Lemekh's Monologue


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A Confession?

After the story of Kayin's killing of Hevel, the Torah lists Kayin's descendants, pausing at the sixth generation to expound about Lemekh.  His biographical information is followed by a short but enigmatic poem which hints to a murder, but explicates no further:


(כג) וַיֹּאמֶר לֶמֶךְ לְנָשָׁיו עָדָה וְצִלָּה שְׁמַעַן קוֹלִי נְשֵׁי לֶמֶךְ הַאְזֵנָּה אִמְרָתִי כִּי אִישׁ הָרַגְתִּי לְפִצְעִי וְיֶלֶד לְחַבֻּרָתִי. (כד) כִּי שִׁבְעָתַיִם יֻקַּם קָיִן וְלֶמֶךְ שִׁבְעִים וְשִׁבְעָה.

(23)  And Lemekh said to his wives, Adah and Tzillah hear my voice, wives of Lemekh listen to my speech, for I have slain a man for wounding me and a child for bruising me.  (23)  For Kayin will be avenged sevenfold, and Lemekh seventy-sevenfold.

This speech appears without any context, making it difficult to decipher both the tone and  meaning of Lemekh's monologue.  What is it that he is trying to share with his wives?  Do his words constitute a statement or a question?  What emotion lies behind them; is Lemekh upset, consoling, or boastful?   Moreover, almost every phrase that he utters is unclear:

  • Who are the "אִישׁ" and "יֶלֶד" which are mentioned?  Why were they killed?  Is Lemekh describing homicide, infanticide, or both?
  • What do the words "לְפִצְעִי" and "לְחַבֻּרָתִי" come to explain?  Do they reflect the motivation for the killing or the method thereof?
  • What does the phrase "שִׁבְעָתַיִם יֻקַּם" mean?  Is Lemekh comparing himself to Kayin or to the avenger of Kayin's actions?  Is the comparison intended to mitigate or magnify Lemekh's culpability?

Context and Purpose

One of the troubling aspects of Lemekh's speech is its very presence in the Torah.  What is the relevance of this episode to the reader?  Does it shed light on the narratives surrounding it or might they help elucidate it?  Its broader context is the story of Kayin killing Hevel, and Lemekh himself is a direct descendant of Kayin and makes reference to Kayin's punishment.1  But how are Lemekh's actions related to Kayin's?

Alternatively, its immediate context is a description of the material inventions of Lemekh's children:


(יט)  וַיִּקַּח לוֹ לֶמֶךְ שְׁתֵּי נָשִׁים שֵׁם הָאַחַת עָדָה וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִית צִלָּה. (כ) וַתֵּלֶד עָדָה אֶת יָבָל הוּא הָיָה אֲבִי יֹשֵׁב אֹהֶל וּמִקְנֶה. (כא) וְשֵׁם אָחִיו יוּבָל הוּא הָיָה אֲבִי כָּל תֹּפֵשׂ כִּנּוֹר וְעוּגָב. (כב) וְצִלָּה גַם הִוא יָלְדָה אֶת תּוּבַל קַיִן לֹטֵשׁ כָּל חֹרֵשׁ נְחֹשֶׁת וּבַרְזֶל וַאֲחוֹת תּוּבַל קַיִן נַעֲמָה.

(19)  And Lemekh took for himself two wives, the name of the one was Adah and the name of the second was Tzillah.  (20)  And Adah bore Yaval, he was the father of those who dwell in tents and herds.  (21)  And the name of his brother was Yuval, he was the father of all who play the lyre and the pipe.  (22)  And Tzillah also bore Tuval Kayin, the father of all who forge all implements of bronze and iron, and the sister of Tuval Kayin was Na'amah.

Could these advances in civilization be in some way connected to Lemekh's deeds and words?

Finally, the story is followed by the genealogical list which leads into the story of the Flood.  Is there a message in the juxtaposition of these events? What might Lemekh's oration add to our understanding of the Flood narrative?