While this week’s Torah portion, Noach, describes its protagonist as a “righteous man,” most Jewish commentators, past and present, tend to slightly disagree. They note the qualifier that immediately follows this claim, b’dorotav, “in his generation” and argue that by implication, Noah was only relatively meritorious, compared to the very low standards set by his contemporaries. Unlike Abraham or Moses, Noah does not argue on behalf of his condemned fellow men and women. Anyone who is content to do nothing while all of creation is destroyed cannot be all that righteous. Or, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, drawing on the Hasidic tradition, puts it, Noah was a tzaddik im pelz, a holy man in a fur coat. In a world gone cold, you have two choices. You put on a coat and warm yourself, or you build a fire, which warms both yourself and others. Noah, alas, prefers the first, more selfish option.
Similarly, the text teaches: “Noah walked with God.” This seems like a good thing—except a few chapters later, God says to Abraham, “Walk before me.” As Rashi puts it, Noah leans on God for support, while Abraham brings God into the world through the strength of his own righteousness.
To be a Jew in these troubled times is to be called to lead.
Walk before Me, says the Holy One.
This week, consider: How can you help to lead the way ?