Biblical Characters
Interpretations & Descriptions From The Sages


Kayin is from the root kanah, meaning to "purchase," "gain," or "acquire." Chavah said, "Let this son be my acquisition (kinyan) after I die.  Let him worship G-d in my place" (RaMBaN).  There is a difference of opinion among the authorities as to whether Kayin and Hevel were born before Adam sinned or afterwards (Yalkut David).

Kayin was a wicked person.  The whole episode teaches that good and evil have the same root.  The root by itself is totally good; after all when Adam was created he was totally good.  Nonetheless, we observe from such a good "root," two sons with totally different personalities emerged. 

Seeing that both wicked people and good people developed out of the same root is proof that there was only One Creator, that evil and good are not separate domains, that there are no two competing deities in this world, one which is the source of all that is good and promoting it, and one which is the root of all that is bad and promoting it.  In fact, in Yeshayahu 45:7 it states, "Maker of peace, Creator of evil, I HASHEM am doing all this."  G-d realized that unless He, personally, took responsibility for being the originator of anything good and evil, people would believe that there must be two totally separate domains, two totally diverse prime causes. An additional reason why the Torah had to write "veKayin hayah oved adamah" (but Kayin was a worker of the soil) is because the potential of a personality such Kayin had preceded his birth; he had not invented it.

On that day [the sixth day of Creation], two [Adam and Chavah] went up to bed and seven came cown [that is, five children were begotton]: Kayin and his twin sister, and Hevel and his two twin sisters (Bereishit Rabbah 22:2)

Kayin did not resemble Adam, and his descendants are not listed in the account of Adam's descendants [see Bereishit 5:1] (Targum Yonatan, Bereishit 42)

It is said that the offering that Kayin brought G-d consisted of flax seed (Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer).

G-d detested Kayin's offering so much that He did not want to see it ever intermingled with that of Hevel (Kayin's offering was flax, from which linen is made, while Hevel's consisted of sheep, together with their wool).  G-d therefore commanded that we not wear shaatnez, which is a mixture of wool and linen (Devarim 22:11).



The name Hevel means breath, vapor or vanity.  Hevel's fleeting existence without offspring justifies this name.

Our Sages say that Kayin and Hevel were forty years old when they brought their offerings (Tanchuma Bereishit 9).

Kayin loved to till the soil, Hevel to tend the sheep, and each would give of the fruits of his labor to the other.  When the night of the Pesach Festival came, Adam said to his sons, "on this night, Yisrael is destined to offer the Pesach sacrifices.  You, too, offer sacrifices before your Creator."  Kayin brought leavings of his meal, parched grain and flaxseed, whereas Hevel brought the choicest firstlings of his flock, whose wool had not been shorn (Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer 21).

"Hevel also brought from the firstborn of his flock, from the best thereof" Although Hevel made his offering "too," that is, only after his older brother did, it had a completely different meaning that was based on the purest and most humaly natural motive for any sacrifice: thankfulness.  It was to thank G-d for his infinite goodness and kindness that Hevel chose the firstlings of his flock and the choicest parts thereof.  He put his heart into giving the offering.  He desired to make it of exceptional quality. 

RaMBaM points out that this example should serve as a model for all who wish to offer a sacrifice to G-d.  Accordingly, G-d shows Himself favorable to Hevel and his sacrifice, a fire descends from Heaven and consumes his offering (Rashi).



(2nd generation) Shet was born in the year 130 after creation (3631 b.c.e.) In Hebrew this names is from the root shyt meaning to "place; set; or grant."  He was given this name because he was "granted" in the place of Hevel.

All the world's generations descended from Shet, who is Noach's ancestor (whereas Kayin's descendants perished in the Flood) and so too all men of goodness and truth.

Rabbi Yose said, "This name is composed of the last two letters in the alphabet shin - tav.  After having transgressed all the letters of the Torah, Adam repented.  He began his way back with the last two letters of the alphabet so that all the letters could be put back in order. (After having turned the world order around, Adam restored it by committing himself to return to the right path.)  Hence he called his son, born in his likeness and his image (5:3), Shet.  But only when Jewry gathered at the foot of Har Sinai was there re-established the original order which had reigned when heaven and earth were created.  For it was then that the covenant which G-d made with the world "by creating the foundation bara-sheet was re-established.  The first man broke this covenant but then repented and, when his son was born, Adam called him She, the (new) foundation of the world.

