The Zohar says:
"All human beings, endowed with the spirit of holiness, are of the category of Tzaddik." (Zohar Gen., 33a)
There is much to debate on the words "ish tzadik tamim b'dorotav, " that Noah was a righteous and blameless person in his generation. Unlike future patriarch Abraham, he did not argue with Gd. Noah did not warn his fellow human beings. And after all the ordeal, he got drunk and acted perversely. This is a righteous and blameless person?
If the Zohar is right, then I say we should give Noah a break. In fact, we should give all of us a break, for I would truly like to believe that the spirit of holiness is in us all, the we are all truly Tzaddikim. (There is, of course, the obvious problem that, following this line of reasoning, all those destroyed by Gd in the flood where righteous, and that all Gd's creations are b'tzelem Elokim. I used to be greatly troubled by this. However, the more I read Torah, the more I discover that Gd, at least early on in this grand experiment we call existence, felt the need to separate the wheat from the chaff, that sometimes Gd uses existence as a sieve, with floods, plagues, ragings seas and more used for occasional housecleaning of human society. I also discovered that were are not made perfectly, necessitating, perhaps, these occasional cleansings away of the evilest of those in our midst. Of course, this lends itself to the question of Gd's imperfection, for if we are imperfect and we are b'tzelem Elokim...but we'll tackle that another day. I'll also not tackle how some perversely explain the Shoah as a similar cleansing, a viewpoint that can, sadly, be a logical extension of this argument.)
Over the centuries, sages have given us many definitions of righteousness. I've yet to hear of one that didn't make some sense, even though some appear contradictory. Taking into account all these definitions, surely each of us has been righteous at some time. So let's not be so quick to judge Noah (or anyone) unworthy.
The ancient ideas we reiterate at Yom Kippur are not so strange. The idea of a balance on which our good and bad deeds are weighed is a interesting way of dealing with the fact that we each have within us the freewill potential to do good and bad. It would seem plain common sense that the object is to do more good than bad. The question becomes, how do we define what is good and what is bad, and, furthermore, whether those standards remain consistent throughout time.
Our ancient tradition stipulates a rather clear picture of what we are expected to do and what we are told not to do. It sets up a pretty standard scale of measurement for our balance. To this day, great scholars and everyday men and women work to apply these rules, exactly as they believe they were written. Perhaps more recently, great scholars and ordinary men and women have begun to argue more strongly for the role of time, place and environment in adjusting the scale of measurement. This would appear to be, perhaps, one of the differences between traditional and liberal Judaisms.
Or is it? Has not even the most orthodox of Judaisms found it necessary to adapt to changing conditions? Traditional Judaism does no less interpretation of the ancient words and practices than liberal Judaism. Where they part company, perhaps, is in the ability to choose to disregard. So Judaism has always had within it the idea of situational decision-making.
And I submit that the words "ish tzadik tamim b'dorotav" are the foundation of that. It's a clear indication that to judge ourselves in light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves is appropriate in Gd's eye.
During the Shoah, sadly, many looked away, turned their heads, ignored what was going on. In that time, there were those who, like Noah, stood out. I daresay that, in any age, we would find those shining lights.
Hillel put it simply: b'makom sh'ein anashim, hishtadel l'hiyot ish. "in a place where no one is human, strive to be human." This, in its own way, embraces the situational philosophy as strongly as "righteous and blameless in his age" does, although Hillel puts a more positive spin on it. In this modern world, fraught with inhumanity among human beings, we must all heed Hillel's words.
This Shabbat, in this world were it seems so few are acting humanely, let us follow in the ways of Noah, and all try to act as human beings. Let us all be the tzaddik that the Zohar says we are.
©2002 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some other musings on this parasha:
Bereshit 5766-Kol D'mei
Bereshit 5765 (5760)-Failing to Understand-A Learning Experience
Bereshit 5764-Gd's Regrets
Bereshit 5762--The Essential Ingredient
Bereshit 5761--Chava's Faith
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