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Noach: A Tzaddik in His Generation

אלה תולדות נח נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדרתיו את האלקים התהלך נח.

“These are the children of Noach; Noach was a completely righteous person in his generation. Noach walked with Hashem.”

Rashi famously asks: Why does the verse begin by saying “These are the children of Noach” and then shifts topic by discussing Noach’s righteousness? He explains that since the Torah mentioned his name, it also mentions his praise, as it says: “The memory of a tzaddik is for a blessing.” When a person mentions the name of a tzaddik he should mention his righteousness in some way. “Another reason,” continues Rashi, “is to teach us that the main offspring of tzaddikim are their good deeds.”

Noach had physical offspring – his sons Shem, Cham and Yefes, and he also had spiritual offspring – his righteous deeds.

Why does the verse repeat Noach’s name? The name Noach has a very positive meaning; it implies pleasantness, peace and tranquility (as in the word menucha). The Zohar writes: “He was noach (pleasant) above and noach below.” Likewise, the Midrash (Bereishis Rabah 30:5) says: “He was pleasant in the upper worlds and pleasant in the lower world.”

This teaches us something very important. A person must be righteous for Hashem, but at the same time he must be pleasant to other people as well. It is not enough to learn Torah and serve Hashem, but one must be equally careful with all of his interpersonal relationships. He should be careful not to do any damage to other people’s property; he shouldn’t harm anyone or embarrass another person. Noach was such a person; although he was completely righteous he did not consider himself superior to others. He never looked down at others and he strove to live peacefully with his neighbors.

We can find a deeper meaning in the verse as well. There are two things that represent true inner peace and serenity: Shabbos and Torah. About Shabbos it says (Rashi Bereishis 2:2): “When Shabbos comes peace comes.” About Torah it says (Bereishis 49:9): “And he saw that peace [Torah learning] is good, so he bent his shoulders to bear its burden.” Although learning Torah can be difficult in the beginning, eventually it brings inner peace and serenity to the person. It pays to accept the burden of Torah with all of its challenges and initial difficulties in order to acquire true peace.

Our sages compare the world to a raging sea. Our goal is to ride the turbulent waves and reach a point of menuchas hanefesh, spiritual peace. This can only be accomplished through Torah, which is our guide for life. Another means of achieving menuchas hanefesh is through Shabbos. Every minute of Shabbos brings more peace upon the person. By the time we reach Shalosh Seudos we are full of inner peace, and that is why we daven for continued peace in the Shabbos Mincha prayer.

The people in Noach’s generation did not look kindly upon him. When he was busy building the ark as per Hashem’s instructions, they threatened to destroy it. Noach continued building the ark, readily telling everyone who asked about it for which purpose it was being constructed. He thus rebuked the people of his generation, but since they did not repent, Noach inherited all of the rewards that they deserved for whatever good deeds they performed. Our sages tell us (Chagigah 15a): “The worthy tzaddik takes his own share and the share of his fellow in Gan Eden.” The people forfeited the reward they deserved and everything was transferred to Noach. This is what the verse means when it says that Noach was “a complete tzaddik in his generation.” His righteousness became complete through the people of his generation, whose good deeds he inherited.

But some of our sages find fault with Noach’s attitude. They state that “If he would have lived in Avraham’s generation he would not have been considered to be special.” It is only because he lived in such a sinful generation that he was considered righteous. This statement requires an explanation.

How were Noach and Avraham different? Noach strove to remain righteous, yet he did not make an effort to persuade the people of his generation to repent. By contrast, Avraham was not content with serving Hashem alone; he made a major movement of spreading Hashem’s name throughout the world, and he convinced many idol worshippers to believe in Hashem. He accomplished this through kindness and hospitality and was most beloved by everyone.

Noach achieved part of his righteousness at the expense of his fellow people, as explained before. If he would have lived in Avraham’s generation when so many people followed Avraham and became righteous themselves, he would not have been able to collect the good of so many other people. Yet Avraham did not lose out by bringing others closer to Hashem. Quite the contrary! When someone brings another person to Torah, he gains a share in all of his good deeds. In fact, he gains a share in all of the good deeds of the person’s future descendents!

Let us now return to Noach. If Noach’s righteousness was earned at the expense of others, why is he considered praiseworthy? The answer may be that Noach was simply afraid of becoming too close to his neighbors. He did not trust himself to do what Avraham did by befriending the sinful people and talking to them about Hashem. He feared that instead of bringing them close to Hashem he would learn from their ways and corrupt his soul. Therefore he strove to first achieve complete righteousness, and only then would he try to speak to the people.

This could be the meaning of Rashi’s ambiguous statement (Bereishis 7:7): “Noach believed but he did not believe.” According to what we just discussed, Noach believed in Hashem, but he did not believe in himself – in his ability to influence his neighbors for the better. This is why Noach is still considered praiseworthy despite his failure to influence others. Noach lived in a very difficult time; the entire world became sinful and immoral. It took supreme effort to remain pure in the face of what was going on everywhere. Noach focused on preserving his own purity and raising his children properly, and he stayed far away from his neighbors.

This is what the verse is telling us: “These are the children of Noach, Noach was completely righteous in his generation.” Noach’s priority was raising G-d-fearing children, and because of that he focused on his own righteousness.

What are we to learn from this? Every person must invest much effort in himself and in his children, and not assume that his children will grow up properly without due effort. It is not enough to send a child to a good yeshiva; the parents must invest lots of energy and personally teach the child about Torah, mitzvos and fear of Heaven.

The main praise of a tzaddik is that he raised righteous children. This is the only way that a person can merit menucha in this world and in the world to come. Someone who neglects the chinuch of his children will unfortunately find no peace and no rest in the world to come!

Children who see their father taking the time to learn Torah will value Torah learning and strive to emulate him. On the other hand, children who see their father wasting time will lose interest in learning Torah. Shabbos is an excellent opportunity to learn Torah and to fill the day with spiritual endeavors.

Hashem should help all of us to be “pleasant above and pleasant below”; we should find true menuchas hanefesh in all physical and spiritual matters. May everyone be zoche to see nachas from their children and those in need of a yeshua or refuah should merit their salvation. May we be worthy of greeting Moshiach speedily in our days, Amein.

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