Early in the movie Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the history teacher calls on Ted (played by Keanu Reeves) to identify Joan of Arc, and all he can come up with is “Noah’s wife?” After school, Bill (played by Alex Winter) wryly comments, “One thing I know is Joan of Arc is not Noah’s wife.” Ted then asks Bill, “Then who is Noah’s wife?” Bill admits that he doesn’t know.
It’s a good question. We really should know the name of Noach’s wife, since it stands to reason that she was saved from the Flood not because of who Noach was but because of who she was. Professor Yona Bar Maoz explains:
[T]he wife of Noah is the mother of mankind – a second Eve – mother of all who live. . . . [And] since Eve is described in Genesis as an independent legal personality – one responsible for her own sin, and therefore, punishable – it is reasonable to assume that the “Second Eve” should be a personality independent of the “Second Adam.” If she was saved it was probably due to her own merit.<1>
Besides, it says that Noach was saved from the Flood because of his merit <2> – he was the only good man in the world. So too, since Noach’s wife was saved from the Flood at the same time (Ibid.), it must have been because of her merit <3> – she was the only good woman in the world.<4>
It’s understandable that Bill and Ted (and most people) don’t know the name of Noach’s wife – after all, the written Torah doesn’t tell us. Nevertheless, as we will see shortly, the Oral Torah has indeed preserved her name: Naamah.
WHY IS NAAMAH MENTIONED?
The tradition that Naamah was Noach’s wife solves a different problem, namely why a woman’s name appears in Kayin’s genealogy. Usually, genealogies from Tanakh or the Ancient Near East are restricted to men. Accordingly, when a woman’s name does appear, there must be a reason. In this case, the family of Kayin’s descendant Lemekh is described as follows:
Lemekh married two women. The first one’s name was Adah, and the second one’s name was Tzillah. Adah gave birth to Yaval. He was the ancestor of (avi) all those who live in tents and keep herds. His brother’s name was Yuval. He was the ancestor of (avi) all who play the harp and flute. Tzillah also had a son, Tuval Cain, a maker of all copper and iron implements. Tuval Cain’s sister was Naamah.<5>
The final verse is strange for two reasons. First, as mentioned above, it is unusual for a woman’s name to appear at all in a Biblical genealogy. Second, the text describes each of Naamah’s three brothers as pioneering specific activities,<6> but then mentions her without describing her activities at all! What then was so noteworthy about Naamah?
MASTER OF METAL
The Zohar Chadash cites Rabbi Abbahu as offering the following unusual answer:
The simple understanding of the text is that she was a master of metal-working (chakhamah bim’lekhet habarzel), just like her brother Tuval Kayin. That’s the meaning of “[He was] a maker of all copper and iron implements; and Tuval Kayin’s sister was Naamah.” He developed this craft along with his sister. The significance of the phrase “And Tuval Kayin’s sister was Naamah” is that she was as much an expert as he was. The word “And” adds something to the previous subject.<7>
This approach explains why the verse introduces Naamah not as the daughter of Lemekh and Tzillah but as the sister of Tuval Kayin. The two siblings had something in common. If Tuval Kayin was a pioneering metal-worker, perhaps Naamah was too.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Bereisheet Rabba presents two answers to the question of what made Naamah noteworthy, and both of them assume that her name contains a clue:
“Tuval Kayin’s sister was Naamah.”
Rabbi Abba bar Kahana said: Naamah was the wife of Noach. Why did they call her Naamah? Because her actions were nice (ne’imim).
The rabbis said: The [verse is talking about] another Naamah. Why did they call her Naamah? Because she would sing (mena’emet) with a drum [to accompany] idol-worship.<8>
Let’s analyze these two opinions in reverse order.
