5:1 “This is the account of the descendants of Adam -“ – A new narrative begins, enumerating the generations from Adam to Noah. The genealogy traces the line through Seth for it was through him that the human race survived; Abel died without issue, and Cain’s descendants perished (Radak).
Malbim, too, comments that in a real sense the entire history of the ‘generations of Adam’ begins with this verse. For this reason there is an opinion in the Midrash that this verse forms the true beginning of the Torah, in the sense that everything preceding it rightfully belongs to the ‘history of heaven and earth’ (2:4) rather than of man. The descendants of Cain are considered insignificant because they did not survive.
According to the Talmud Avodah Zarah 5a: ‘What is the meaning of the verse – (the literal translation of this verse is “this is the book of the generations of Adam”)? What it implies is that God showed to Adam every generation with its expositors (a person or thing that explains complicated ideas), every generation with its Sages, every generation with its leaders….’
When God showed these generations to Adam, he saw among them David who was destined to live for only three hours. Adam then turned to God, asking: ‘Can his fate not be changed?’
‘Thus have I decreed’, was His reply.
“What is the span of my life?”, Adam asked.
On being told that he would live one thousand years, he asked whether he would be permitted to make a gift. When God agreed, Adam exclaimed, ‘I hereby give to David seventy years of my own life!’
Adam then said: ‘O Master of the world, how beautiful is his reign and the gift of song given him, to sing of Your glory, for seventy years!
“He made them in the likeness of God.” – Man’s true state of nature is not that of a mentally and morally restricted savage, as most people think. On the contrary, his true natural state is his likeness to God. Then, as the world blossoms around him as a paradise, he is mentally awake and morally pure, listening to the Voice of God wandering in the garden; for ‘on the day that God created man,’ he was Godlike and pure, striving upwards to God.
5:2 “He created them male and female.” – Right from the very beginning God created ‘mankind’ male and female, with equal Godliness and of equal worth. Neither was more in the likeness of God than the other, both were given the same blessing by God, both together were given the name ‘Adam’… (Hirsch).
“He blessed them..” – By endowing them with the power of procreation (1:28). This indicates that begetting children is not simply a natural function, but comes as a specific ‘blessing’ of God. Adam and Eve were not ‘born’; they were created from nothing and were blessed with the ability to procreate (Ramban).
Harav David Cohen points out that male and female components were originally created in the single body of Adam. Thus, when God named him Adam, it was simplicity that his female part – which was later to become a separate human being – was also called Adam, because male and female were two halves of one whole.
5:3 “In his likeness and his image,” – The verse mentions this to indicate that God gave Adam, who himself was created in God’s likeness, the capacity to reproduce offspring who were also in this noble likeness. This is not mentioned concerning Cain or Abel because, since their seed perished, the Torah did not wish to prolong the descriptions of them (Ibn Ezra; Ramban).
5:4-23 Ten Generations from Adam to Noah
- Adam: died in the year 930 from Creation;
- Seth: born in the year 130 from Creation, died in 1042. After his time, people begin to do evil.
- Enosh: 235 – 1140;
- Kenan (Cainan): 325 – 1235;
- Mahalalel: 395 – 1290;
- Jared: 460-1422;
- Enoch: 622-987
- Methuselah: 687-1656;
- Lamech: 874-1651;
- Noah: 1056 – 2006
Noah was born 126 years after Adam died; Lamech was the farthest descendant Adam lived to see.
5:24 “And Enoch walked with God and then he was no more,” – Enoch lived sixty-five years and he begot Methuselah; and Enoch walked with God after having begot Methuselah, and he served Hashem and despised the evil ways of man. And the soul of Enoch was wrapped up in the instruction of Hashem, in knowledge and in understanding, and he wisely returned from the sons of men and he separated himself from them for many years.
The commentators point out that ‘and he was no more’ as a delicate expression for death or ‘sudden disappearance’ which is not uncommon in Scriptures. See, for example, such phrases as Job 7:21: “You shall seek me and I shall not be”; Psalms 39:14: ‘Before I depart and will be no more’; Proverbs 12:7: “the wicked are overthrown and are no more”.
The Midrash states that all sevenths are favorites and greater sanctity rest upon them: thus Enoch was the seventh generation .. Moses was the seventh generation from the beloved Abraham … David was the seventh son of Jesse.
Although Enoch’s generation was sinful and served idols, Enoch recognized his Creator and he taught men to walk in the ways of God. He turned many people – including kings and princes – to righteous conduct and during this time peace and prosperity reigned in the world.
