and therefore remains anonymous, without identity ?

Two factors prevent our acceptance of that premise. First, if the wife of Noah had no merit in her own right , why mention her at all, since she had no role in the life of Noah after the flood. Noah is unique among all those mentioned in the genealogical lists from Adam to Abraham. Of Noah it is not said "and he begat sons and daughters" after the births of Shem, Ham and Japheth, therefore the Torah wrote of them "these three are the sons of Noah and from these did all the earth spread out" (Gen. 9:19) .

Secondly, since Eve is described in Genesis as an independent legal personality - one responsible for her own sin, and therefore, punishable - it is reasonable to assume that the "Second Eve" should be a personality independent of the "Second Adam". If she was saved it was probably due to her own merit. A comparison of her fate with that of the wife of Lot in the Sodom and Gomorah narrative strengthens this assumption. The two stories have several parallel lines - sins which cause general destruction, only the worthy are saved, their merit is not sufficient to envelope those around them, the daughters of Lot feel that all mankind has been destroyed and that they are responsible for its renewal (Gen. 19:31).

Lot - like Noah - is saved by his righteousness, his daughters - like Shem, Ham and Japheth - are saved by the merit of their father in whose custody they still are, but his wife - unlike that of Noah - perishes because of her sin.

The identification of Na'amah, a descendant of Cain, as the wife of Noah, solves the structural flaw in Genesis as well as the above mentioned theological problem.The family of Cain is described at length in order to reveal the identity of the second mother of mankind. Her name indicates that she deserved to survive. Since mention of her family background would not have been complimentary to her, her name is not given in the present story. From her being saved it becomes clear that not all the descendants of Cain were without hope of redemption and therefore Cain received Divine Revelation. Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin comments in his commentary Ha'amek Davar on Genesis 4: 32 "from that which was good in Cain the world was established, through this woman, and he had the privilege of joining in the survival of the world with the seed of Seth, who were the purpose of creation".

Yona Bar Maoz

Translated by: Phil Lerman, Kibbutz Be'erot Yitzchak

Notes

[1] The note is included in the source.

[2] The background of Sarah is not clear at first but in Genesis 20:12 we are told that she was of the family of Abraham and we do not need the comment of R. Isaac in Sanhedrin 79:b which identifies Sarah as Yiscah, the daughter of Haran in order to create a clear family background for Sarah.

[3] Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, Michtav Me'Eliyahu, Jerusalem. 5742, Vol.1, p. 164.


With Assistance of the Presidential Fund for Torah and Science