But conscious of his unworthiness, he omitted the letter yud from the word sheet.  This letter is the sign G-d Who made the covenant with the world.  When Jewry accepted G-d's reign at Har Sinai, this covenant was re-established with them.  Then G-d placed the letter bet, first letter of the word berit (covenant), in the middle of the name Shet (foundation) and made Shabbat, the Sabbath, which thus became the basis and foundation of the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people.

The words Shabbat, Shet, Sheet in their related structure designate the three fundamental stages of the cosmological, social and ethical evolution of life in the universe.

The seven shepherds (Mikah 5:4) are as follows:  David in the center, with Adam, Shet, and Metuselach at his right, and Avraham, Yitzchak, and Moshe at his left (Sukkah 52b).

Shet was born circumcised (Shocher Tov 9:7)

Adam was the world's firstborn.  When he offered his sacrifice, he wore the garments of the high priesthood.  When he died, they passed to Shet, and from Shet they passed to Metuselach (Bamidbar Rabbah 4:8).

Adam knew the Torah, and he transmitted it to his son Shet.  It was further transmitted to Chanoch (Zohar Chadash 22b)

Shet died in the year 1042 after creation (2719 b.c.e.)



(3rd generation) Enosh was born in the year 235 (3526 b.c.e.).  Adam, Shet, and Enosh all looked alike.  Since Adam was created by G-d, all his features were perfect; he was absolutely handsome.  Although Shet and Enosh were born in a natural manner, from a woman, they looked exactly like Adam.  This is alluded to in the verse, "And Shet was ALSO born a son, and he named him Enosh" (Bereishit 4:26).  The word "also" would normally be superfluous, but it comes to teach us that both Shet and Enosh resembled Adam (in looks and in deeds) (Zohar 1:36, 1:54, 1:56)

Then people became wicked, they began to worship idols.  Even Enosh himself became caught up in this error (Yad, Avodat Kochavim).  Soem say that he did not engage in idolatry until after Adam died (RaMBaN).

Idolatry began as the result of a logical mistake.  Enosh said to himself, "G-d created the stars and planets with which to direct the world.  Since He placed them in the heavens in a place of honor, we too must respect them.  This is the same as the honor we show to a king's ministers.  When we honor them, we are actually showing respect for the king himself."  None of these people thought that the sun and stars were gods, they were not fools or idiots.  But they thought that it was G-d's will that they respect these astronomical bodies.

Four things changed in the days of Enosh son of Shet, the soil of the hills became hard and non-tillable; corpses began to decompose and smell; people's faces took on a resemblance to those of monkeys; and people became susceptible to harm from demons (Bereishit Rabbah 23:6).

  1. They lost the handsome appearance of previous generations and began to look like apes.

  2. Authority was given to the evil, maleficent Forces to attack them.  Until this time, such Forces were afraid of humans, just as a person is afraid of a lion.  The world was set up so that man dominated even such entities, but the sin of Enosh's generation caused this to be reversed.

  3. Although it had been decreed that man die because of Adam's sin, a human body would then decay in the grave without being attacked by worms.  From Enosh's time on, it was decreed that worms and maggots would be able to invade the grave.  The Mishnah therefore teaches, "Be extremely humble, for man's hope is the worm" (Avot 4:4; Zera Berach, Part 1).  One must be very humble, since it was the pride of Enosh's generation that led to the decree that worms could attack the grave.

  4. All the mountains that had been made for man's enjoyment were transformed into rocky crags, which were totally useless.

