This week’s parsha begins by introducing us to Noach, the man from whom the entire world would be repopulated after the flood. While we would automatically assume that Noach must have been a great man to have this distinction, Chazal actually discuss this at length with some contending that Noach was simply the best of a bad generation. However, according to all opinions, he was still a tzaddik who was able to rise above the evil of his peers to serve Hashem in the proper manner.
The first pasuk in the parsha contains a great amount of praise for Noach. “נֹ֗חַ אִ֥ישׁ צַדִּ֛יק תָּמִ֥ים הָיָ֖ה בְּדֹֽרֹתָ֑יו אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֖ים הִתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹֽחַ” “Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generation; Noach walked with God” (Bereishis 6:9). The generation of the Flood had thoroughly corrupted themselves to the point where the world had to be reset. Chazal learn out from the pesukim that there were three main sins which the generation committed that directly led to the corruption of the human race. They are: serving idols, illicit relationships, and theft. The Kli Yakar explains that the praises of Noach correspond to each of these sins. “אִ֥ישׁ צַדִּ֛יק”, Noach was a righteous man in that he didn’t steal the property of others. “תָּמִ֥ים הָיָ֖ה בְּדֹֽרֹתָ֑יו”, he was pure, having only participated in permissible relationships. Finally, “אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֖ים הִתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹֽחַ”, Noach was loyal to Hashem while everyone else served idols. The pasuk lists these specific praises to show specifically that Noach merited surviving the Flood since he was able to avoid corrupting himself through these sins.
The Kli Yakar continues this explanation with a conversation between Hashem and Noach that takes place before he goes into the ark. “וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ לְנֹ֔חַ בֹּֽא־אַתָּ֥ה וְכָל־בֵּֽיתְךָ֖ אֶל־הַתֵּבָ֑ה כִּי־אֹֽתְךָ֥ רָאִ֛יתִי צַדִּ֥יק לְפָנַ֖י בַּדּ֥וֹר הַזֶּֽה” “Then Hashem said to Noach, ‘Come to the ark, you and all your household, for it is you that I have seen to be righteous before Me in this generation” (7:1). In this instance, Hashem does not call Noach pure nor does He mention Noach’s loyalty to Him; He only mentions the fact that Noach was a tzaddik in that he didn’t steal. Why are the other two aspects left out here?
Chazal teach us that the final straw that sealed the fate of the world was the sin of stealing. When the people stole, they only took the value of less than what could be claimed in court. There was no reckoning for their crimes since the court couldn’t charge them for it, however, the action still counts in the eyes of Hashem. This type of behavior undermined the foundations upon which a society had to be built and destabilized the entire community. Therefore, Hashem decided the whole thing had to go.
In this conversation, Hashem is telling Noach that he has been chosen to be saved along with his family. The only reason Noach needs to know about is the sin that actually sealed the fate of the others and in which Noach didn’t participate, stealing. Therefore, Hashem does not make mention of Noach’s purity or loyalty since they are irrelevant here. However, He does mention the fact that Noach was a tzaddik by saying “before Me” in the pasuk; while the whole generation might be righteous in the eyes of the courts, the only one who was righteous in the eyes of Hashem was Noach.
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