Thursday, October 26, 2006

In Our Generation Too

Parshas Bereishis ends by recounting that Hashem observed that human behavior had degenerated to the point of such wickedness that He regretted having created man. Hashem declared that he would wipe mankind and all animal life off the face of the land. The parsha concludes by saying that Noach found favor in the eyes of Hashem. Parshas Noach continues this theme by stating that Noach was a tzaddik tomim who walked with Hashem.

Every time I begin learning Parshas Noach, I have the same question. The Torah states that Noach was a tzaddik tomim in his generation. Rashi immediately tells us that some interpret this posuk as laudatory of Noach and others interpret it in a critical vein. The detractors say that had Noach lived in the generation of Avrohom, he would not have counted for anything.

If the Torah describes Noach as a person with tzaddik and tomim credentials, why must we pounce on him and seek to minimize his greatness? Why can’t we take the posuk at face value? If the Torah states that the entire world had become defiled except for Noach, isn’t that enough to establish his spiritual grandeur? Does it really make a difference to us what level of greatness Noach would have attained had he lived in the generation of Avrohom Avinu?

The world was about to be destroyed and the only people Hashem found worthy of being saved were Noach and his family. The whole future of mankind would be perpetuated through them; they must have been good and worthy people. If not, they would have been swept away by the flood along with the rest of humanity. Why does Rashi interject that some looked upon Noach unfavorably?

The K’sav Sofer, in his commentary discussing other aspects of Noach, explains that the people of his day regarded him as a tzaddik tomim bedorosov because he didn’t reproach them; es haElokim hishalech Noach. Noach walked with G-d, not with man. He was occupied with his own personal service of G-d and didn’t seek to improve his fellow man. People love a tzaddik who doesn’t bother them; who doesn’t try to improve them.

Perhaps that is the explanation of Rashi’s words: “Ilu haya bedoro shel Avrohom lo haya nechshav leklum.” Had Noach lived in the time of Avrohom, he would not have been considered a great man. Avrohom was one who lived with his fellow man and sought to improve them. The method of avodah which Noach performed - a self-contained, self-oriented avodah - would not have been considered great in the time of Avrohom. Avrohom Avinu showed that it is possible to be a tzaddik, live among the people, chastise them when necessary; and still be respected by them and affect their behavior.

Noach apparently felt that since G-d had already decided to bring the flood, it would be futile to be mochiach, or chastise, his dor. Avrohom, in his discussion with Hashem prior to the destruction of Sedom, showed that a tzaddik should never despair for his people’s fate and should never hesitate to seek their salvation.

Some tzaddikim are blessed with the gift of communication; there are great people who by virtue of their personalities convince people to repent and straighten their ways. A tzaddik who truly cares about his flock cannot hide from them, worrying only about himself and his family. There is no valid excuse for failing to influence others to do good and follow the path of G-d.

This is why Rashi takes pains to tell us that although Noach was a tzaddik tomim, we should not seek to learn from him. His way should not be our way. As children of Avrohom, we must follow in the path Avrohom Avinu hewed for us. We have to accept responsibility for those around us who are confused and lost. We have to be able to rise above the moral dissolution in which society attempts to drown us. We have to find the skills and the intelligence to be able to effectively reach out and touch people.

If we cared enough, we would find the right words at the right time to let people know what they mean to us. If we cared about G-dliness and goodness as much as Avrohom did, then we would try as hard as he did to spread it in our world. We wouldn’t suffice ourselves with lame excuses that the people we could sway are too far gone. Parents who suffer with a child who has fallen under bad influences and is struggling with addiction never give up. They never stop loving their child and they desperately seek ways to convey that love.

Eventually, with Hashem’s help, parents with this level of devotion are successful. The smoke and fog clear and the message gets through.

“Ilu haya bedoro shel Avrohom lo haya nechshav leklum.” Although Noach was a tzaddik and although he found favor in Hashem’s eyes and was chosen to have the world rebuilt through him, once Avrohom came on the scene, Noach’s greatness was eclipsed. It is now Avrohom’s path - his actions and example - that we must emulate.

In our own day, when we witness injustice and impropriety, we should not shirk the responsibility of intelligently addressing the source of these lapses. When we see bizayon haTorah, it should shake us to our core and we should not be too weak to express it. Following Avrohom’s example, we must be engaged with others, not withdrawn from them.

When we see people wronged, we should not stand by and shrug our shoulders saying, “Who am I? What can I do?” We should rise to the occasion. We should imagine it was our family being wronged. We should imagine that the transgression took place in our teivah. We should raise our voices and use our other G-d-given talents to attempt to right the wrongs.

We can not content ourselves by only educating our children to follow in the path of the Torah and halacha; we have to see to it that those with whom we come in daily contact do the same. We cannot say that we are helpless to bring about change.

Noach was a great man. Undoubtedly, it required super-human strength to withstand the temptations of his period. Certainly, he was outstanding in that he remained true to the word of G-d, despite all the corruption surrounding him. The posuk testifies that Noach found favor - chein - in the eyes of Hashem. And the Gemorah in Sukkah (49b) states axiomatically that anyone who has chein also possesses yiras Shomayim.

Yet, although Noach had yiras Shomayim and all of mankind is his offspring, he is not referred to as the av hamon goyim - father of the nations. That appellation is reserved for Avrohom Avinu who treated all of mankind as his children, as dwellers of his own ark, whom he was responsible to care for and love. When he gave others tochacha, he did so with love and care. He didn’t mock them; he sought to raise them. He touched their hearts, reached their souls, affected their psyches and thus improved them and they joined his flock.

Avrohom went further than Noach; not only did he have yiras Shomayim, he was also the first convert to Hashem’s service. As the Gemorah in Sukkah (ibid) expounds on the posuk, “Am Elokei Avrohom, shehaya techilah l’goyim,” which Rashi explains to mean that he was the first person in the world to convert.

Noach never took that step. He didn’t care about G-d as much as Avrohom did. And therefore, he didn’t go around trying to straighten out the people he lived with and he wasn’t mispallel for their salvation as Avrohom habitually did. He didn’t sit out in front of his tent waiting to bring them under the canopy of G-d.

“Ilu haya bedoro shel Avrohom lo haya nechshav leklum.”

Perhaps Rashi is telling us that we should seek to follow in the path of Avrohom Avinu, without minimizing our talents and abilities. Let us not excuse inaction by contending that those around us are too far gone to merit our intervention. Let us find the right words of reproach and outreach to portray our love and determination. Let us merit that our actions be judged favorably by G-d and man.


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