After their first son, Cain, kills their second, Abel, and is sent into exile by God, the biblical Adam and Eve have a third, named Seth, from whom Noah—and hence all of postdiluvian humanity—is born. The book of Genesis, after ignoring Adam and Eve for 22 verses, during which, it seems, 130 years have gone by, states that the two had a son. Eve “called him Seth, because God has granted me a new future in place of Abel, killed by Cain. To Seth also a son is born, and he named him Enosh.” In a 1999 essay, recently republished online, Elie Wiesel explored this oft-forgotten biblical character about whom the Bible tells us so little:
A curious thing: in midrashic literature, which is usually so expansive, rather little is said about this character to whom, we shall soon see, we owe so much. The midrash is more forthcoming regarding Seth’s family. A moving midrashic legend recounts that after the death of Abel, the mourning Adam and Eve fall into a profound, melancholy solitude. Far from paradise, they are no longer in harmony with their environment or with each other. We imagine them silent, lethargic. They no longer desire anything, least of all another child. Undoubtedly, Abel and his cruel fate are too prevalent in their thoughts for them to wish to give him a brother.
[I]n the Bible, it is always the woman who names the children. But if so, why did Seth name his son? Was this perhaps to mark the singularity of Enosh, who is so closely linked to Adam and to God? Like Adam, Enosh means “man.” Moreover, the next verse says, zeh sefer toldot adam: “this is the book of the generations of Adam.” In other words, we are present not at the beginning but at the second beginning of Creation.
Adam’s last son, Seth, resembles his father. We are all his descendants, states the midrash. It strains to reassure us. In case we were afraid to be Cain’s descendants and inheritors of his original sin, the midrash tells us, all the descendants of Cain will perish in the Flood, but not those of Seth.
The proof: we are here to tell his story.