Every time I look at this Sedra, I am perplexed. The Bible- our Torah paints Noah as a righteous man, yet our Sages seem to view him from an entirely different perspective: they play down his goodness. So, on a Biblical level he gets a very good press, but our Rabbis don’t entirely concur with that viewpoint.
Think of these words from the beginning of the Sedra:
“These are the generations of Noah- Noah was a righteous man, he was perfect in his generation”.
The Rabbis analyse every word of the Torah and the question is why was it necessary for the Torah to add in the word Ledorotav- that he was perfect in his generation? It would have been enough to have said that he was just perfect- full stop. By saying, he was perfect in his generation, it becomes exclusive.
Rabbi Yochanan interprets this in a disparaging way about Noah- he says that in his generation he was a righteous man, but if he had lived in the generation of Avraham, he would not have amounted to much. In other words it was all relative. Yes, in his generation he was good because most of the people living in that generation were corrupt, therefore he stood out as a good man, but if he had lived in the generation of a greater man like an Avraham, then he would not have been reckoned as such a big mentsch.
Resh Lakish says completely the opposite. He says we read out from this a praise of Noah. Look at his generation, everybody was wicked and corrupt, yet Noah stood out as a man who wasn’t influenced by his surroundings, he managed to maintain integrity and decency in a world that wasn’t upright. For that you need to be a Tzaddik. When the rest of the world is going in one direction and you go in the other direction because you know that what you are doing is right, that takes strength and it takes courage.
I’ve said this so many times before.. The Torah speaks to me. I’ll say it again: The Torah speaks to me. And therefore when I read about Noah and the uncertainty of our Sages as to whether Noah was a Tzaddik only for his generation or whether he was a true Tzaddik, there’s something there for me.
This past week I viewed a video from China. (See photo above) I advise anybody not to watch this clip especially if you have young children because it will distress you.
The video comes from a CCTV camera of a street in a city in China. You might have heard about this from the TV reports. You see in the video a little girl around two years old called Yei Yei crossing the road, a van comes along and knocks her down. She’s on the ground. The driver of the van has seen what he’s done, he stops briefly. He then continues driving and you see the back wheels going over her again. Yei Yei is still lying in the street, nobody comes to her aid. A few cyclists and pedestrians go by. Nobody comes to her help. In all, eighteen people passed by and nobody came to help her. Another car goes by and drives over her feet. Eventually a sanitary worker stops and pulls her to the side of the road.
She was then taken by the emergency services to the local hospital in intensive care
On 22nd October little Yei Yei died.
This is a true story
I mention this terrible story because I thought to myself: you know in China there are special rules in urban areas in relation to population control. You are only allowed to have one child. If you have more, then you are fined mercilessly by the Chinese authorities, which is a great incentive not to have more children.
Why should it be that in a society where you are only permitted to have one child by law yet they can be so callous as to just walk by as a child gets knocked down. I would have thought that it would be completely the opposite, that because of the fact that families are only allowed one child, that people would recognise how precious each child is and do everything in their power to protect and ensure the safety of their children,
But that was not the case.
A little girl was on the floor knocked down by a car but people kept walking impervious to what had transpired. They see but they do nothing about it. It’s not my business.
“Why should I care about what has happened to a little girl – she’s not mine“-so said the driver when he was found and interviewed by a reporter.
When I read the story of Noah I read into the story two possibilities of a Noah. I read about a Noah who knew about the oncoming flood yet he didn’t do anything for his generation. Yes they were wicked, yet he stood around and instead of caring and bringing people back to an upright way of life he stood around knowing that I and my family are going to be saved- why should I care for anybody else.
Or I think of another Noah, who despite living in a generation where everybody around him was thinking in a crooked way, he stood up for what was right. That’s not always easy it takes a lot of courage and strength.
Which type of Noah are you?