We are certainly familiar with statements of our Sages and lengthy discussions of the commentaries that question the character of Noach and scrutinize even the accolade that the Torah ascribes to him, “Tamim Hayah BeDorotav,” “He was upstanding in his generation” (Bereishit 6:9, cf. Rashi). Nonetheless, even those who interpret “Tamim Hayah BeDorotav” as a discredit do not express any indignation regarding Noach’s degree of faith, nor is there any sentiment of ignoble character. He distinguished himself from the ambient society and ostensibly erected proper safeguards for himself and his family to preclude any degradation of moral standards; he was able to militate for G-dly behavior against the ebb of the prevalent current of depravity.
However, Rashi’s comments on the following Pesukim paint a less virtuous picture of Noach. The Torah describes: “VeNoach Ben Sheish Mei’ot Shanah VeHaMabul Hayah Mayim Al HaAretz. VaYavo Noach UVanav VeIshto UN’shei Vanav Ito El HaTeivah MiPenei Mei HaMabul,” “Noach was six hundred year old, and the floodwaters came on the earth. Noach, his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives went into the Ark in the face of the floodwaters” (BeReishit 7:6-7). Rashi (7:7 s.v. MiPenei Mei HaMabul) writes: “Af Noach MiKetanei Amanah Hayah, Ma’amin VeEino Ma’amin SheYavo HaMabul VeLo Nichnas LaTeivah Ad SheDechakuhu HaMayim,” “Noach too had little faith, only half-believing that the flood would come, and [accordingly, ‘In the face of the floodwaters’ implies that] he did not enter the Ark until the rising waters forced him to do so.” Imagine if we were Ma’amin VeEino Ma’amin, half-believers, regarding the arrival of Mashi’ach or Torah MiSinai. Such heretical beliefs would forfeit a person his share in the next world, or even his status as Jew for certain areas of Halachah. Have we grossly misinterpreted the character of Noach? Has the Tzaddik Tamim of the beginning of the Parashah radically transformed himself into a heretic? Have the threats of the flood and the destruction of mankind suddenly caused Noach to become a dubious believer and overcome by skepticism?
Radak (ibid.) vehemently opposes Rashi’s interpretation. The need for an exegetical interpretation of the superfluous phrase “MiPenei Mei HaMabul” remains in place, but to assume that these words denote a less-than-faithful Noach, Radak argues, is an erroneous deduction. Radak chooses to interpret the word “MiPenei” not as “because of” but rather like the word “Lifnei”—meaning “before.” Thus, the Pasuk informs the reader that Noach entered the Teivah with his family well before the waters began to cover the earth; in fact, Radak argues, he entered the Ark seven days prior to the flood. According to this reading, we cannot possibly understand those who posit that Noach was of little faith, as the text testifies to the fact that Noach was righteous and wholehearted. In addition, Radak notes that a mere Pasuk earlier (7:5) we are told “VaYa’as Noach KeChol Asher Tzivahu Hashem,” “Noach did all that G-d commanded him.” It is certainly difficult to reconcile this Pasuk with the interpretation of Rashi.
I would like to offer a defense of Rashi and an interpretation that not only serves to maintain the noble reputation of Noach, and thus silences those who place him in disrepute, but in contradistinction, actually highlights an honorable trait of Noach. Noach’s lack of Emunah was not an incomplete faith in G-d’s omnipotence to bring a Mabul, nor was it a challenge as to whether the vast majority of humanity deserved to be eliminated. Rather, Noach had so much faith in G-d’s attribute of mercy that he believed G-d would recant, as He so often did, and perhaps give even more time for repentance. Perhaps Noach also believed in humanity. This is no different than Avraham Avinu petitioning Hashem on behalf of Sedom. Avraham also believed in G-d’s willingness to reconsider. Perhaps one could posit that Noach should have also petitioned G-d as did Avraham, and his silence in this regard should place his reputation below that of Avraham Avinu. Nonetheless, Ma’amin Ve’eino Ma’amin is far from a heretical stance. It speaks more to Noach’s belief than to his disbelief. It emphasizes his belief in G-d’s mercy and his belief in man’s ability to repent at the final hour, even as the floodwaters advanced on his Ark. It is this very virtue, his faith in man, that earned him the titles of "Tzaddik" and "Tamim" that are attributed to him at the beginning of the Parashah.