This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
בְּרֵאשִׁית ~ Bereishis
“Biblical Giants & the End of Mankind”
|[5:29-6:8] “And he (Lemech) called his son Noach saying: ‘This will bring consolation from the work and the anguish of our hands from the ground which Hashem has cursed.’ And Lemech lived after bearing Noach, five hundred ninety five years, and he bore sons and daughters. And it was that all the days of Lemech’s life were seven hundred seventy seven years, and he died. And Noach was five hundred years old and Noach bore Sheim, Cham, and Yefes.
And it was when man began to spread on the face of the ground and daughters were born to them. And the B’nei HaElohim (‘sons of G-d’) saw that the daughters of man were good, and they took from them women (wives) from whomever they chose. And Hashem said ‘My spirit will not try (contend; stress) with man for, in fact, he is but flesh, and his days will be one hundred twenty years. The Nephillim (‘giants’) were on the earth in those days, and also afterwards when the B’nei HaElohim came to (cohabited with) the daughters of man, and they bore (progeny) to them; they were mighty ones who from old were men of renown. And Hashem saw that great was the evil of man on the earth and the entire inclination of the plans of his heart were only evil all day. Thus, G-d reconsidered (regretted) having made man on earth, and He was anguished in His heart. And Hashem said, ‘I will blot out mankind that I have created from on the face of the ground, from man until animal, until creeping thing, and until the winged creature of the heavens, for I reconsider My having made them.’ But Noach found favor in the eyes of Hashem.”
|וַיִּקְרָא אֶת שְׁמוֹ נֹחַ לֵאמֹר זֶה יְנַחֲמֵנוּ מִמַּעֲשֵׂנוּ וּמֵעִצְּבוֹן יָדֵינוּ מִן הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר אֵרֲרָהּ ה׳
וַיְחִי לֶמֶךְ אַחֲרֵי הוֹלִידוֹ אֶת נֹחַ חָמֵשׁ וְתִשְׁעִים שָׁנָה וַחֲמֵשׁ מֵאֹת שָׁנָה וַיּוֹלֶד בָּנִים וּבָנוֹת
וַיְהִי כָּל יְמֵי לֶמֶךְ שֶׁבַע וְשִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה וּשְׁבַע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה וַיָּמֹת
וַיְהִי נֹחַ בֶּן חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה וַיּוֹלֶד נֹחַ
אֶת שֵׁם אֶת חָם וְאֶת יָפֶת
וַיְהִי כִּי הֵחֵל הָאָדָם לָרֹב עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה
וּבָנוֹת יֻלְּדוּ לָהֶם
וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם כִּי טֹבֹת הֵנָּה וַיִּקְחוּ לָהֶם נָשִׁים מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר בָּחָרוּ
וַיֹּאמֶר ה׳ לֹא יָדוֹן רוּחִי בָאָדָם לְעֹלָם בְּשַׁגָּם הוּא בָשָׂר וְהָיוּ יָמָיו מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה
הַנְּפִלִים הָיוּ בָאָרֶץ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם וְגַם אַחֲרֵי כֵן
אֲשֶׁר יָבֹאוּ בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים אֶל בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם
וְיָלְדוּ לָהֶם הֵמָּה הַגִּבֹּרִים אֲשֶׁר מֵעוֹלָם אַנְשֵׁי הַשֵּׁם
וַיַּרְא ה׳ כִּי רַבָּה רָעַת הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ וְכָל יֵצֶר מַחְשְׁבֹת לִבּוֹ רַק רַע כָּל הַיּוֹם
וַיִּנָּחֶם ה׳ כִּי עָשָׂה אֶת הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ וַיִּתְעַצֵּב אֶל לִבּוֹ
וַיֹּאמֶר ה׳ אֶמְחֶה אֶת הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר בָּרָאתִי מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה מֵאָדָם עַד בְּהֵמָה עַד רֶמֶשׂ וְעַד עוֹף הַשָּׁמָיִם כִּי נִחַמְתִּי כִּי עֲשִׂיתִם
וְנֹחַ מָצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי ה׳
Parshas Bereishis closes with one of the most difficult and enigmatic passages in the entire Torah describing the prelude to the Flood which G-d used to blot out mankind [Bereishis 6:1-8]. The problem facing us here is that for a story so apparently monumental for our understanding of G-d’s relationship with the world and mankind, it pays for us to have at least somewhat of a clear understanding of it. And this story in particular forms the background for G-d’s decision to wipe out mankind. It is the reversal of Bereishis, the anti-Creation story. It’s a big deal. So what exactly was it that turned Creation to Destruction? For the full story, see the text above. And…go!
