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Parashat Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32)

“But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark;
you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” (Gen 6:18)

Noah, famous for building an ark to save humanity, is a tzaddik, a righteous person. We know because the Torah says so (Gen. 6:9). In fact, Noah is the only person in the Torah named a tzaddik. And yet, the rabbis aren’t all that impressed with Noah. Why?

The rabbis point to Noah’s limited faith as the reason. One midrash claims Noah does not believe God really will destroy the world; therefore, his warnings to the people are halfhearted (Midrash Tanhuma Noah 5). Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) explains Noah demonstrates limited faith in God when he waits until the floodwaters have already risen to enter the ark (Gen 7:7; true faith would have driven him to enter the ark immediately upon its completion). Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1810; a central leader of Polish Chassidism) turns the issue of faith inward; Noah’s shortcoming is lack of faith in himself. If Noah truly believes himself to be a tzaddik, he would know he has the obligation (and the power) to do something to save the world. But he doesn’t.

The rabbis designate Abraham as avinu, our father, and Moses as rabbeinu, our teacher. Noah begins the parasha (portion) with the potential to be both, but because he doesn’t act when given the chance, he forfeits his position as a Jewish archetype. The Chozeh of Lublin (Rabbi Jacob Isaac Horowitz; 1745-1815; an early Chassidic leader) points out the Torah recognizes Noah’s failing in a subtle way. After the flood, it states, “…There remained only Noah…” (Gen 7:23), dropping the honorific of tzaddik.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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