From the first volume of the newly published Nesivos
Chaim: The Torah Way of Life.
Ten generations after Odom Horishon, Hashem singled out Noach
as being special. The Torah (Bereishis 6:9) testifies,
"Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations;
Noach walked with G-d."
Rashi calls our attention to the phrase "in his
generations." Rashi explains that there is a difference
of opinions among Chazal over the meaning of this statement.
"Some of our Rabbis interpret it as praise; saying he would
have been more righteous had he lived in a generation of
righteous people; and some interpret it to his discredit,
saying that compared with his generation he was a tzaddik,
but had he been in Avrohom's generation, he would not
have been considered anything."
This last statement "he would not have been considered
anything," requires clarification. If the Torah calls Noach
both a tzaddik and perfect, how can it be said that
Noach would be considered as nothing at all!
The gemora Avodoh Zora (6a) teaches us that Noach was,
"Perfect in his ways; righteous in his actions." Rashi
explains that he was a tzaddik in his actions, for
Noach "did not rob." In a generation that was destroyed for
being thieves and robbers, Noach refrained from such actions
and was thus righteous.
Furthermore, Noach reached perfection "in his ways," that is,
in his demeanor, which is a reflection of his personality.
Rashi gives us an insight into Noach's character by
explaining that Noach was "humble and unpretentious." Noach
could have become haughty, for he was so honest in comparison
to all the wicked, corrupt people of his time. Remarkably,
Noach remained without conceit and pride.
Noach withstood both the temptations of theft and the
influence of his peers. These were great accomplishments,
particularly in the corrupt and decadent generations in which
he lived. Therefore, it is easy to grasp how Chazal learn the
phrase "in his generations" as praise of Noach.
Furthermore, Noach's accomplishment becomes even more
remarkable in light of what the Rambam writes in Hilchos
Dei'os (6:1), "A person is created in such a way that his
opinions and actions are influenced by his friends and
acquaintances, and are according to the behavior of his
countrymen. Therefore, a person must always associate with
tzaddikim and live with chachomim in order that
he learn from their actions, and he must distance himself
from the reshoim who walk in darkness, so that he does
not learn from their actions."
HaKodosh Boruch Hu has created us in such a way that
the people with whom we live, influence us. We accept their
beliefs and philosophies, making them our own. Consequently,
we will find ourselves acting like the people around us.
We have also been created to be sociable. We all need friends
and companions in order to live properly. Our natural desire
is to be drawn to other people, to want to live among them
and to enjoy their company. We were not created to exist in
isolation; all people want to be considered part of a group.
Since we desire people's company and hope for their
acceptance, we will be driven to become like them -- whomever
and whatever they are.
To be unsociable is abnormal. The Rambam, in his
Commentary on the Mishnah (Shabbos 2:5), writes that
melancholy is a type of illness. When stricken by it, a
person behaves contrary to his normal nature, which is to be
friendly with people. Instead he withdraws, preferring to be
Such is the strength of outside influences upon us. We are
inevitably drawn to them, and if they are bad, we will become
bad and if they are good, we will become good. It is a
dangerous situation, but this is how HaKodosh Boruch
Hu has made us. We are expected to use proper judgment in
choosing our friends, neighbors and associates. We are
obligated to choose proper acquaintances so as to benefit
from their good influence. Tzaddikim can inspire us
and we will improve and grow to be like them.
Noach, who lived among the wicked, contrary to expectations,
became and remained good. Based on what the Rambam has taught
us, had Noach lived in a generation of tzaddikim, he
would have been more strongly influenced for the good, making
him become a more righteous person than he was. This is the
opinion of Rabbi Nechemia (Midrash Rabboh, Parshas Noach
30:9), who teaches "If he was a tzaddik in his
generation, how much more righteous would he have been in the
generation of Moshe or Shmuel." With the influence of great
spiritual and moral examples, Noach would surely have become
even more outstanding.
