Rabbi Yakov Haber
Rabbi Yakov Haber

Progeny of Self, Progeny of Children

"אלה תולדות נח, נח איש צדיק, תמים היה בדורותיו, את האלקים התהלך נח. ויולד נח שלשה בנים, את שם את חם ואת יפת - These are the toldos of Noach, Noach was a righteous man, he was wholesome in his generations; Noach went with G-d. And Noach bore three children, Shem, Cham and Yefes." (Bereishis 6:9-10). Many commentaries note that the listing of Noach's children does not immediately follow the word "toldos", which seems to mean progeny or descendants. Rather, following that word, the Torah first describes Noach as a righteous individual, and the actual description of Noach's children only follows in the next verse, first introduced by the seemingly redundant phrase "And Noach bore three children". The commentaries are divided into two groups as to how to answer to this difficulty. One group maintains that "toldos" does mean "descendants of" and each one offers his particular explanation as to why the Torah did not list Noach's children immediately afterward. (See Rashi based on Chazal, Ramban, Malbim.) The other group, in order to resolve this difficulty, translates "toldos" as "history of" since history is the "progeny of time" (see Ibn Ezra, Radak).[1] Here, we focus on the analysis of one commentary within the first group.

Rav Meir Leibush Malbim explains that a person produces three kinds of "progeny". These parallel the three different parts of human existence: the animal (as part of the natural world), the human (chai-medaber, the living speaking being), and the divine. Whereas the animal side of man produces physical children as do the animals, the human side of man produces acts of kindness and justice in his society. Finally, the "progeny" of the divine side of man is his study of Hashem's ways, true beliefs and other Divine concepts. These three kinds of "toldos" produced by Noach are mentioned in succession by the Torah. The verses then read as follows: "These are the progeny of Noach: 1) Noach was righteous (alluding to his acts of justice and kindness in his interpersonal relations), 2) Noach walked with G-d (referring to his analysis of Divine concepts), 3) Noach bore three children... (denoting his physical descendants)".

These three aspects of the "toldos" of Noach directly contrasted with the sinful, corrupt ways of the others of his generations. They corrupted their beliefs as alluded to by the verse, "and the earth was corrupted before G-d" (ibid. 11), "they filled the world with violence and robbery" refers to the lack of development of the uniquely human side of man's personality meant to practice kindness and justice, and they sullied even their instinctive natural animal behaviors as indicated by "for all flesh corrupted their way on the earth" (ibid. 12), referencing the dual crimes of murder and adultery.

These impactful words of Malbim are rooted in Chazal's teachings in the Midrash. Midrash Tanchuma (2) comments:

R. Tachuma b. Abba began (the parsha) and stated: "the fruit of the righteous is a Tree of Life..." (Mishlei 11:30). R. Judah said, "When a person leaves this world childless, he is distressed and cries. Hashem tells him, 'Why are you crying that you did not produce in this world? You have produced something even better than children!' He asks of the Master of the World, 'What product have I left?' HaKadosh Baruch Hu answers, 'The Torah (you have studied and fulfilled) about which it is written "the fruit of the righteous is a Tree of Life"'...so too the 'toldos' of a person are his good deeds, as it states, 'these are the toldos of Noach, Noach was righteous, wholesome...'"

The Midrash thus teaches of G-d's comfort of the childless that they too have "toldos" since there are three kinds of toldos, not only one.

A similar idea is expressed by Yeshayahu in the well-known Haftarah read on fast days. "Let not the sterile say, 'I am a dry tree'. For so says Hashem to the sterile who keep my Sabbaths and choose that which I desire and are firmly committed to My covenant. 'I will give them in My house and in My walls a place and a name better than sons and daughters, an everlasting name I will give them, which will never cease'" (56:3-5). Even the childless need not think that he is not productive, for his connection to Hashem and His Torah are "toldos" as well.

A related message is conveyed by Elkanah to his wife Chana according to the interpretation of the Midrash. Despondent over her not bearing children, Chana is comforted by Elkana in an unusual way. "Am I (anochi) not better for you than ten children?" (Shmuel I 1:8). Seemingly troubled by the inherent problem in this form of comfort, the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Shmuel 77) comments, "It does not state 'ani' but rather 'anochi'. He (Elkanah) said to her, 'Your Creator will be your share', as it states, 'Anochi Hashem Elokecha'". Rav Shmuel Marcus quoting others explained that Elkanah was comforting his wife that she should not think that bearing children is the sole barometer of her productivity in the world. Her relationship with "Anochi", her Creator, and the performance of His will are even more significant progeny.[2]

This approach helps explain a cryptic Midrash (Tanchuma 3). On the words "Eileh toldos Noach, Noach...", the Midrash presents a lengthy discourse on the nature of Torah Shebichsav and Torah Shebe'al Peh, the necessity for toil in Torah study and resolves the contradiction between various sources as to whether Bnei Yisrael willfully accepted the Torah or only did so under coercion. The commentaries are puzzled how this connects to our parsha. Anaf Yosef explains that the Midrash is commenting on the verse "Eileh toldos Noach, Noach" which it interprets to mean that the progeny of Noach is Noach himself! Because of his attachment to Torah, the Divine wisdom (see Rashi to 7:2), it was as if Noach created himself!

The book of Iyov (5:7) teaches, "Adam le'amal yulad - a man is born for toil": To be productive, to fulfill his mission, to make his mark in the world, in a word, to produce "toldos". Noach and other tzadikkim serve as role models in maximizing the arenas in which these "toldos" are expressed and in creating ourselves.

[1] Compare a similar debate on Bereishis 25:19, 37:2 and elsewhere.

[2] See Akeidas Yitzchak who interprets Ya'akov Avinu's seemingly harsh words to his wife Rachel after she expressed despair over not having children in a similar fashion. (See Breishis 30:1-2.)

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