At the age of 300, God took him up to heaven in a fiery chariot, to serve Him there, and appointed him ruler over the angels (Sefer HaYashar).
5:25-27 Methuselah – According to the Seder Olam Rabbah, he studied under Adam for 243 years, and according to Bava Basra 121b, he is one of the seven ‘links’ in the eternal chain which bridged the lifespan of mankind.
His righteousness was such that the angels eulogized him, and the Flood was withheld from the world until his seven day mourning period ended. (Sanhedrin 108b)
5:28 “And he begat a son.” – Da’as Zekeinim comments that the verse alludes to the fact that Lamech did not name the child immediately at birth. This was at the advice of the righteous Methuselah who cautioned him to delay naming the child because the people of that generation were sorcerers who would have placed a spell upon him had they know his name.
Yalkut Shimoni cites the above Midrash and explains that sorcery is ineffective unless one knows the correct name. Accordingly, Methuselah names him Noah, but advised Lamech to publicly call him Menechem, meaning ‘comforter’.
5:29 “And he named him Noah saying, ‘This one will bring us rest (or comfort) … from the toil of our hands … from the ground which Hashem has cursed” – There is a tradition from Adam to his descendants that the curse on the earth: ‘in sorrow shall you eat of it … thorns and thistles shall it product for you … with the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread’ (3:17-19) would be in effect only during Adam’s lifetime as the verse indicates: ‘all the days of your life… until you return to the earth’. Chronologically, Noah was the first one – in our genealogical list of the leaders of the various generations – born after Adam’s death. Beginning with him the severity of the curse would diminish. Lamech was aware of this tradition, and therefore gave him that name (Pirei d’Rabbi Eliezer; Abarbanel).
The Midrash also notes that Adam was told that the curse would last until one of his descendants was born circumcised. When Lamech saw Noah born that way, he knew that with this child the curse ‘rested’ (Tanchuma).
Also, Noah was the first to fashion agricultural tools, giving them respite from the laborious toil of farming manually (Tanchuma). Also, with his birth they ‘rested’ from the famine that began in the days of Lamech (Rabbah). Man would still have to toil, but the intent is that Noah considerably lightened the burden by ingeniously introducing agricultural tools (Radak).
5:32 ‘..five hundred years old..” – The Midrash notes why all his contemporaries begot at the age of one hundred to two hundred years, while Noah did not have children until he was five hundred years old. The Holy One, Blessed be He reasoned: ‘A flood is soon to come. If I give him children now and they are wicked, they will have to drown in the flood, and I do not wish to grieve this righteous man. If, on the other hand, they are righteous (and over the next few hundred years they will multiply greatly and will each have large families), I will have to trouble him to build many arks..’
God therefore withheld children from him until he was five hundred years old so that even Japheth, the eldest would be less than a hundred at the time of the Flood. Before the giving of the Torah, as in Messianic times, someone younger than 100 was considered a minor in matters of responsibility for sin and liability to divine punishment.
Me’am Loez adds that after the Torah was given, the age of responsibility for punishment was twenty, When people lived to such advanced ages, a 100 year old was comparable to a present-day teen-ager. However, Adam was punished although he was but a day old when he sinned because, as God’s handiwork, he was endowed with more intelligence. Additionally his responsibility was greater because he heard the prohibition directly from God.
Harav David Cohen notes that following the Flood, as the human lifespan was shortened drastically, so, too, there were other changes, all of which followed an apparent ratio of 1:5. Shem, the last person born before the Flood, lived 600 years; Moses lived 120 years, a typical life-span for the righteous of the period. Similarly, the age of divine punishment went from 100 to 20; and the age at which men could beget children went from 65 (5:16) to 13. Thus, as man’s lifespan shortened, so did his physiology in the same proportion.
“..Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” – Japheth was the eldest, but Shem is mentioned first because he was a righteous man; he was born circumcised (a sign of righteousness), and Abraham descended from him (Rashi)…. He was also a High Priest, and the Temple would one day be built in his territory (Midrash).
According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 69b), Shem is mentioned first because Scripture enumerates them accordingly to their wisdom, not age. The proof is that had they been listed according to age, Shem would have to be at least two years older than Japheth – one year older than Ham who in turn would have to be one year older than Japheth. Noah begot children when he was 500 years old and the flood began when he was 600 years old (7:6). Now, in 11:10 Shem is described as being 100 years old when he begot Arphaxad ‘two years after the flood’. If Shem were the oldest, he would have been slightly less than 100 when the flood commenced and 102 years old by the time he begot Arphaxad! Therefore, we must conclude that Shem was the youngest.