Parashas Noach: Redeeming Noach
Rabbi David Katz
This week’s Parsha begins with a top heavy introduction that is none other than the upmost praise of one of the Torah’s greatest Men of all time: Noach. The commentaries actually note that Noach is only one of two Men to be labeled as “Righteous” by Torah standards, as the other to gain this accolade is Joseph the Righteous. Interestingly, Joseph and Noach share many of the same Kabbalistic and redemptive traits that compose their greatness and even their tendency to be misunderstood. When we take the Torah face on, perhaps there is not a more misunderstood Man in all of Tanach than Noach, as he poses a challenge in of himself, seemingly begging to be understood. The most perplexing quandary that we are pitted up against is a famous statement of the Torah commentary “Rashi”; Rashi says of Noach: [based on the verse 6:9 – “These are the Offspring of Noach – Noach was a Righteous Man, perfect in his Generations; Noach walked with God”] [Rashi in regards to “Generations”] “There are those who explain this ‘Generations’ to the praise of Noach, saying ‘Noach was Righteous in his generation, and all the more so had he been around great Men!’ And there are those who consider the Torah a detriment to Noach’s perceived righteousness, saying, ‘In his generation he may have been righteous, but had he lived in the time of Abraham, he would not have been considered for anything.’”
What we have found here is that in the face of the Torah’s admission and testimony of Noach’s Righteousness, there seems to be at least one well-known opinion that believes that Noach was to be considered average at best in a lowly generation. However, this is a massive contradiction to the Torah’s meaning – on every level! The only solution to resolve this generational dispute that we all engage in, trying to understand Noach in the eyes of Rashi, is to delve deeper into the Rashi and find the deeper meaning that has the ability to resolve the contradiction. This should not be a surprise to endeavor as such, for we already know the answer – Noach was Righteous and Perfect in his Generations! – The Torah tells us as much!
To open up this Rashi for context, and turn it into an asset of clarity, let’s turn to the Talmud, which happens to be the source of this infamous Rashi that perplexes us all. The source of this Midrash that Rashi quotes, and the clearest vision of Noach that brings us into proper focus is located in Sanhedrin 108a: “These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generations. R. Johanan said: In his generations, but not in other generations. Resh Lakish maintained: [Even] in his generations — how much more so in other generations. Thus we have the basic premise of Rashi laid down, as relayed through the Talmud; Now the Rabbis offer the proper context through analogy: R. Hanina said: As an illustration of R. Johanan's view, to what may this be compared? To a barrel of wine lying in a vault of acid: in its place, its odour is fragrant [by comparison with the acid]; elsewhere, its odour will not be fragrant. R. Oshaia said: As an illustration of Resh Lakish's view, to what may this be compared? To a phial of spikenard oil lying amidst refuse: [if] it is fragrant where it is, how much more so amidst spices!”
Rebbe Johanan, who shares Rashi’s view to the demise of Noach, is explained in the analogy as such: that Noach was at his greatest in his place, i.e. his time was ripe and the conditions for his greatest action were optimal. The World at that moment needed a Noach!
An additional analogy can be drawn from sports. If we compare two athletes, and while both are equally paid professionals, one may be a utility player, able to do many functions, and can be seen as the glue of the team. The other player may be more of a specialist, yet he is still a professional. The latter may only have the skills that suit a particular situation, and when not called upon while he remains great, however not asked for and therefore perforce not driven for the task, as the moment is not his. In this direction of explanation, the Rashi and Rebbe Johanan are not speaking to the negative of Noach, but rather explaining the true nature of his righteousness. Noach was built to be the Man for the biggest job the World has ever seen, even the Messiah will eat of Noach’s fruit, as the Zohar states that Noach repaired the World outright, only over time and facilitated by the Messiah, this reality will come into fruition. Thus when the World isn’t being destroyed, Noach isn’t being fully expressed as Noach, and hence Rashi’s words, “…wouldn’t be considered much” – as Noach has a function of soul that is specific, and thereby Holy to God, as referenced by many commentaries based on the Torah that proclaims Noach as perfectly righteous. Thus the Talmud focuses on the “Place of Noach” as its fundamental tool of context and explanation.
