“Who was Enoch?”

In this week’s parasha, parashat Bereishith, the Torah, in Genesis 5, lists the genealogy of humankind, enumerating the names of the ten generations of descendants from Adam to Noah. The list consists of only the descendants of Adam and Eve’s third son, Seth. Abel, of course, was murdered by Cain, while Cain’s descendants all perished in the Flood in the time of Noah.

Nachmanides, the Ramban, attributes to Adam the extraordinary longevity of the people who lived during these generations, many of whom reached age 800 and above. Since they were all directly descended from Adam, who was created physically perfect by G-d, these generations were also divinely endowed, enabling them to achieve great longevity. It was only after the Flood, that the life span of humans began to decline because of the degenerate moral atmosphere. Maimonides maintains that only the truly righteous people lived long lives, and that the life span of others already started to decline after Adam’s generation.

Genesis 5 devotes four verses, 21-24, to the life of one of Seth’s descendants, named Enoch, חֲנוֹךְ , Chanoch in Hebrew. Although we have previously encountered the name Enoch (Genesis 4:17) who was the son of Cain, this Enoch, is a descendant of Seth.

Ten generations from Adam to Noah are enumerated in the Torah: 1. Adam, 2. Seth, 3. Enosh, 4. Kenan, 5. Mahalalel, 6. Jared, 7. Enoch, 8. Methuselah, 9. Lamech, and 10. Noah.

Enoch, the seventh generation descendant of Adam, is considered by the Midrash, Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 23, M, to be a person of special quality. Indeed, Moses was also the seventh of his generation.

Regarding Enoch, the Torah in Genesis 5:21-22 reports, וַיְחִי חֲנוֹךְ חָמֵשׁ וְשִׁשִּׁים שָׁנָה, וַיּוֹלֶד אֶת מְתוּשָׁלַח. וַיִּתְהַלֵּךְ חֲנוֹךְ אֶת הָאֱ־לֹקִים אַחֲרֵי הוֹלִידוֹ אֶת מְתוּשֶׁלַח שְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה, וַיּוֹלֶד בָּנִים וּבָנוֹת , And Enoch lived 65 years and begat Methuselah. And Enoch walked with G-d for three hundred years after begetting Methuselah; and he begat sons and daughters. The Torah then concludes that all of the days of Enoch’s life were three hundred and sixty five years. And Enoch walked with G-d; then he was no more, for G-d had taken him.

According to most commentaries, Enoch died suddenly at a relatively young age. He clearly lived significantly fewer years than any of the other members of his family, from Adam to Noah. Ironically, his son, Methuselah, is renowned for living until age 969, longer than any other human being.

The fact that Enoch died when he was only 365 years old, begs elucidation. Furthermore, it’s not entirely clear that Enoch really died. The Torah enigmatically notes that “he [Enoch] was no more.” Enoch seems to have disappeared. His premature death raises many questions that are explained in different ways by various commentators. Was Enoch righteous or a sinner? Could it be possible that he was an angel?

The Torah only records that Enoch was one of the first ten generations of humankind and that he died young, at age 365, which of course is itself a special number. Enoch lived less than half the life span of his contemporaries.

Why was Enoch taken prematurely by G-d? The Midrash Rabbah, 25:1 suggests that Enoch himself was not really a very good person, and therefore he died at a young age. An alternate opinion in the Midrash, cited by Rashi, is that Enoch was “rewarded” with a shortened life to prevent him from sinning. The commentators suggest that Enoch alternated between being righteous and wicked. The Al-mighty thus determined to take Enoch from the living while he was still righteous, before he could be corrupted by the truly wicked generation of the Flood. Rashi adds, that the Al-mighty hastened Enoch’s death because he was so easily impressionable and would undoubtedly become evil. On the other hand, both the Ralbag and Ibn Ezra  see Enoch as someone righteous who had simply completed his mission in the world, and there was no longer any reason to keep him alive.

The Torah describes Enoch as “walking with G-d” and “disappearing” because G-d took him. The Midrash in Derech Eretz Zuta, at the end of the first chapter, lists Enoch as one of only nine people who merited to enter the Garden of Eden while yet alive. Targum Yonatan ben Uziel says that Enoch did not die, his spirit merely left his body, and he was transformed into an angel, the famed Metatron.

During Enoch’s lifetime, the world had slowly begun to deteriorate morally, and sin became common. Enoch’s life’s mission was to purify the world through his good actions and noble deeds. Were it not for the righteousness of Enoch, the Flood would have arrived sooner. Some even attribute the salvation of Noah to the positive influence of Enoch.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in his commentary on the Bible, suggests that the generations from Adam to Noah alternated between materialism and spiritualism. Some generations were noted for their giving, while others were entirely self-centered.

Rabbi Hirsch sees from the fact that Enoch is described as “walking with G-d,” that he lived an extreme monastic life, retiring from the world, avoiding the masses, either out of fear or out of disdain and contempt for his contemporaries. Says Rabbi Hirsch, monasticism is not an acceptable Jewish practice. Throughout Jewish history, righteous Jews always made a point of living together with the masses, and contributing to the masses–considering it their mission to raise the values and aspiration of the masses up to their own.

Asceticism, says Rabbi Hirsch, was strongly opposed to by the Torah because it is based “on the erroneous idea that G-dliness is something pertaining to the next world, something that lies outside the sphere of ordinary life.”

As we see too often, even in our times, extremism is not healthy. Rather, the proper path to pursue is a path of balance and moderation that enables human beings to flourish, even under extremely challenging circumstances.

May you be blessed.