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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Who is Noah?

Posted by rabbiart on October 29, 2008

Like any good cliff-hanger, the Torah leaves us in suspense at the end of Parshat Breshit with HaShem intending to blot out not only the humans, but also the animals HaShem had made. We read the astonishing statement that HaShem has regrets and – perhaps – no longer sees his creation as tov!

וַיִּנָּחֶם יְהוָה, כִּי-עָשָׂה אֶת-הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ; וַיִּתְעַצֵּב, אֶל-לִבּוֹ.

HaShem regretted that He had made man on/with the earth; he was saddened in his heart

Breshit 6:6

We are left wondering will HaShem really destroy all of his own creation. But suddenly – in the final verse – a new character appears who may save the day.
“וְנֹחַ, מָצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה Noah found grace in the eyes of HaShem.” Who is this man called Noah?

Our parshah (one of the six in the Torah named for an individual) opens with this equivocal statement.
אֵלֶּה, תּוֹלְדֹת נֹחַ–נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה, בְּדֹרֹתָיו: אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים, הִתְהַלֶּךְ-נֹחַ These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a tzadik, tamim in his generations; with Elokim walked Noah.”

Rashi reminds us that our ancient interpreters saw two meanings in the strange construction of this verse. One interpretation is that Noah was righteous in his generation, and if the rest of the people of his generation were righteous, Noah would have been even more righteous. The other interpretation is that Noah was only righteous compared to the other people of his generation. Had he lived in the time of more righteous generations – in particular the generation of Avraham Avinu, he would not have been considered righteous. The latter interpretation is supported by the opening verse of the next chapter.

One of the two words describing Noah is also applied to Jacob, whom the Torah describes as an ish tam; a simple or quiet man. But Noah and Jacob are two different individuals. At every opportunity Jacob questions HaShem and proposes to make deals with HaShem. Noah is given a commandment that must have been incomprehensible, and without question he obeys.

“These are the generations (in the plural) of Noah”. Noah was “… whole-hearted in his generations (again in the plural).” Perhaps this is the secret key to intepreting the verse, and understanding the character of Noah.

In my eighth grade English class (lo, these many moons ago) we were given an assignment about Ben Franklin. We had to decide whether Franklin’s inventive genious was specific to his time, or whether, had he lived in our time, he would still have created many inventions. As a twelve year old, I thought that Franklin was a creature of his time, and would not have been a successful inventor in the mid-twentieth century. Now I believe that his personal qualities would have transcended his time and place.

When I read of Noah rising to the occasion, especially after getting a sense of how ridiculous this whole endeavor must have seemed to him (see previous post and go listen to Cosby), I see Noah as a whole-hearted righteous man – for any generation! Against the flood of destructive behavior, Noah was willing to stand alone.

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