I've heard it said that Adam and his descendants all have names with very specific meanings, and that when the meanings are strung together they form a message in and of themselves. Is there any validity to this, and if so, what is the resulting message?

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Here's Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, as quoted by Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein:

Here is the basic sequence. Forgetting the special relationship between G-d and Man, (אנוש) even while retaining belief in Him, must lead to dissatisfaction with religious life. This leads in a following generation to an excessive preoccupation with material things simply for the sake of possession (קינן). Finding this vacuous and devoid of meaning, the next generation tries again to connect with G-d by asserting His existence and honoring Him with pious proclamations (מהללאל). Alas, the service of G-d through praise of the lips without subordinating one’s life to His dictates is bound to fail, so the next generation declines (ירד) once more. Detecting the stumbling, some look to educating a new generation (חנוך), ennobling them with something more meaningful. Such intensive education, however, remains the province of only a minority. The next generation is therefore one of “giving up the masses,” מתושלח.

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    Thank you! I knew that RSRH said something about this, but I don't have his commentary at hand. – Alex Dec 8 '10 at 1:23

There's a Christian thing to this effect. (Google "man appointed mortal sorrow".) I've never heard of anything like it from any Jewish source.

  • Not only that, but some of their translations are pretty sketchy. Where do they get that Kenan means "sorrow" and Lemech, "despairing"? – Alex Dec 8 '10 at 1:05
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    Sketchy? ...ויקונן ירמיהו על יאשיהו... וכי ימוך אחיך... – Yosef Dec 8 '10 at 1:37
  • Then it would have to be קונן or something similar. קינן probably derives from the same root as קין - "acquisition." And similarly with למך: okay, so you've found another root that shares two of the same letters (though there it doesn't mean "despair," but rather "impoverishment" - there are rich people who are in despair, and impoverished people who aren't); but then it could also mean "a wad" (like מוך). Mind you, R' S.R. Hirsch (quoted in Shalom's answer), even though he's big on etymologically-based explanations, says frankly that he has no idea what למך means. – Alex Dec 8 '10 at 4:23

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