Genesis: The Beginning of Desire

By Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg | Go to book overview
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NOAḤ


Kindness and Ecstasy

The collapse of God's project

When men began to increase on earth and daughters were born to them, the divine beings saw how beautiful the daughters of men were and took wives from among those that pleased them. The Lord said, "My breath shall not abide in man forever, since he too is flesh; let the days allowed him be one hundred and twenty years." -- It was then, and later too, that the Nephilim appeared on earth-when the divine beings cohabited with the daughters of men, who bore them offspring. They were the heroes of old, the men of renown. The Lord saw how great was man's wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time. And the Lord regretted that He had made man on earth, and His heart was saddened. The Lord said, "I will blot out from the earth the men whom I created -- men together with beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I made them." But Noah found favor with the Lord. (6:1-8)

God's decision to "blot out" the whole of creation follows on an account of births and deaths over ten generations, culminating in the birth and naming of Noah. The central event of each generation is the birth of the significant heir; the father's years are numbered before and after this pivotal act of propagation. Intense expectation builds up, therefore, in this objective account of numbers and names, an expectation that becomes explicit when the reason for Noah's name is given by Lamekh, his father: "This one will provide us relief [ y'naḥmenu ] from our work and from the toil of our hands, out of the very soil which the Lord placed under a curse" (5:29). That Noah's name is derived from the word neḥama, "comfort," is in itself strange: etymologically, the word noaḥ, meaning "rest," would seem more appropriate; and, in fact, Rashi insists on treating y'naḥamenu as a pun on yaniaḥ mimenu -- "God will give us

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