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Home » Noach

Noach: The Gravity of Piety

Submitted by on October 24, 2006 – 12:58 pmNo Comment | 2,673 views

One Righteous Person

When the world is filled with unscrupulous men, what can one righteous person accomplish? Well, that depend on what he set his mind to do. Abraham motivated and uplifted those around him. Noah, well what did Noah do? Noah let them die. Actually, he didn’t just let them die, he brought about their death.
He did what? That’s right he caused their death. You see, G-d loves his children. He loves us when we do his bidding and he loves us when we don’t. He excuses our behavior. He tolerates us, nurtures us, waits for our return and is loath to punish us.
However, when there is even one righteous person among us, G-d loses his justification. What argument can  justify unscrupulous behavior when at least one person has risen above it? What could G-d say? The people were never taught to behave? Well, who taught Noah? The people never had a chance? Well, who gave Noah that chance? (1)
Noah stood in stark contrast against the others; his piety underscored their guilt. Such an indictment not be ignored. They had to be punished.


A prince fell in with a bad crowd and often frequented unsafe and unseemly places. The king, concerned for his son’s safety, took to following him into the dangerous neighborhoods to protect him.
But the king couldn’t stay there forever. His other son was calling too. The other son was a righteous prince, who sought his father’s presence in the library and halls of academia. The king responded and by doing so, left his rebellious son exposed.
The king represents G-d.The loyal son represents the righteous Jew. The rebellious son represents the sinful Jew. G-d sits with his children at all times, even when we sin. He tolerates us and protects us from punishment. But when righteous Jews call out, G-d throws them a glance too and looks away from the sinners, if for, but a moment. They are thus left exposed to the dangers of their chosen environment and subject to the punishments their behavior solicits.

Noah and Abraham

Had Noah devoted himself to his community the way Abraham did, they might have grown righteous and survived. Had he not been so pious, they also might have survived. Without the righteous contrast G-d might have been more tolerant and slower to anger.
As it happened. Noah was just pious enough, to offer contrast, but not helpful enough to motivate them. He didn’t help them, he didn’t even pray for them and they didn’t survive. (2)

Three Questions

  1. The Torah teaches that Noah was righteous and perfect in his generation. (3) Our sages interpreted that Noah was deemed saintly only when compared to his own generation. Had he lived beside Abraham he would not have been considered righteous.Something seems wrong. The Torah paid Noah a compliment and our sages, usually so reticent with criticism, turned the compliment on its head. Why did they do that? (4)
  2. The Torah tells us that Noah entered the ark as the waters began to fall. the gravity of piety - innerstreamOur sages jumped all over this verse and insisted that Noah was a man of little faith. He didn’t really believe that it would rain so he waited till the flood actually started before entering the ark. (5)Wait a minute. Didn’t Noah believe in the flood? He built the ark in anticipation of the very flood that our sages claimed he didn’t believe would happen?
  3. Last, but most important, our sages compared Noah to Abraham and found him lacking. Abraham prayed for the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, but Noah didn’t pray for his own people. If Noah was indeed righteous why didn’t he pray for his generation? (6)


All these questions are answered by a single word, humility. Noah was a man of great humility, almost on par with Moses.
The Torah testifies that Moses was the most humble man on the planet. (7) How could Moses be so humble, was he not aware of his own strengths? Was he oblivious to having led the Jews from Egypt and through the Reed Sea? Didn’t he realize that he alone climbed Mt. Sinai and talked to G-d? How could he be humble? Was he blind to himself?
Moses recognized that he surpassed all others, but he never ascribed merit to himself for talents given to him by G-d. “Had G-d given someone else the talents he gave me,” Moses mused, “that other person might have accomplished even more than I have.” (8)
Noah exhibited similar humility. He knew his station. He understood that he was the saint of his generation, but he really didn’t believe that he was much better than the others. He felt that he was only seen this way in comparison to his generation. Should he have been placed beside Abraham he would not have shined as brightly.
Our sages were generally reluctant to criticize, but this was not a criticism as much as it was a revelation of Noah’s frame of mind. Noah felt (and perhaps hoped) that the generation was lacking a saint and, irony aside, would therefore be saved.
He did not believe the world would be flooded because he did not consider himself pious enough to indict and convict his community. He didn’t pray for his community either because he never thought the flood would actually come. (9)


  1. The righteous person is not guilty because his intentions were not to hurt the other Jew, but to draw G-d to holier places. “The enemies of the righteous shall be guilty, G-d will redeem the souls of his servants and those who trust in him will bot bear guilt.” (Psalms 34.) Indeed, the enemy of the righteous is punished because he is contrasted by the behavior of the righteous. Yet G-d redeems the soul of the righteous. He redeems them and tells them that they have done nothing wrong.
  2. This helps us understand why the men of that generation threatened to kill Noah rather than allow him to enter the ark. What would they gain from Noah’s murder? It would have saved their lives. Because without Noah, without even one righteous person, the entire generation might have survived.
  3. Genesis 6: 9. See Bab. Talmud, Sanhedrin 108a.
  4. The term righteous is often utilized in Torah to denote contrast. Note, Pharaoh’s words, “G-d is righteous and I and my nation are wicked” (Exodus 27: 9). Note also Judah’s’s words to Tamar, “She is more righteous than I” (Genesis 39: 26). If Noah is lauded for being righteous perhaps it feeds into the notion of providing contrast to those who are not righteous..
  5. Genesis 7: 7. See Rashi (R. Shlomo Yitzchaki, Troyes France, 1040-1105) ibid.
  6. Zohar v1. p. 106a. See, however, Likutei Sichos (R. Menachem M Schneerson, Rebbe of Lubavitch, NY, 1902-1994) v. XV p. 85 for a different approach.
  7. Numbers 12: 3..
  8. See Sefer Hamamari, 5710 p. 236 (R. YY Schneerson, sixth Rebbe of Lubavitch 1880-1950).
  9. This essay is based on commentary by R. David Shlomo Eibshitz, (Tzefat, 1755-1813) in his Biblical Commentary, Arvei Nachal.
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