Enosh misled the world through his pen, with which he recorded all the forms and shapes of idols.  And this is what is meant by "the pen of Enosh" (Yeshayahu 8:1; Zohar 2:192b)

Zohar, Shemot, Section 2, Page 192b

We have found in the Book of Enoch (Chanoch) the following: “An only son [Tr. note: Aharon.] will be born unto Him of the White Head, [Tr. note The Supernal Priest] and when they of the asses’ flesh [Tr.note: The mixed multitude, cf Yechezkel 23:20]. shall come, they will mislead him through him who puts pearls into bells of gold without knowing what he does, and an image will be fashioned with a chisel.” What does heret (“chisel”-or more literally “style”) here signify? It alludes to the “style of a man (enosh)” (Yeshayahu 8:1), namely, to the style of the wicked Enosh, the grandchild of Adam (Bereishit 5:6), who corrupted the world by chiselling images and idols with that “style”.

Enosh died in the year 1140 after creation (2621 b.c.e.)



  (4th generation) Keinan was born in the year 325 after creation (3436 b.c.e.). 

Alexander the Great explored an island in the Indian Ocean.  There he found a tribe with an extremely feminine appearance.  They subsisted on raw fish which they swallowed alive.  It is said that Keinan is buried on that island.  Keinan was a great genius, knowing all things, even how to dominate the demons.  He was able to figure out that G-d would bring a flood to destroy the world.  All this is found on a monument (on that island) engraved in clear Hebrew script.  It is also written that in his time, the ocean rose and flooded a third of the world (Abarbanel, quoting Josephus).

Keinan died in 1235 (2526 b.c.e.)



(5th generation) Mahalalel was born in 395 (3366 b.c.e.).  He died in 1290 (2471 b.c.e.).



(6th generation) Yered was born in 460 (3301 b.c.e.).  He died in 1422 (2339 b.c.e.)



(7th generation) Chanoch was born 622 (3129 b.c.e.).  Chanoch behaved as G-d wished.  Chanoch is distinguished from his depraved era and he "trained himself" for holiness - chanoch is derived from chinech (educate). 

Chanoch was born circumcised (Shocher Tov 9:7).

He "walked with G-d," the Targum Yonatan translates as, "he served G-d sincerely."  To avoid any anthropomorphism, Onkelos renders as "he walked in the fear of G-d."

According to a historical tradition reported in the Book of Enoch (Sefer Chanoch) states that Chanoch was the king of Sippar, the city of the sun-god Shamash, and that he lived in close communion with G-d.  During Chanoch's time a spiritual decline had taken place and only those with great moral strength were able to withstand the widespread immorality.

According to rabbinical tradition, Chanoch invented writing, arithmetic, and other branches of learning.  He taught many laws which G-d revealed to him, in particular those on the motions of heavenly bodies, which served as the basis for fixing the calendar (Seder HaDorot)

He ceased to be in this world in 987 (2774 b.c.e.).  There are two different traditions regarding Chanoch's death.  The way it is described in Scripture attests to the fact that it was mysterious, perhaps supernatural.  In any case. Chanoch's demise at 365 was premature compared with the lifetimes of the other forefathers. 

Rabbi Abahu (Bereishit Rabbah 25) says that Chanoch died a natural death; according to the Sages of Derech Eretz Zuta 1 he "entered alive into Paradise" with the eight righteous men mentioned there.  Rashi holds that Chanoch died a natural but premature death and adds, "Chanoch was a just man but of weak conscience and easily swayed to evil.  Hence G-d hurried to take him from this world before his time."  Such are the ways of G-d, concludes the Zohar (1:56b).  When He knows that the fragrance emanating from one who is righteous begins to lose its quality, He hastens his end, He looks for the original fragrance and takes it back from the world.  This is the meaning of the verse in Shir HaShurim, "As long as the King (G-d) sits at his place (man), my nard sent forth its fragrance" (1:12).  And if man ceases to possess this fragrance, then, "My beloved (G-d) is gone down to his garden (the earth) to the beds of spices... to gather the lilies" (6:2).  This is why righteous people are sometimes prematurely called away from this world.