Rabbi Yehudah takes a different approach. "In his generation
he was a tzaddik, but if he had lived in the
generation of Moshe or Shmuel, he would not have been a
tzaddik." This cannot be taken at face value. The
possibility of Noach turning away the good and proper
teachings of Moshe Rabbenu or Shmuel Hanovi is remote.
Undoubtedly, Noach would have become a talmid of Moshe
Rabbenu or Shmuel Hanovi. He would certainly have become
great from their example and teachings.
Being for Ourselves
To clarify Rabbi Yehudah's opinion, we turn to Rabbeinu
Yonah's insightful explanation of Hillel's well-known
statement in the first perek of Pirkei Ovos "If
I am not for myself, who will be for me?"
In his commentary on the Mishnah, Rabbeinu Yonah
explains, "If I do not give myself rebuke to become more
motivated about doing mitzvos, who will rebuke and motivate
me? Motivation from others is good only temporarily. However,
if a person inspires himself daily to think of ways to serve
Hashem, he will not forget them. For this is what his own
heart desires. This is the right course for a person to
follow." Hillel is teaching us that we are responsible for
ourselves and we cannot be dependent upon or satisfied with
Constant growth is best accomplished by self-motivation. Our
mitzvos will consequently always be fresh and new. They will
not become dry and routine. Rabbeinu Yonah, based on Hillel's
statement, learns that external encouragement has only a
limited chance of success since it is superficial and thus
does not endure. After an initial burst of inspiration, we
slip back to what we were before. In the long run, we
unfortunately will remain unchanged and perhaps, if we are
not cautious, we can even slip downward. True and lasting
accomplishments require self-motivation.
There are greater and lesser degrees of righteousness and the
greater the tzaddik, the greater is his influence in
the world. In comparison to great tzaddikim of other
generations, it is possible that Noach's accomplishments
would not have been so impressive. Noach was certainly
righteous enough to be worthy of Hashem saving him with
miracles. However, Noach did not have a universal, lasting
effect on his own generation that could have spurred the
people to repent and thereby nullify Hashem's decree of
destruction by the Flood. In contrast, Moshe Rabbenu and
Shmuel Hanovi each transformed his generation. Thus, we can
understand how Noach, had he lived in their times, would not
have been called a tzaddik.
However, according to the Rambam, Noach, had he lived in the
generations of Moshe Rabbenu and Shmuel Hanovi, would have
become even more righteous, for he surely would have
benefited from the influence of tzaddikim greater than
he. How, then, is Rashi's original reference to the fact that
Noach "would not have being considered as anything" to be
understood? He might not have been such a great
tzaddik as Moshe Rabbenu or Shmuel Hanovi, but how are
we to understand that Noach would be considered as nothing at
The gemora Brochos (32b) teaches us that four
essential aspects of our lives "Torah, good deeds, prayer and
derech eretz" all share something in common: they all
"require strengthening." The gemora learns that Torah
and good deeds require fortification from Yehoshua, for
Hashem cautions Yehoshua (Yehoshua 1:7), "Just be very
strong and courageous to be vigilant and to do in accordance
with the entire Torah."
The gemora reveals to us that "strong" refers to
Torah, and courageous "refers to good deeds."
Of all people who would need to be warned about this, we
would think that Yehoshua would be the last. He was the
foremost talmid of Moshe Rabbenu. From his youth, he
always accompanied Moshe Rabbenu, constantly learning as much
as possible. He was a tremendous masmid, completely
engrossed in Torah -- never leaving the Tent of Study. He
became the leader of his generation and led Klal
Yisroel into Eretz Yisroel. Does a person of such
greatness need to be cautioned to bolster his resolve and
The Torah teaches us -- yes!
Rashi elaborates on what the gemora means by "require
strengthening." Rashi writes "A person should reinforce them
constantly, with all his might." With all our might, with all
the strength we can muster, Rashi is teaching us that this
must be done on a continual, unrelenting basis. We can never
become lax. Our obligation is to ensure that our efforts in
Torah, good deeds, prayer and derech eretz never
This is just what Rabbeinu Yonah taught us when he wrote, "if
a person inspires himself daily . . ." Clearly, success in
Torah and mitzvos is the result of constant and extreme self-
motivated efforts -- always and with all one's might. If
Yehoshua is the prime example of this lesson, none of us are
exempt from it.
