Why We Do What We Do by Mr. Sam Davidowitz


While the story of Noach and the flood is the obvious concentration of this week’s Parsha, like many biblical figures, very little is actually known about Noach.  Many commentaries have struggled with their categorizations and their classifications of Noach concerning the first Pasuk of Parshat Noach:  “Eleh Toldot Noach: Noach Ish Tzadik, Tamim Haya Bidorotav; Et Haelokim Hithalech Noach,” “These are the generations of Noach: Noach was a righteous man, complete in his generations; with G-d, Noach walked” (Bereishit 6:9).  This Pasuk seems like an obvious praise of Noach because the first time that he is mentioned in the Torah it is immediately noted that he was a Tzadik, that he was complete and perfect and that he walked alongside Hashem.  Rashi notes that most assume this Pasuk to be one of praise and quotes the phrase “Zecher Tzadik Liberacha,” “The mention of a righteous person is for a blessing” (Mishlei 10:7).  Rashi continues this line of thinking by stating that the Torah is trying to teach us “Sheikar Toldoteihem Shel Tzadikim Maasim Tovim,” “That the main offspring of the righteous are good deeds.”  This line of thinking fosters the belief that Noach was a very virtuous person worthy of emulation.

The rest of Rashi’s commentary on this Pasuk, though, brings up some unusual issues concerning the ending of the Pasuk.  Rashi comments on the word “Bidorotov” and states that many believe that this word implies that had Noach lived amongst righteous people, he would have been even greater.  He also notes that many see “Bidorotov” as a having a derogatory connotation in this context: “Lifee Doro Haya Tzadik, Vielu Haya Bidoro Shel Avraham, Lo Haya Nechshav Lichloom,” “According to [the standards of] his generation he was a righteous person, but if he had been in the generation of Avraham, he would not have been anything [significant].”  Rashi also comments on the last clause of the Pasuk: “Et Haelokim Hithalech Noach,” “Noach walked with God.”  In Parshat Lech Lecha, Hashem says to Avraham “Hithalech Lifanai,” “Walk before Me” (Bereshit 17:1).  Rashi sees the difference in wording as an indication that Noach needed support while Avraham did not.

Rashi goes on to point out that Noach did not enter the ark until the last minute, as the Pasuk states, “Vayavo Noach Ubanav Vieshto Unishey Banav Ito El Hateva Mipnei Mei Hamabul,” “Noach and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark because of the waters of the flood” (Bereshit  7:7).  Rashi comments that Noach had a lapse of faith, that his faith was not complete, that he did not enter the ark until the waters rose to an intolerable level: “Maamin V’ayno Maamin Sheyavo Hamabul Ahd Shedichakuhu Hamayim,” “He believed, yet he did not believe [completely] that the flood would come, and he did not enter the ark until the waters compelled him.”  After all of the time that Noach spent building the ark, it would seem that his faith wavered right before the last step in the process.

An understanding of the grammar of the first Pasuk of Parshat Noach is essential when examining this crux.  On a literal level, the Torah is stating that the Toldot, generations, or more aptly the legacy of Noach is that he was a righteous man who was complete and who walked alongside Hashem.  What follows a semicolon explains, elaborates, or clarifies the clause that appears before the semicolon.  “Eleh Toldot Noach: Noach Ish Tzadik, Tamim Haya Bidorotav; Et Haelokim Hithalech Noach,” “These are the generations of Noach: Noach was a righteous man, complete in his generations; with G-d, Noach walked” (Bereishit 6:9).  Therefore, what is the legacy of Noach?  He was a Tzadik who walked alongside Hashem.  Whatever doubts he may have had about the supernatural circumstances affecting his life only served to make him stronger and, in the end, Noach should be remembered for the outcome of his actions and the example that he set for his family.

At first glance, a crisis of faith may look like a major calamity, but one must understand that true faith can only be gained through questioning ourselves.  It is said that when David Hamelech wanted to truly commune with Hashem he did it through his music, for he believed that his music could express his deepest emotions where he felt his words fell flat.  At these times, he would play a series of dim notes followed by a series of higher, brighter notes that would signify the true essence of faith: those who come closest to achieving a true sense of faith have to truly understand what it is like to have a lack of faith.  That is, having faith without thinking is not what Judaism is about.  To follow the Torah because of upbringing or schooling is not complete; one must come to a point where he fully accepts upon himself certain obligations which he feels are a true expression of his faith in Hashem and reaffirms his commitment to a certain way of life or else he is just practicing his religion like an automaton.

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