אלה תוֹלדת נח נח אישׁ צדיק
(Genesis 6:9/’בראשית ו’, ט)
Rashi comments: Some of our Sages understood this verse to be praising Noah, inferring from the word “בדורותיו” (in his generation) that had Noah lived in a generation with other righteous people, he would have been even more righteous than he was in his own generation. But others understood the verse to be denigrating Noah, inferring from “בדורותיו” that while in his own generation he was considered a righteous person, had he lived in the generation of Aנraham, he would have been insignificant by comparison.
The question arises, why, in describing the first view, does Rashi say “if Noah had lived in a generation in which there were other righteous people,” and, in describing the second view, “had he lived in the generation of Avraham” instead of repeating the premise “had he lived in a generation in which there were other righteous people”?
Our master explained as follows. It says in the Midrash that Noah was judged unfavorably because he did not try to influence his contemporaries to repent of their wicked conduct. The reason that he did not try to influence others to repent was that he was insecure in his own faith, which was merely a tradition that he had inherited from his ancestors who had been the righteous ones in all previous generations. Without that received tradition, however, Noah would not have recognized God through his own effort and understanding. Noah, therefore, was not brave enough to challenge others about matters of faith and belief, fearing that his own faith might be compromised and that he might succumb to their influence instead, becoming like his contemporaries, a man of deceit and corruption.
Our first father, Avraham, was not like this. When he was just three years old, he recognized his Creator. He was the one who could see the Lord in a vision; he knew with absolute certainty that a just God judges the land, and he had no fear of being ensnared by the forsaken opinions of his contemporaries. He therefore went out boldly to battle for God, winning many converts to God in Haran, proclaiming, wherever he went, the name of the Lord, the everlasting God.
Both of the opinions about Noah mentioned by Rashi referred to this aspect of Noah’s character. The opinion that understands the Scripture to be praising Noah, because he remained righteous in a thoroughly wicked generation, believes that the Scripture wishes to tell us how much more righteous Noah would have been had he lived in a generation in which there were other righteous people who believed in God. With their support, he would have dared to wage, on God’s behalf, a battle against the wicked with a mighty hand. He would not have been afraid of being ensnared by their wickedness, because he could have relied on the support of the other righteous and holy ones of the generation. The second opinion, which understands the Scripture to be denigrating Noah, agrees that Noah would have been an even greater person had he lived in a generation in which there were other righteous people. But the second opinion is drawing a contrast between Noah and Avraham. For Avraham also lived in a generation in which everyone was backsliding and no one else was acting righteously. But, unlike Noah, Avraham dared to do battle singlehandedly against the wicked, risking his own soul so that others would repent and teaching them how they ought to conduct themselves. (Shevivei Eish)
צדיק תמים היה
(Genesis 6:9/’בראשית ו’, ט)
We find that Noah, the scion of the righteous and upright men of earlier generations, Lemeh and Methuselah, was called, even in his youth, a perfectly righteous man. It is also written that Noah, early in his life, found favor in the eyes of the Lord. It was as if Noah found favor effortlessly as his righteousness came to him without toil or exertion. But Abraham, who was the son of Terah, an idol worshipper, had to undergo ten trials before the Holy One Blessed Be He called him one who fears God, as it is written after the tenth trial when Abraham brought Isaac to be sacrificed: “Now I know that you are one who fears God” (עתה ידעתי כי ירא אלקים אתה).
And, according to this explanation, how sweetly can the words of the Midrash at the end or parashat Noah (בראשית רבה מ”ו) be explained:
R. Simon said, the Holy One Blessed Be He found three bargains (מציאות) in this world: Abraham, David, and Israel. About Abram it is written, “and you found his heart faithful before you” (ומצאת את לבבו נאמן לפניך). About David it is written, “I found David my servant” (מצאתי את דוד עבדי). And about Israel it is written, “like grapes in the desert I found Israel” (כענבים במדבר מצאתי ישראל). The students asked R. Simon, is it not also written and “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (‘ונח מצה חן בעיני ה)? He replied to them, “He found, but the Holy One Blessed Be He did not find.”
And the meaning is plain. In Abraham, the Holy One Blessed Be He found a bargain that came unexpectedly upon Him, for elsewhere they expounded about Abraham: “Who will give purity from impurity” (מי יתן טהור מטמא)? Abraham from Terah.
