I love reading stories of the Tzadikim except when I don’t. They are uplifting and inspiring on one hand. On the other hand, they can leave me feeling like the spiritual equivalent of the overweight overaged person in the picture that is captioned, “Before”, facing the svelte young beauty labeled “After”. One example of how overwhelming things can appear is what happens when I spend time reading the excellent biography of the Chofetz Chaim, reading about how he ultimately achieved perfect control over his speech (albite after many struggles). I like to be positive, but never uttering a needless rant is an entirely different story (pun intended). It’s not just that I am far from the goal; I am also not sure that in this lifetime I will ever reach it.
That’s why Noach’s story is so genuinely inspiring. He was a tzadik in his own times, and in his own way. Could he have been greater still if he lived in Avraham’s era? Maybe. It doesn’t matter. He was great enough to save the world. He had to face the life he had, not the one that Avraham had. You have to live in your skin, so do I. When you face imperfection, far too often the next step is blame (it comes disguised as understanding the circumstances).
He lived in impossible times.
His world was totally corrupt and headed to the point of no return. When Hashem told him that the world had to be erased in order to begin again, he didn’t argue
Would Avraham have argued?
If you compare him to Avraham, the contrast is overwhelming. Avraham bargained with Hashem over the city of Sodom and Amorah even though their evil was so painfully and visibly present.
Would Moshe have argued with Hashem over the fate of the world?
Moshe went much further. When the Jews of his time worshipped the golden calf, instead of taking Noach’s approach (let them be erased if that means a new beginning), or Avraham’s (if there is critical mass, you can save everyone; the example of even 10 people committed to living decently will have influence). Moshe took it much much further. “Erase me form Your book”, he said, almost forcing Hashem acquiesce to his demand to let them live, accept them as they are, and Moshe bonded himself completely to the Jewish people when they were at their worst
Hashem knew what Noach didn’t know. He knew that it is only fair to open doors even if there is no likelihood that anyone will walk through and enter another room. He commanded Noach to build an ark. It took years. People asked him what he was doing. He didn’t hide anything from them. They mocked him and despised him, to the point that they saw him as a patronizing fool, and an ideological enemy. He didn’t save them, but he didn’t waver.
Did he make any baalei tshuvah? Not even one.
Noach isn’t the only hero of the story. Chazal present us with a view that his wife was Naamah. Her family line is not impressive. She was a descendant of Kayin, whose view of the world was one in which there was little room for anything but his own fulfillment. Seven generations later, her father, Lemach, (the man who introduced polygamy to the world in the pre-flood era by having one wife for pleasure and one for family . Obviously both were exploited.) One brother introduced the idea of making music, one of the most spiritually alive experiences, and using it for idol worship. Another took animal farming to a new level by introducing itinerant ranching. I third was gifted. He understood using metal. He used this gift to make weapons. Naamah’s name literally means pleasant, and it was given to her to tell us about her deeds. She too stood alone.
Every human being in the world is a descendant of this pair. That tells you that no matter what your surroundings, family, or personal predilection is, you can be a tzadik.
The year on the ark was one in which they had to find the potential within themselves to build again. In order to do this, Hashem put them in the position of constant moment to moment chessed. They had taken refuge from a world that was defined as being a world of “grabbers and takers to the point of violence, promiscuity and finally instinctively ignoring other people’s right to even the smallest amount of their own property, and they turned it into being a world based on the most h human and G-dlike part of what we can be,
To the animals.
A great deal of giving takes place nowadays. There are those who supply people who are in quarantine with everything that they need. Great Rabbanim such as Rav Zilberstein have “children’s hour” telephone shows. We are alone more than ever. We are people hungry. We are longing for more contact, and reaching out. We are not perfect. Maybe we are like Noach.
Maybe we have to keep trying to love the people we long to be with, believe in ourselves.
Even when we fail, we can come to see ourselves the way Hashem sees us. When Noach and his family came off the ark, Hashem made a sign of his commitment to refrain from ever destroying the world again by making another flood. The sign is the rainbow. The seven colors of the spectrum are really all manifestations of white, the color of light. Because light refracts and is picked up by pigment in different ways, you see colors.
Maybe, just maybe, my fellow imperfect tzadik, we can all learn to see it a little more clearly, we can see other people’s different ways of expressing Hashem’s light, and see our own version of this light.
And in the world Hashem creates
Movement by moment.