Friday, October 16, 2015

Random Musings Before Shabbat–Noakh 5776–Two Short Thoughts on Noah

Thought One:

I’ll bet that G”d is berating G”d’s self for that whole “never again will I destroy the earth by flood” thing. At least G”d left G”d’s-self an out by adding that “by flood” qualification. But flood is a much cleaner way than volcanic eruption, earthquakes, nuclear annihilation, extinction-level meteor strike. (Or is it – earth has proven itself quite capable of recovery from the direst of catastrophes. Species less so, but the planet, for sure. However, if the specific goal is to wipe out humanity in a way that leaves the planet ripe for a restart, flood seems a logical choice.)

C’mon, be honest. If you have any belief at all in the Deity, you must be wondering at how many times G”d has given humanity a pass since the biblical flood, when another restart might have proven a superior choice.

Thought Two: 

  אֵלֶּה תּֽוֹלְדֹת נֹחַ נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה בְּדֹֽרֹתָיו אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִים הִֽתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹֽחַ

There is something extraordinary about the end of verse 6:9. It is a non-conforming piece of syntax. The word order is all wrong. The object precedes the subject and verb. Literally, it says “direct object marker-G”d, walked Noah.” There isn’t even a proper “with,” it has to be inferred. The usual order would be verb, subject, object, and this is how it appears elsewhere. (There are two other occasions of the walking with the direct object marker-G”d, but in those two instances, the syntax is normal. For example, Genesis 5:22, “And walked Enoch (inferred with) direct object marker-G”d.”

(For those of you unfamiliar with Hebrew, the particle אֶת is used as a marker for the direct object of the sentence. So whatever word follows the “et” is the person or thing being verbed, i.e. acted upon by the subject of the sentence. Also, a more normative syntax for saying someone did something with someone else would use the Hebrew particle עִם, meaning “with.” הִֽתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹֽחַ עִם אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִים might be a more typical syntax. That is, unambiguously, “Noah walked with G”d.” (although the verb form complicates things a bit more. The verb is in a “hitpael” form, which indicates intensive reflective action. It’s like saying “he walked himself.” So we have: direct object marker-G”d Noah walked himself (inferred with.)

The rabbis spin the unusual order by saying it is meant to show G”d’s prominence in the relationship, almost as if to say that G”d deemed Noah worthy enough that Noah could walk with G’d” as opposed to the simple Noah was worthy enough to walk with G”d. It’s a small but significant difference. What else could it mean? The verb form being reflexive really complicates things, and from my perspective, could be an indicator of the rabbinic interpretation being incorrect. Rather than trying to put G”d first in the situation, maybe the text is suggesting that, well, it was Noah’s deliberate and meaningful choice to “walk himself with G”d.” That’s a horse of a different color. Noah was righteous because of his choice, not because G”d chose him. Think about that for a second.

Now, admittedly, the first clause of the sentence, that describes Noah as “righteous considering how lousy the people of his time were” takes a bit of the wind out of the sails of Noah’s righteousness – but maybe that second clause is there precisely to counteract that idea. Maybe, just maybe, instead of trying to lessen Noah’s status, the real intent is to heighten it! Not “he wasn’t such a bad guy considering how everyone else was in his time,” but rather “he was a righteous man in his time, he chose to walk himself with (align himself with?) G”d even if that wasn’t the popular thing to do. That’s a whole different way of saying Noah. It puts his drunkenness after the flood in a new light – not that Noah was a weak-willed man who just couldn’t handle himself, but just one of many examples of good people in the Torah who have weaknesses. I like that Noah. What about you?

Wanna see how my views on this have changed over time? Read the musing entitled “Striving to be Human” from 5763, linked below

Shabbat Shalom,


©2015 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings On This Parasha:

Noakh 5775 - To Make a Name For Ourselves (Revisited)
Noakh 5774 - Let's Rebuild That Tower
Noakh 5773 - Nothing New
Noakh 5772 - The Long Haul
Noakh 5771 - Redux 5765 - A P'shat in the Dark
Noakh 5770 - Don't Ham It Up
Noah 5768 - Redux 5761 - Getting Noticed
Noakh 5766-What A Nimrod! (Revised)
Noakh 5765-A Pshat In The Dark
Noach 5764-Finding My Rainbow
Noach 5763-Striving to be Human
Noach 5762-To Make a Name for Ourselves
Noach 5761-Getting Noticed
Noach 5760-What a Nimrod!

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