Parashat Noach: He was a righteous man

R Schell ShiurHave you asked yourself how life would be for you if you were born into a different time? Somewhere in the past or in the future? Would you be a different person?

In this week’s Torah portion, as we read about Noach, we’re introduced to him as an “ish tzaddik tamim hayah bedorotav. He was a righteous man, he was blameless in his generation.” For the rabbis, this led to a great debate as to how righteous, how blameless he really was. Many commentators read this “in his generation” as if had Noach been born in another time, he might not have been that special person, suggesting that if Noach was born to a different generation, God wouldn’t have perhaps even noticed his righteousness. This leads into the comparison between Noach and Abraham that takes place contrasting these two biblical figures in the way that they behaved. Ultimately the rabbis seem to conclude that Abraham was the more righteous person and that’s why the covenant of the Jewish people started with him.

But I think this misses the important point about saying “in his generation”. Noach was born in a generation which was so bad, so wicked, so evil that God decided to destroy the whole earth, but to save Noach, who was worthy of being described as tzaddik righteous and tamim blameless. Perhaps we should therefore elevate Noach even further, because in the situation in which he found himself, to be righteous and blameless was a very impressive state.

Noah therefore comes as a reminder to each one of us, that it doesn’t matter how we would have behaved had we been born 50 years earlier, or how we would have behaved had we been born 50 years later, we’re born into the context in which we are born and we have to make the best of it, living our lives in a way which can be described as righteous. We don’t choose when we are born but we choose how we live our lives and what we do with that birth. In his context, Noach was the one man worthy of saving the world and for that, he was righteous then and we should still consider him righteous today.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Schell (Source: Rabbi Burkeman on Parashat Noach)

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