To explain Resh Lakish [Rebbe Johanan’s contemporary] with another explanation: Noach was great in his time and place and therefore brought the Redemption! To be in Abraham’s place would not have aroused Noach, as his primary functions would not be called upon. Noach saves the World and builds the New World – Post-Flood. However Abraham was built to come in and further along this New World, as this was not Noach’s function. We even see that when Noach returned to cultivate the Earth he fell into sin, as he became improperly intoxicated and was debased; clearly this was not his function in the New World. The Midrash even states that Noach had elevated to a near Angelic level in the Ark, whereas Abraham was far more Earthy and a natural repentant and thus better suited to take the baton from Noach. Resh Lakish then goes on to explain, as Noach was great in saving the World, to be in Abraham’s place would not suit Noach, but a place filled with the Righteous [as will be in the End of Days, the Days of the Messiah] all the more so Noach will be praised and seen as Perfectly Righteous!
Rashi made his commentary on Noach a hidden endeavor, yet for the motivated student and Noach advocate, the truth can be found when located at its source, which in our case is the Talmud that provides for us the proper context. Noach is, was, and will always be Perfectly Righteous, and now we have the text to prove it. Nowhere to be found is any proof to the demise of Noach, and actually it’s to the contrary – the authentic sources have no satiation point of Noach’s Praise. This is in absolute contrast to the Torah, which limits its praise of Noach, as to not bring guilt upon him through the acquisition of arrogance God Forbid. The Torah’s commentary however, with such words from Zohar, Midrash, etc. heap the proper praise upon Noach, as it should be; Torah scholars restore the proper honor to Noach as highest Praise to Noach. [This “chutzpah” by scholars is a sort of redemption of Noach that arose from the intentional lack in praise. The Torah only lacked in Praise so as to not bring arrogance upon Noach. The scholars then made up for this loss with joy and respect, and aligned with God’s deepest Blessing. This dynamic is called “Kavod Elokim” – the same mechanism of placing a menorah in one’s window during Hanuka, which according to the laws of the Menora of the Temple, this action should be made conceptually forbidden. Although this is not a totality in technicality within real law, the concept exists and is employed in certain places: to rebel against God in a form of respect to God. The Talmud offers a story of the Rabbis that “defeated God” in a matter of law so to speak, to which God was seen by Elijah Above, radiating with Joy and praising the scholars. This would be an example of proper restitution employed by the Rabbis, and applied as an on-going duty to redeem Noach.] The Rashi at hand seems like it garners all the attention of Noach, but even this source, when truly studied in the name of Truth, will express the view of Noach’s Righteousness, when we carefully analyze Rashi’s words.
[This should not come as surprise, for Rashi wrote with Divine Inspiration and the most fundamental rule of any Rashi is to learn the fine and subtle qualities of it, until it yields fruit of revelation. Our Rashi here now has done just that, for when we route the Talmud into Rashi (which is where he got it from) we see that Rashi’s vessel is most suitable for terms of endearment.]
In the end, Noach is Righteous, but we knew that, for the Torah stated this in the opening remarks of the Parsha! How ironic it is, that the Redeemer of the World needs a massive redemption himself. How ironic it will be, when the Final Redemption does come, it will first be called “Redemption of the Gerim” [Converts/Noahides] as explained by the Ramchal . How ironic it is, that the Final Redemption is ushered in by the Righteous Priest, Shem the son Noach [Righteous son of a Righteous]. How ironic it will be when Moses, who is the Final Redeemer, will have completion of soul, which then there will be an added letter “Nun” to his name [the Nun stands for Perfect Understanding], thus making his name Menashe as mentioned in the Book of Judges. It may be Moses who will reveal the company of the Righteous when the World is restored, yet all of this is only made possible by Noach; for Moses gained powers of redemption and the letter “Nun” which not only stands for Understanding, through his original Incarnation, one of supreme righteousness and one that Hashem looked into and saw the Torah, Noach.
In short, Knowledge of God, The Torah, Redemption, The World, The Priesthood, etc. comes from the one and only Noach, a Righteous Man Perfect in his Generations; it was Noach who walked with God. Should there be any more questions about Noach and his Righteousness? It is our duty and privilege to realize the nature of Noach’s personal redemption, which is utterly ironic, for the World is only eternally redeemed due to the Righteousness that knows Noach, a Righteousness that knows no boundary. Perhaps King David summarized Noach best, for it is said that Psalms was written as a memoir to Noach, and King David said it best when he began his Psalms with the word “Praiseworthy.” Let it be known, Praiseworthy is Noach. Praiseworthy is Noach. And in case you missed it, Noach is Praiseworthy, just as the Torah has always told us.
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