Magazine article Tikkun

Noah: He Shall Comfort

Magazine article Tikkun

Noah: He Shall Comfort

Article excerpt


Underlying the biblical account of a devastating Flood is an instructive parable about war and its roots in the wild impulses within even the most noble human beings.

Noah's story falls into the pattern of a classical tragedy, spanning the rise and fall of a person destined for greatness.

At birth, Noah's father, Lamech, prophesies that his son will comfort humanity in its arduous labor. This is a play on Noah's name, in Hebrew, Noach, which resonates with the word for comfort, "nachem." The child's name is, of course, his destiny, which is to remove an ancient curse upon the soil. It also points to Noah's lesser known role as the first cultivator of grape wine, and foreshadows his later fall into drunkenness. "Nachem," comfort, is Noah's fatal flaw, his strength and his weakness, source of his greatest triumph and source of his greatest "yinachem," his greatest regret. In typical biblical fashion, the root word, N-CH-M, contains the whole story.

Lamech's prophecy, yinachameinu, he will comfort, ultimately has its root in the Hebrew word to sigh, yinachem: Through Noah, humanity will sigh with relief. But immediately after Lamech's prophecy, a greater problem than human toil is presented-the impending destruction that grows out of it. We read here that the earth is filled with violence; and so, yinachem: God sighs that He had made the earth.

With great poetical economy, a variation on this word appears one last time toward the narrative's end. When Noah first sends the dove out, it finds no rest, manoach, for the sole of its foot. This drives home the point of the entire parable, the yearning of the dove to find the comfort of dry land, that is, an end to bloodshed.

I think it is safe to assume that Torah intends the closing passage, depicting Noah's regression into drunkenness, to strike a note of world weary irony. Humanity can hardly be expected to sustain this dryness even for one generation; and it is almost understandable that the old man found some comfort in drinking.

Why does this parable about violence and peace hinge on something as seemingly banal as comfort? This point is illuminated by two soliloquies of God, which together frame the narrative with great literary grace. …

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