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Parashat Noah – פרשת נוח

BS”D

 

This week’s Parashah begins by the pretty straightforward remark: “These are the offspring of Noah!”[1]

The interesting thing about this introductory remark is the use of the word “Tol’dot” (תולדות), which is most often translated as “offspring” or “generations,” but have a much wider meaning that pointing at one’s children (and their children). The word can simply mean “outcome,” “result,” or “consequences,” or as it means in Halachah, “secondary act,” though that is most likely not the case here, but nevertheless an interesting fact in the understanding of the word. It can also be translated as “history,” telling an account about a certain person, which in this case would be Noah.

Now, if we take the broader meaning of the word, which would be the “outcome” or “result,” then we could read the verse as meaning; “these are the results of Noah…” This is what Rashi, Z”L, does, when pointing at a Midrash, explaining that we are meant to be taught that the primary “offspring” of the Tzaddiq are their righteous actions, since the most valuable things a person does, are the primary legacy of man. There is a sense in this, especially when we look at the historical accounts of the great men (and women) of history. There we often give account of their right (or for the wicked men, the wrong) they did.

For ibn ‘Ezra, Z”L, though, the word should be understood as “history,” meaning that this is the introduction to the “history of Noah.”

R. Eli Munk, Z”L, has a very interesting thought on this introduction to the Parashah, namely that just as the words “Eleh haTol’dot haShamayim v’haAretz” (אלה התולדות השמים והארץ) in the beginning of chapter two introduce a new chapter in the history of man, so the words here do, creating a new “Adam.” I will get back to that thought later, but first:

 

A defense for Noah!

 

I remember being told about Noah once by a rabbi, visiting Denmark while I was still living there, that Noah actually was somehow a coward. Here’s the deal: There is a comparison between Noah, Avraham Avinu, A”S, and Moshe Rabenu, A”S, both being faced with the destruction of people. We all – I believe – know the account about the dance around the Golden Calf, while Moshe Rabenu, A”S, was on Mount Sinai, receiving the two Tablets. The people, the Israelites, though Moshe Rabenu, A”S, had died, and then made for themselves a new “god.” Of course this enraged G-D, who told Moshe Rabenu, A”S, the He would destroy the Israelites and make a new people from him. Moshe Rabenu, A”S, instead of accepting G-D’s decision, pleaded for His mercy, stating that this would only be taken as proof from His enemies, that He holds no real power, since His people died in the desert. Moshe Rabenu, A”S, refused to accept the notion of G-D destroying a people. Not so with Noah, who didn’t react when faced with G-D’s decision to destroy the whole mankind, and start over with Noah (and his closest family).

Also Avraham Avinu, A”S, pleaded for mercy, when G-D told him that He would destroy S’dom and Gomorrah, requesting mercy for the account of few Tzaddiqim, next to many wicked people. This was accepted by G-D, but since the city (cities) was so full of wickedness, it had to be destroyed, only saving Lot and his closest family.

This, according to the honored rabbi, was something that sadden G-D, but nevertheless, since the only Tzaddiq wouldn’t even plead for mercy (and G-D doesn’t accept the prayers of the wicked), then it was so. Noah simply didn’t dare talk against G-D.

 

I have carried this account with me for a long time, and it does make sense, at least for me. It is not that I viewed Noah negatively, but it is true that contrary to our two greatest figures, Avraham Avinu and Moshe Rabenu, A”S, he didn’t plead for mercy.

But something has to be said in the defense of Noah. There is a discussion about how to understand the sentence “Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations…”[2] Rashi tells about the two opinions on how to understand this, that either it is to be understood that he, Noah, seemed as a Tzaddiq, compared to his generation (which was full of wickedness), but in other generations, especially next to the greater Tzaddiqim, would seem ordinary in his observance, or that since he was a Tzaddiq in his generations, full of wickedness and temptations, how much more would he have been a greater Tzaddiq, had he lived in better generations.

Following the last opinion, instead of the first, which was the one the rabbi focused on when telling me about the comparison with Avraham Avinu and Moshe Rabenu, A”S, we might get another understanding of what is at hand.

The Zohar points to an interesting fact, namely that while Noah is here described as “Ish Tzaddiq Tamim” (איש צדיק תמים), a righteous and whole man, later on he is described as “Ish haAdamah” (איש האדמה), a man of the earth. This is also the case with Yosef later on in the Torah, making a comparison between the two, that they were wealthy men, but didn’t let themselves be taken by earthly desires. So whereas there is a comparison with two Tzaddiqim against Noah’s favor, we also have a comparison with another Tzaddiq in his favor.

Maybe Noah, after all, had insight which my rabbi missed, namely that “the earth was corrupt” and “all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.” Maybe there simply wasn’t any other way. If we direct our focus at the two cases with both Avraham Avinu and Moshe Rabenu, A”S, there were people who were destroyed. There are people who have reached such a high degree of wickedness that no hope is left for them. Surely we can agree about that even today, recounting names such as Hitler, Hussein, Pol Pot, and others.

If this is so, then obviously Noah wasn’t a coward (or anything the like), he simply understood the state of the world as it was, without hope for improving.

 

Back to R. Munk’s thoughts.

 

There is something interesting about the statement about Noah being “Ish Tzaddiq Tamim.” The word “Tamim” is what interests me the most here. It can mean someone who is honest, upright or G-D fearing, but it can also mean naïve, innocent or simple.

Making yet another comparison, this time back in time, we might get yet another understanding of what happens here. When looking at Adam and Hawah, they were in a state of innocence, until they ate of the fruit. They were childlike, not having any worries. Now we see the word “Tamim” being used about Noah, and maybe he was kind of innocent also, which could explain his devotion to G-D, being a Tzaddiq. Adam and Hawah lost their innocence when they ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and the fruit, what it was, has been discussed for generations, both by Christians and Jews (and probably also other groups). Many suggestions have been given, such as the – famous, but also unlikely, – apple, the fig (in the Talmud, since they made covers of fig-leaves, indicating that the tree was a fig tree), pomegranate, etrog, citron or grapes (according to the Zohar and commentaries to some Slavic texts).

The last suggestion is interesting, if we relate to that in our comparison between Adam and Noah. When Noah got off the Ark, one of the first things he did was to plant a vineyard, made wine, and got drunk. The symbolism is interesting. First we have Adam (and Hawah) the first man, being the father of mankind, eating from the forbidden fruit, and then have to face the consequences. The we have Noah, the second Adam, also (maybe) eating of the – now not forbidden – fruit, and also having to face the consequences, namely that his son enters and treats him disrespectful. It seems like every time we let go of ourselves, catastrophes happen, which will have big impact down in history (Ham, who dishonored his father, became the father of the K’naanites, living on a controversial piece of land).

 

I have to admit that Parashat Noah this year opened my eyes for many things, B”H, especially how to understand Noah and his role.

This was also Rosh Hodesh Heshwan, so besides wishing you all a Shavu’a Tov, I also want to wish you all a Hodesh Tov. May we see a month full of blessings and people getting closer to G-D, BE”H.


[1] According to Artscroll’s translation. Other translations, such as the Soncino, has “generations.”

[2] Artscroll’s translation.


1 Comment

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