Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Noach - A 'Standard' Tzaddik
"Then Hashem said to Noach, 'Come into the Ark, you and all your household,
for it is you that I have found righteous before Me in this generation.'" (7:1)
The holy Admor Of Ozh'rov, R' Moshe Yechiel zt"l, points out a number of
noteworthy particulars in the above verse. "For it is you that I have found
to be righteous before Me in this generation." Why does Hashem stress that
it is you, above all others? Why is Noach righteous before Hashem - a
person is righteous before everyone, Hashem included. And why the stress on
this generation? (All of these questions are addressed by other
commentators as well.)
He explains that living as he did in a wicked and corrupt generation, it
would have been easy enough for Noach to pass himself off as a tzaddik
simply by dint of the old "theory of relativity" - that relative to those
around him he was the exception; the man who chose not to participate in
the degenerate sins of his contemporaries. No one would deny that in a
generation such as his, to simply be better than the rest would be no small
accomplishment - indeed worthy of the title tzaddik. Noach, however,
refused to measure himself with a relative yardstick; Noach held himself to
absolute standards. It was not enough to be a tzaddik before his generation
- he was a tzaddik before Hashem. The verse stresses that you, Noach, were
the only exception - lending the case for "relative-righteousness" all the
more credence - yet you would not be lulled by the comfort of being better
than the rest. Even be-dor ha-zeh, in this generation, where any small
amount of scruples would have rendered Noach a relative-tzaddik, he did not
make do; Noach was a tzaddik before Hashem.
This, perhaps, explains an oft-noted discrepancy in the Torah's description
of Noach. At the beginning of this week's parsha, the Torah describes Noach
as "a perfect tzaddik (tzaddik tamim)." Here, Hashem tells Noach He has
found him to be a tzaddik, leaving out the perfection. (Aside: See Rashi
who understands that one does not sing a person's complete praises in front
of the person, lest he become arrogant. Thus, in the narrative, Noach is a
perfect tzaddik; but when Hashem addresses Noach, he is a tzaddik. See also
Kedushas Tzion who questions this understanding based on the teaching of
Chazal that Noach studied the entire Torah, which means he would anyway
have been aware of Hashem's description of him as a "perfect tzaddik." He
suggests that perhaps Noach himself was the "yeish dorshim le-genai - those
who understand this description to Noach's detriment (see Rashi)!" Noach,
in his humility, would never assume that the Torah meant to paint him in a
Perhaps the difference between a tzaddik and a tzaddik tamim is precisely
this: A tzaddik attains his title relative to his contemporaries. A perfect
tzaddik is the tzaddik who refuses to accept relative-righteousness, and
measures himself by G-d's standards alone. Therein lies his perfection.
Thus, there is no discrepancy between the Torah's two descriptions of
Noach: In the narrative, where Noach is not being addressed, he is
described as a perfect tzaddik. Here, where Hashem clearly describes Noach
as an absolute tzaddik through the nuances mentioned above, there is no
need to repeat the word tamim.
This, says R' Moshe Yechiel, explains the Torah's statement, "Noach went
with G-d (6:9, see Rashi)," i.e. he always kept in mind the Absolute
standard of morality with which the righteous serve Hashem, and refused to
be content with the lamentable standards of his contemporaries.
Perhaps this also offers us an additional insight into the afformentioned
Rashi: "Yesh dorshim le-shevach/le-genai - there are some who understand
the Torah's description of Noach as a 'perfect tzaddik in his generation'
in a positive light - even in his generation he was a tzaddik! And there
are those who understand it negatively - only in his generation was he a
tzaddik, but were he to have lived among other righteous people such as
Avraham, he would not have been noteworthy."
While it is true that Noach refused to measure himself relative to his
surroundings, and he was indeed a "perfect tzaddik," it doesn't change the
fact that he would undoubtedly have reached even higher levels of avodas
Hashem were he to have lived among, and been influenced by, contemporaries
with similar interests and dispositions. Noach tried to live in a vacuum.
Yes, he absolutely refused to be drawn down by the corruption that
ultimately engulfed and flooded his generation, but neither did he benefit
from the opportunity to be uplifted by seeing other like-minded tzaddikim,
each with their own way of serving Hashem. There is no doubt that while
Noach is above criticism, and did the absolute best he possibly could
living in a time where he was the lone ranger, his growth was limited to
the extent that he could stimulate himself. He didn't have the opportunity
of going to a city such as Lakewood, where no matter how late you stay in
beis-hamidrash, you're never the last, and no matter how early you get up,
you're never the first. He wasn't able to glance across the shul and happen
to notice a friend pouring out his heart in prayer to Hashem in the midst
of a plain- old weekday shachris, mincha or ma'ariv. He wasn't able to look
around him and see the exceptional kindness of Avraham, the strength of
Yitzchok, nor the extreme devotion of Yaakov. No doubt being able to do so
would have opened Noach up to new, unimagined levels of devotion that even
the most furtive mind can't dream up on its own.
How critical it is living in a time where, unfortunately, there are many
areas of Jewish life that "just aren't what they used to be," that one
remember the lesson of Noach, that true righteousness is reserved for those
who refuse to "lower the bar" just because it's what everybody else is
doing. And that only by surrounding ourselves with others who challenge our
own standards do we stand a chance of growing beyond what our own feeble
minds can conceive.
Have a good Shabbos.
This week's publication was sponsored in memory of Mrs. Frimet Langner ob"m.
Text Copyright © 2003 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Torah.org