Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Parashat Noah 5764/ November 1, 2003
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies,
Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center,
and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet
under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's
International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
Parashat Noah 5764/ November 1, 2003
I am about to destroy them with the earth (Gen.
Prof. Moshe Zippor
Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Bible
The above verse in the original Hebrew, Ve-hineni
Mashhitam et Ha-Arez
is unclear. Several explanations have been offered for it,
the main ones being:
1. et ha-arez- meaning "from the
earth", like ke-zeti et ha-ir (Ex. 9:29), i.e. "from the
city" (see also Gen. 44:4; Deut. 14:22). The meaning would be, "I
am destroying them off the face of the earth." But the example ke-zeti
et does not apply, because the preposition et refers there to the
verb, not the object as in our case. Further, a combination like lehashkhit
min ha-arez - "to wipe out from the earth" is not
et ha-arez- "Together with the earth", meaning
that the land was wiped out and destroyed together with its inhabitants. Again
this explanation fits the context of the events only with
et ha-arez- "Drags himself and another with him".
This rule of medieval Hebrew grammarians means we must read the verse as if the
word mashitam were doubled: "I am about to destroy them and to
destroy the land." And still there is a difficulty understanding
"to destroy the earth" as compared with "to destroy
them"; Who does "them" refer to? No wonder bible scholars
proposed various emendations and "corrections" to the
Our sages already taught that one way to resolve problematic
words or phrases in the Bible is to draw on other languages, not just sister
languages such as Aramaic but even languages that obviously have no connection
with the biblical text. The explanation of the word totafot
(phylacteries) in the Talmud, also cited by Rashi on the Bible, is
well known: "tat in the language of Katfi means two, pat in
African (sic) means two"(Sanhedrin 4b) [tat and pat
are the consonantal 'roots' of the word totafot, teaching
that the phylacteries contain four portions from the Torah]
We can assume that had additional languages related to
biblical Hebrew, such as Akkadian, Moabite or Ugaritic, discovered in the past
century or so, been accessible to our sages, and certainly if they had been
familiar with texts in those languages, they would have used them to explain
difficult biblical passages. We will now attempt just such a comparative
To understand our opening verse, we will look at Psalm 29 with
its unusual structure, including the special structure of individual verses.
So, for instance:
(5) Kol Hashem shover arazim va-yeshaber Hashem et arze
(8) Kol Hashem yahil midbar yahil Hashem midbar
The voice of the Lord breaks cedars; the Lord shatters the
cedars of Lebanon.
The voice of the Lord convulses the wilderness; the Lord
convulses the wilderness of Kadesh.
Verse 6 requires explanation. The common interpretation is in
accordance with the phrasing expressed in the division of the cantillation
Va-yarkidem kemo egel Levanon ve-Siryon kemo
He makes them skip like a calf Lebanon and Siryon like
a young wild ox.
Va-yarkidem - He makes them skip. To what
does this refer? Common sense would say, the previously mentioned cedars of
Lebanon in verse 5 (see above). Now one form of parallelism in biblical poetry
is the "missing" parallel (generally in the second stich, or
half-line). We complete the missing part in our thoughts according to the first
stich. Following is an example from Psalm 114; the words that have to be
supplied by the reader are in brackets:
(1)Be-zet Yisrael mi-Mizraim [Be-zet] beit Yaakov me-am
(3)Ha-yam ra'a va-yanos ha-Yarden [ra'a] yisov
(4)He-harim rakedu ke'elim geva'ot [rakdu]
(1)When Israel went forth from Egypt/
the house of Jacob[ went forth] from a people of strange
(3)The sea saw them and fled/ Jordan [saw them and] ran
Mountains skipped like rams/ hills [skipped] like
Following this poetic convention, the second stich in Ps. 29:
6 is generally explained in this way: "[He made] Lebanon and Siryon (=
Mount Hermon) dance like the sons of rams." This interpretation raises
some questions: (a) Contrary to all the other verses of Psalm 29, in which the
parallel stichs are of equal length, here, according to this conception, the
first stich is shorter, the second very long. (b) Regarding the images
appearing in the chapter, each verse depicting "the voice of G-d"
presents one image, while here we have a mixture of images. In verse 5, the
voice of the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon; in verse 6 the voice of the Lord
makes the mountains of Lebanon and Siryon dance like sons of rams (after He
broke them?). In other words, the cedars of Lebanon are given one and a half
verses, the mountains of Lebanon and Siryon only half a verse. This is also
In Ugaritic literature, which has a close affinity with the
language and idioms of the Bible, we find the suffix mem
) for reinforcement.
On this basis we can alter the
phrasing of our verse:
Va-yarkid [m] kemo egel Levanon ve-Siryon - kemo ben
He made Lebanon dance like a calf / Siryon like a young wild
The voice of the Lord in this verse has a unified image
- it causes the mountains of Lebanon and Siryon to dance, not the cedars
of Lebanon which, as described in the previous image, He breaks. We have
already come across the image of the dancing mountains and hills, in Psalm 114,
compared by the poet to the hopping and skipping of rams and sheep. The suffix
of va-yarkidem is not an accusative suffix, it does not refer to an
object - "He made them dance". It is a suffix ( in
Ugaritic, mem with a vowel , perhaps ma) added for
Apparently, this is the correct interpretation of the phrase
mehatz motna'im kamav (Deut. 33:11). In fact, it is mehatz
motne kamav, "Smite the loins of his enemies" in the construct,
and the mem is the enclitic mem. Another example of this style
appears in Is. 10:5
Hoy, Ashur shevet api u-mate hu be-yadam za'ami
Ha! Assyria, rod of my anger/ In whose hand, as a staff, is My fury
The above translation, reading in effect "my anger is a
staff in their hand," is shaky, because the idea expressed does not
parallel the idea of the first stich, "Ha! Assyria, rod of my
anger". However, if we explain the mem as the enclitic
mem, be-yad[am], the verse becomes clear and the parallel is
Ashur shevet api/
u-mate hu be-yad za'ami.
The word hu (he) in the second section refers back to
Ashur; Assyria serves the Lord as a staff (shevet/mate) through which He
expresses His anger.
Assyria is the rod of my wrath/
the staff of my fury.
Looking again at our opening verse, if here also we consider
the final mem of mashhitam as enclitic mem rather than as
an accusative suffix (i.e. destroys them), our verse (Gen. 6:13) will be
Ketz kol basar ba lefanai, ki mal'a ha-arez hamas
mi-pnehem, ve-hineni mashhit [m] (= mashhit - destroy, not destroy them)
God said to Noah, I have decided to put an end to all
flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to
destroy the earth.
The meaning of et ha-arez is not "the
earth" but rather "mankind", exactly as in the first section
of the verse: ki mal'a ha-arez hamas and as in verses 11-12:
Va-tishahet ha-arez lifne ha-Elokim...va-yar Elokim et ha-arez ve-hine
nishhata. Ha-arez is a metonym for kol basar, "all
flesh". (see also verse 17).
This makes our verse perfectly clear. This is "measure
for measure": the land was destroyed - nishhata (in the ethical
sense) by its inhabitants ("all flesh"), and therefore the Lord will
destroy - yashhit (in the physical sense) the land, i.e. its
inhabitants ("the end of all flesh").
See Y. Avishur,
"Psalm 29", Iyyunim Bashira hamizmorit ha'ivrit
, Jerusalem 5749 (1989), pp. 25-75.