Noach the Tzaddik?
Although the first two parshiyot in Sefer Bereishit are enigmatic, Noach in particular confuses the commentators. On the one hand, he is described in Parshat Noach as being a tzaddik, a righteous individual. However, in Parshat Bereishit, Noach is listed as having finding “chein” (“grace”) in the eyes of G-d. Are these two statements contradictory? What is Noach’s religious status in comparison to other tzaddikim of the future?
In Yechezkel 14:14, Noach is named in the same phrase along with Daniel and Iyov as being righteous. Yet if one continues reading the passuk, it says that they would not be able to spiritually save the sinful generation of the Churban. The Seforno states that these three individuals were all indeed tzaddikim. However, they could not save other people because they did not spiritually influence others for the better. Daniel is scorned in the meforshim for having not been present at Nevuchadnezzar’s inauguration of his gold statue, rather having left Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya to confront Nevuchadnezzar at the expense of their lives. Unlike his contemporary Mordechai, he does not intercede on the behalf of Klal Yisrael during his tenure as a political leader.
The opening passuk in Iyov states that Iyov was a tzaddik and was concerned for the spiritual welfare of his family. Yet the Gemara in Bava Basra 15A lists a number of time periods in which he could have lived. Rav Soloveitchik (ZT”L), in his essay Out of the Whirlwind, claims that these dates are a criticism of Iyov. If he was a contemporary of Yaakov Avinu or Ezra and Nechemiah, why didn’t he help Klal Yisrael too? He too could have been remembered in Jewish history as one of its founding fathers, a national hero that reestablished Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael. Instead, he is the subject of one of the most depressing seforim in all of Tanakh, which deals with the topic of tzaddik v’ra lo, or why bad things happen to good people.
In his peirush in Bereishit, the Seforno states that Noach truly was a tzaddik and deserved to be saved due to his own merits. However, since he was not involved in influencing his generation, the only reason his family merited to be saved was because Noach found favor in the eyes of Hashem. These two passukim are not contradictory statements; they are a statement (Noach was a tzaddik) and its corollary (yet not on a public enough level that his family could be saved due to that merit).
The Seforno was not the first one to discuss the apparently contradictory levels of Noach’s righteousness in comparison to others. Rashi mentions a machloket (dispute) regarding whether Noach would have been considered a tzaddik if compared to Avraham Avinu. The view that states he was not on the level of Avraham could be supported by the fact that Avraham Avinu spread the knowledge of Hashem to the world, and reached out to help others in need. He was willing to argue with Hashem in order to save the sinful city of Sodom, while Noach did not plead for the saving of Dor Hamabul, the generation of the flood.
According to the opinion that Noach was a tzaddik of the caliber of Avraham Avinu, Noach reached that level of tzidkus by tending the all of the animals in the teiva during their period of internment, just as Avraham reached beyond his pain after his brit milah and ran to invite three apparently Arab nomads into his home for a meal. Noach could also be compared to Avraham Avinu when one learns about the alacrity in which they obey Hashem’s commands without question, even if they require investments of blood and treasure.
Therefore in conclusion, the character of Noach is not a simple one. One can praise is levels of tzidkus and that he merited to be the founder of the entire human race after the Mabul. Yet one can also look at Noach and reflect on how much greater he could have been had he tried to save his generation. He would then be known as the savior of humanity, and would be its spiritual father, not just its physical one.
On a personal level, we should strive for personal spiritual greatness. Yet at the same time, we should also care about others around us, both physically and spiritually. We should use our internal potential to help others reach theirs as well. Instead of lamenting the Mabul, we should be the ones who will stop it. In the merits of our reaching out to others, may we bring the world to a higher level at all aspects of life.
Adina Brizel lives in Kew Gardens Hills, NY. She majored in Judaic Studies at Stern College for Women and earned her master’s degree from the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration. She is currently working as a rakezet at Midreshet Devora, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.