In the first Pasuk of this week’s Parashah, Noach is referred to as an “Ish Tzaddik” (BeReishit 6:9). We may infer that although he may not actually be so righteous in comparison to major Tzaddikim in the Torah, he is considered to be righteous in the time period in which he lives, when most other people are wicked. Later in the Parashah, after the flood, we see that Noach is no longer referred to as an “Ish Tzaddik,” but rather an “Ish HaAdamah,” “A man of the earth” (BeReishit 9:20). The Midrash compares this change in titles to that of Moshe Rabbeinu. When Moshe arrives in Midyan, Yitro’s daughters refer to him as an “Ish Mitzri” (Shemot 2:19), an Egyptian man. Later, at the end of Moshe’s life, he is referred to an “Ish HaElokim” (Devarim 33:1), a much more prodigious title. The difference between the two men is that Moshe seems to acquire a greater title later in his life, while Noach’s title seems to be downgraded. This may be because, after all of the wicked people of the world are destroyed in the Mabul, he may not be considered such a Tzaddik anymore. There is no one else with whom to compare him!
Still, there is an apparent question. Does Noach have the same occupation of working the fields before and after the whole scenario of the flood? If he does, why is he called an “Ish HaAdamah” only after the Mabul and not before the Mabul? Two Midrashim answer this question. The first one states that Noach brings crop samples onto the Teivah with him to replant after the flood. This Midrash states that the first thing which he replants after the flood is a vineyard. Regarding the description of Noach planting the vineyard, the Torah states (BeReishit 9:20), “VaYachel Noach,” “Noach debased himself.” How so? By choosing to plant the vineyard first, Noach shows that producing wine is his main concern over any other pursuit. This wine later leads to his becoming drunk and self-shaming, a downward spiral from “Ish Tzaddik” to “Ish HaAdamah.”
The second Midrash says that before the Mabul, Noach is an Oveid Hashem who happens to be a farmer. After the flood, he is a farmer who happens to be an Oveid Hashem. Forgetting his priorities is what turns Noach from an “Ish Tzaddik” into an “Ish HaAdamah.”
These two Midrashim lead us to the same conclusion: one cannot forget what his priorities are in life. He must always be able to define himself as an Oveid Hashem before his professional title. Noach is always involved in agriculture; however, before the flood, Noach is an Oveid Hashem who works the field only to support his family, while after the Mabul, Noach feels that his agriculture is the main aspect of life, more essential than serving Hashem. This is one thing that we can never let happen to us.
May we all merit being comparable to Noach before the flood, an “Ish Tzaddik.” As long as we prioritize being an Oveid Hashem before anything else whatsoever, this is surely achievable.