Parshas Noach.





After the Great Flood, new life started. The Torah carefully describes the descendants on the one surviving family – Noach and his three children – Shem, Cham and Yafes. Our sages received a tradition that core seventy nations came out from Noach and thus all of the people of the Earth are descendants of these families. Do we know where the various families settled and can we know what contemporary nation belongs to which of these families?




The GR”A has a very interesting explanation regarding the various nations that came out of Noach and it will be interesting to publicize it here. He writes in a similar vein in at least two different places – in his commentary to Divrey Hayamim (the book of Chronicles – the last book of the Bible, 1:1:4), in his commentary to the Mishna (tractate Negaim 2:1). We will start by quoting some of his words on the Mishna. Negaim is a tractate which deals with the laws of Tzaraas (a variation of leprosy). If a person had white discolorations on his skin, he had to show them to a kohen (a priest, descendant of Aharon) and depending on the conditions sometimes had to live outside the walled Jewish cities until the mark disappears. In general, these laws were designed at the time the Hashgacha (Divine Rule) was much more open, and this particular sickness was a punishment for gossipers and other sinners, so that they will spend some time alone and repent before being admitted back to the camp (Talmud, Arachim 16a). One of the conditions required in order to check the whiteness of discoloration is that the rest of the skin is normal (average) color. The Mishna mentions that by a “Germoni” the leprous mark seems not as white since his skin is very white, while by a “Kushi” (a black man, an Ethiopian), the opposite is true. The Aruch (a very early medieval commentator quoted by Rashi and other Rishonim) writes that the word “Germani” means a German, whose skin is very white. The Rambam and other commentators also point out that the word “Germani” comes from the word “GAREM” – a bone which is very white.


The GR”A goes further explaining that the Germans (as well as the rest of Northern Europeans) are descendants of the first son of Yafes – Gomer. We thus find that Gomer’s own first son is called Ashkenaz which is the Hebrew name for Germany! (This is also brought in the Talmud, Yoma 10a that Gomer was an ancestor of Germamiya, and the GR”A says that one letter was copied incorrectly in our versions of the Talmud and it should say Germaniya – Germany. The same applies to the famous prediction in Talmud, Megila 6b, that Germany is composed of 300 fighting provinces and if they will ever unite they will try to destroy the world. There also, the Talmud uses the word Germamiya, but the GR”A and Yavetz amend this to read Germaniya – Germany. The prediction was of course fulfilled during the world wars.) The GR”A also mentions in both commentaries that the general division of the world between the descendants of Noach was like the division of the three central continents (Europe, Asia and Africa). Shem took the East, Cham took the South and Yafes took the North. Moreover, in each case the older children settled in the land farther from the center – the Land of Israel which is in the center of civilization where all three continents meet. The younger children on the other hand settled closer to the Holy Land. Another interesting observation is that the nations that lived farther south generally have darker skin, while those nations that settled further north are light skinned. Lets examine some of the proofs to the GR”A’s approach.


As we mentioned, one of the proofs is that the first son and the first grandson of Yafes (Gomer and Ashkenaz) were ancestors of the Northern European nations. The fourth son of Yafes is named Yavan which means Greece in the Holy Tongue. The third son of Yavan is called Kitim which means Romans in Hebrew (see Targum Onkelus – Arameic translation of Bemidbar 24:24). Obviously the later descendants of Yafes did settle in southern parts of Europe near the Mediterranean.


Regarding the sons of Cham, we can easily identify three out of four. Kush – the first son is Hebrew for Ethiopia (and all of black Africa). Mitzraim – the second son is Hebrew for Egypt. The last son, Canaan had twelve descendants all of whom settled in and around the Holy Land itself.


At last, regarding the descendants of Shem, his first son – Eilam is generally identified with Persia (modern Iran) and Media (see for instance Daniel 8:2), but some place it even farther, between Tigris river and India (Rabbi Arye Kaplan’s commentary quoting an early Midrash). Even though later descendants of Eilam probably spread even further East and became ancestors of Chinese, Japanese and possibly American Indians and Australian aborigines, at that point in time, in the beginning of the new civilization, the first son of Shem settled only as far as Iran. The second son of Shem – Ashur was an ancestor of Assyrians who lived closer to the Holy Land. The third son – Arpachshad – was our ancestor; Avraham was born near the Euphrates River. The fifth son of Shem – Aram is Hebrew for Syria – the closest country to the Holy Land (there are actually special laws in the Talmud for Syrian territory for in many ways it has some of the Holiness of the Land of Israel).