It is not a boring read in the slightest, but it is laden with ambiguity making it difficult to piece together. In response to this ambiguity, much ink has been spilled by the Midrashim and the commentators in attempt to explain the obscure text. Accordingly, there are multiple interpretations of this incoherent story, not all of which we’ll be able to cover here.
Be that at it may, the plain text, whatever sense one can make of it, leaves us with some givens. And so, we’re going to try to understand this story as much as possible with those givens without excessively favoring any of the diametrically variant interpretations.
Let’s begin this story by getting acquainted with the major players involved. Hopefully, by now, we’re familiar with Hashem/G-d, Creator of the world. But it gets trickier from there.
The B’nei HaElohim and the B’nos Adam:
What we know for sure is that the story has something to do with a group of people called the “B’nei HaElohim,” literally, children of G-d, and the non-consensual, marital advances which they make towards the “B’nos HaAdam,” daughters of mankind. The exact identity of these B’nei HaElohim is unclear from the plain text, but the suggestions among Chazzal and the commentators vary here as well, many suggesting that they’re just human rulers, while others suggesting that they were angels (we’ll assume like the simple interpretation that they were human). We know that Hashem does not approve of these unions, and that it is in apparent response to this interplay between the B’nei HaElohim and the B’nos HaAdam that G-d decides he has had it with mankind whom He sees as being “evil all day” [6:6]. A rape culture, assuming there is one, is pretty bad, and it is therefore understandable that G-d would be disappointed by it.
What’s strange and worth noting though is that nowhere in this mysterious story are we told about the “Chamas,” the robbery or corruption which the Torah later attributes G-d’s Flood sentence to, right before the Flood occurs in Parshas Noach [6:11, 13]. While it is not the most pressing issue in our text, the omission of this one explicit detail does seems to give us a slightly different impression of what convinced Hashem to bring the Flood than that which we’re told in Noach. Here, at the end of Bereishis, G-d apparently declares the end of mankind in response to marital immorality, while in the beginning of Parshas Noach, it is seems to be either a financial or judicial crime that seals the deal (which is certainly how Rashi understands “Chamas” in his comments there). And if both the marital offence and the monetary offence contributed, why would the Torah seem to attribute the Flood to both crimes separately as if there two different immediate causes for the Flood?
Perhaps, as a start toward an answer, we can suggest that the “Chamas” described in Noach, in fact, was the final straw, while the seeds for G-d’s Flood plan were merely planted by the immorality described in our Sidrah, that G-d set the rest of mankind’s lifespan at the end of Bereishis, but declared the specific death sentence in Noach. But, if that’s the case, we have to understand how we got from Point A to Point B and explain what changed between those two points. In other words, what is the link between the marital sins committed in Bereishis and the monetary sins portrayed in Noach? Moreover, what, if anything, changed, between the two crimes, that the monetary crime made such a large impact, turning G-d’s “thoughts” of destruction into a concrete sentence? This issue is bewildering especially when we consider the difference in gravity between financial offenses and sexual offenses. Could the financial crimes have been any worse than the rampant acts of rape and adultery that preceded them?
Enter the Nephillim, the Giant in the Room:
But, of course, there’s the big elephant in the room, or better yet, the giant in the room. Yes, apparently, also relevant to the story—for some unrevealed reason—is the existence of this supposed species of humans called “Nephillim” (literally “fallen ones”), understood by many to be antediluvian giants. Again, the Torah does not spell out how they are relevant and why they are mentioned. It literally just tells us that the Nephillim were around in those days and proceeds to describe their might and renown. Their presence in our text is awkward. Why do we care about them? How do they help us understand our anti-Creation story?
