In a blog article entitled Are Some People Better Than Others, Laura Maguire observed,
When Thomas Jefferson said, “All men are created equal,” he didn’t mean that we’re all born with the same virtues or talents in life. He was not denying that obvious truth. But despite our natural differences, he believed our lives were of equal value. For Jefferson, all people should have the same rights and the same responsibilities as one another. In the moral sense, none could be superior or worth more than another.https://www.philosophytalk.org/blog/are-some-people-better-others
In last week’s parasha we read,
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness! Let them rule over the fish of the sea, over the flying creatures of the sky, over the livestock, over the whole earth, and over every crawling creature that crawls on the land.” God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.Genesis 1:26-27
In a manner of speaking, Mr. Jefferson was correct in his statement that all men (or all humankind) are created equal. Each individual, whoever has lived, does live, or will live, has been created in the very image of the Creator of the universe. However, one of the things that makes us different from one another is the choices we make as we travel though the life we’ve been allocated. A few verses before the beginning of this week’s parasha we hear HaShem’s indictment against His creation,
Then ADONAI saw that the wickedness of humankind was great on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their heart was only evil all the time.Genesis 6:5
This indictment is followed by an even stronger one in this week’s parasha,
Now the earth was ruined before God, and the earth was filled with violence. God saw the earth, and behold it was ruined because all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.Genesis 6:11-12
But the first verse of this week’s parasha lends some hope to the narrative,
These are the genealogies of Noah (Noach). Noah was a righteous man. He was blameless among his generation. Noah continually walked with God.Genesis 6:9
These are the generations of Noah. Noah was in his generations a man righteous and whole-hearted; Noah walked with God.Genesis 6:9 (JPS 1917 edition)
The two translations say the same thing, Noach was a righteous man, blameless and wholeheartedly focused on HaShem, who “continually walked with God.” This immediately brings to mind Enoch, as it was recorded in last week’s reading that “Enoch continually walked with God—then he was not there, because God took him.” (Genesis 5:24).
As we have seen, Noach’s generation was not particularly praiseworthy or righteous. In fact, it is just the opposite. So how “righteous” was Noach? One answer to this question is eluded to in the following story.
A certain man possessed a wine cellar. One day he went downstairs to fetch some wine and found that his wine had turned to vinegar. “Alas,” he murmured, opening one barrel after another and finding it sour. “It’s all no good.” Finally, he hit upon on barrel that was only half sour. “This one is great,” he exclaimed. “Compared to the rest, it could be called good.”Moshe Weissman. The Midrash Says: The Book of Beraishis. Brooklyn, Benei Yakov Publications, 1980, p 86
The phrase “in his generations” בְּדֹרֹתָיו is key to understanding Noach’s righteousness. Rashi, relying on BT Sanhedrin 108a and Midrash Tanchuma Noach 5 points out two opposing views of our sages concerning this phrase. The favorable interpretation holds that if Noach had lived in a generation of righteous people, then he would have been even more righteous. The derogatory interpretation holds that if he had lived in different generation, specifically Abraham’s generation, he would not have been considered as righteous. Thus, like the wine in the cellar, when most is bad and one is noticeably better, the better one stands out like a beacon. Do not misunderstand me, I am not downplaying Noach’s righteousness before HaShem; but as the one-eyed man is king in the land of the blind, Noach’s willingness to walk with God and not after the ways of the world, does not necessarily mean that he was a great tzaddik. It does mean that he made a choice, whether the motive was out of love for HaShem or holy fear for the coming judgement, we don’t know. Look at the comparison in Hebrews between Enoch and Noach.
By faith Enoch was taken so as not to see death, and he was not found because God took him. For before he was taken, he was commended as pleasing to God. Now without faith it is impossible to please God. For the one who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.Hebrews 11:5-7
By faith Noach, when warned about events not yet seen, in holy fear prepared an ark for the safety of his household. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
It is written that Enoch was “pleasing to God,” while Noach was obedient, out of fear and self-preservation, however, both men were considered righteous. I am suggesting that Noach’s “righteousness” was not so much what set him apart from the others in his generation, but his willingness to choose to “walk with God” instead of walking in the ways of the world.
So, what is the purpose of all of the verbiage this week? As people who have chosen to follow Messiah Yeshua and to walk in the ways of ADONAI, occasionally we compare ourselves with those around us. At times we might even pat ourselves on the back, thinking that we are doing better that those who are not walking the same path. We know our righteousness is not based upon our own works but still, there is the propensity to consider ourselves “better” than they are. Luke 18:9–14 records the now familiar parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to the Temple to pray that Yeshua taught. Except for comparing himself to the tax collector, those things that the Pharisee said he did not do, were the exact things that the majority of the population of Noach’s day actually did. By not doing such, Noach was considered blameless, wholehearted toward God, even righteous. Might it be that part of Noach’s righteousness was rooted not on what he did in walking with God, but in what he did not do by comparing himself to others. When our eyes are focused on Him who called us to be holy as He is holy, (cf. Leviticus 20:7 & 1 Peter 1:16), then we will be less likely to compare ourselves with others. While Noach was righteous in his generation, just as was Enoch in his or Abraham in his, we need to be righteous in ours and realize that we are not to compare ourselves with Enoch, Noach or Abraham. Nor are we to compare ourselves with our peers as the Pharisee seemed to do. Instead we are to keep our eyes and our hearts focused upon the one who called us to Himself. Likewise, as Thomas Jefferson noted that “all men are created equal” and as the biblical narrative and world history both affirm, all men have a choice to make that being whom and how to serve, as well as how to respond and relate to others. Some choices lead to righteous activities in life, while others lead to death and destruction. As we are encouraged in Torah, let’s choose life as we walk together with HaShem.
* Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
Readings for Parashat Noach
Torah: Genesis 6:9 – 11:32
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10
Apostolic Writings: Luke 18:9-14