Why the Mixed Reviews on Noach?

I would like to note that Rabbi Welcher said in the name of Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg of Eretz Yisroel that you can fulfill you obligation of twice mikra and one targum by reading an Art Scroll or any other Chazal based translation. You still have to do the two mikras (readings) in hebrew.

This weeks parsha starts of “These are the offspring of Noach – Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generation”. But if you read these divrei Torah by Rabbi Lichtenstein, Rabbi Frand, Rabbi Adlerstein, and Rabbi Leff there seems to be some lack in Noach.

The major points against Noach are
– Rashi brings down the Chazal that says that perhaps only “in his generation” was he righteous, but in Avraham’s generation he wouldn’t have been righteous. The other opinion in the Chazal says that he was unquestioningly righteous
– There are suggestions that he didn’t rebuke others sufficiently
– There is an indication that he lacked emunah on whether the Flood actually would happen and only entered the Ark when the waters began

So what are we to make of Noach, why such contradictory messages?

Perhaps the Ramban gives us a clue when he describes Noach as completely righteous in judgment, meaning that he did not get involved in any of the negative acts of his generation. He did not violate any negative commands and we can assume he did the appropriate positive commands, which technically classifies Noach as a Tzaddik.

But there is much more to accomplish. A person has an obligation to positively influence those that he can. He must try to increase his levels of chesed. He needs to constantly strengthen his Emunah. A person has to increase the positive acts he does.

Perhaps that is the lesson of Noach. Yes, it’s extremely important not to damage by transgressing negative commandments, but it is also extremely import to build yourself and the world through the positive acts of chesed and increasing emunah. If you fail on those grounds you might technically be a tzaddik, but you are slightly deficient.

After I wrote this piece, I spoke to a local Rav and he said that Noach was an unqualified righteous person:
– For the “in his generation” question, he learns like the Chasam Sofer that if Noach was only at the same level in Avraham’s generation then he would have been not been considered righteous
– The Medrash is clear that Noach did give his generation rebuke
– The lack of emunah when he only went into the Ark when it started to rain, was that he didn’t believe totally that Hashem would not have mercy on world and forestall the flood.

Also Rabbi Dessler in Michtav M’Eliyahu says the Noach was a complete Tzaddik but didn’t reach the level of Chassid (the Mesillas Yesharim type of Chassid).

Visit Steve Brizel’s excellent parsha roundup at Hirhurim for more Noach parsha links.

9 comments on “Why the Mixed Reviews on Noach?

  1. David, the obligation to read ‘twice mikra and one targum’ has it’s own section in Shulhan Aruch, Orah Haim 285. So it is a pretty clearly established halacha. The source is a gmara in Masechet B’rachot. The Aruch Hashulhan conjectures that this goes back to Mose’s time (when reading the Torah publicly was established), but notes that we don’t know the definitive source for this obligation.

    It is not the same sort of obligation as “my obligation to keep kosher, say Shma at it’s appointed times, and keep Shabbos”. I’ll say ask your rav for guidance so that I am not too presumptuous or interfering; but if you’re fairly newly observant it is certainly common that you wouldn’t have heard of this at all. As I say, the ‘level’ of obligation isn’t the same as one of the 613 commandments.

    It can be harder than expected if you are a busy person to keep up with this every week, but it is a great source of foundational knowledge (the Levush conjectures that is the reason for it). There can be a real feeling of accomplishment and aquisition when a year has gone by and you’ve done this.

    As I suggest, ask your rav about this. It is a wonderful thing to do and a great way to learn; but it may not be worthy the kind of concern that the mitzvot you mentioned can demand.

    many blessings,

  2. I know about my obligation to keep kosher, say Shma at it’s appointed times, and keep Shabbos, but wasn’t aware of my obligation of ‘twice mikra and one targum’.

  3. Bob-Take a look at how the Torah and the classical Mfarshim, Baalei Chasidus and Mussar look at Noach before and after the flood. There is no shortage of approaches or suggestions explaining that Noach was not on the level of Avraham Avinu or Moshe Rabbeinu even before the flood and that his planting the vinewyard led to catastrophic results thereafter.

  4. In discussions I’ve heard and read, Noach has often been faulted in comparison to Avraham Avinu. But isn’t it true that, typically, great Tzaddikim in Jewish history have not risen to Avraham’s level either? That is not considered to be a heavy criticism of these Tzaddikim. What in particular about Noach makes commentators want to emphasize his unfulfilled potential?

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