What we wrote so far applied during the original settlement of the seventy nations. Obviously, after more than four thousand years, there was a lot of migration; some of them are mentioned by the Torah itself (see Devarim 2:19-23). Our sages describe that at a later time the kings of Assyria used to move nations from one land to another. (They are the ones that also exiled the ten tribes who now live as different nations somewhere else, see Melachim 2:17:6-41. Many attempts were made to locate the ten lost tribes and many suppositions were made, placing them in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, China, Japan and other countries, but apparently until Moshiach comes we won’t know the truth. The Assyrian kings also brought different nations in place of the ten tribes, their descendants – Kushim or Shomronim still exist and in general are not considered part of the Jewish nation, see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 199:2.)


However, there is one other important principle regarding the descendants of seventy nations we would like to discuss. A verse in Parshas Haazinu (Devarim 32:8) states: “He (Hashem) set up the borders of nations to parallel the number of children of Israel”. Rashi explains that the seventy nations parallel the seventy sons of Yakov. There is however an interesting idea regarding the number seventy: whenever we find this number, there is also an extra two associated with it. (For example, the seventy elders with Moshe and Aharon on top of them, the seventy words of Friday night Kiddush, plus the two words “Yom Hashishi”; seventy years of Soviet regime plus two intermediate years until Communism finally fell etc, see the GR”A on Shir Hashirim 1:2.) In case of Yakov’s family of seventy, there are yet two others to be considered: Avraham and Yitzchak. Similarly, besides the seventy nations, there are two additional ones also called “nations” in the Torah – they are Ishmael (coming from Avraham) and Eisav (coming from Yitzchak) (see Bereyshis 21:18 and 25:23). The GR”A writes that these two nations are in a way on top of all the others (see the GR”A on Tikuney Zohar 32nd Tikun, 79b, in the standard edition with Perush HaGR”A it’s on page 168; GR”A on Zohar Chadash in the end of Yahel Ohr 28a; Ramchal in the second part of Kinas Hashem Tzeva-os explains this in depth starting with Maamar: Inyan Eisav, in the standard edition of Ginzey Ramchal it’s on page 111). Potentially 35 of the nations can be dominated by Ishmael and the other thirty five – by Eisav. There is a very interesting hint to this. The Torah tells us to bring 13 bulls on the first day of Sukkos, 12 – on the second, etc, until 7 bulls are brought on the last day of the holiday. Then on the eight day (which is a different holiday, Shmini Atzeres) we are told to bring just one bull. Our sages teach us that the seventy bulls correspond to the seventy nations, and the one bull corresponds to the Jewish people. The GR”A mentions a peculiar detail – when the goat for a communal sin offering is described, it is called differently for the various days of Sukkos. On the first, second and fourth days it is called “Seir Izim” while on the other four days it is simply called “Seir”. The GR”A mentions that “Seir” hints to Eisav, while “Seir Izim” hints to Ishmael. We thus find that the number of bulls with which “Seir Izim” is brought is: 13+12+10=35. The remaining bulls: 11+9+8+7=35 are brought with “Seir”. This is hinting to the 35 nations in Eisav’s dominion and the other 35 – in Ishmael’s.


It is known that with passage of centuries, Eisav’s descendants accepted Christianity, while Ishmael’s – Islam. Both religions learned from ours and based themselves on the revelations our nation witnessed (after all they could not claim that their entire nations witnessed Divine revelation, for such a claim would be impossible and moreover the Torah predicts that nobody else will be able to make such a claim, see Devarim 4:33).  The two religions spread far and wide conquering multitudes of nations who threw away their old convictions and accepted the new beliefs. The Rambam writes (uncensored edition of the laws of kings 11:7) that in truth these religions were a step forward, a kind of preparation of the world to accept the ultimate truth when Moshiach comes. And this is what we are waiting for, when Hashem will turn all the nations to a purer language, that they may all call upon Him and serve him with one consent (Tzefania 3:9)!



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