Sunday, September 29, 2013


Bereishis, 6:9: These are the offspring of Noach – Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noach walked with G-d. Rashi, Bereishis: 6:9, dh: In his generations: There are those among our Rabbis who expound [this wording] as praise; ‘all the more so if he had been in a generation of righteous people, he would have been more righteous’. And there are those who expound it negatively; had he been in the generation of Avraham, he would have been considered as nothing. Rashi brings two conflicting interpretations of the Torah’s wording in the opening verse of Parshas Noach: “in his generations”. One views it in a positive way, and one in a negative way. Yet there are a number of problems with this Rashi: One is that in the positive interpretation Rashi writes that Noach would have been more righteous had he lived with other righteous people. Accordingly, the opposing, negative view should say that had Noach lived in the generation of Avraham he would have less of a righteous person, or not so righteous, why then does Rashi use the harsh wording that he would have been considered as nothing. The key to answering this question is to understand that it is incorrect to think that Avraham was simply ‘more’ righteous than Noach, rather he was on a completely different level of righteousness – his righteousness was qualitatively different to that of Noach. Accordingly, when Rashi writes that Noach would have been nothing compared to Avraham, he means that even though Noach may well have been more righteous had he lived in the time of Avraham, nonetheless he still would have been nothing in comparison because Avraham was on a whole different level of righteousness. When compared to that level Noach would have been considered as nothing. In what way was Avraham on such a different level than Noach? This is revealed in Rashi’s next comment on the words; “Noach walked with G-d”. Rashi writes: ‘And regarding Avraham it says “walk before Me”’: Noach needed support to bear him up, but Avraham would strengthen himself and walk in his righteousness on his own.” . The commentaries explain that Rashi is telling us that Avraham was pro-active, he did not need external events to stimulate him to serve HaShem and perform acts of kindness, rather he was able to motivate himself. Noach needed external circumstances to push him forward in his righteousness . Rav Dessler develops this idea; he writes that Noach is called, ‘ish tzaddik’ whilst Avraham is the ‘ish chessed’. Noach performed incredible acts of kindness in the ark, feeding hundreds of animals for several months, however, “this was only tzedek - he fulfilled his obligation.” It did not stem from an overflowing desire to give, but was rather a reaction to the needs of others. Avraham, in contrast, did not perform chessed out of obligation, but because of a burning desire to give. This divergence between Noach and Avraham was not restricted to chessed in gashmius (the physical realm) but also extends into the realm of ruchnius (the spiritual realm). The Seforno writes that Noach did rebuke the people in his generation but he did not go any further - “he did not teach them to know G-d and how to go in his ways,” consequently he did not possess enough merit to save the generation . In contrast Avraham went far beyond the call of duty to teach the world to know HaShem . Thus we see that although Noach was a ‘tzaddik’ he did not attain Avraham’s level of ‘chassid’; in this way he would have been nothing in comparison to Avraham. Every Jew’s job is to at least aspire to the level of Avraham by being proactive in our avodas HaShem and chessed.

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