“The Seventh Descendant”
A popular theme among writers of fantasy is the special nature of the seventh son. In works of this genre, this child is often blessed with a natural gift of magic, or a destiny for greatness.
While the magic of such novels will always be just fantasy, the special nature of “the seventh” is an idea straight out of Jewish tradition. It is written in the Midrash: “All sevenths are favorites in the world …” (Leviticus Rabbah 29:11).
The Midrash goes on to identify several well-known sevenths, such as Moses (seventh-generation descendant of Abraham) and David (seventh son of Jesse). The most fascinating of these examples, however, might be the lesser-known Enoch. About him it is written: “The seventh is a favorite among the generations. Thus: Adam (1), Seth (2), Enosh (3), Kenan (4), Mahalel (5), Jared (6), [and] Enoch (7)” (ibid).
Enoch’s appearance in the Bible is quite brief: “And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years…And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him” (5:22-24).
With these few verses, Enoch became an enigma about whom even the sages were divided:
“Rabbi Hama ben Rabbi Hoshaya said that he was not inscribed in the roll of the righteous but in the roll of the wicked. Rabbi Aibu said: Enoch was a hypocrite, acting sometimes as a righteous individual, sometimes as a wicked man. Therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, said: While he is righteous, I will remove him” (Genesis Rabbah 25:1).
As the leader of the seventh generation of humankind, Enoch had incredible potential. Thus, while he was a man who could “walk with God,” the great commentator Rashi notes that “he [Enoch] could easily be swayed to turn to do evil.”
The Midrash explains why Enoch’s days were cut short, but what does it mean that “God took him”? The only other time this term is used in scripture is when describing Elijah the Prophet’s last moments on earth. It is thus understood that Enoch and Elijah were both taken, body and soul, into heaven.
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