A Sea Change

This week’s Dvar Torah is written by Denise Tamir, Esq. an attorney and mediator who has been an active lay leader in South Florida’s Jewish community for over 20 years. Denise currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, where she chairs the Israel Engagement Committee, co-chairs the Israeli-American leadership training program, and co-founded its new Israeli division. 

Offered in memory of
Chaya Tamir and Yehudit Zychlinski,
each an Eshet Chayil.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

This week’s Torah portion is Noah, which conveys the Biblical story of the Flood.
I remember this one was a favorite of both of my kids, because at school they had to make dioramas of the Ark and the little animals going in 2 by 2 (though 14 by 14 for the Kosher ones) and my creative eldest daughter used an Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure for Noah since the robes were perfect!
Children’s fun yes, but the Flood story also contains many crucial lessons about the human condition.
Because this Dvar Torah is for the Women’s Amutot Committee, I thought it would be interesting to look at the unnamed woman in this story- Noah’s wife, who ultimately became the second Eve, the mother of the human race.
Though her name is never mentioned in the Torah, Midrash (commentary) tells us her name was “Na’ama” from the root “na’im” or pleasant. And Midrash does describe her as pleasant.
But the question I want to ask is: Was she saved for her own righteousness or only because she was married to Noah, who was called a righteous man?
We can look at the story of Lot’s wife for a clue.
Lot, like Noah, was spared because of his righteousness. Lot’s three daughters, like Noah’s three sons, were saved, because they were all still in the care of their father and spared by their father’s righteousness. However, Lot’s wife, when she looked back at the city while they were fleeing, was not spared, because being married to a righteous man was not enough. So perhaps there is more to Na’ama than being pleasant.
We know that Noah was the only character in the Torah that is called a “tzaddik”- a righteous man -- but that moniker is qualified with the phrase “in his generation.” This is often interpreted to mean that there was so much wickedness in Noah’s generation that by comparison to others, he was a tzaddik, but may not have seemed so righteous had he lived - say - in Abraham’s generation.
The reverse is also often said - that it is much harder to remain righteous among the wicked. Either way, he was clearly righteous enough for God to save him, as was his wife.
Did Na’ama have anything to do with her husband Noah’s righteousness?
There is a midrash that says one element of the wickedness of Noah’s generation was that men would take two wives -- one to bear their children (she would remain hidden) and another for pleasure (she would be adorned with jewels and remain publicly at his side).
In the Torah portion, every time Noah’s family is described, Na’ama is referenced as “your wife,” indicating Noah only had one wife who both bore his children and was the partner by his side. Midrash explains that a key element of Noah’s righteousness was indeed his partnership with his wife.
After the flood, the Torah tells us that Noah became a man “of the land.” He planted a vineyard, got drunk, and was found naked in his tent by his son, Hahm. Hahm shared what he saw with his brothers Shem and Yaphet, who then covered their father’s nakedness by walking into the tent backward so as not to see him, carefully covering him with a garment while not looking. Quite a fall from grace for Noah, the only figure in the Torah called a tzaddik!
How does Na’ama fit in to the story of Noah’s righteousness as well as his fall from grace?
There are clues within the order that the Torah refers to the members of Noah’s family. In Bereisheet / Genesis 6:18, G-d promises to save Noah and his family with the words “... I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you and your sons, and your wife, and the wives of your sons with you.”
The order in which the family members are listed separates the men from the women, which Rashi interprets to mean men and women were to be separated in the ark.
One might assume close quarters would make martial relations awkward, but another, more noble reason is later given by Rashi in connection to the destruction of the world in Bereisheet / Genesis 7:13.
Here Rashi explainsthe men separately and the women separately, since they were forbidden marital relations because the world was steeped in grief.”
It gets interesting when the flood is over and the ground is finally dry. In Bereisheet / Genesis 8:15-16, “G-d spoke to Noah saying: Go forth from the Ark, you, and your wife, and your sons, and the wives of your sons.” Rashi explains that the order of husband and wife first, before mentioning the sons, indicates cohabitation is once again permitted.
And yet, when they all actually disembark from the ark, something odd occurs because they do not do it in the order G-D has commanded. In Bereisheet / Genesis 8:18, Torah says: “And Noah went forth, and his sons, and his wife, and the wives of his sons with him.”
Interestingly Rashi has no commentary this time, despite the discrepancy between what G-d commanded and what Noah did.
The Torah already established a pattern that the order in which the men and the women are described indicates the status of marital relations. So again we turn to Midrash, which tells us that rather than resume his relationship with Na’ama, as G-d had commanded, Noah separated himself from her and planted a vineyard.
Once separate from Na’ama and her influence, he went from an “ish tzaddik” a righteous man, to an “ish adama,” a man of the earth, as he fell into drunkenness and humiliated himself before his sons.
In the Shulchan Aruch, the major code of halacha / Jewish law, it is said that a person who remains without a wife lives without happiness, without blessing, without goodness, without Torah, without a protective wall, and without peace.
Na’ama’s righteousness, though not stated explicitly, was her being a true partner to Noah, meaning she kept his baser instincts in check, and without her, he was not the same.
I believe we see this today on a global scale. As we watch Afghanistan plunge back into medieval brutality, the first thing the Taliban did was eliminate the rights of women. Societies where women are subjugated to men and do not share equal rights can never be true democracies.
Just as Na’ama’s righteousness elevated Noah to be the best he could be, so do women being treated as equal partners in society elevate that society to be the best it can be.
As we go forward and consider all of these incredible programs that empower and elevate women, let us remember that by doing so, we also help to elevate society as a whole.

Shabbat Shalom