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Home » Noach

Noach: Mr. Perfect

Submitted by on October 20, 2009 – 8:50 pmNo Comment | 2,565 views

Noah or Abraham

We have a friend, who is committed to perceiving everything in life as absolutely perfect. He is a virtual Mr. perfect. He once shared with us that he wakes up every morning and exclaims “perfect, perfect, perfect.” I thought this a wonderful, if bizarre, way to start the day, but my wife had a problem with it. He makes perfection seem too easy, she complained, life’s not really like that.

“Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generation, Noah walked with G-d.” (1) This verse seems a ringing endorsement of Noah, yet our sages hastened to point out that Noah was perfect only when compared to his own generation, but compared to Abraham he was far from perfect. (2)

This seems curious when we consider that it was only at the age of ninety-nine that Abraham was summoned to perfection. (3) How do we explain that for fully ninety-nine years of his life Abraham was not perfect, yet Noah, who was perfect all along, did not compare to Abraham?

Born To Perfection

The perfection to which Abraham was summoned was that of circumcision. (4) Our sages taught that the male body is created imperfectly. Imperfection can take the form of a missing limb or of an extra limb; for example a hand with six fingers is imperfect. The male body, which is created with a foreskin, a piece of skin that G-d instructs us to remove, is imperfect. G-d creates men with this imperfection to enable us to take part in perfecting ourselves. (5) Our sages tell us that Noah was born circumcised. This means that Noah was born into a state of perfection. (6)

From the cradle to the grave Noah was destined to perfection. He did not have to work on being perfect; it came to him naturally. That he did not have to work on being perfect means that he never did work on it. In a sense then, Noah was a spiritual cripple; there was not a spiritual accomplishment that Noah achieved by his own hand. Abraham, on the other hand, was a self made man. Born to idolatrous parents who raised him without G-d, Abraham grappled with his faith till he discovered the existence of G-d. What was effortless and facile for Noah was an arduous climb for Abraham. It took him ninety-nine years to reach the plateau of perfection.

Noah would not have undertaken, let alone endured, the hazardous climb. G-d summonedmr perfect  - innerstream Abraham to perfection saying, “Walk before me and become perfect.” (7) Of Noah it is written, “Noah was perfect; he walked with G-d.” (8) Abraham walked before G-d and then became perfect. Noah walked with G-d because he was already perfect; had he not been perfect he would never have undertaken the climb.

Our sages were thus correct to point out that Noah was only perfect when compared to his own generation. Perfection that is not earned, prominence into which one is born, is not noteworthy. Prominence gained by one who was born in the gutter, clawed his way out of the hole and worked his way to greatness is of true note. The Noahs of this world only gain prominence when compared to the wicked and immoral of Noah’s generation. But compared to the Abrahams of this world, who have painstakingly earned their virtue, the Noahs pale in comparison.

Don’t Wait For Perfection

This reflection leads us to yet another consideration. Noah spent his entire life preoccupied with his own perfection. Noah walked with G-d, but he did so only because that is what perfect people do. Abraham did not walk before G-d because he wanted to be perfect; he walked before G-d because it was the right thing to do. He was not obsessed with personal perfection; he was devoted to G-d. And that is how he was ultimately summoned to perfection.

Noah received G-d’s prophecy about the impending flood and proceeded to build an ark. Preoccupied with himself, Noah ensured his own survival, then that of his family and finally, the survival of the echo system in which he would survive post flood. He did not work to prevent the flood by exhorting his contemporaries to repent. That was not Noah’s way; he was obsessed with himself, not with others.

Abraham stood up to G-d on behalf of sinners when he was told that the people of Sodom would be destroyed. Abraham did not mind that such strong questioning of G-d might adversely impact his quest for perfection; his personal status was furthest from his mind. All he thought of was the plight of others, even the plight of sinners; because this was the right thing to do. (9)

Noah was obsessed with perfection; Abraham was obsessed with doing the right thing.

Reflection

Don’t delay doing the right thing just because you are not yet perfect. Go ahead: Buy flowers for your wife even if you are not a complete romantic. Help out around the house even if you are not a fully domesticated husband. Prepare your children’s breakfast even if you are not an accomplished chef. Judaism is more about action than it is about perfection. Be more like Abraham and less like Noah.

When an opportunity arises to perform a mitzvah don’t put it off only because you are not otherwise religious. You don’t have to be perfect to do what is right. Abraham was not perfect, but this did not prevent him from walking before G-d; when the opportunity to do a Mitvah arose Abraham jumped at the opportunity. His, is an example we should follow.

Though doing what is right does not require perfection, the action itself is perfect; it is the perfectly right thing to do. It might be a tiny little bit of perfect, but remember that Abraham ultimately gained perfection through a lifetime of these little steps. We too can gain perfection, but only if we take those little steps.

Besides, if we wait for perfection to reach us before taking our first step, we might be in for a long wait. (10)

Questions For Further Discussion

Was Noah at fault for having been born perfect? What were his options?
Given the choice, would you prefer perfection or the opportunity to climb?
Do you think that men are inherently imperfect and women inherently perfect?

Footnotes

  1. Genesis 6: 9.
  2. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 108a.
  3. Genesis 17: 1.
  4. See Bereishis Rabbah 46: 5. See also Rashi on Genesis 17: 1.
  5. Women are created perfectly; the woman’s natural state is that of perfection and to become imperfect she must alter her natural state. Man’s natural state is imperfect and to make himself perfect he must alter his natural state.
  6. Midrash Tanchumah Genesis ch. 11. When Noah was born his father names him Noah because he believed the child would alleviate the curse against the crops that had been in place since Adam’s sin. Lemech believed this because G-d told Adam that this curse would remain in place till a child will be born without the foreskin. Noah’s birth thus heralded the lifting of the curse. See also Avos D’ Reb Nosson 2: 5.
  7. Genesis 17: 1.
  8. Genesis 6: 9.
  9. See Zohar Addenda, vol. 1, p. 254b.
  10. This essay is based in large part on a discourse given by Shem Mishmuel in 1914 / 5674.

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