Parashat Noach / פרשת נח

NOACH (CHAPTERS 6:9-11:32)
Noah is deemed righteous enough to be spared from the impending destruction of
the wicked world; God tells him about the upcoming flood and commands him to build
an ark; Noah gathers his family and animals into the ark in accordance with God’s
instructions; It rains for forty days, blotting out all existence; God promises not to
destroy the world again; The rainbow becomes a sign of God’s covenant that a flood will
never again destroy the world; Noah debases himself by becoming drunk and curses his
grandson Canaan; the story of the Tower of Babel and the dispersion of the world’s
The Torah, speaking figuratively, uses anthropomorphism’s to describe God.
“Anthropomorphism’s” ascribe human form to a being that is not human. The Bible
describes God, who has no body performing acts such as speaking, seeing, walking; and
having a finger or hand. Our translator, realized that these portrayals of the divine are
figurative, that they were placed in Scripture to help readers understand what is
happening, but they are not precisely true. He uses his translation to point this out to
his readers. He frequently does so by omitting the anthropomorphism and explaining
what it intends to say.
But he does not always do so, for several reasons: (1) Replacing every
anthropomorphism would alter Scripture too drastically and reduce it to an
unrecognizable text because the Torah has so many anthropomorphic statements. (2)
He might retain the anthropomorphism when the description is included in a
metaphoric phrase that he feels is well known and frequently used by his reading
audience, like tzelem Elohim, “image of God”, where he even keeps Elohim with the
anthropomorphic tzelem, and does not substitute the Tetragrammaton. (3) He also
ignores the anthropomorphism when he cannot imagine that a person would accept the
word or phrase literally, as in 2:8 where the verse reads, “The Lord God planted a
garden. . . .” No one would think of God engaged in an afternoon of planting.
The use of dachalta, “fear”
One of the targumist’s techniques to transform anthropomorphism’s is to substitute
the physical portrait with certain words. One of these words is dachalta. We will discuss
other words in future Guides.
The Torah describes why Noah was saved from the impending destruction of the
world in 6:9 (pages 34 and 35),1 “Noah walked with God.” This statement is an
anthropomorphism; God does not appear on earth and walk like a human being.
The targumist altered the passage to read, “Noah walked in the fear (dachalta) of
God.” The Aramaic dachalta means “fear” and suggests “worship.” Our translator felt
that this was the Bible’s intent.
The targumist was reluctant to explain this anthropomorphism with another, as
Rashi did when he relied on Midrash Tanchuma and Midrash Genesis Rabbah, that “with
God” means that Noah needed God’s support while Abraham, who walked “before God”
(17:1), could walk alone before God.
Another Anthropomorphism
In 7:16 (pages 40 and 41), Onkelos modifies another anthropomorphism by
switching Scripture’s “the Lord closed (the Ark) for him (Noah)” to “the Lord protected
him.” The verb “closed” suggests physical acts of reaching down, grasping the door, and
swinging it shut.
Our translator’s attempt to teach his readers the truth about God was unsuccessful.
He wrote his translation around the year 400, but some 800 years later, Moses
Maimonides (1138–1204) had to devote close to a third of his Guide of the Perplexed to
teach again that God does not have physical features or emotions. Remarkably,
Maimonides was criticized for his rational stand with strong language. One of the great

1 All page numbers refer to the Onkelos on the Torah volume.
rabbis of his time wrote that smarter people than Maimonides knew that God has
physical features.
Why do people want to or perhaps even need to think of God as having a body like
humans? What is your view? Do you believe that a biblical phrase like the “finger of
God” is literally true? Or can you accept the idea that the Bible frequently speaks in
figurative language, as humans do, and that the words should not be taken literally?
The idea that God has no body and no human emotions, according to its proponents,
is a reasonable philosophical truth. Many who disagree rely on “faith.” They might say,
“I am convinced that God does become angry at us when we do wrong, even though this
is a human reaction, and He punishes us for our bad behavior. This is basic to my faith.”
What other issues are debated between proponents of “reason” and “faith”? Would the
nature of Sinai revelation, the belief in resurrection of the dead, prophecy, angels, and
miracles, enter this arena of controversy? Discuss the “battle lines.”
1. See 8:1 and commentary, “REMEMBERED” (page 43). Onkelos does not change all
biblical anthropomorphism.
2. See 9:20 (pages 50 and 51) and commentary. Noah’s first act after leaving the Ark.
3. See 9:25 (pages 52 and 53) and commentary. Noah cursed his grandson Canaan rather
than his son Ham.