This issue is dedicated in honor of my father, Mr. Melvin Bernstein, upon the occasion of his seventieth birthday
October 18, '96
The parsha begins: "These are the accomplishments of Noach: Noach was a Tzadik (righteous person); he was perfect in his age; Noach walked with Hashem."
A striking point is enunciated by the author of the famous Bnei Yissoschar, in his work, Igra D'kala: The main accomplishment of Noach was the Tzadik himself, Noach.
We understood as follows. In regard to Yaakov, the verses say: "These are the accomplishments of Yaakov: Yoseif was seventeen years old..." It appears as though the main accomplishment of Yaakov was his fathering and raising of Yoseif. Yaakov had twelve sons, but Yoseif was the Tzadik, the righteous one. Commentaries often seem to take Noach to task for not having a greater influence on his generation, and here we see that his main work was his own character-building, rather than the upbringing of his children.
However, the Bnei Yissoschar apparently rejects this conclusion outright. Rather, the explanation is as follows:
The Talmud and Medrash say that the the Rebbe who teaches Torah to his students is considered as if he was their father. The reason is that, just as the father and mother bring the children into this world, the Rebbe prepares them for the next world. Just as the parents are responsible for producing the body, the Rebbe is responsible for fathering the soul. (The main person is, of course, the soul.)
The Rebbe gets so much credit for the student, that he shares in the reward of the student's accomplishments. Therefore it states that the main accomplishment of Yaakov was his son Yoseif. Yaakov's great reward was due to his raising of Yoseif. This was more rewarding than his own excellent character, because his own character was due to his parents -- the earlier Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
Now we can see the meaning of our verses in regard to Noach. "These are the accomplishments of Noach: Noach was a Tzadik (righteous person)..." The verses are not meant to say that he had no influence on his children. Quite the contrary: They were all saved on his account! Rather, the meaning is that he did not share the credit of his own character with anyone else, because NOACH HAD NO GUIDANCE WHATSOEVER. There were no teachers, there was no counsel.
It is unnecessary to state that he received reward on account of his children. This is of course the case. However, his own accomplishments were his own credit entirely, and thus he is given the unstinting praise: "Noach was a Tzadik (righteous person); he was perfect in his age; Noach walked with Hashem."
The Medrash Tanchuma in Parshas Noach describes in stunning detail the extent of Torah study, and the contrasts between its different aspects: The Torah sh'ba'al peh (oral traditions) and the Torah sh'b'ksav (written texts). It is one of the primary sources of the meaning of Torah discipline.
All the commentaries question: Why should a lengthy discussion regarding Torah study be placed at Parshas Noach -- long before Torah came into the world? The "Children of Noach" are not obliged in Torah and Mitzvos.
As we have already seen, the beginning of man quickly led to his downfall. Noach is the first person to be explicitly praised by the Torah. In contrast to his age, in contrast to the immorality and decadence surrounding him, without any leadership, guidance or advice, Noach forged the path to righteousness. Noach is the epitome of the Tzadik, the righteous man.
Rav Tzadok of Lublin explained that one's main accomplishments, the fruit of one's labors, are not his children, but his good deeds. The verse in Mishlei (Proverbs) states: Pri Tzadik Eitz Chaim -- "The fruit of the righteous man is the tree of life." (Rav Tzadok himself never had children, and felt that it was a punishment for his having divorced his first wife. His own works were entitled "Pri Tzadik," based on the fervent desire that he have solace and merit in his Torah and good deeds, in place of children.)
There is a profound connection between the singular character of Noach -- in stark contrast to the people of his age -- and the emergence of Avraham and the Jewish nation. It is not the genealogical connection, but the accomplishments of Noach -- his teachings and upright behavior, which would serve mankind as a guiding light.
Indeed, this is the beginning of Torah. The ultimate product of Torah study is not the knowledge alone, but its effect on our lives -- its effect on society as a whole.
Avraham, too, was a self-made man. Eventually, however, he found teachers. The ancient tradition is that the Patriarchs each attended the Yeshiva of antiquity, founded by none other than Shem, the son of Noach!
"These are the accomplishments of Noach: Noach was a Tzadik (righteous person); he was perfect in his age; Noach walked with Hashem." All were saved on his account.
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein -- PC Kollel
1 Babbin Ct. Spring Valley, NY 10977
[email protected] Ph. 914-425-3565 Fax 914-425-4296
© Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Genesis, '97