According to the opinion of the rabbis in this midrash, the name Naamah is related to the word ne’imah, which can mean a song.<9> Compare the description of David HaMelekh as “ne’im zemirot yisrael – the sweet singer of Israel.”<10> Like David, Naamah was famous for being a great singer.<11> Either she had a great voice or she was a pioneer in composing songs.<12> After all, she was the sister of Yuval, a pioneering musician; perhaps he would create and play the music, and she would create and sing the lyrics (while drumming).<13> They were the first musical siblings!<14>
In presenting this opinion, Professor Nahum Sarna suggests that the Torah here “recognizes the great antiquity and high prestige of vocal and instrumental music, which it regards as one of the most noteworthy achievements of the human race.”<15>
True, the formulation in the midrash is that the Naamah of the verse devoted her songs to idols. In context, that does make sense. After all, the verses are speaking of the family members of fratricidal Kayin, all of whom were later wiped out by the Flood.<16> Nevertheless, the rabbis here begin with the sentence “The [verse is talking about] another Naamah.” In other words, this opinion accepts the tradition that Noach married a Naamah – just not the one mentioned in the verse. Presumably Noach’s Naamah was a descendant of Sheit (Seth), like Noach himself.<17> And presumably she was a singer whose songs were devoted to the real God, with Whom her husband spoke.
According to the opinion of Rabbi Abba bar Kahana in this midrash, the name Naamah is related to the names Noam, Naomi, and Neimah – plain old nice. Compare the phrase “derakheha darkhei noam – the Torah’s ways are ways of niceness.”<18> Naamah’s actions were nice – in other words, she was an especially good person. But how could a good person have been drowned in the Flood? It must be that Naamah was one of the people saved on the ark, namely Noach’s wife.<19> The Ramban comments on this opinion:
[Rabbi Abba bar Kahana] means that back then she had a reputation for being a tzadeket (righteous woman) who gave birth to tzaddikim. That’s why the Torah mentions her. If this is the case, a little memory of Kayin remained in the world.<20>
In other words, in the same way that Sheit’s family did not get wiped out completely but lived on through Noach, so too Kayin’s family did not get wiped out completely but lived on through Naamah. What is the significance of this? A pessimist would say that the potential for evil expressed by Kayin lives on in all of us, as we are all his descendants.<21> An optimist would say that Naamah’s righteousness proves that Kayin wasn’t all bad – when he did teshuvah for murdering his brother, it was sincere and accepted by God.<22>
A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN
Interestingly, Noach and Naamah parallel each other in their names and their respective positions in their families. Rabbi Levi Brackman explains:
[T]he names Noah and Na’amah are synonyms<23> . . . . Noah is the son of Lemech the son of Metushelach, while Na’amah is the daughter of Lemech the son of Metushael. [The name] Noah ben Lemech ben Metushelach is virtually identical to [the name] Na’amah bat Lemech ben Metushael. They are essentially the masculine and feminine forms of the same name. They are the right and left hands of the same body.<24>
Furthermore, according to all the opinions mentioned above about what made Naamah noteworthy, she was a good match for Noach:
If she was a righteous person (according to Rabbi Abba bar Kahana), so was he. The Torah calls Noach “righteous in his generation.”<25> He found favor in God’s eyes because all his actions were nice,<26> just like Naamah’s actions.<27>
If she was a metal-worker (according to Rabbi Abbahu), that would fit with Noach’s God-given task to build an enormous boat. As one teacher puts it:
From a logical point of view, since Noach built an ark and since Tuval Kayin was “father of all builders,” it made sense that Noach and Naamah (Tuval Kayin’s sister) were a good match. Indeed, she could empathize with all the frustrations and joys of the construction business and help Noach throughout life.<28>
If she was a singer (according to the rabbis), that would have been useful on the ark. As one rabbi creatively put it:
I imagine that Naamah’s voice was the reason that there was such peace among the animals during the deluge. . . . The notes of her song carried the prayers of her family through the dark storm clouds to the heavens above, and they were spared the worst of the roiling waves. She inspired her children, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, to work together with their wives, lightening their burdens and making the time pass more quickly. She soothed her husband when he was overwhelmed by the enormity of his responsibility to those in his care, and indeed, his responsibilities to the future.<29>
In any case, the answer to Bill and Ted’s question is Naamah – the unsung hero of the Flood.
- Prof. Yona Bar Maoz, “The Wife of Noah,”Bar-Ilan University’s Daf Parashat Hashavua(English), 1996. http://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/eng/noah/enoach1.html
- Mizrachi andGur Aryehon Rashi, Bereisheet 4:22.