Noach, the Harbinger of Hope:
Much like the Nephillim, the righteous Noach is sort of around, but he too seems to have little to do with the story itself. He and his family are mentioned just before we’re told that the B’nei HaElohim met up with the B’nos HaAdam, and he is mentioned again briefly at the end of the passage. When Hashem has reasoned to end all of mankind, the Torah indicates to us that only Noach was innocent enough to find favor in His eyes. Accordingly, mankind would continue from Noach.
So, unlike that of the Nephillim, Noach’s appearance in our passage is not completely random, considering his role as the next “main character” in the Torah narrative. Moreover, Noach’s relevance to the anti-Creation story specifically is obvious as Noach was the silver lining in the looming rain clouds. But, what if that’s not all Noach had to do with this story?
Yes, in the end, we know that Noach was the saving grace for the future of mankind, but apparently, Noach’s father Lemech as well had some foresight into Noach’s destiny which is apparently relevant to our story. Apparently, before the generation had completely degenerated, when Noach was just born, Lemech stated of him that [5:29], “This one will bring consolation from the work and the anguish of our hands from the ground which Hashem has cursed.” In other words, Noach, from his birth, was possibly destined to be a harbinger of hope for mankind.
Notwithstanding Lemech’s insight into Noach’s destiny though, it seems that even Lemech could not predict exactly how that destiny would ultimately manifest itself. Lemech’s words indicate optimism and hope that Noach would somehow mark the end of the suffering of mankind. Of course, though, in an ironic twist and yet a chilling fulfillment of Lemech’s “prophecy,” the suffering of mankind does in fact end as mankind is literally put out of its misery in Noach’s time, and only Noach survives to maintain the line of mankind.
Indeed, at the end of the day, that is just what happened, but did it have to be that way? Could Noach have somehow been the light of hope for mankind the way his father Lemech envisioned it? Could the suffering of mankind have ended without mankind’s destruction? The very thought of this possibility being expressed so clearly in the Torah seems to indicate that, yes, it could have happened differently. Lemech’s optimistic view mankind’s future could’ve been realized in Noach’s time. If that’s the case, what happened to the harbinger of hope in Noach? What was the turning point for mankind?
Introduction to Chiasms:
In attempt to answer these questions, let us return to the text. But, as we do so, let’s pay close attention to the literary structure of the story. If we do, we might notice that our mysterious passage features a literary tool known among contemporary Biblical exegetes as a Chiasm (coming from the Greek letter Chi [pronounced: KAI] which is shaped like an “X”; it is also referred to, in academic Hebrew, “Hakbalah Tzoleves,” lit., cross-parallel).
What is a chiasm? A chiasm is this literary pattern in a text which features themes or variables arranged to form a palindrome, such as “A-B-C-D-C-B-A,” where the first variable parallels the last one, the second variable parallels the second to last one, and so forth. Whenever the text presents a chiastic structure, it is usually so that the variables can be evaluated in light of one another, and most importantly, so that all of the variables may highlight the middlemost variable as the climax of the passage.
If one looks at our anti-Creation story, one will notice an unquestionable chiasm.
The Chiasm in our Anti-Creation Story:
So, every chiasm has matching bookends which we might call variable “A.” In our story, the variable “A” seems to be Noach. As was mentioned, our story begins with his birth [5:29] and ends with his finding favor in G-d’s eyes [6:8].
Variable “B” would seem to be what we might call “Father’s response.” As we’ve also explained, Noach’s father Lemech responds to Noach’s birth with hope for consolation for mankind [5:29]. On the other side of the chiasm though, the Torah tells us about an opposite response that our Father in heaven displays, one that reflects negatively on the future of mankind [6:6-7].
