Our opening verse sets the scene for a classic debate about Noah’s merit. Was he righteous only in comparison to the rest of his generation, or was he truly righteous depsite his generation? And therefore he would have been even more a tzaddik in other times? (Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 108 Read about it in English here) He was – in his generation – an ish tzaddik; a righteous man. Not only that, elohim walked with Noah.
אֵ֚לֶּה תּֽוֹלְדֹ֣ת נֹ֔חַ נֹ֗חַ אִ֥ישׁ צַדִּ֛יק תָּמִ֥ים הָיָ֖ה בְּדֹֽרֹתָ֑יו אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֖ים הִֽתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹֽחַ:
Noah is the last righteous person on earth. The world has descended into immorality, idolatry and robbery. Everyone and everything has lost its way. Hashem selects Noah, and commands him to build a very large boat. Without this intervention, humanity will be eradicated. Sound familiar?
Rabbi Avi Shafran complained last week about the sinister sound (as he called it) demonstrations beneath the window of his Agudath Israel offices in Manhattan. We shouldn’t worry about climate change, he reassures us, because ‘Hashem has built self-correcting mechanisms into nature, and that our zeal should be reserved for Torah-study and mitzvos.’ He mentions several anecdotal adjustments to planetary warming as evidence that nature will self-correct regardless of anything humankind can do to it. According to R. Shafran: No interventions are required.
When Noah was born, his father named him with a prayer that he would relieve the pain and toil of working the ground which HaShem had cursed. (Breshit 5:29) Noah worked for 120 years to build the ark. It must have required trust, faith, perseverance and even a modicum of zeal. Saving the world from itself is no casual endeavor.
From Noah we learn what it means to be an active partner with HaShem in the ongoing work of creating the world. Just as humans had caused the ground to be cursed, another human would redeem it.
We make much, as we should, of Avraham Avinu and his willingness to answer hineni when called. With Noah, it appears that no call was even necessary. When he enters the story, he is already a tzaddik, walking with HaShem.
Perhaps Noah was righteous only in his generation because his vision did not include saving the entire world, only the future of humanity. Shall we be gladdened at the end of the story because Noah’s family and the animal family are saved? Or shall we be sad for the deaths of all those who perished?
At the end of Noah’s story, HaShem comes to grips with the realization that HaShem’s most important creations are flawed. HaShem promises HaShem’s self to never again bring the hammer down on all living things. The seasons, as well as the times for planting and harvesting, will continue for all time. HaShem establishes a brit in which the use of flooding (and we would like to believe, all weapons of massive destruction) are forswarn.
It would seem in our day that Noah is someone we should seek to emulate. We are flooded with the consequences of so much yetzer that we cannot simply be passive and trust to self-healing mechanisms. We need to partner with HaShem in everything symbolized by Noah building his ark.