This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. — Genesis 6:9
The Torah portion for this week is Noach, from the name of the main character, Noah. It is from Genesis 6:9 –11:32, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 54:1–55:5.
The Torah tells us that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time.” The Jewish sages are puzzled by the last part of the description. Why not stop at righteous? What does it mean that he was also “blameless among the people of his time?”
Torah scholars explain that there are two ways to understand this description in Scripture. It could mean that even though Noah lived in a totally corrupt society, he was able to withstand the influence of everyone around him and remain righteous. Or, it could mean that had Noah lived in another time, the generation of Abraham for example, he wouldn’t have been anything special. Relative to the corrupt society around him, Noah stood out and appeared righteous.
Ultimately, we don’t need to know how Noah compared to anyone else. What matters is that Noah was as righteous as he could be himself.
A famous story is told about Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli who lived in the 18th century. The great rabbi was on his deathbed, and he was crying uncontrollably. No one could comfort him. One of the students asked, “Why are you crying? Surely you have nothing to fear! You were almost as wise as Moses and as kind as Abraham!” The elderly rabbi replied, “When I am called to the heavenly tribunal, they won’t ask me, ‘why weren’t you like Moses?’ or ‘why weren’t you like Abraham?’ But they will ask, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you like Zusha?’ And to that I will have no reply.”
God doesn’t judge us according to the people around us. If the people around us are evil, it doesn’t give us permission to sink to their level. If the people around us are saintly, God doesn’t expect us to be perfect ourselves. God expects us to live up to our own potential, be it a little or a lot. It doesn’t matter how Noah compared with the people around him. What mattered was that he was the best Noah that Noah could be.
We often get distracted by the people around us and forget about focusing on the one life that matters most: Ours! The late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, once said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” Every person is gifted with his or her own unique talents, passions, and capabilities. But not everyone unwraps the package.
God won’t ask us why we weren’t like Mother Theresa, and He won’t applaud us for being better than Hitler. He’ll want to know if we were as great as we could be.
How will we answer?
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President