"These are the generations of Noah, Noah was a righteous man he was perfect in his generations; Noah walked with G-d."
Thousands of years ago our sages discussed the relative merits of two giants in the history of man: Avraham and Noach. Both were righteous, our sages agree, but who was more righteous? Noach saved mankind from extinction, but did he do all he could have to save his fellow men and women? Avraham intervened on behalf of the residents of Sodom. Why didn't Noach plead with G-d on behalf of his generation? Noach walked with G-d, but did he walk with man?
Was it truly the intention of our sages to pit one tzaddik - righteous man - against another? Everyone is unique, and so too are the righteous distinct one from another. A question of relative righteousness seems undignified, not in good taste. So what was behind the words of our sages?
Torah tells us that Noach was righteous. This is an appellation that the Torah bestows on very few individuals. It is an unfettered, unconditioned, uncompromising affirmation of Noach's spiritual and moral stature. Furthermore, Torah doesn't leave off with this remarkable accolade, but goes on to call Noach tamim - pure, (or, even, perfect). None of the Hebrew patriarchs are so designated by Torah, and upon inspection only one Torah figure woud seem to embody such far-reaching descriptions of "righteous, pure and perfect," and that would be pre-fruit-eating Adam. Certainly the work of G-d's hands merited these praises, and certainly G-d sought such a man to re-establish humanity after the devastation of the flood. Could G-d have settled for less? Are we all not Noach's children? Does not Torah call upon each and every one of us to strive toward perfection of the spirit? Such expectations would be out of place were our common father anything less than righteous and pure.
Today we live in a world not unlike the world that Noach lived in. Unprecedented violence, unrestrained hatred, unbridled wickedness rules our days. Torah describes the situation in Noach's generation as being one of "hamas." This ancient Hebrew word which denotes a violent lack of regard for the property or the sanctity of others, today is, of course, the name of one of the most despicable terrorist organizations on the face of the earth. But it is not even the terrorists themselves, but the tactical support and the moral justification that the western world is bequeathing these terrorists which is the real hamas that the Torah speaks of: the hamas of irredeemable contempt and disdain for G-d and for the man that He created in His image. In short the world today has run amok. Who will save it?
Today, after millennia in which very few souls took upon themselves the moral legacy of Noach, a worldwide community of individuals seeking a new spiritual and moral path, are laying claim to the 4000 year old patrimony of Noach. Today, the fledgling community of Bnei Noach has reattached itself to the G-d of Israel and has reaffirmed that there is a G-d in the world. Today, the community of the progeny of Noach is growing, not just in numbers, but in its commitment to the Noahide commandments, and in its loyalty to the nation of Israel.
Today the looming threat of an approaching holocaust on the scale of the great flood, taking with it man and beast, cannot be denied. Could it be that the question of our sages concerning the nature of Noach's "perfect righteousness" was never intended to cast doubt on the accomplishments of Noach himself, but was a challenge addressed to our very generation? How righteous was Noach? That's for us to decide, not through debate, but through our actions, and through the path we take to shepherd our generation of mankind to a brighter future, a future of moral clarity and brotherly love. A future in which man walks with man, and mankind walks with G-d.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the sweet future that awaits us beneath the bitter surface of the month of Marcheshvan, the beginning of the blessed rainy season in Israel, the righteous Noach, who walked with G-d, and the anniversary of the Rambam's celebrated journey to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.