One in a Thousand
A glimpse into exactly how demanding this task is can be had
from understanding Shlomo HaMelech's statement in
Koheles (7:28), "One man in a thousand I have found,
and a woman among all of them I have not found."
The Chassid Yaavetz, in the third perek of Pirkei
Ovos, clarifies this statement. "It does not seem proper
to understand this statement superficially." In Shlomo
HaMelech's generation there were many righteous men and
women. Chazal say that the posuk [Melochim I 8:66]
says of them, that they were all [destined] for life in Olom
Habo. "How then, could the King [Shlomo] declare about them
something that is to their disgrace? Rather the point of his
words is: Only one man in a thousand can be found who is able
to change his basic nature and rule over his natural
tendencies completely . . ."
In other words, most of our behavior, throughout our lives,
is in keeping with our basic, inborn nature. Our actions and
reflexes remain instinctive and unchanged, and therefore
undeveloped. Unfortunately, the tremendous wellspring of
siyata deShmaya that is available to us -- an almost
infinite potential for change -- often remains untapped. To
find someone who actually corrects their nature and controls
his instinctive feelings, who even in the most difficult
situations soars above the norm of the expected, is very
rare, even among the tzaddikim.
To vanquish natural feelings, break habitual trains of
thought, and effect a transformation of character, to
accomplish more than what the G-d-given abilities allow all
of us to do -- this, Shlomo HaMelech found in only a few
exceptional and refined individuals.
Change is difficult, and it requires continual effort. This
effort can be sustained only by unceasing resolve and
unwavering determination. It is a task so difficult, that it
was beyond the achievement of all but one in a thousand men
who lived in the splendorous spiritual period of Shlomo
HaMelech's reign. His kingdom was crowned with the Divine
Presence, the Shechina, residing within the Beis
Hamikdosh in Yerushalayim -- tremendous sources of
spiritual inspiration! Nonetheless, according to Shlomo
HaMelech's testimony, very few people successfully changed
beyond their innate tendencies.
Changing one's nature is greatness. Most of us continue as we
were created, simply doing what we feel we were cut-out to
do. There is nothing remarkable about this. However, to
correct and improve our nature, to go beyond the norm -- this
is greatness. Noach was a tzaddik, but was his
righteousness natural or was it self-produced?
The Torah (Bereishis 6:9) testifies that, "Noach
walked with G-d." Rashi teaches us that here we find the
essential difference between Noach and Avrohom Ovinu.
Regarding Avrohom, Rashi writes that the Torah
(Bereishis 24:40) says, "G-d, before Whom I walked."
Rashi comments that, "Noach needed help to support him, but
Avrohom would strengthen himself and walk in his
righteousness on his own."
With Avrohom, the stimulus was internal. He motivated himself
ever onward to serve Hashem, and this self-made inspiration
carried him on to greatness. Of course, it all came from
Hashem, for we have nothing on our own, but because Avrohom
Ovinu had the desire and resolution to achieve, Hashem
blessed him with success, greatness and honor. Avrohom
Ovinu's sacrifice and righteousness changed the world. Hashem
chose Avrohom Ovinu to father Klal Yisroel -- and
Avrohom Ovinu did this despite the fact that he lived in
generations that were morally corrupt and steeped in idol
Noach also rose above the depraved influences of his
generation. However, the Midrash Tanchuma (Parshas
Noach 5) tells us an important fact about Noach, and with
this we can understand why Noach did not reach the level of
success that Avrohom Ovinu did. The Midrash states
openly that Noach, as great as he was, needed extra help from
HaKodosh Boruch Hu. "Noach walked with G-d, for
HaKodosh Boruch Hu supported him so that he would not
sink into the behavior of the Generation of the Flood." Noach
required support, in order to compensate for a lack, small as
it was, in his drive and initiative.
