Before the first yearly portion, Breishit [“in the beginning”], ends, Noah and his sons are introduced (Breishit/Genesis 5:28-32). Similarly, the second portion, Noach [Noah] — which is highlighted by the Flood (6:9 – 9:17) and Tower of Babel (11:1-9) stories — closes with an introduction of Abraham and Sarah (then called “Abram” and “Sarai”) and their family members (11:26-32).
By the time the portion Breishit draws to a close, humanity is in trouble: God has not only evicted Eve and Adam from Eden but has seen “how great was the wickedness of human beings [ki rabbah ra’at ha-adam]” and “regretted [va-yinacham]” having made humans (Genesis/Breishit 6:5-6). The portion ends with God contemplating wiping humans and other creatures off the face of the earth…
… “But Noah found favor in YHVH’s sight” (6:7-8).
In similar cliffhanger fashion, we learn, at the close of the portion Noach:
And Sarai was barren; she had no offspring.
— 11:31; this and above translations from TWC (Plaut/Stein [Stern])**
Ten generations link Adam and Noah. Another ten link Noah’s son Shem with Abraham. But the first named woman in seven chapters — the only one in Noach, and the only one about whom more than a verse or two is written* — is barren….
“The fertility of the barren women becomes a symbol of God’s special blessing, without implying necessarily that lack of fertility is a punishment. Stories about barren women subordinate the role of human beings in fertility and instead highlight God’s role,” writes editor Tamara Cohn Eskenazi in TWC.
*Between Eve and Sarah, only three women are named: Adah and Zillah (Lamech’s wives) and Naamah, introduced as “the sister of Tubal-cain” (Genesis/Breishit 4:19-22). The first two bear children, and Lamech sings to them of his power; Naamah is later identified, in extra-biblical texts, as the wife of Noah.
**The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (see Source Materials for complete citation and more information on translations and commentaries).
Click on the “WeeklyTorah” tag for more resources on the weekly portion throughout the year, or on a portion name for parashah-specific notes. (The series began with Numbers; posts for Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus are being drafted, week-by-week.) You can also zero-in on particular types of “Opening the Book” posts by clicking Language and Translation, Something to Notice, a Path to Follow, or Great Source in the tag cloud.
The “Opening the Book” series is presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group pursuing spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.