R’ David Fohrman points out the obvious wordplay with which the Torah connects Hashem’s response to Lemech’s response; Lemech’s words, “Zeh Yinachameinu [יְנַחֲמֵנוּ]* MiMa’aseinu [מִמַּעֲשֵׂנוּ] U’Mei’Itzvon [וּמֵעִצְּבוֹן] Yadeinu Min HaAdamah [הָאֲדָמָה]…”-“This one will bring consolation from the work and the anguish of our hands from the ground…” parallels Hashem’s opposite response “Vayinachem [וַיִּנָּחֶם]* Hashem Ki Asah [עָשָׂה] Es HaAdam BaAretz Vayisatzeiv [וַיִּתְעַצֵּב] El Libo; Vayomer Hashem Emcheh Es HaAdam Asher Barasi MeiAl Pinei HaAdamah [הָאֲדָמָה]…”-“Thus, G-d reconsidered (regretted) having made man on earth, and He was anguished in His heart. And Hashem said, ‘I will blot out mankind that I have created from on the face of the ground…” (*The root word “Nacheim” [נחם] means “reconsider,” however, depending on its connotations, it could either mean comfort/consolation or the opposite, regret.)
Variable “C” brings us to the actual story, the immorality we’ve been describing, the relationship between the B’nei HaElohim and the B’nos HaAdam. The Torah tells us that mankind bore daughters [יֻלְּדוּ לָהֶם], and that the B’nei HaElohim saw these women, that they were good, and that they took them from whomever they chose [6:1-2]. Well, on the other side of the chiasm, a couple of verses later [6:3-5], the Torah employs similar phraseology to say that these women bore progeny to these B’nei HaElohim [וְיָלְדוּ לָהֶם]. Moreover, while in the first segment of variable “C,” we’re told that the B’nei HaElohim, G-d’s children, saw that that the women were good [וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם כִּי טֹבֹת הֵנָּה], the second, opposite segment of the chiasm tells us that Hashem, the Father, saw that mankind was evil [וַיַּרְא ה׳ כִּי רַבָּה רָעַת הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ וְכָל יֵצֶר מַחְשְׁבֹת לִבּוֹ רַק רַע כָּל הַיּוֹם].
What is quite evident is that we have not just a chiasm in our text, but an inverted chiasm, which means that basically every variable that is presented in the first segment of the chiasm is somehow inverted or presented in an opposite fashion in its parallel textual counterpart. Thus, the middle of the inverted chiasm, which we’ve yet to see, describes not only the climax and key point of the chiasm, but the turning point in the story.
With variable “D,” we reach the fulcrum of our chiasm. What is featured here? “And Hashem said ‘My spirit will not try (contend; stress) with man for, in fact, he is but flesh, and his days will be one hundred twenty years. The Nephillim (‘giants’) were on the earth in those days, and also afterwards…” [6:4]. So, what we have is that Hashem is declaring that He will no longer put up with mankind “because he is but flesh,” and so, G-d puts a cap on man’s lifespan. Fine. But, that’s not all the Torah tells us here. Here is also where we’re randomly introduced to the Nephillim. And with that, the inverted chiasm is complete.
The Inverted Chiasm Charted – Hope to Despair
A) Noach, the end of mankind’s misery.
B) Father’s Response: Lemech’s Consolation.
C) Women are born; Children of G-d see that women are good and act.
D) Hashem declares man’s end and we’re introduced to the Nephillim.
C) Children of G-d act upon women; they give birth; Father sees that mankind is evil.
B) Father’s Response: Hashem’s Regret.
A) Noach, the end of mankind misery. Despair.
Most of the components in this chiasm make sense. We begin with hope and end with despair, as sin overwhelms G-d’s Children, and G-d is done putting up with it. It should be that easy. But, we still have a couple of questions, such as, how Lemech’s foresight about Noach could have panned out differently. And of course, what about the giants? The Nephillim, again, seem to have nothing to do with anything here, yet, if the chiasm is correct, they are not relevant and part of the problem, but they are part of the turning point for mankind.
To answer this question, let’s go back to the text to see what the Torah wants us to know about these Nephillim.
Again, just after G-d cuts mankind’s life short, the Torah informs, “The Nephillim (‘giants’) were on the earth in those days, and also afterwards… they were the mighty ones [הַגִּבֹּרִים] who from old were men of renown [אַנְשֵׁי הַשֵּׁם]” [6:4].