Noach was saved from corruption because Hashem blessed Noach
with extra siyata deShmaya. Noach, however, did not
rise above his surroundings through his own efforts. Both
Avrohom and Noach had the same potential for greatness, but
they differed in the way they realized and expressed their
spiritual perfection. Whereas Noach had to be pushed to reach
his potential, Avrohom Ovinu was able to inspire and motivate
himself. This was the crucial difference between these two
This contrast will become even more apparent after we analyze
the meaning of the prophet Malachi's enigmatic proclamation
about the future. For seemingly, Malachi's prophesy
(Malachi 3:18) is stating the obvious, "Then you will
return and will see the difference between the righteous and
the wicked, between the one who serves G-d and the one who
does not serve Him." In the future when we return from our
golus, the difference between the righteous and the
wicked will become clear, as well as the difference between
those who are servants of Hashem and those who are not.
Obviously, a tzaddik serves Hashem and a rosho
does not. Why, then, does the Prophet further qualify the
definitions? In fact, this is the question that Bar Hei Hei
asked of Hillel, "[Is it not true that] the one who is a
tzaddik is the one who serves G-d. The one who is a
rosho is the one who does not serve Him?"
Actually there is a fine distinction between the two. Malachi
declares that in the future, the very slight difference
between those who are tzaddikim and those who serve
Hashem will become apparent. Likewise, the difference between
those people who are wicked and those people who do not serve
Hashem will become obvious. Now, however, in the darkness of
golus, our perception is clouded and distorted.
Hillel, the great Torah leader of his generation, understood
the Novi's message. Hillel clarifies the prophecy and
gives this remarkable answer: "Those who serve Him and those
who do not are both completely righteous and [but] there is
no comparing one who reviews his learning one hundred times
to one who reviews his learning one-hundred-and-one
Bar Hei Hei responded to Hillel, "And because of one time, he
is called, `one who does not serve Him'?"
Hillel answered, "Yes! Go and learn from market where they
hire out donkeys. [A trip of] ten parsas costs a
zuz and [a trip of] eleven parsas costs two
Remarkably, but fair enough, the final haul of one more
parsa doubles the cost! The haul of the first ten
parsa'os is not so difficult and therefore costs only
one zuz. The haul of one single parsa is
certainly not worth another zuz by itself. However,
with eleven together, the effort that is needed after the
first ten to haul that last eleventh parsa, doubles
the price -- a whole zuz more. The eleventh
parsa costs the same as the ten previous ones! This
combined, final effort adds a whole new dimension to the
strain required to complete the journey, and this new
dimension is what doubles the price for that one last
Hillel's illustration helps us understand how one may be a
called a tzaddik and still not be considered a servant
of Hashem. Learning one hundred times is not enough. There
has to be an element of extra effort.
The one-hundred-and-one times, the resolve and stamina to
make that one extra time is, so to speak, as difficult as
splitting the Red Sea! At that time, HaKodosh Boruch
Hu commanded the waters to split. The waters of the
Yam Suf were obligated to change their nature.
Similarly, to go beyond the norm, even an extraordinary norm
of one hundred times and even only one more time, requires
changing one's nature. The effort of that one extra time
produces the transformation, which reflects the true
greatness of "those who serve Hashem."
A true servant has only the welfare of the one he serves in
mind. Either his personal concerns do not exist at all, or
they become secondary. The first hundred times we learn
something, we have many logical reasons for doing so. We want
deeper understanding and clarity. We wish to engrave what we
have learned in our memory and feel satisfaction at the
achievement. But what is the justification for the one last
time? Only servitude! Bearing the yoke! The yoke only comes
when there is difficulty, not when things are easy. A person
will not change his nature under sheltered and ideal
When things are easy for us, we all succeed. With this, we
can now understand Noach and, why there are those among
Chazal who view this tzaddik as not amounting to
anything at all.
