Walking Before G-d
First Noach, then Avraham, are challenged by G-d and by the world that He created. Each are heros - each in his own way. Each rescued mankind from oblivion. Each were spoken to by G-d and each obeyed G-d's command. So what really distinguished Avraham from Noach, and why were both men "necessary" for the spiritual development of mankind?
Of Noach it is said, "Noach was a man righteous (ish tzaddik) in his generation and wholehearted (tammim); Noach walked with G-d." (Genesis 6:9) Avraham, on the other hand receives no such appellations. Indeed, Avraham is introduced to us by the Torah as being "the son of": "And Terach lived seventy years, and begot Avram..." (ibid 11:26) Why would the Torah present Avraham, the man who would seek out G-d in this world, and through whom all nations would be blessed, in such an inauspicious fashion?
The answer to both these questions may, in fact, be one and the same. Noach is easy to define. He separated himself and his family from all others around him. He didn't mix with the evil-doers of his generation. He set his mind and heart to the building of the ark, as G-d had commanded. He was a righteous man and his intentions were pure. He was close to G-d. His defense against the corruption of his generation was to insulate himself from their influence, first by dedicating himself to building the ark, and later, by entering into the ark itself. From there he would never look back, not even to shut the door behind him: "...and HaShem shut him in." (ibid. 7:16)
When Noach emerged from the ark one year later, he was essentially the same man. Yet now Noach earns one more appellation, ish ha'adamah, "...a man of the earth..." (ibid 9:20) Here, however, the description, man of the earth is not provided to describe a new facet of Noach's personality, but essentially to confirm that the experience of the flood had, in fact, not changed who he always had been. Only now, stripped of his own generation, he no longer is found meriting the title righteous. His job is essentially done. He has saved man from physical devastation. He is a man of the earth, not of the heavens. Noach "walked with G-d (Elokim)." (ibid 6:9) He understood G-d to be a G-d of justice, and did not deem himself worthy of speaking up on behalf of the sinners of his generation before the G-d of justice. He cannot transcend himself, nor understand the transcendent nature of G-d. One hundred and twenty one years after he received G-d's command to build the ark, his perception, neither of himself, nor of G-d, nor of mankind, has changed. He remains righteous, but he cannot change the world forever; he does not believe that he has the power to imbue the physical world with spirituality.
"And Terah lived seventy years, and begot Abram..." (ibid 11:26)
Terach, we are told by our sages, was a well known worshipper, (and retailer), of idols. His world, his mindset, was the world that Avraham, (Avram), was born into. Unlike Noach, Avraham never distanced himself from his fellow man. On the contrary, his life's work was going to be to change the way his fellow man perceived himself, his world, and G-d. Avraham was a rebel and an iconoclast from the start. In fact, midrash teaches us that even before he was born, Nimrod, king and self-proclaimed god of the city of Ur, saw a heavenly sign that a troublemaker was to be born to Terach, and sought to kill the infant Avraham. Avraham spent his youth in search of truth, and arrived at the conclusion that idols of wood and stone were but the work of man, and that even the stars and the sun and the moon were likewise the work of a single Creator. No stranger to strife and persecution, (he had to flee Nimrod after the latter had him thrown into a furnace because of his dangerous talk of the one true G-d), Avraham, nevertheless understood G-d to be a G-d of chesed - loving-kindness. It was the G-d of chesed and not the G-d of retribution that Avraham attached himself to and sought to introduce to his fellow man.
"And when Avram was ninety nine years old, HaShem appeared to Avram, and said unto him: 'I am G-d Almighty; walk before Me, and be wholehearted." (ibid. 17:1)
Avraham didn't walk passively "...walk with Elokim (the G-d of justice)," as did Noach. He walked before HaShem. He sought to beseech and persuade G-d on behalf of his fellow man. We are told by the Torah that Avraham "stood yet before HaShem," (ibid. 18:22) and that he "drew near..." (ibid. 18:23) to G-d.
Noach perceived that a world of justice would take place even at the expense of man. Avraham understood that a world of justice necessarily includes mankind within it. To that end, he sought to bring man to G-d, and G-d to man. Noach is easy to describe, "a man righteous.. and wholehearted," (Genesis 6:9). But how do we describe Avraham, the offspring of idol worshippers? His heart was so big. His vision so bold. His blessing so great. He is simply Avraham avinu - our forefather Abraham.
Listen to this week's TEMPLE TALK, as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the Torah readings of Noach and Lech Lecha, and the personalities of Noach and Avraham. Also explored are the tower of Babel, the city of Sodom, and the blessing of rain in the land of Israel.
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