Noah – An Amazing Torah Portion (1)

Once again, we are going to talk about Torah Portion today. The second  Parashat Shavua of the year is Noach (Noah) Genesis 6:9-11:32. Everybody knows the story of Noah.  This is one of the first stories from the Tanach that parents tell their kids – and by the time they are adults, people usually have heard and read it so many times and know it so well that it is hard to imagine that anything new could be found there.  That’s what I thought also – however, when I started to read this  story in Hebrew, I had to go there and back, between the Hebrew and the translation, to make sure I was reading the same chapters: at felt like a completely different story! There were many amazing discoveries I made then – and some of these discoveries I would like to share with you.  In order to be able to share these things, however, we will have to use some Hebrew.

 

CORRUPTION OR DESTRUCTION?

יא  וַתִּשָּׁחֵת הָאָרֶץ, לִפְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים; וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ, חָמָס. 11 And the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.
יב  וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְהִנֵּה נִשְׁחָתָה:  כִּי-הִשְׁחִית כָּל-בָּשָׂר אֶת-דַּרְכּוֹ, עַל-הָאָרֶץ. 12 And God saw the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

Look at the underlined words. This was one of my first discoveries in this portion.  Why, all of a sudden, in this story that happened a long time before  Pesach, do  we find a word that sounds as though it has  just been taken from the Pesach story? .   Please recall the story of Exodus: the Destroyer of the Pesach story in Hebrew is called Mashhit  ( הַמַּשְׁחִית), isn’t he?

כג  וְעָבַר יְהוָה, לִנְגֹּף אֶת-מִצְרַיִם, וְרָאָה אֶת-הַדָּם עַל-הַמַּשְׁקוֹף, וְעַל שְׁתֵּי הַמְּזוּזֹת; וּפָסַח יְהוָה, עַל-הַפֶּתַח, וְלֹא יִתֵּן הַמַּשְׁחִית, לָבֹא אֶל-בָּתֵּיכֶם לִנְגֹּף. 23 For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side-posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.

 

I had always been convinced that this root  Shahath,   שָׁחַת  had to do only with death, with killing and destroying – as “the destroyer” in English. So why would this word be here, in the very beginning of the story of Noach?

This is an exceptionally beautiful example of how deep and multifaceted the Hebrew language is— how profound the Scriptures are. Hebrew is primarily a root  language, the verbs in Hebrew  are derived from the roots. Roots are three-consonant groups that comprise the “essence” of the word’s meaning.  Most of the verbs in Hebrew are formed from this three-consonant root by changing vowels and by adding different prefixes and suffixes, thus forming different stems. Depending on their stem (binyan), verbs from the same root can have very different meanings, as we see here in our text. The verb – הִשְׁחִית depending on its form, can have both of these meanings: to be corrupted – and to destroy.  Nevertheless, being derived from the very same root, they all have something in common, they all relate to the very same “essence”.

Do you see what is going on here? The language of Torah is different from any other human language: the meanings that are yet to come are shown here through the regular meanings of the words. In this sense, each word of Tanach is pregnant with all the future meanings – with something that is yet to come, that is not seen by man, but is definitely seen by God. At this point of the story of Noah,  the punishment and the destruction – the flood – hasn’t come yet;   they are not even promised yet, Torah is just telling us about the sin and the corruption, and not about the punishment. However, already here, at the very beginning of this Parashah, this frightening word –הִשְׁחִית   – sounds as  a stern and sober warning about impending judgment, as a stern and sober warning that punishment and destruction are inevitable consequences of sin and corruption (this warning is completely lost in the translations, by the way).

 

HAMAS MEANS VIOLENCE

There is one more absolutely amazing example of God’s foreknowledge which He installed into His words, “pregnant” with future meanings.

יא  וַתִּשָּׁחֵת הָאָרֶץ, לִפְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים; וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ, חָמָס. 11 And the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.

Do you know what the Hebrew word for violence is here? Hamas! I suppose, everybody knows what the word Hamas means today – it is the name of one of the most violent terrorist organizations. How can it be? I don’t think that when the terrorists looked for the name for their organization, they went to the Hebrew scriptures: Hamas as the name of the organization  is an acronym of the Arabic phrase Harakat al-Muqāwama al-Islāmiyya, meaning “Islamic Resistance Movement”. But here it is, right before our eyes – the word that meant “violence” long before Palestinian Hamas came into existence (the  spelling of these two words is slightly different  in Hebrew; nevertheless, – the sound  and the meaning are the same!!!).

The strange thing is that although Arabic and Hebrew are sister languages, this word has almost opposite meanings in both languages.  In Arabic, the word Hamas means “courage” or “zeal” while in Hebrew, Hamas means “violence”, “cruelty”, sometimes it might mean “injustice.  The mysterious truth of God’s foreknowledge in Hebrew Scriptures is clearly seen here.

Next time, I will share more of these Hebrew insights from Parashat Noah with you. However, I will not continue to publish comments on the weekly Torah Portion here: this is not a purpose of this blog; as you know already, we developed a course Weekly Torah Portion, and those interested to study in depth Parashat Shavua, are welcome to sign up for this course (or to contact me for more information and for the discount). Also, I would like to remind you, my dear readers,  that my book  about Hidden Messiah has just been published, it’s called As Though Hiding His Face  and is available on  Amazon and on my page on this blog: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/.

 

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (9 comments)

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  1. David Russell

    Hello Julia and others,
    I am enjoying and learning from this series on Noach/Noah.
    In part due to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, considerable pondering of its one main function was to put the Scriptures in the hands of the average citizenn; people living in the developed world of the 16th-century to read themselves.
    Yet, was a grave error allowed to persist by allowing English or European language translations to somehow not capture the Hebraic meaning within Scripture?
    Your reference to the Fox and the Hare is prevalent in church literature referring to first-century believers as Christian. Are our standard Bible translations a product of this Replacement dynamic? You are not the first to suggest this paradigm but my hope is you sense the underyling concern..
    Sincerely,
    David Russell

  2. Margaret Hurford

    Thank you for sharing your understanding of the Scriptures by taking into consideration the Hebrew Language which I think of as the Heavenly Language. I can see very clearly the connection between the word corruption and the word destruction. But more importantly I know now without show of doubt that CORRUPTION always LEADS to DESTRUCTION.

    1. Julia Blum

      You are so right, Margaret, Hebrew is indeed the Heavenly language. So deep, so profound – and so different from the other languages. I just published second part of Noah, with more Hebrew insights – I hope you will enjoy it.

  3. Gary Gibbs

    Julia- Thankyou so much for these insights of this portion. As always they are surprising. The richness of Hebrew always takes my breath away. Your latest book on the Hidden Jesus is excellent, revealing the depth and richness of God’s Word.
    How much we miss with our translations.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Gary. So appreciate your kind words about my article – and so glad you enjoyed the book!

  4. John Preller

    Thank you for sharing your insights I have been blessed with a more powerful understanding and apreciagtion of God’s almighty works and messages that can be hidden in plain sight bless you for sharing your insight and views

    John Preller Port Elizabeth South Africa

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you John, really appreciate your kind and generous words.

  5. Marcia New

    Julia, fantastic article! I am currently enrolled in Dr. Eli’s program, and I am loving the knowledge that is embedded in the Hebrew Scriptures. Thank you for this excellent study. I enjoy reading the Hebrew (even though the underlining hides the vowels–ugh) and understanding the manifold meaning of the words. Blessings, Julia!

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you so much, Marcia. Sorry for underlining, it doesn’t hide it in my Word file, but it shows like this on the blog. I just published second part of Noah, with more Hebrew insights – I hope you will enjoy it as well.