After the Flood
The Torah (Bereishis 9:20) testifies that Noach
changed dramatically after the Flood, "And Noach, the man of
the earth, began and he planted a vineyard." This then led to
his drinking the wine and becoming drunk.
Rashi explains that Noach's act of planting a vineyard was a
mistake and that by doing so he lost his spiritual greatness.
The Torah criticizes Noach for his momentous choice of
planting a vineyard first: "He made himself profane, for he
should have engaged first in another kind of planting"
We must be careful not to misjudge Noach. Without doubt, he
did not intend to become intoxicated. Nonetheless, the Torah
says that with his act of planting a vineyard, Noach debased
himself. He lost his dignity and he became plain and
ordinary, definitely not the tzaddik that he once was.
Accordingly, we must properly understand Noach's motivations
for planting a vineyard -- drink its wine -- immediately
after leaving the Ark.
First, we must know that wine has remarkable dual properties.
Wine can induce euphoria and wine can bring misery. It can
raise and it can lower. Wine is given to someone who is sad
in order to cheer him up, as we are taught in Mishlei
(31:6), " . . . and wine for the embittered soul."
Based on this posuk, the gemora Sanhedrin (70a)
in the name of Rav Chanan, teaches us an important fact about
wine: "Wine was created for the world only in order to give
comfort to mourners."
The world that Noach once knew was gone. The loss of just one
relative or friend is a tremendous painful, saddening
experience. Noach had to be consoled over the loss of a whole
The scene that Noach saw is hard for us to imagine. After the
Flood, all of what he knew was gone. Not a trace was left of
what had existed before. The entire landscape had been
destroyed. Noach faced a world that was dismal and barren, a
deserted and void wasteland. Noach understood that wine had
the power to lift his spirits. Wine would enable him to
gather the courage to go on. Surely, we have to view Noach in
the best possible light and say that Noach's intentions were
honest and good. Surely we should not judge Noach
superficially and say that he was looking for an excuse to
If Noach sensed that he was in danger of slipping into
depression over the bleak and empty world awaiting him, then
there certainly was enough justification to warrant planting
a vineyard. Wine could definitely help Noach to bolster his
spirits. Nevertheless, the Torah says that because of this
choice Noach became ordinary. Noach became "a man of the
earth." He lost his dignity and his status of being
When Noach emerged from the Ark, his first act was to build
an altar and offer korbonos to HaKodosh Boruch
Hu. This was an act of thanksgiving. It was an act that
any sensible person who was saved from death would be
expected to do, for it is a basic human obligation to express
gratitude, especially for life.
Next however, came the task of rebuilding the world. This was
now a choice of what and how to build. Noach decided to plant
the vineyard. This was his first step in the task which with
Hashem had entrusted him: to build the new world. Naturally
enough, but unfortunately so, Noach's choice was influenced
by the darkness and void of his surroundings. That is why he
fell and became ordinary, a "man of the earth."
This is what the Rambam (Hilchos Dei'os 6:1) taught us
about our nature to be influenced by our surroundings.
However, a tzaddik is expected to behave differently.
A tzaddik must rise above this basic, inherently frail
After the Flood, Noach was on his own. He was about to
rebuild the world. This was his real test. It was a sensible
choice to plant the vineyard. Noach could benefit from the
help that the wine could give him. However, his first act of
rebuilding the world was crucial, for everything to follow
would stem from his first act of creation.
Noach was a tzaddik. Hashem chose to save Noach and to
have him rebuild the world. In laying the cornerstone for the
fresh new world, Noach's choice should have been entirely for
the benefit of the world he was about to create. His first
initial act of rebuilding should have been completely
selfless and pure. As a tzaddik, Noach should have put
his personal concerns aside and become, as the prophet
Malachi declared, ". . . one who serves G-d."
