The saga of Noah is well known. However, Noah remains an elusive personality. What was the nature of the righteousness of Noah? The description of Noah as a righteous man, complete in his generation, sounds like a back-handed compliment. Why the limitation \u201cin his generation\u201d? Rashi brings two opinions.
In his generation: There are among the sages who expound him (it) positively,- certainly had he been in a generation of Tzadikim - pious individuals - he would have been more pious. While some expound it negatively: had he been in the generation of Avraham he would have been worthless (Rashi 6:9).
One opinion is that had Noah lived in a more righteous generation, he would have been even more righteous. According to the other opinion, only in his generation was Noah considered righteous. Had he lived in a more righteous generation, he would have been considered worthless. There is a lack of symmetry to the words of Rashi. Why, on the one hand, does he speak of a righteous generation, and on the other hand, of the generation of Avraham? Could not Avraham have served as the model for both opinions?
And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth. And daughters were born to them, that the sons of Elohim saw the daughters of men that they were pretty; and they took as wives all those whom they chose\u2026The earth also was corrupt before G-d, and the earth was filled with violence. And G-d looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth. And G-d said to Noah, The end of all flesh has come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth (6:1,2,11,12)
The terms which the Torah uses to describe the generation of Noah, include corruption and thievery. A description is given of powerful men taking any women they chose. In fact, this seems to fit the description of corruption, which has sexual overtones, and thievery.1 It is a generation whose moral boundaries have broken down. The very fabric of society or its social contract is nonexistent. So again, what was the nature of Noah\u2019s righteousness? Apparently Noah did not
partake of the sexually immoral practices and thievery of his generation. Noah does not commit evil acts. On the other hand, we do not find him performing good deeds either.
What did G-d answer Noah when he left the Ark and saw the world destroyed? He [Noah] began to cry before G-d and he said, \u201cMaster of the universe, You are called compassionate.
You should have been compassionate for Your creation.\u201d G-d responded and said, \u201cYou are a stupid shepherd. Now you say this! Why did you not say this at the time I told you that I saw that you were righteous among your generation, or afterward when I said that I will bring a flood upon the people, or afterward when I said to build an ark? I constantly procrastinated and I said, \u201cWhen is he [Noah] going to ask for compassion for the world?\u201d . . . And now that the world is destroyed, you open your mouth, to cry in front of me, and to ask for supplication?\u201d (Zohar Hashmatot, Margoliot edition Bereishit 254b)
Noah asked G-d why He didn\u2019t have compassion. G-d responds by calling him a \u201cstupid shepherd\u201d. Noah as leader of the generation has responsibilities. He was given the task to build the Ark; yet he could not save even one person. As a shepherd of G-d, Noah had the responsibility to lead the people. Yet he didn\u2019t lead them. He failed miserably as a leader. It is analogous to a shepherd who sees his flock straying from the proper path, wandering in the proximity of dangerous wolves and concluding that the sheep deserve to be eaten because they have strayed from the path. Therefore, G-d called him a \u201cstupid shepherd.\u201d Noah was guilty of \u201cmalpractice.\u201d
Rabbi Yochanan said, \u201cCome and see the difference between the righteous among the Jews after Noah, and Noah. Noah did not defend his generation, nor did he pray for them, as Abraham did. When G-d told Abraham that the scream of Sodom and Gomorah was numerous, immediately Abraham began to pray in front of G-d until he asked of G-d if ten righteous people were found, would G-d forgive the entire city because of them. Abraham thought that in the city which had Lot and his wife and children, there must have been ten righteous people. Therefore, Abraham did not pray any further.
Afterwards, Moshe came, and he prayed and protected his generation when G-d said to him, \u201cThey have turned aside quickly from the way in which I commanded them.\u201d Immediately, Moshe stood and prayed . . . It is said that Moshe did not leave G-d alone until Moseh was willing to give his soul for the people in both this world and the next. . . . Rabbi Yehoshua said, \u201cWhat was Noah thinking, that he did not ask for mercy for
The next great religious leader was Avraham. When faced with the horrific acts of the cities of Sodom and Gomorah, Avraham pleads with G-d not to kill the righteous along with the wicked. Noah never engaged G-d in a similar dialogue.
Moshe went even further. After the Jews commit the terrible sin of worshipping the golden calf, G-d is prepared to destroy the entire people. Despite the people\u2019s guilt, Moshe pleads with G-d, challenging Him: what did G-d expect of this nation who had just left Egypt and had not yet had time to develop spiritually. Moshe is referred to in the Zohar as a \u201cfaithful shepherd\u201d. Despite the people\u2019s guilt, Moshe argues with G-d. He even has the audacity to tell G-d that if He will wipe out the entire people, \u201cthen wipe me out as well.\u201d
Noah accepts the decree of G-d. If the people are guilty, there is no argument. Avraham tries to argue to perhaps exonerate some of the people of the city and, at best, perhaps save the city from annihilation2.
Moshe, despite the unquestioned guilt of the people, is prepared to sacrifice himself in order to save them. Imagine what would have happened had Noah refused to get on the boat. That is surely how Moshe would have responded.3
According to the Torah, Noah builds the Ark over a period of 120 years. Not one person is brought under the influence of this great religious personality. In a word, Noah is an island. The name \u201cNoah\u201d means comfortable. He was comfortable. He was comfortable and, self satisfied, in his own righteousness. The sad truth is that Noah is a spiritual misanthrope.
\u201cAnd there went a man of the house of Levi, and took for his wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a handsome child, she hid him three months. And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark made of reeds, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child in it; and she laid it in the rushes by the river\u2019s brink. And his sister stood far away, to see what would be done to him. And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river\u2019s side; and when she saw the ark among the reeds, she sent her maid to fetch it.\u201d (Shmot 2:1-5)
There seems to be a sense that Moshe as an infant, floating in an ark in the Nile, is destined to begin his mission where Noah ends his own. Moshe\u2019s entire career will be filled with self-sacrifice for his flock. The life of Moshe will span 120 years, perhaps in order to rectify, the failure of Noah in his 120 years of building the ark. Moshe is the \u201cfaithful shepherd.\u201d
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