The beginning of this week’s Parashah, Parashat Noach, is very intriguing. The Pasuk states (BeReishit 6:9), “Noach Ish Tzaddik Tamim Hayah BeDorotav,” ”Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generation.” An obvious question arises: Does “BeDorotav” teach us that Noach was a Tzaddik for all generations, or simply a Tzaddik compared to the malefactors of his own generation?
Ibn Ezra (ad. loc. s.v. BeDorotav) presents a straightforward approach to why the word “BeDorotav” is needed. He explains that Noach lived during many generations, overlapping both the Dor HaBabul and Avraham Avinu’s generation, which were ten generations apart. Since Noach lived throughout many generations, it is necessary to say “his generation,” in order to clarify that the Mabul took place during Noach’s original generation, and not during the later generations in which he lived.
On the other hand, Rashi (ad. loc. s.v. BeDorotav) suggests that Noach was a Tzaddik Tamim, and had become one despite living in a horrible generation. However, Rashi notes that some commentators say that Noach was a Tzaddik only in his generation. For example, had Noach lived during the generation of Avraham, ten generations later, he would have been regarded as “Klum,” nothing.
Ramban (ad. loc. s.v. Ish Tzaddik Tamim Hayah) suggests a final approach that extols the status of Noach, as compared to his contemporaries and predecessors. Hashem wanted to send the Mabul and destroy much of what He had created, but He wanted to preserve a little bit of the human race. Ramban suggests that Noach was the only person that Hashem was able to find in many generations that was righteous enough to warrant salvation. As such, Noach was special in that he warranted being saved; he was not only a Tzaddik, but he was a Tzaddik of all the Dorot before him and immediately after him as well.
Whether we want to claim that Noach was or wasn’t a
Tzaddik is an important idea, and, at the same time, we can learn a lesson from the double language the Torah uses to describe Noach. Noach is called a “Tzaddik Tamim,” and we also naturally want to be Tzaddikei Tamim like him. This goal is admirable and should under all circumstances be pursued; however, this aspiration is ultimately not possible, as we cannot always be perfect. Therefore, I would like to suggest that
the double language teaches that we must always try to be Tzaddikei Tamim, and that it is okay if we sometimes fail and only reach Tzaddik status by comparison. We can take comfort in the fact that even when we fail, we will still find favor in Hashem’s eyes as long as we try to do the best we can. We may never be as great as Avraham or Noach, the leaders of their respective generations, but at least we can try to be as great and good as they were by being leaders of our own generation.