- According to the midrash, God kept Noach and his wife infertile until Noach was 500 years old, so that their three children would be young enough that they wouldn’t be judged when the Flood came (Rashi onBereisheet5:32, summarizing Bereisheet Rabbah 26:2). Notice that Noach’s wife would certainly have been old enough to be judged, and God judged her worthy of being saved.
- Bereisheet4:19-22. Translation from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Living Torah (Maznaim, 1981). http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=1&CHAPTER=4
- Malbim on 4:22 suggests that the details of all these pioneering activities served an important polemical function. During the Ancient Near East, pagans claimed that various gods pioneered each activity. In response, the Torah clarified that it was ordinary humans who did so.
- Zohar Chadash, Vol. 1,Bereisheet 33b.
- Bereisheet Rabba23:3.
- According to Prof. Nahum Sarna, “the underlying root of the name Naamah, in Arabic and Syriac and in some Hebrew texts, means ‘to sing’ . . . . In rabbinic Hebrew the root is used in the sense of ‘sing, chant,’ and the nounne’imahmeans ‘a tune’.” See his Songs of the Heart: An Introduction to the Book of Psalms (NY: Schocken Books, 1993), p. 213 and note 8. See also M.S. Geshuri, “Musicah BeDorot Bereisheet,” Shanah BeShanah, 5734 (1974), pp. 336-337.
- Shmuel Bet23:1.
- Targum Yonatanon Bereisheet 4:22.
- Abarbanel onBereisheet4:22 (p. 130 in the standard edition).
- For some more recent examples, see the following article and the comments on it: Ryan Bort, “The 15 Greatest Sets of Musical Siblings,”Paste Magazine, September 17, 2012.http://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2012/09/great-musical-siblings.html
- Prof. Sarna,op. cit.
- One midrash says that God had decreed that Kayin’s descendants would be wiped out seven generations later, and that Lemekh’s family members were aware of the decree hanging over them (Rashi onBereisheet4:24, summarizing Bereisheet Rabbah 23:4).
- According to the medieval worksSefer HaYasharand Seder HaDorot (s.v. elef tav-kuf-nun-dalet), the Naamah whom Noach married was the daughter of Chanokh. That would make her Noach’s great-aunt, as opposed to his sixth cousin twice removed.
- Siftei Chakhamimon Rashi, Bereisheet 4:22. Alternatively, Ibn Ezra suggests that Naamah was the wife of one of Noach’s sons (Ibn Ezra’s Sheetah Acheret on Bereisheet 4:22).
- Ramban onBereisheet4:22.
- Rabbi Levi Brackman, “Torah Portion: Bereshith,”YnetNewsEnglish website, October 20, 2006. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3316051,00.html
- Rav Tzaddok HaKohen of Lublin,Pri Tzaddik,Devarim, Parashat Vayelech VeShabbat Teshuvah, #8. This was called to my attention by an article that includes an interesting discussion of the implications of the survival of Kayin’s character traits: Rabbi Ari Kahn, “M’oray Ha’Aish: Na’ama,” Aish.com, October 19, 2009. http://www.aish.com/tp/i/moha/64722247.html
- Noach’s name represents consolation (nechamah), according to the verse about his being named as a baby (Bereisheet5:29). Shimoni Garti suggests that Naamah’s name represents the same thing, as the ancient pronunciation ofnaamah would have been similar to nechamah. See his article “Eshet Noach,” Daf Kesher (Yeshivat Har Etzion), #1041 (Shvat 20, 5766). http://www.etzion.org.il/dk/5766/1041mamar2.html
- Rabbi Brackman,op. cit.
- Ramban onBereisheet6:8.
- See Rabbi Ben-Tzion Fendler,Gei Chizayon(Tel Aviv, 5723=1963), p. 214, note 1.
- Dr. Russell Jay Hendel,Rashi-Is-Simple Mailing List, Vol. 3, # 22 (October 11, 1999).http://www.rashiyomi.com/h3n22.htm
- Rabbi Julie Ringold Spitzer (d. 1999), “Mrs. Noah,” inThe Women’s Torah Commentary(Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2000), p. 56). There is a recent picture book based on this idea (Naamah and the Ark at Night: A Lullaby, written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti and illustrated by Holly Meade).