“Noah: A Biblical Profile”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

When compared to the dynamic Abraham and even to the self-indulgent Adam, Noah often pales in comparison to these two great fathers of humanity. The truth is that Noah, a man of many talents, never receives his due recognition because he is overshadowed by others with even greater talents.

According to the chronological record that appears in Genesis 5:29, Noah, the son of Lamech, was born in the 10th generation of humankind, in the year 1056 from the creation of the world. Noah was the direct descendant of Adam, Seth, Enosh, Keynan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, and Lamech. Adam was still alive when Lamech was born, but passed away 126 years before the arrival of his multi-talented grandson, Noah, who like Adam, was to be the father of all humankind.

When Noah was 500 years old, he fathered three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth (Genesis 5:32). It was in the 600th year of Noah’s life that the earth was inundated (Genesis 6:6).

Noah lived 350 years after the flood, and died in the year 2006, at the age of 950. From the perspective of longevity, he is the third longest-living human, living longer than the “founding father,” Adam (who lived to age 930), but less than Jared (who lived to age 962) and Methuselah (who lived to the ripe-old-age of 969).

During the 10 generations from Adam to Noah, civilization made great strides, mastering many new skills. The world’s inhabitants learned to use animals for their benefit (although they still weren’t allowed to eat animal flesh). It was during this early period that the first professions emerged: shepherding (Abel and Jabal) and agriculture (Cain). People learned to fashion clothes and build homes. They designed vessels and weapons of wood, stone and metal (Tubal-cain, Genesis 4:22). The aesthetic arts were reportedly mastered by Jubal (Genesis 4:20) who enriched the world with the dulcet tones of the harp and the lyre.

However, all this important human progress took place in an increasingly immoral environment. In Genesis 6:5, G-d realizes, “Ki rabbah ra’at ha’adam ba’aretz,” that the wickedness of the human being was great upon the earth and that every thought of their hearts was for evil.

Soon the earth became entirely corrupt before G-d, filled with theft and robbery (Genesis 6:11). The Torah tells us (Genesis 6:12) that G-d saw the Earth, and behold it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the Earth.

Despite the fact that Noah was born into a generation of vile and immoral people, he refused to be seduced by their behavior or their values. Scripture states (Genesis 6:8), “V’Noach mah’tzah chen b’eyney Ha-shem,” and Noah found favor in the eyes of G-d.

The Torah tells us that when Noah was born his father named him “Noah,” saying: (Genesis 5:29) “This one will bring us rest (y’nah’chah’may’nu) from our work and from the toil (eetz’vohn) of our hands from the ground which G-d had cursed.” According to proper Hebrew usage, the child should really have been “Nachman” or “Menachem,” which means to console, rather than Noah, which means to bring rest.

The commentators explain the choice of Noah’s given name. When Adam and Eve violated the prohibition of eating from the tree of knowledge, G-d tells Adam (Genesis 3:17-19) that the earth will be cursed because of you. Through suffering (“ee’tzah’vohn“) shall you eat of it [the earth] all the days of your life. Due to the use of the parallel word “eetz’vohn,” suffering or pain, the Rabbis conclude that Noah brought relief and rest to the workers of the land by inventing the plow, hoe, and shovel.

After the flood, Noah plants a vineyard, grows vines and makes wine. Noah is therefore not only the father of the plow, but also the first winemaker.

In addition to being an inventor of fundamental agricultural implements and the father of wine making, Noah was obviously a gifted craftsman and woodworker, building a three-story high Ark that measured 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. He also waterproofed the vessel, covering it inside and out with pitch. Noah was obviously an expert in animal husbandry, knowing how to provide for the individual needs of the many different animal species and arranging for their feeding and maintenance. He clearly had great organizational skills and broad knowledge in many diverse areas.

Despite Noah’s many talents and superior intelligence, the Torah chooses to emphasize his righteousness: “Tzadik, tamim haya b’doh’roh’tav” (Genesis 6:9), a righteous man, perfect in his generations. Not only was Noah pious and righteous, he is described as having actually walked with G-d (Genesis 6:9).

By building the Ark, Noah saves humanity and he and his sons become the new fathers of all humankind.

Yet even the noblest biblical characters have their shortcomings, and Noah is no different. Unable to restrain himself (see analysis of Noah 5762-2001), Noah drinks from the wine that he manufactured, gets drunk and uncovers himself within his tent.

Despite his shortcomings, Noah is regarded by the prophet Ezekiel as one of the three righteous people of ancient times whose righteousness redounds to the benefit of all of humankind (Ezekiel 14:13-20).

After the flood, Noah builds an altar to G-d, offering up burnt sacrifices of pure (kosher) animals and pure fowl, underscoring that the concept of pure creatures was already known by that time, even before the giving of the Torah.

The accomplishments of Noah are legion. It is he who opens a new chapter in human history. Not only do all human beings descend from Noah and his sons, but the relationship between humanity and G-d is transformed based on the covenant that is concluded between Noah and G-d (Genesis 9). As a procreator, Noah can be compared to Adam, the father of all humanity. But in a very real sense, Noah, like the great Abraham, deserves to be considered a veritable spiritual father of humanity. Quite an accomplishment for a man who is often regarded by many with rather poorly concealed ambivalence.

May you be blessed.