Also in David who was a red-head, about whom they said that he was the son of a maid-servant, whose great-grandmother was a Moabite, whose Jewish status was controversial until the ban on entry of Moabites into the Jewish nation was restricted to descendant of male Moabites but not descendants of female Moabites. And who could have thought that one such as he could become the singer of songs in Israel and deserving of kingship. So, certainly David was an unexpected bargain for the Holy One Blessed Be He.
And Israel in the desert, after departing from a people speaking an alien tongue, was transformed within days, Judah becoming sanctified and Israel God’s kingdom. And in the Midrash on the verse “And it was when Pharaoh sent out the people” (ויהי בשלח פרעה את העם), the question is asked who was crying “vy”? Pharaoh cried “vy,” as he watched the people marching proudly in formation on their way to become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Pharaoh was therefore compared to the owner of a field with an unused heap of earth who sold the field cheap, after which the new buyer removed the heap and planted the field, transforming it into a garden of myrtle. That is why the Holy One Blessed be He found an unexpected bargain in Israel.
And the question arose: was not Noah, about whom it is written “and Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord,” also a bargain? And the question is answered straightforwardly, because Noah merited to be considered important in the eyes of God on the merit of his ancestors, but Noah was not found unexpectedly by the Holy One Blessed Be He, because he had from birth been destined to become righteous and faithful owing to the efforts expended on his behalf by his ancestors. (Introduction to Dor Revi’i)
את האלהים התהלך נח
Noah walked with God
(Genesis 6:9/’בראשית ו’, ט)
Rashi comments: Concerning Abraham the Scripture says “before Whom I walked” (אשר התהלכתי לפניו). Noah required support to bolster him, but Abraham strengthened himself and walked righteously by himself.
It appears to our master that this statement refers to the Midrash that during the generations from Adam to Abraham, when mankind was sinning willfully, God was continually withdrawing, and distancing the Shehinah, from the world. Because of His anger at the oppressors who filled the earth with violence, He removed Himself to the farthest corner, the Seventh Heaven, and because of the evil upon the land, He rose to dwell in the highest abode. But from Abraham to Moses, God was bringing the Shehinah closer to mankind until finally descending upon Mount Sinai.
According to this Midrash, the Scripture, in writing “את האלקים התהלך נח” (Noah walked with God), was teaching us that, just as the Shehinah was rising ever higher and departing from the earth, Noah, too, distanced himself from his contemporaries and dwelled alone, because he was afraid to mingle with them lest he be influenced by their conduct. But concerning Abraham, the Scripture says: “אשר התהלכתי לפניו” (before Whom I walked) because Abraham took pride in saying that he walked in front of God to bring Him closer to a rebellious mankind. Because Abraham admonished them and led them to the wellsprings of belief, the Shehinah eventually followed Abraham and returned to dwell on earth. (Shevivei Eish)
כי אותך ראיתי צדיק לפני בדור הזה
For I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation
(Genesis 7:1/’בראשית ז’, א)
In the Midrash Yalkut it says that we praise a man partially in his presence, but praise him fully outside of his presence (מזכירין מקצת שבחו של אדם בפניו וכולו שלא בפניו).
This apparently means that above where the Scripture is writing about Noah (Genesis 6:9), it says “a completely righteous person” (צדיק תמים), but here, where God speaks directly to Noah, the Scripture says only “a righteous person” (צדיק).
Our master explained in the name of his father the gaon that the meaning of the Midrash can be understood in relation to the fact that a human being is the composite of a Godly component from above and a parental component from below. Compared to the component from above, a person can never be called “complete,” because in comparison to his Heavenly likeness, he will always be found lacking. But if a person is compared to his material component, he may be called “complete in his actions” (תמים במעשיו). This is what the Midrash means by the maxim “we praise a man partially in His presence” (i.e., in comparison to God) because in relation to Heaven (“צדיק לפני”) a man is only a fraction of what he should have become. But when the Midrash says “we praise him fully outside of His presence” (i.e., in comparison to his material component) it is referring to the verse “These are the generations of Noah, Noah was a perfectly righteous man in his generations,” which speaks of Noah’s birth and ancestry. In comparison to his material origins, as opposed to his heavenly component, Noah was indeed completely righteous in his actions. (Shevivei Eish)