Noach: What is a Tzaddik? – A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

In this week’s parsha (Torah portion), the Torah refers to Noach (Noah) as a tzaddik, a righteous person (Bereishit/Geneses 6:9). It is very rare in the Tanach (The Bible) and Jewish literature in general to find a person who is called a tzaddik. Moshe (Moses) does not receive this title; neither does Avraham (Abraham). Why then is Noach worthy of being referred to as a tzaddik? The French Medieval commentator Rashi comments that Noach was a tzaddik in his generation, but if he had lived in the generation of Avraham, he would not have been given the title tzaddik.

It is interesting to note that Noach is being compared to Avraham. Of all the people Noach might be compared to, why is Avraham the one selected? The answer might be that both Noach and Avraham reacted differently to similar scenarios. Both were faced with immoral communities and the subsequent question of what God would do to those communities. The immorality Noach faces is that of the entire world, while Avraham in Bereishit/Genesis Chapter 18 and 19 deals with the immorality of the cities of Sodom and Amora (Sodom and Gomora). When Noach is confronted by the immorality of the entire World what does he do? He builds an Ark, gathers his family, places two of every species of animals and floats away. True, Noach was commanded by God to follow this course of action. However, why doesn’t Noach confront the people of the World to try and get them to improve their behavior? Why doesn’t Noach speak to God on behalf of the World, to show compassion to the people of the World despite their immorality?

Avraham does both of these things. The narrative of Avraham’s life is the story of an individual who reaches out to people, even those who are not the most spiritual and ethical of people and to bring them closer to the messages of monotheism and morality. Furthermore, even when he knows that he is dealing with immoral people, he nonetheless defends them to God. Avraham bargains with God to save the inhabitants of Sodom and Amora. Avraham is able to achieve a high level of righteousness without separating himself from the world, but can rather be a tzaddik in the context of the world. Unlike Noach who is sequestered away from the real world in the Ark. Perhaps, when the title of tzaddik is given to Noach it is given not as an incredibly powerful compliment but more to make us think about what it really means to be a tzaddik and what it really means to pursue a life of spirituality and ethics.

Studying the stories of Noach and Avraham demonstrate two different paths to kedusha, holiness. Noach’s approach entails a separation from the world, building a fence between one’s self and everyone else. Avraham’s approach is about going into the world and reaching people within it. While there is a holiness to Noach’s approach, I want to bless you all that we all pursue righteousness in the tradition of Avraham.

 

A word about the end of this week’s title: “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” is the title of a song by Bob Dylan. It deals with the theme of global destruction, and the challenges and problems of the world. With the imagery of rain and the theme of global destruction, the song somewhat parallels the story of Noah and the Ark.