In Parashat Noah we read about the flood, the story of the destruction and re-creation of humanity. Noah is presented as a righteous man. His wife is invited to join him in the Ark, and she is mentioned five times in the story:
But I will establish My covenant with thee; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee… And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him, into the ark, because of the waters of the flood… In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark … ‘Go forth from the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons’ wives with thee… And Noah went forth, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him
Noah’s wife remains nameless in the biblical story. However, the Sages, in their interpretations to the story of the Deluge, call Noah’s wife Na’ama, daughter of Lemech and Zilah. Midrash Bereshit Rabbah interprets her name: “why is she called Na’ama? Because her way was pleasant.” [The Hebrew root N.A.M means pleasant]. From this interpretation we can infer that Na’ama deserved to be saved because she was as righteous as her husband, Noah.
Noah is descendant from Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. Na’ama is descendant from Cain. In his book, Ha’amek Davar, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin suggests “from that which was good in Cain the world was established, through this woman, and he had the privilege of joining in the survival of the world with the seed of Seth, who were the purpose of creation.”
Midrash Tanchuma suggests that Noah’s toil in the Ark was so arduous that he felt like a prisoner:
Noah was imprisoned on the ark: Noah [was] not able to sleep during the entire twelve months (in the ark) because [he] was obliged to feed the animals, the beasts, and the birds… some of the animals had to be fed at the second hour in the night and others at the third hour of the night.
Poet Jo Shapcott tries to describe Noah’s wife feelings regarding the year she spent in the ark:
I can’t sit still these days. The ocean
is only memory, and my memory as fluttery
as a lost dove. Now the real sea beats
inside me, here, where I’d press fur and feathers
if I could. I’m middle-aged and plump.
Back on dry land I shouldn’t think these things:
big paws which idly turn to bat the air,
my face by his ribs and the purr which ripples
through the boards of the afterdeck,
the roar – even at a distance – ringing in my bones,
the rough tongue, the claws, the little bites,
the crude taste of his mane. If you touched my lips
with salt water I would tell you such words,
words to crack the sky and launch the ark again.
~Jo Shapcott, Mrs Noah: Taken After the Flood
Feature photo: George Desipris