Again, so, who cares? Why is it important to know that the Nephillim inhabited the earth in those days, and that they were mighty men of renown, unless it somehow matters to our story?
If we consider the real problem in our story, it is about the fault in mankind. Of course though, it seems that the culprits in our story are the “Children of G-d.” Interestingly though, while they are described as Children of G-d by the Divine Narrator, in G-d’s speech, He repeatedly refers to the culprit as “HaAdam,” mankind, highlighting, not his divinity, but his humanity, “B’Shagam Hu Basar”-“indeed, he is but flesh.” It is because mankind has demonstrated that he is but flesh that G-d sees man’s life as not being worth expanding. G-d’s feelings now are really just a reinforcing of His sentence against Adam HaRishon whom He banished from Gan Eden; before, G-d said that man could not live forever [3:22]. Now, He is saying that man’s life should be cut further. But that wasn’t the end of mankind, not yet anyway. It is not until after we met the Nephillim that the Torah tells us that Hashem sees mankind as being “only evil all day.” What changed? What made man go from being “but flesh,” a sinner, to being “only evil all day”?
And here is where the Nephillim might impact our story. The Nephillim, these giants, were around. We know nothing of their personalities other than that they were mighty and they were renowned. Well, what do these ingredients do for us? They were mighty—powerful people, and they were renowned—famous. At no point are we told of their spiritual or moral characters. Rashi, following the Midrash Tanchuma , tells us that the word “HaGiborim”-“the mighty ones” means that they were rebels against G-d. We don’t even need to go that far. The point is that they were powerful and they were famous, and that was their lasting influence on mankind in that generation. Their dominance and ability to see and take what they want was what made them popular. That this was the mentality pervading the generation is apparent from the actions of the B’nei HaElohim who saw the women and merely took them, apparently because they could. In a generation where power is what makes you renowned and moral and spiritual achievements are not, man is not merely doomed to sin, but man can only be “evil all day.”
It’s quite telling that when we pray before Hashem, we acknowledge that “Chal HaGiborim K’Ayin Lifanecha V’Anshei Sheim K’Lo Hayu…”-“All of the mighty ones are like nothing before You, and the men of renown as if they are not…” [based on Yoma 87B]. It is because in G-d’s book, these Nephillim are not role models just because of their physical stature, but rather, they are exactly as Rashi defines them in the name of the Midrash Rabbah, people who fell (SheNaflu) and ultimately cause the world to fall [Bereishis Rabbah 26:7].
With this understanding, we could explain the impact of the transition between sexual immorality and the “Chamas,” robbery or corruption, described in Noach. Yes, rape is probably worse than stealing; however, sexual immorality can be attributed to normal human desire, whereas corruption to the point of stealing just because you can might demonstrate a more fundamental shift in values. It was when mankind demonstrated not only that it was “but flesh,” desiring sin, but that its value system was one where the power to get what you want is all that is important, that mankind could no longer exist.
But, what about Noach, the harbinger of hope? What happened to Lemech’s dreams of a brighter future? As we’ve suggested earlier, Noach shows us that, indeed, there could have been an alternative ending to the story. Had the moral Noach been the influence of the spiritually dying generation in place of the Nephillim, then yes, the world might’ve been a better place. Forget Lemech. That was Hashem’s dream for the world! But as the bookends of the chiasm suggest, for better or for worse, Noach merely remained at the outskirts, on the sidelines, while the mighty Nephillim were the center of attention and the leading influence of the generation.
At the end of the day, the physical stature of the men of that generation could not protect them from what was to come. It was innocence, demonstration of moral and spiritual hope that saved Noach. He was the silver lining for mankind. And as long as mankind can adopt a worldview that does not run contrary to Hashem’s plan, but, one that like Noach, “walks (in line) with G-d” [6:9], we could live Hashem’s dream for Creation once again.
May we all be Zocheh to have the right spiritual role models, become the right spiritual role models, walk in line with Hashem, bringing hope for the future on mankind, partner with Hashem in Creation, bringing Creation back to its spiritual peak with the Geulah and the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos Bereishis!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