July 19, 2024
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July 19, 2024
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Our sedra begins with a description of the “toldot” of Noach, who is described as an “ish tzadik, tamim haya bedorotav,” a righteous man who was pure in his generation. There, Rashi quotes the famous discussion in the Midrash of whether or not this description is in fact complimentary. On the one hand, one could say that it was amazing that, in a time of chamas, or very low moral standards, it would be difficult for anyone to remain righteous, so Noach is particularly noteworthy for being a tzadik in his generation. On the other hand, perhaps Noach could have done more to try to influence his generation, and, in Rashi’s words, if he had been born in Avraham’s time, “lo haya nechshav l’klum,” he wouldn’t have been anything special. In other words, Rashi taught that the distinction as to whether Noach was, in fact, objectively righteous lies in comparing his deeds, and how he is described in the Torah, to his descendant Avraham.

However, I believe that if we look backward in history instead of forward, we can learn an important lesson about Noach’s character, one that can can add a tremendous amount of meaning to our lives as well.

At the end of Parshat Bereishit, we read of the generations that separated Adam HaRishon and Noach. Not much description is given about any of the eight individuals who separate them; all we know is that in the time of Enosh, son of Shet, the people of the world began to “call out in the name of God,” which most commentaries interpret as the beginning of the decline in society that ended in the chamas of Noach’s time. However, one of Adam’s descendants does receive some mention in this section, however brief.

Chanoch, great-grandfather of Noach, had a son name Metushelach at the tender age of 65 years old, and then died at a relatively young age of 365 years, significantly less than anyone else at that time (he was even outlived by Adam’s son Shet by several decades). The pesukim describe that after Metushelach’s birth, Chanoch walked in the way of God (“v’yit’halech chanoch et ha-Elokim,” exactly the same wording as is used by Noach), but “ve’einenu, ki lakach oto Elokim,” he was no more, for God had taken him. What exactly this means, we cannot be sure, but it would appear Chanoch’s life was significantly shortened because, unlike those around him, he feared God and retained the morals that were so lacking in his time.

So, we see two individuals, Chanoch and Noach. Both are explicitly mentioned in the pesukim as having walked in God’s way, and both were clearly able to remain on very high moral levels despite the immorality around them. Yet, one died an early death for this, and the other was chosen by God to play a starring role in saving men and animals from the flood. While, again, we cannot have any idea why Chanoch’s life was cut short, if we return to our original question and try to review whether Noach’s description of “ish tzadik, tamim haya b’dorotav” was in fact to his praise or detriment, I believe that the answer is both, or rather none. Noach was the answer to what the people of his time needed—a person worthy of being saved from the flood who would follow God faithfully into the teiva and follow His instructions scrupulously. Avraham was the answer to what the people of his time needed—a beacon of hope and morals and an influencer, in a time when idolatry and immorality were rampant. Chanoch, too, was the answer to what the people of his time needed; they weren’t redeemable, but they weren’t yet evil enough to be destroyed, so Chanoch embarked on his mission of creating the grandfather of the redeemer from the flood, and, after this was done, he left the world, for his mission was complete.

Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt”l, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, famously quoted the commentary of Rav Ovadia of Bartenura on Megillat Rut and the Chatam Sofer to teach his disciples that in every generation there exists a mashiach, a descendant of Yehuda, of David and Shlomo, who, if those around him are worthy, will be able to redeem us and save us from our exile; but this can only happen if the people of that time are ready for geulah. In a similar way, this is true for us as well. We are who we are, born where we are born, into our generation, because each and every one of us has something to contribute to the Jewish people and to the world as a whole. Some of us will be influencers, groomed for leadership like Avraham and primed to make a difference in the world. Others will be saviors, trying like Noach to save as much of creation as possible before our misdeeds destroy us for good. For others yet, the mission is more basic yet just as crucial, and this is following in the footsteps of Chanoch and ensuring that they will have Jewish children and making sure they are raised properly to continue on the sharsheret.

William Shakespeare famously wrote: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Each of us is great; we all have a unique mission, according to where, when and how we live. The key is to aim for the high standard set to us by our ancestors Chanoch, Noach and Avraham to try to live as tzadikim and temimim, and to strive “le-hit’halech im ha’Elokim.” If we can endeavor to live our lives like this, then, at the end of our days, whether they be Avraham’s 175, Noach’s 950 or Chanoch’s 365, we will know that we were tzadikim, temimim in our generation, and there is no higher shevach than that.

By Tzvi Silver/JLNJ Israel

 Tzvi Silver, a Teaneck native, has been living in Israel since 2011. He recently graduated electrical engineering at JCT-Machon Lev in Jerusalem, works as an investigator for Israel’s Ministry of Justice and serves as JLNJ and JLBWC’s senior Israel correspondent. He will be drafting into the IDF at the end of the year to serve as an academic officer in his field.

 

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