The influences of our surroundings bear heavily on our
ability to choose the right path. Even if we start out on the
right path, we must always be vigilant to make the right
decisions at each step of the way. Personal concerns are
powerful motivations for our thoughts and actions, but true
tzaddikim rise above them in order to serve Hashem
In all of human experience, only Noach was faced with a bleak
and empty world. Odom Horishon was placed in Gan Eden -- a
world complete to perfection. Odom was created last, after
the world was custom-made for him. Noach's test, in contrast,
was unbelievable. He had to fill a void. Therefore, about
Noach we see both praise and disgrace. Noach is considered by
some of Chazal as nothing at all, because he remained as he
was and did not change. Lacking sufficient self-motivation,
he followed his nature and did not grow and rise above and
beyond his natural potential. In the end he fell.
Of course Noach reached greatness, but when he was faced with
a dark and empty world, his spirits were affected by the
world he faced. He understood correctly that wine could help
him. He needed the support wine could give him to strengthen
himself. Those moments, however, were the crucial time to
prove himself. He was expected to succeed and lift himself
out of his dilemma on his own and to overcome his challenge.
His moment of choice came when he was caught between the
depraved world from which he was saved and a desolate but
pure world that demanded a daunting task of rebuilding.
In his generation he was a tzaddik, but after the
generation had been destroyed and he was on his own, he
became base and of the earth. He needed to be a
tzaddik also in the new generation -- the generation
that he would lead, the generation that he could have
influenced and led to righteousness. That was what Hashem
expected of him. That was his test, his mission to
One in a thousand can change himself. True it is hard, but
that is the purpose of our life.
Moshe Rabbenu and Noach
Chazal (Yalkut Shimoni, Parshas Noach 61) point out
the tremendous contrast between Noach and Moshe Rabbeinu.
"Moshe is more beloved [by Hashem] than Noach." Noach started
out as a tzaddik and then fell. He disgraced himself
and became like the earth. The Yalkut proves this from
the pesukim: "Noach is called (Bereishis 6:9) --
[first] a righteous man [and later] (Bereishis 9:20) --
a man of the earth. However, Moshe is called (Shemos
2:19) -- [first] an Egyptian [and later] (Devorim
33:1) -- a man of G-d."
Unlike Noach, Moshe Rabbenu grew in stature and greatness; at
first he was a "Egyptian," and then he elevated himself and
reached the highest perfection, becoming "a man of G-d."
Moshe was never content with himself. He always pushed
himself further and further, perfecting himself to serve
Hashem. He constantly motivated himself to reach greater
heights so as to serve Hashem better and better.
This is how we too must serve Hashem. This will bring steady
growth that will culminate in genuine perfection. In this
way, we can become beloved to Hashem and we will be firmly
attached to Hashem in all situations.
Hashem Himself calls Moshe Rabbenu (Bamidbar 12:7),
"Moshe My servant." That is greatness; a transformation
beyond one's nature. A true servant has only the master's
benefit in mind; he has no personal concerns whatsoever.
The Yalkut Shimoni (Parshas Bereishis
23) relates that after Odom Horishon gave names to the
animals, beasts and birds, Hashem asked him about himself,
"And what is your name?" He answered, "It is fitting that I
be called Odom because I was created from the earth." Our
beginning, our original condition is from the earth but we
are expected to move ever so steadily upward toward G-d.
We must inspire and motivate ourselves to aspire to, and
therefore to grow towards, the highest perfection, for this
is our purpose. If not, we will remain "from the earth,"
unchanged and, Heaven forbid, considered as nothing at all.
Our mission in life will remain unfulfilled.
Thus, we learn an important lesson from Noach, for the Torah
is teaching us this to help and to guide us. If we instill
within ourselves an honest desire for perfection, Hashem will
help every one of us to succeed in becoming both
tzaddikim and true servants of HaKodosh Boruch
This article has been specially prepared for Yated
Ne'eman, based closely on the chapter about parshas
Noach from the first volume of the newly published
Nesivos Chaim: The Torah Way of Life, a series on the
parshas of the week by HaGaon HaRav Chaim Pinchas
Scheinberg shlita, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Torah Ore,
Jerusalem. The inaugural volume on Sefer Bereishis,
published by Jerusalem Publications and distributed by
Feldheim, is now available worldwide. Other volumes will