Noach – Genesis 6:9 to 11:32 – In the Torah Noah is called a “righteous man in his generation.” How does he compare to his contemporaries and to the Torah’s other righteous men – Abraham and Moses? ———— “This is Noah’s chronicle. Noah was a righteous man; in his generation, he was above reproach. Noah walked with God” (Gen.6:9)
Like B’reishit which we read last week, the story of Noah is very well known….. But, I ask, why was Noah chosen from among all on the world to be saved from the flood. We are told that he was a “righteous man; in his generation … Noah walked with God.”
This year, our Temple’s “Life-Long Learning Program” is focusing on the theme of “Hineini” … I am here…. And certainly, Noah was there when God called. But, it seems the next words from Torah act as a – sort of – qualifier… “in his generation.” Then we are told that “Noah walked with God.”
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), the first Chief Rabbi for the pre-state Israel, commented on what was needed to be classified as a tzadik or “righteous man.” He saw that both Noah and Abraham were called righteous. He notes that Torah tells us that Noah “walked with God,” while Abraham “walked before God.” The difference between the two helps us define what it takes to achieve the title of “righteous.”
First, Rabbi Kook states that righteousness is largely based on a comparison to others of an era. As time progressed, mankind received greater direction from God… and more was expected. In the time between Adam/Eve and Noah, God had no contact with mankind. As a result, the level of “righteousness” was lower than later years after God had informed the people of laws that should be followed.
Next week we will be introduced to Abraham, whom we are also told is also a “righteous” man. In addition, we are told that Abraham “walked before God.” Rabbi Kook comments on the differences between “walking with” and “walking before God.”
“Walking with God,” – as with Noah – according to Rabbi Kook, “was to perfect oneself according to the spiritual state appropriate for that generation.” In Noah’s case, he followed what God had requested … He lived according to the laws requested by the Eternal.
A higher path – “walking before God” – was to live a life beyond the norms of an era. Here an individual – like Abraham – took actions that would lead to the betterment of future generations. He went beyond the laws of the time. Abraham followed the laws of God …. Plus he sought to teach the world around him about integrity and holiness. Abraham “walked before God” in that he went beyond what was expected of him in his time. He worked to prepare his community for a future time. He did more than was expected for his era. Hineini… Abraham answered the call of God … “Here I am” and then he added, this is how I can further serve you.
Rabbi Kook offers a third form of walking – “walking after God.” After God revealed the laws and commandments at Sinai, it became impossible to reach a level that God desired without first correcting all our failings. It would be impossible to follow all the laws and commandments to “walk with God” … let alone, “walk before God.” So Rabbi Kook felt that the goal for those after Sinai was to strive to attain as much of God’s ways as possible. In our efforts to do so, we are “walking behind God” as we strive to reach a higher level of holiness.
Hineini – as we examine our own lives we can look at Noah … look at Abraham … and look at the laws and commandments of Torah…. At what level of righteousness or holiness are we living?… Are we living for ourselves or contributing to the common or good of others?…. When we hear the call of Hineini, what is our answer?