Parashat Bresheet ends with enumerating mankind’s genealogies, as well as with a preamble to the next episode, that is to Parashat Noach. Rabbi Fohrman of alefbeta.org highlights the words of Lemech, Noah’s father, whose reason for naming his son is explained in chapter 5 verse 29. Rabbi Fohrman then goes on to point to chapter 6:6 and 7, as some of the same words, and in the same order, are used there too, but in regard to YHVH’s judgments of humanity. These similarities can only be seen in Hebrew. Hence we will go through them one by one.
Upon Noach’s birth Lemech says, “(This one) will comfort us – y’na’cha’mey’nu – (concerning) our work – ma’a’seynu – and the toil – um’eetza’von (of our hands, because of) the ground – ha’a’da’ma (which YHVH has cursed)” (5:29). In 6:6, 7 it declares: “(And YHVH) regretted – va’yi’na’chem – (that) He had made – asah – (man on the earth) and He was grieved – va’yit’atzev - … (so YHVH said, ‘I will destroy man… from the face of the) earth – adama.” Let us review our words as they appear in both texts: “Comfort” which is also “regret”, “work” which is also “make”, “toil” which is also “grief” and “ground which is also “earth” (the roots for each of these four terms being: n.ch.m, a.s.a, e.tz.v, and a.d.m).
Now that we had a short Hebrew lesson, let’s ask ourselves one or two questions: Were Lemech’s words prophetic? Did YHVH consider Lemech’s monologue to be so important as to replicate his words? What is going on here, and is this repetition of any significance?
Well, if we read each of the two texts in their respective contexts, we will see that they are actually very different from each other. Thus, the usage of the same terms but with two different messages seems to highlight the big gap that exists between the two ideas that are being conveyed here. This linguistic technique is often used by Scripture to draw the readers’ attention to an important subtext.
Let’s examine Lemech’s reasoning for naming his son a “comforter”. Apparently life was not easy in the post Edenic times: toiling, working, eking out a living was ‘no fun’. The earth, the source of income, was resisting man’s efforts. The pay check didn’t meet all of the needs, work hours were long, very little leisure and pleasure; the effects of the curse were truly evident.
Is there a way for a hard working person to ease his/her burdens in this never ending race to sustain himself/herself and the family? At last a firstborn comes into this world (his father is a youngster of 182). A beautiful baby – what joy! Additionally, when he grows up some, he will be of great help to his hardworking father in easing the heavy burdens! Perhaps he will even be a great leader in the community; will be gifted with ingenuity and may even come up with some agricultural/ecological solutions that will make the ground yield more produce and lessen the toil! Little Noach’s birth signaled hope in the drudgery of Lemech’s everyday routines.
It is so easy to identify with Lemech, isn’t it? Our day to day routines also wear us down. Legitimately we look forward to relief, to some comfort, and indeed thankfully quite often there is a supply via family, friends, ministry, promotions which bring financial relief, change of local or national government that seems more favorable, health improvements, change of location etc. We are blessed in all sorts of ways.
From here let’s move on to the next episode, described in the first 5 verses of Genesis chapter 6 and also in verse 11, introducing us to a very different reality from the one that was just described (and decried) by Lemech.
Oh, wow, wee! What do these verses reveal? A world that is turning topsy-turvy: The “sons of Elohim” marry the “daughters of man”; the fallen (giants) come into being and appear to be very powerful (“of renown”). The mind of man (“the thoughts of his heart”) is occupied in “doing evil continually”. Apparently those thoughts and imaginations were able to give birth to some very perverse activities which had an overall effect on Elohim’s created world. He therefore had to take some extreme action in order for this chaos and disorder to come to an end. It was no use reforming or fixing what had taken place. The creation was so corrupt that the only solution would be to re-create it. And just as it was originally created out of water, so will it now be demolished by water and come forth “new”. This now will form the backdrop against which we will be viewing the unfolding plan described in 6:6, 7.
Although echoing the words of Lemech, what it says about the Almighty Creator in these verses bears no direct connection to Lemech’s demise or potential solution for his problems. Quite the opposite! If fact, could the repetition of those words be intended to point to the gap between Lemech’s reality and world (which may have applied to many of his contemporaries too), and the real world which was going to be snuffed out of existence because it was no longer workable? Yes, the wonderful son of Lemech was a “comforter”, but not for the purpose of releasing dad out of his ‘blues’. Lemech’s son had a far greater task apropos the conditions of the then-existing world and the grand-scale calamity that was about to take place, though it still seemed far off… This son was a “comforter” in that he was the only righteous person in a most evil and corrupt generation who did not succumb to the surrounding influences, but with endurance and patience set his mind to the rescue task that was set before him. Moreover, in the midst of all the perversions and violence he also spoke up, withstanding the potential harm he could have brought upon himself. (Peter calls him “a preacher of righteousness” see 2 Peter 2:5.)
Thus the Matthew 24:37-42 (and Luke 17:26 ff) text comes to our aid in regards to our own day, so that our awareness may rise as to the context of our lives and motivate us to act accordingly: "But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.”
However, we find in Scripture also a counter picture - of a “new” world. In the beginning of Parashat Noach the term “corrupt” (spoiled, marred, ruined – sh.ch.t) is repeated several times (see 6:11,12,13,17). That word describes a world that was beyond repair. Is this true also of our world? It too may be irretrievably corrupt. Perhaps this is why Peter says that this world is “reserved for fire” (2nd Peter 3:7). But, you know what? The solution once again will come by a “flood”, and so it is written: “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of YHVH as the waters cover the sea”. The same text also emphasizes, in contrast to the days of Noah, that “they shall not hurt or destroy/ corrupt/ mar/ spoil – sh.ch.t. – in all My holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:9b, 9a).
Perhaps you too are sensing that the “days of Noach” are upon us. May be it is time to get busy building the ark (tey’vah), while also “preaching righteousness”. What does “building an ark” and “preaching righteous” mean? They may be different things to different people. That’s alright. There is a possible hint in the very construction of the ‘original’ ark, since in His instructions YHVH incorporates the root k.f.r. (covering – atonement such as “kippur”) twice; once as the verb for covering, and then as the very material that was to coat the wooden structure (ref. 6:14). All the same, we all need to know from the Master Builder and King of Righteousness what any of this may mean for each of us. By YHVH echoing Lemech’s words He made them mean almost the opposite of their speaker’s intention. And as easy as it is to empathize with Lemech, it is not him that we want to emulate, but rather to wake up and gain awareness of what our heavenly Father has for us in this generation, as Noach did in his.
Please note - if this conclusion seems to be portraying YHVH somewhat harshly, as though He is disinterested in personal needs and plights, let us not forget that the ark, with its potential to grant safety to many, ended up protecting and saving (solely) its builders. Even if Elohim appears sometimes to be neglecting, it is only because He is redirecting.