Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Word Play, Parallels and Irony in Noach

Regarding Noah, the Bible quotes his father Lemach as saying:
 זֶה יְנַחֲמֵנוּ מִמַּעֲשֵׂנוּ וּמֵעִצְּבוֹן יָדֵינוּ מִן הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר אֵרְרָהּ יְ־הֹוָ־ה: = This one will give us comfort from our work, and from the toil of our hands from the ground that God has cursed.
From this, the Sages guessed that Noah invented the plow, through which the curse of Adam was partially undone. No longer would men have to toil with their hands to grow food. With the plow, the work was made easier. (How his father knew this at the time of his son's naming is not explained.) 

There's some word play later, when speaking of mankind God says:
כִּי נִחַמְתִּי כִּי עֲשִׂיתִם: I regret that I made them
The suggestion seems to be that Noach was meant to be an antidote to God's regret. God regrets  (nahem) that he made man, but the comfort (nehama) is standing by in the person of Noach.

This is born out by an additional example. The verse says
וְנֹחַ מָצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי יְ־הֹוָ־ה Noah found favor in Gods eyes.
The word Noah and Chen are a palindrome. The suggestion seems to be that Noah himself is the potential source of favor.

Perhaps Noach is meant to undo the curse of Adam and to become the vehicle through which the shortcomings in the first creation are corrected.

As noted, the Sages say he started this process through his invention of the plow. Additionally some  parallels exist between Noah and Adam.

Both are given a command to populate the world. Both have three sons, one of whom was a black sheep who committed a serious crime. And as per BT Sanhedrin 70a both were undone by wine. Those Sages who imagine the forbidden fruit was a grape criticize Noah for failing to learn  from Adam's mistake.

Ironically, wine is also a source of comfort, and also something that eases a worker's toil. Perhaps what the verses mean is that Noah had the potential to bring great comfort, to correct the world, and cancel Adam's curse. Instead he imitated Adam's error, and  introduced to the world a paler, more destructive form of comfort. When he named his son, Noach's father envisioned great things; what his son delivered was an accurate fulfillment of the father's wish, but not what was specifically intended.

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