Shaya Cohen -


Creative Conundrums

Noach, 2023

What does Hamas Mean?

Parshas Noach has the first incidence of this word in the Torah:

And the earth was corrupt before G-d, and the earth was filled with hamas. … And G-d said unto Noah: ‘The end of all flesh is come before Me; for the earth is filled with hamas through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

But what does it mean? Perhaps we could look at its other uses in the text? Here they are:

And Sarai said unto Abram: ‘My hamas be upon thee: I gave my handmaid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the LORD judge between me and thee.’

Simeon and Levi are brethren; Weapons of hamas their kinship.

Thou shalt not utter a false report; put not thy hand with the wicked to be a hamas witness.

If a hamas witness rise up against any man to bear perverted witness against him;

Isn’t this interesting? Hamas does not merely seem to mean “violence.” Indeed, the pesukim beforehand suggest that men merely took the women they wanted: using power without moral limitation.

So perhaps hamas means doing something for the sake of power instead of righteousness? In the case of Sarai and Hagar, Sarai is injured by the raw power of Hagar’s superior ability to have children. Hagar made Sarai feel bad because she could. Similarly, a witness who chooses to lie in order to harm someone else is similarly exercising power without any moral compass.

If so, then would it make sense that G-d would consider widespread hamas to be a good reason to destroy mankind?

Is this a plausible understanding of the word that encompasses its use in the Torah? Is there a better one?

What is the Meaning of the Number 4?

The Torah seems to use numbers as symbolic representations: 7 is the number of creation and the natural world, 8 is the number connecting man and the divine, etc.

So what does the number 4 stand for? It is found quite a few places, but perhaps there is a common theme?

Consider: It rained for 40 days and nights. Avraham is promised 400 years of servitude. Amorites have four generations before they can be forced from the land. The Cave of Machpelah costs 400 shekels. Isaac and Esau were both 40 when they married. Esau brings 400 men. Yosef was embalmed for 40 days. Moshe stays on Sinai for 40 days and nights. A tree in its 4th year has its fruit holy in that year alone. A new mother has a 40-day period (7+33) after the birth of a son. After having a girl, it is 80 days (40+40). Considerable measurements and items in the mishkan use the number 4, including the four rows of stones. Animals and insects with 4 legs that make full contact with the earth or swarm are not kosher. A shlemamim offering has 40 loaves. The spies were gone 40 days. A court may not assess more than 40 lashes. The people wandered for 40 years.


What do all these things have in common?

Is it possible that the number “four”, whether as 4, 40, or 400, denotes the number of transformation? The time it takes to make a meaningful and substantive change from one thing or state to another?

If this is true, might it also connect back to the 4th day of creation, the day in which G-d transforms the world by giving it light – the sun and moon – along with the means to mark signs, seasons, days and years?

Does this work? Or is there a better explanation that ties all these uses together?


For your part, take of everything that is eaten and gather it (assaf), to serve as food for you and for them. (Gen, 6:21)

It seems simple, but there are some intriguing connections.

Joseph shares the same root word as assaf. Doesn’t he deliver much like the food stored on the Ark? Joseph becomes the embodiment of someone who both stores food and then dispenses it to feed everyone around him!

When assaf is combined with the word am (nation) it gets even more interesting. In this case, there is a key phrase that is deployed for each of Avraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moshe, Aharon and Miriam!

Gathered back to his/your/their people.

Of these, Miriam was not even dead (she is gathered back after a brief exile)! And when he died, Avraham did not even have “a people.”

So the meaning suggests something a bit more subtle than just a poetic phrasing, does it not?

Being “gathered to one’s people” is not a euphemism for death (see Miriam). Maybe it refers to gaining a form of immortality in the memory of the people?

Could we say that the people who are “gathered back” are special because they, above all others, become the primary source of spiritual life used to sustain the Jewish people for all time? And wouldn’t it be analogous to how the food Noach gathered kept the inhabitants of the Ark physically alive?

If so, when Moshe is promised to “gathered to your people”, perhaps it is a promise – a promise of eternal satisfaction in a life well lived? After all, Moshe has more of an influence right now in the world than he did at any time when his body drew breath!

This ties Noach’s story together with Moshe!

The First Olah?

Is Noach’s offering, the olah, the first one in the Torah? It seems to be (Cain and Hevel brought minchas). Is it possible that Noach invents the concept of an olah?

Why do you suppose there are 19 unprecedented verses of praise immediately following Noach’s offering? Is there a connection?

Error of Bavel?

The Torah likes oloh, elevation. But there seems to be a spiritual component to raising something up in this way.

Egypt and Bavel both refer to building with bricks and mortar. G-d does not approve of either – is it because the buildings were purely physical in nature? Is it because using identical bricks (instead of stones) are symbolically dehumanizing, treating a person as nothing more than a cog, instead of a person with something uniquely special to contribute to the world?

This parsha question sheet takes the approach of reading the Chumash very closely. It is assumed that every letter and word has meaning, and all questions can be answered (at least every one we have come up so far!) So you’ll find the questions offered every week are deeply textual, seeking relevance to our lives today from the foundational document for Judaism and indeed all of Western Civilization.

This sheet is distributed with the general approval of Rabbi Rose.

Our answers can be found at (use the search tool). Or email me at

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