“These are the products [children] of Noach; Noach was a righteous man, pure in his generation, and Noach walked with G-d… And G-d said to Noach, the end of all flesh comes before me, for all the earth is filled with Hamas because of them, and behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” [6:9,13]
In the Torah Hamas means theft and other wrongdoing, but the shoe certainly fits. We have arrived at a moment where simple decency demands a particular stance and attitude, yet all too many people, including not a few Jews, are failing that test.
Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, quotes Talmudic sources that offer two ways to understand what the Torah is telling us, when it describes Noach as pure “in his generation.” Some say that this praises him as pure and righteous even in such a terrible era, for had he lived in a generation of righteous people, he would have been still greater. Others, however, view this as a harsh criticism: compared to his generation, he was deemed righteous – but “had he lived in the era of Avraham, he would have been considered a nothing.”
Rabbi Dovid Mayer notes that this is not just harsh, but extraordinary. Let us accept that Noach would not have measured up to Avraham. Fine – but even so, how could he be considered nothing?
The answer, he said, is found in Rashi’s next comment, on the words “and Noach walked with G-d.” Concerning Avraham, Abraham, G-d says that “he walked before Me” [24:40] – and that is the difference. Rashi explains that Noach needed support, whereas Avraham strengthened himself and maintained his righteousness by himself. Noach could not have been who he was without help.
Imagine, said Rabbi Mayer, a champion marathon runner who finishes a race in just over two hours. Another, much less experienced runner, takes nearly four hours – but that allows us to make a comparison between the faster and slower runner. The slower runner is not as good, but we can credit him with finishing the race.
But, by contrast, imaging the guy who wants to finish quickly, so he goes through the race riding a bike. He threads his way through the runners (ringing that little bell on the handlebars), and finishes in no time at all. Do we give him a prize? Obviously, there’s simply no way to compare the champion runner with the cyclist on his Schwinn.
That, said the Rabbi, is the difference between Avraham and Noach. Noach would be considered “nothing” because he’s simply not in the same league. Avraham was who he was despite a series of trials that would have broken any lesser person – including Noach. And yet he “walked” on his own.
But although it may be true that Noach did not compare to Avraham, he was still sufficient to be saved from the flood. He exemplified decency in his generation. Those who supported, backed, or justified Hamas, however, were totally lost. They were less than humanity demands… and that has not changed.
Image credit: Cimerondagert