Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations. (6, 9)
[The verse says that Noach was a righteous
man in his generation.] Some of our Sages
understand this to be in praise of Noach: Even
in his wicked generation he was a tzaddik -
imagine how much greater he would have
been in a time of righteous people! Other
Sages see this as an [indirect] criticism: In his
generation he was considered a tzaddik
[relative to the corruption surrounding him],
but had he lived in the time of Avraham - he
would not have been important. [Rashi]
While teaching Chumash this week, one of my students asked the
following: The pasuk (verse) says Noach was a perfect tzaddik ("a
tzaddik, perfect in his times"). Perfection implies absolute
completeness. How is it possible (as in Rashi's second explanation)
to qualify perfection by its time period?
It is also significant that Rashi chooses to make this point by
contrasting the righteousness of Noach to that of Avraham. What
aspect of Avraham's righteousness was lacking in Noach?
There is no doubt that Noach spent all his days and years serving
Hashem to the greatest of his ability. If fault is to be found with
Noach, mefarshim (Torah commentators) write, it is in his lack of
attempting to change the corrupt ways of his generation. Noach,
having seen their corruption, rightly wanted nothing to do with them.
Any contact, he reckoned, could only be detrimental. "Woe to the
wicked, woe to his neighbour," says the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah
3:12). As much as possible, he distanced himself from his
Avraham, too, found himself living in a time of wickedness and pagan
worship. Yet this did not deter him from attempting to bring his fellow
man under the "Wings of Hashem's Presence." Even on the painful
third day after his bris milah (circumcision), Avraham stood outside
in the blazing heat, looking for travellers to bring into his tent, where
they would be treated to a meal, and be taught how to bentsch
(recite Grace after Meals), initiating them on a path to discover their
Creator. In this way, Avraham succeeded in teaching many thousands
about the One and Almighty G-d. This is why Avraham came to be
known as Av Hamon Goyim/The Father of Many Nations.
Did Avraham's contact with his generation detract from his personal
growth? Likely it did. There is no denying that had Avraham locked
himself in a room, studying Torah and pouring out his heart in prayer
day and night, he would have reached even greater levels of personal
growth. But personal growth was not Avraham Avinu's only ambition.
Equally important was to bring others close; to teach them belief in
Hashem and morality.
Perhaps, then, Noach's perfection was also his deficiency. He was too
perfect. He did not experience the pitfalls and problems of dealing
with people not up to his spiritual standard, because he chose largely
to ignore them. His spiritual growth was tremendous. But had he
been in the generation of Avraham, who acquainted thousands upon
thousands with the name of the Almighty, Noach's secluded
perfection might not have carried the same importance.
It is written (Koheles/Ecclesiastes 7:20), "For there is no righteous
man on the earth that does [only] good and does not sin." Note that
the pasuk emphasizes a righteous man *on the earth*. For a tzaddik
who leads his life on the earth - paying attention to his surroundings
and looking for opportunities to bring his peers closer to Hashem -
perfection is beyond reach. He will at times have to let himself down
to their level [within the boundaries of halacha] in order to
communicate his message and gain their trust.
Certainly we are not advocating dropping personal growth in Torah
and Yiras Shamayim (Fear of Heaven). On the contrary: It is
impossible to bring others close unless one feels good about his own
situation and relationship with Hashem. But sometimes it is valuable
to sacrifice a measure of our own growth and personal development
in order to help bring others closer.
Imagine you have just discovered an untapped mineral which brings
health and healing to all who use it. You have a choice: You can
either travel the word spreading your momentous message, or you
can stay home and keep it to yourself. While travelling, you will be
able to continue your own treatments, but they may be diminished
somewhat by your busy schedule. Isn't the "price" of your own small
sacrifice worth the potential "profit" of bringing health and well-being
One who truly loves Hashem, who has perceived the magnificent life
that a Torah-observant Jew lives, can not help but want to spread
Hashem's word to his peers and acquaintances. "Taste and you will
see," he pleads, "that Hashem is good! Fortunate is the man who
takes refuge in him (Tehillim 34:9)." He does not reach out because
it is a mitzvah to do so. Like one who has just had an amazing
experience and aches to share it with others, he eagerly teaches
Torah to all who are willing to listen.
Text Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.