“No’ach” means “rest”, because he lightened the load of human beings by inventing the plough – the first machine that humanity ever had.
In a second way he also eased the lot of his contemporaries by rebuilding civilisation after the great flood.
However, the critics say that he did not try hard enough to save his generation from destruction. He saw their sinfulness but did not exert himself enough to bring them to repentance.
In Yiddish he is sometimes referred to as “a tzaddik im pelz” – a righteous man wearing a fur coat who impliedly sends out a message,
“I am warm in my coat – why are you complaining about being cold?”
Another Biblical figure whose name means “rest” is Samson’s father Mano’ach, except that in his case he probably bore this name because he was a rather quiescent individual who left the action to his wife and son.
The contrast with his strong, lusty son leads some scholars to say that Mano’ach could not have sired a son like Samson.
Like No’ach, his three sons are each regarded as the founder of a human type.
Shem (“name”) is an intellectual who can define and identify things, Cham (“warmth”) is emotional and passionate, and Yefet (“beauty”) represents artistic creativity.
Though we customarily list them in that order, Shem, Cham and Yefet, the wording of Gen. 10:21 suggests that the oldest son is Yefet, so why do we normally put Shem first?
The Talmud (Sanh. 108b) calls Shem “the great one”. It was he who took the initiative of covering his father who was inebriated and naked, making him the most morally sensitive of the brothers. The sages say that Shem thus typifies the Jewish people whose tradition is that every moral and ethical problem should be responded to with speed, energy and conscience.
The rabbis had a poor opinion of Cham whom they regarded as symbolic of the callousness and unconcern which were the hallmarks of his son Canaan and his later descendants.
Yiddish has a lot of homely sayings that teach us significant lessons. Think of the Yiddish phrase, “Noyach mit sieben greisen” – “No’ach with seven errors”.
The word “No’ach” is only two letters in Hebrew (“nun chet”) and it’s almost impossible to spell the name with so many mistakes. But if you’re the sort of person who can only see other people’s misdeeds you will sometimes invent a few because you’re so keen to be God’s policeman.
Jewish wisdom tells us to find good things to say about other people and to seek excuses for them…
AN ARK TO HIDE IN.
Biblical events cast a shadow across human history. Whatever happens has its Biblical analogy.
Pinchas Peli showed this in regard to the Holocaust when he wrote about Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, Moses and Aaron and other models of response.
A particularly fruitful source of analogy is to be found in the story of Noah and the flood.
It can be used in many ways, including modern man’s search for a means of escape. Maybe we should not speak of flood waters threatening to engulf civilisation when real tsunamis cause so much havoc, but the metaphor is too powerful to abandon.
It is not only natural disasters but human culpability that threatens us. Listing examples is not necessary. It is obvious what we’re talking about.
We would all like to be Jonah going down to his cabin to sleep when the boat is rocking. We would like to be Noah taking his family and animals into an ark and sail away from the problems.
Noah may be a better example than Jonah because he took others with him. But the problem is the same: the world is frightening – how can I escape?
The sobering fact is that sailing away from disaster is not always or necessarily the best answer and we have to try to work through the problems.
If this does not succeed, there may be an argument for running away in the hope that we will live to see another day and try to rebuild the world.
I am reminded of the debates when communism was at its height (some would say, its lowest). The options were summed up graphically: “Red or dead?”
A leading rabbi was criticised for thinking that rather than giving up and letting ourselves be killed we could go along with communism on a temporary basis in order to survive and one day recreate civilisation, a sort of Noah argument.