Drash on Parashat Bereishit
Rabbi Kim Ettlinger
Temple Beth Israel
Walking with God
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (Dean of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University – Conservative) wrote a drash in his book The Everyday Torah about a man named Hanokh or Enoch. Not much is mentioned about Enoch and he appears only at the end of chapter 5 in the parashah. Enoch is listed as part of the generations between Adam and Noah. Enoch stands out because of the years he lived. All the people listed in the 10 generations lived more than 750 years except for Enoch who only lived 365. The unusual inclusion is not the amount of years he lived, while this raises many questions, but it is the words that come after that.
‘When Jared had lived 162 years, he begot Enoch. After the birth of Enoch, Jared lived 800 years and begot sons and daughters…… When Enoch had lived 65 years, he begot Methuselah. After the birth of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years; and he begot sons and daughters. All the days of Enoch came to 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, for God took him.’ (Genesis 5:21-24)
When the parashah lists the other men of the generations such as Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalal for example, it merely states how old they were when they had children and when they died. Only with Enoch, does it state that he walked with God. Why did the Torah write this about Enoch? Was it that he lived about 500 years less than the others? Was he more of a mensch than the others? Since no other information is given to us about the people and their lives, we are left to look at the midrash for some answers.
Another interesting difference between Enoch and the others is that it mentions that the others ‘died’ while Enoch ‘was no more.’ Perhaps it is no different from what we say today – so and so ‘passed away.’ A softer way of saying someone died. Nahum Sarna (20th century Biblical Scholar) believes this to be a euphemism for death. Interestingly God ‘took him.’ Like Moses at the end of his death? Or even like Elijah who went to God in a chariot?
But, the real question pertains to why Enoch was singled out to ‘Walk with God’ and why it was repeated. Was he truly a righteous man above anyone else? Noah, a descendant of Enoch, too was considered righteous person in his time.
Perhaps, it is, as Artson suggests the beginning of an essential question as to why righteous or good people die prematurely and the connection between longevity of life and reward for a good life. Rashi (11th Century Biblical Commentator) considers it to be a premature death. Was Enoch the first righteous person to die prematurely? It seems to. But, this is not the answer I and many others may seek. I think the point is that Enoch walked with God. Perhaps, one midrash could be that he died performing menshlekeit acts. We never know when our days may end, but are we on the path of walking with God? Our lives should be filled with performing the mitzvot and living a life according to Jewish values such as giving tzedakah, caring for the poor, taking care of the stranger, treating people with derech eretz (respect) and so forth. This is what it means to walk with God. This is, I believe, what God wants from each of us. There is no better way to begin the new Torah reading cycle in partnership with God and with Mitzvot. May we continue to walk with God and with our Torah in hand as our “JPS” – Jewish Positioning Service!