Most people have a worldview that neatly categorizes the righteous on one side and the villains on the other. Think Avraham, Yosef, Moshe and then Esav, Paroh and Haman. In studying this week’s Parsha, however, our hero Noach seems not to fall neatly into any category.
…if he would have lived in the generation of Avraham, he would not have been considered of any significance.The Torah (Bereishis 6:9) describes Noach as Ish Tzaddik Tamim Haya, a purely righteous person, a very high standing indeed. And yet, the very next word B’Dorosov qualifies that description of Noach as only relative to or dependent on others. The Gemara and Midrashim bring these two opposing viewpoints in assessing Noach’s true level. This machlokes (dispute) is famous enough that most elementary school children can recall it practically in their sleep!
The negative view brought by Rashi on the Pasuk, quoting the Medrash Tanchuma (section 5) and Medrash Rabba (30:9) is astounding. This man Noach, who was so great that he merited to be saved along with his family while the entire world was swept away in the Flood, who faithfully and publically followed Hashem’s command to work on the construction of a Tayva (ark) for 120 years while withstanding the taunts, threats and ridicule of the entire civilized world, has the following said about him: “…if he would have lived in the generation of Avraham, he would not have been considered of any significance.”
How can we understand this? On the one hand Noach and only Noach merited salvation from the flood through great miracles, but at the same time he was lacking some quality that rendered him insignificant next to Avraham? The mefaresh (super commentary) B’eir Basodeh on Rashi explains that what was missing from Noach was empathy, a burning feeling of concern for others. He believed in Hashem and did exactly what he was commanded. He accepted Hashem’s decree and did not utter a word of protest.
A tzaddik who cares only for himself, is really not much of a tzaddik.The Medrash Tanchuma compares that to Avraham Avinu, Moshe Rabbeinu and Dovid HaMelech. When they were informed of – impending doom for Sodom in Avrohom’s case, or the Jewish people in Moshe ‘s case and even of the illness of his enemies in Dovid’s case (Tehillim 35:13), their immediate reaction was to protest and pray on behalf of their brothers. Avrohom, whose entire life’s mission was threatened by the people of Sodom, nevertheless pleaded for their salvation. Moshe was willing to give up everything and declared – wipe me out, rather than destroy Klal Yisrael as Hashem threatened by the sin of the Golden Calf.
What was Noach’s reaction in the face of Hashem’s pronouncement of mankind’s looming destruction? Silence. Not one word of protest is recorded in the Torah. This was not merely a nuance of a shortcoming in Noach’s tzidkus. This was a fundamental lack in his makeup and worldview that made his other great qualities pale into insignificance relative to Avraham Avinu.
This point has great relevance for us and our children. Whatever we may achieve in Torah, Tefilla and Mitzvos is practically negated if we don’t have an equally strong track record in feeling and caring for others and being willing to sacrifice some of our needs for the sake of others. A tzaddik who cares only for himself, is really not much of a tzaddik.
Supporting others and devoting ourselves to their needs, is indeed our ultimate obligation to the Creator.With this in mind, we expend great thought and effort in Yeshiva to help everyone feel part of our community, and that no one is alone. We work constantly to reduce and eliminate bullying behavior which is the exact antithesis of caring for others. We are in the midst of Middos programs that reinforce that message. The tzaddikim and tzidkaniyos that are developing in our midst are hearing the message over and over again – that only by caring for others, standing up for others, including others and respecting others can they truly take pride in their own accomplishments.
Parents need to reinforce the same message through word and deed. The pursuit of spiritual perfection, which is the primary goal of every Jew, can only be successful when we care for others as much as we care to follow our own Mitzvah obligations to Hashem. Supporting others and devoting ourselves to their needs, is indeed our ultimate obligation to the Creator.
Best wishes for a wonderful Shabbos,