Tanach Personalities (Parshat Noach)


The Tanach (Bible) differentiates between great progenitors in a subtle but discernible manner. The subtlety prevents insulting or denigrating important personalities by avoiding a direct comparison. On the other hand the Torah must distinguish between great people to create a hierarchy within Torah nobility and avoid creating the impression that all are equal in terms of their achievements. One device applied by Tanachis the repetition of a name without an intervening word as follows:

NoahNationsNoneGenesis 6:9
TerachAbrahamNoneGenesis 11:27
AbrahamJewish peopleCalled – through angelGenesis 22:11, 25:19
JacobTwelve tribesCalled – divineGenesis 46:2 
MosesTorahCalled – divine without pauseExodus 3:4
SamuelMonarchyCalled – divineSamuel 1 3:10


The midrash (Genesis Rabbah 30:4) explains that the repetition implies that the personalities merited a desirable portion in this world and the world to come. The repetition alludes to the link between these worlds. The reader may ask,”What is the connection between these personalities and why are some Torah luminaries excluded (e.g. Isaac and Aaron)?”


Each of the above personalities served as the father (progenitor) of a major group in the divine plan, whether Jews or non-Jews. Noah rebuilt the world through his three sons (Genesis 9:19). Terach was the father of Abraham (ibid. 11:27). Abraham in turn is the father of the Jewish people and is equally regarded by our co-religionists. However Jacob is uniquely the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses is the first teacher of Torah to Israel (Avot 1:1). Samuel instituted the line of Jewish monarchy by anointing Saul and David as kings (Samuel 1 10:1 and 16:13 respectively). Based on this analysis, the divine plan encompasses:

  1. World populated
  2. Jews – 12 tribes
  3. Torah – study and observance
  4. Kingdom of Israel  – Messiah  


Isaac was not included in the above list because he was not a father of the Jewish people but still an important link in the family of Israel. However Genesis 25:19 repeats Abraham’s name in the genealogy of Isaac providing an indirect reference to Isaac. One might have thought that Aaron should be included since he was the father of the Kohanim (priests). Perhaps Aaron was excluded because he incurred divine wrath for his involvement in the golden calf incident (Exodus 32:21 and Deuteronomy 9:20). In addition Hashem did not directly command Aaron to inaugurate the Tabernacle. Rather Hashem instructs Moses to take Aaron and his sons for the inauguration (Leviticus 8:2).   


In addition to repetition of the name Tanach distinguishes personalities by the method of divine communication as follows:

  1. Communication without pause (cantillation)
  2. Communication with pause (cantillation)
  3. Mention but no communication

Communication without pause

Tanach provides enhanced meaning to its words with its cantillation (musical notes chanted by the reader). Moses was privileged in his calling in that his name is repeated without a pause (פסק), meaning that the notes flow one into another (מרכא טפחא) for his repeated name. The midrash (Exodus Rabbah 2:6) explains that Hashem called Moses without a pause to indicate:

  1. Do not delay in rescuing the Israelites.
  2. His prophecy would be continuous (without pause).
  3. He will teach Torah in this world and the world to come.

Moses merited this distinction because in addition to prophet and teacher he served as (ibid.):

  • King (Deuteronomy 33:2)
  • Priest (Zevachim 102a)
  • Judge (Exodus 18:13-14)

Hashem assigned the permanent roles of king and priesthood to David and Aaron, respectively. However during the fourty years in the desert Moses acted as king, supreme leader in Israel.  The above Talmud and Midrash record a dispute whether Moses acted as high priest only in the seven days of inauguration or for the duration of his life after the inauguration of the Tabernacle.

Communication with pause

In the case of Abraham, Jacob, and Samuel the notes do not flow one into another. Rather the cantillation order is reversed (טפחא מרכא) in the first two examples and in the last example the cantilation is מנח אתנחתא. The printed texts show this pause with a vertical line between the names. The midrash (Genesis Rabbah 56:7) explains that the repetition indicates divine endearment, urgency of action, and achieving biblical role model status. In the words of the midrash every generation possess a religious leader performing the roles of these three Torah personalities. Nevertheless the pause makes a distinction between these three and Moses, as explained above.

Mention but no communication

The Torah assigns a distinction to Noah and Terach through the repetition of their names but without divine communication. Rather the Torah mentions Noah’s name in a narrative describing the wickedness of his generation. The Zohar (1:67b) states that Noah was partially responsible for the flood because unlike Abraham and Moses, he did not pray for his generation to be saved. Therefore Isaiah (54:9) calls the flood “the waters of Noah”.  In addition Avot 5:2 states that there were ten generations from Adam to Noah (inclusive) who provoked Hashem until He brought the flood. By comparison Avot 5:3 states that there were also ten generation, from Noah (exclusive) until Abraham whom the latter received the reward of all of them.

Terach merited the repetition of his name on account of his son Abraham. He received a portion in the world to come because in his later years he returned to Hashem. However the Torah does not record a communication from Hashem because he should have joined Abraham in the mission to spread the belief in the one G-d.

Verse (Context)

In addition to divine contact the verses provide a context to distinguish between the greatness of these personalities. The Torah mentions the repetition of Noah’s name in reference to wickedness of his generation and imminent flood, implying that Hashem expected Noah to save the people. Genesis 11:10-27 lists the ten generations from Shem to Abraham with Terach the last link in the chain to Abraham. The verse (ibid 27) does not mention any characteristic of Terach, implying that his main function was the father of Abraham.  

An angel of Hashem called Abraham twice to prevent him from slaughtering Isaac at the binding of Isaac (akeidah). This was the final of the ten tests, in which Abraham passed all of them successfully (Avot 5:4). The communication occurs at his age of 137 and marks a transition from a turbulent to a more peaceful life which ended at the age of 175. Hashem speaks directly to Jacob before leaving for Egypt (Genesis 46:2) at the age of 130 with a name repetition. Similar to Abraham this occurs toward the end of his life and marks an end to his trials and tribulations. In addition the name repetition indicated Hashem’s love for Jacob and His protection from the potential dangers of exile. In fact his remaining 17 years with Joseph are viewed as the best years of his life (Akeidah on Genesis 47:28).   

By contrast Hashem spoke to both Moses and Samuel with the name repetition at the beginning of their divine missions to become the supreme prophet of their respective generations. In contrast to the forefathers their mission was on a national scale. With the selection of Moses at the burning bush the Israelites were to become a nation by receiving the Torah and required a leader and teacher. Similarly with the selection of Samuel, while still a lad at the Tabernacle at Shiloh, he was to later establish the line of monarchy enabling the Israelites to dwell in the land with Torah and security.


Tanach distinguishes between different biblical personalities through subtlety and nuance. The verses vary in terms of wording, cantillation, and context. This article provides but a glimpse into the depths of Tanach.

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