Noach was a tzadik; perfect in his generations. Noach walked with G-d.
By including the qualifier “in his generations,” the Torah plunges us into controversy. Rashi cites two opinions. One takes it as a compliment: imagine how much greater he would have been in a generation like that of Avraham, in which the companionship of other inspired people would have helped propel him to even greater spiritual heights. Another opinion, however, sees it disparagingly: had he lived in Avraham’s generation, Noach would not have impressed anyone as a spiritual giant.
This is confusing. Why would we look for ways to pare down our estimation of Noach if the pasuk can be interpreted as heaping praise upon him?
We can explain as follows. When a tzadik rebukes people and they fail to heed his words, he is given the good in them. The words of chastisement offered by the tzadik have spiritual force. When those words are rejected by listeners who have processed them, those words return to the tzadik, and become part of his spiritual treasury. Those words are the good that the tzadik takes from them. Therefore, living in a spiritually impoverished generation was a contributing factor to Noach’s greatness! He rebuked many others; they rejected his words. The good in those words redounded to His spiritual credit. This would not have been the case had he lived in Avraham’s generation, when his rebuke would not have been as necessary, or not spurned when it was delivered.
We can ask the same question about the end of the pasuk, where Rashi again seems to diminish Noach. He explains that while Noach walked with G-d, Avraham walked before Him. In other words, Avraham was a trailblazer, while Noach required G-d’s support at his side as he walked. What is the point of diminishing Noach’s luster?
Know this. On a mystical plane, Hashem and Knesses Yisrael form a unity. We are nothing without Him; in a certain sense, kivayachol, He is not complete without Knesses Yisrael joined to Him. The way we become joined is rather specific. It always begins with an “awakening from below,” i.e. our taking the first step through longing for becoming joined to Him. This excites, as it were, a longing on His part for us to become united with Him, resulting in a reciprocal “awakening from below.” When the two longings coincide – when Hashem’s relationship with us shows the same passion and desire as ours for Him – He can be said to be complete in this regard.
The order, however, is specific. It is our job to begin the process with our own actions, rather than to become excited by some awakening from above. All of creation is based upon the premise that we will constantly initiate the process whereby the two longings coincide, and achieve union. When the awakening comes from Above, we have essentially contributed nothing, and failed in our purpose.
HKBH desired that the world continue, despite the pervasive evil of the generation of the Flood. For this reason, He reached out first to Noach. Noach responded, and was able to walk with G-d, albeit with much support. He indeed became a perfect tzadik. Yet, his righteousness was not comparable to that of Avraham, who walked ahead of Hashem, i.e. his awakening came from within himself, as is appropriate.
This is Chazal’s intention when they say that, “These are the products of the heavens and earth b’hibaram/when they were created” refers to Avraham. It is Avraham’s model – not Noach’s – that was the basis for the creation of the world.
- Bereishis 6:9 ↑
- Cf. Chagigah 5b, where HKBH is described as weeping in His inner chambers. Weeping connotes incompleteness. ↑
- Bereishis Rabbah 12:9 ↑
- Bereishis 2:4 ↑