Some Sages relate the version that "Chanoch entered alive into Paradise" to the death of Adam, which occurred in the 298th year of Chanoch's life.  The disappearance of the first human being, even though he was created by G-d Himself, brought despair and skepticism to those who were left, unaware as they were of the existence of an afterworld and of the immortality of the soul.  Hence, Chanoch was carried to Heaven alive, in full view, in a fiery chariot drawn by fiery horses (ibid).  The people were shown that life does not come to an end with earthly death (Rabbi Bachya).

Yaakov possessed the Book of Adam, the Book of Chanoch, and the Patriarch Avraham's Book of Creation.

He ascended to the heavens by the word of G-d, and G-d called him "the great scribe Matetron" (Midrash Aggadah, Bereishit 5:18; Targum Yonatan).

For an account of the life of Chanoch, see Beit HaMidrash 4:129.


(8th generation) Metushelach, grandfather of Noach, was born in 687 (3074 b.c.e.).  He was a tzaddik.  When he died, a great noise was heard; it was caused by the angels eulogizing him. They also made a great funeral, and spoke about him.  He died in 1656 (2105 b.c.e.) just before the Great Flood.  He was so righteous that G-d delayed the flood and did not bring it until the seven day period of mourning for Metushelach was over - mourning for the righteous is extremely important to G-d, "It came to pass after seven days that the waters of the Flood were upon the earth" (Bereishit 7:10).  These were the days of mourning for Metushelach (Sanhedrin 108b).



(9th generation) Lemech was born in 874 (2887 b.c.e.) and died in 1651 (2110 b.c.e). 



(10th generation) Noach was born in the year 1056 after creation (2705 b.c.e.).  Noach was born circumcised (Shocher Tov 9:7).

The Torah tells us that he called his son Noach because he said, "This one will bring relief from our work and the anguish of our hands."  The Hebrew word here for "bringing relief" or "comforting" is nachem.  Since this is the meaning of Noach's name, one might wonder why he was not called Menachem or Nachman, both of which actually mean "comforter" or "relief bringer."  In Noach's name, the verb is not complete.  Also how did his father know that he was destined to bring relief to the world?

Noach compiled a book of cures that he had heard from the angel Rafael (Beit HaMidrash 3:156)

Noach lived ten years after the Dispersion (Seder Olam Rabbah 1).

Noach saw that the deeds of mankind was corrupt, so he hid himself in order not to be caught up in their ways, and he engaged in the service of G-d.  He studied the books of Adam and Chanoch, from which he learned how to serve G-d.  How else could Noach have known to offer a sacrifice to his Creator? (Zohar 1:58).

Noach fulfilled what is written in the Torah: "Noach built an altar to Hashem and took out every clean animal and every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings" (Bereishit 8:20) (Vayikra Rabbah 2:10)

Adam was the world's firstborn.  When he offered his sacrifice, he wore the garments of the Kohen Gadol, and thereafter the firstborn used them in the service of G-d.  When Adam died, they passed to Shet.  From Shet they passed to Metushelach, and from Metushelach to Noach, who offered a sacrifice.  When Noach died, they passed to Shem (Bamidbar Rabbah 4:8).

Noach offered those sacrifices to atone for the curse of the earth (Bamidbar Rabbah 14:12).

"Noach, man of the earth" (Bereishit 9:20).  He devoted himself heart and soul to redeeming it from the curse (Zohar Chadash 22b).



Shem was born circumcised (Avot d'Rabbi Nosson 2:5).

Shem was a Kohen Gadol, and he had the advantage of honor and blessing over his brothers (Zohar 1:117a).

His brother Yafet learned Torah from him in his academy until Avraham came.  How did Shem know Torah?  Adam knew Torah, and he passed this knowledge down to his son Shet.  Then it came to Chanoch, and finally to Shem (Zohar Chadash, Noach 22b).

Yafet appears to have been the eldest of the three brothers seeing that in Bereishit 10:21 the Torah refers to "brother of the senior, Yafet."  Cham appears to have been the youngest seeing that Torah writes in Bereishit 9:24 "and he became aware of what his younger son had done to him."  The reason the Torah mentions Shem first was because he was the most outstanding of Noach's children.  This is why Yafet had to be mentioned only after Shem.