These are the offspring of Noach. Noach was a righteous man. He was perfect[ly righteous] in [relation to] his generation. Noach walked [only] with [the support of] G‑d.

-- Breishis 6:9

Classic Questions

Why does the Torah state that Noach was a righteous man? (v. 9)

Rashi: Since the Torah mentions him, it tells his praise, as the verse states: "The mention of a righteous man is for a blessing" (Prov. 10:7). Another explanation: to teach you that the main progeny of the righteous are their good deeds.

Gur Aryeh: Rashi writes that when a righteous man is mentioned he should be praised. Why then do we find that numerous righteous individuals—such as the Patriarchs—are mentioned repeatedly in the Torah without words of praise?

Rashi's point here is that a righteous man should be praised when he is mentioned in the context of wicked men. Therefore, in our case, when Noach is being mentioned in comparison to his wicked generation, the Torah praises him. Similarly, when Avraham is mentioned in the context of the wicked people of Sodom and Amorah, the Torah praises him. In other cases, however, no praise is necessary.

Levush Ha'ohrah: Gur Aryeh's solution is untenable, for at the end of Parshas Bereishis, Noach is mentioned in the context of the ten wicked generations between Adam and Noach, and yet he is not praised.

Rather, in truth, Noach is not praised in Parshas Bereishis because the subject of discussion there is not Noach's life in particular, but the general history preceding Noach's life, up to and including his generation. Thus, in Parshas Bereishis the Torah does not make an issue of Noach's fine qualities, because the context there is still broadly historical and not specifically biographical.

In our parshah, however, where Noach is mentioned in his own right, the Torah praises him, based on the principle cited by Rashi that "the mention of a righteous man is for a blessing."

The Rebbe's Teachings

When Should a Righteous Man be Praised? (v. 9)

A number of commentators [including Gur Aryeh] ask why the Torah does not praise Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov when they are mentioned, based on Rashi's principle that a righteous man should be praised when he is mentioned.

The solution to this problem appears to be obvious:

From Parshas Lech Lecha to the end of Parshas Vayechi, the Torah describes at length the lives of the Patriarchs and the good deeds that they performed. Consequently, there is no need to praise Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov when they are mentioned, since the Book of Bereishis itself is a lengthy account of their virtues and good deeds.

Noach, on the other hand, is not praised at length in the Torah. Therefore, when he is mentioned here, it is appropriate to praise him, based on Rashi's principle that a righteous man should be praised when he is mentioned.

One might still ask: surely Noach is praised at least throughout the whole of Parshas Noach, as we read about how he followed G‑d's instruction to build the ark?

However, this could not be classified as praise, for two reasons:

  1. Praise is given for acts of an exceptional quality, beyond what might be expected. The building of the ark, however, was a direct command from G‑d. The fact that Noach followed this command is thus not an exceptional feat of righteousness, but rather simple obedience.

  2. Noach built the ark to save his own life. The story of how Noach saved himself is thus hardly a tremendous praise of his acts of kindness to others.

Question of Levush Ha'ohrah

We are still left with the problem raised by Levush Ha'ohrah, that Noach should have been praised the first time that he was mentioned, in Parshas Bereishis.

One could, perhaps, argue that Noach is indeed praised when he is mentioned in Parshas Bereishis, with the words "Noach found favor in the eyes of G‑d."

However, such a notion is difficult to accept. For Rashi only teaches us this principle (to praise a righteous man when he is mentioned) for the first time at the beginning of our parshah, and not at the end of Parshas Bereishis. If the words "Noach found favor in the eyes of G‑d" (at the end of Parshas Bereishis) were indeed praise, then Rashi would have stated the principle in his commentary on that verse.

The Explanation

The basic solution to this problem was already proposed by Levush Ha'orah himself. Namely, that there is a significant contextual difference between Parshas Bereishis and Parshas Noach, and only here where Noach is mentioned in his own right does Rashi's principle (of praising a righteous man) apply.

By carefully examining the verses in Parshas Bereishis we could perhaps clarify a little more precisely the exact context of Noach's appearance there, and understand why the Torah does not deem it necessary to praise him at that point.

After recording the life and times of Adam, the first man, and his children, Parshas Bereishis continues with a brief genealogy of ten generations of his family (ch. 5), and then concludes with an account of the moral corruption which inspired G‑d to "wash man away" (6:1-8).

At first glance, one might imagine that both the genealogy and the concluding passage represent a "second installment" of world history, subsequent to the chronicles of Adam's life. To counteract this notion, the Torah states at the very outset: "This is the account of Adam's offspring" (5:1), as if to say, "The following is part of Adam's biography. We will now discuss his posthumous influence on the world."

Viewed in this light, we can appreciate that the purpose of this entire passage is to explain that as a result of Adam, ten generations later "man's wickedness was increasing" to such an extent that G‑d was moved "to wash away man" (6:5,7). The conclusion of Parshas Bereshis is thus the conclusion of Adam's biography: One of the unfortunate elements of Adam's legacy to mankind was sin, and, we are told, this was so influential that ten generations later this negative influence had escalated to intolerable proportions.

With this in mind we can appreciate that when Noach appears in Parshas Bereishis, he is mentioned solely to complete our picture of Adam's life and posthumous influence. First, Noach is cited as a part of the genealogical chain, which, as stated above, comes to highlight the extent of Adam's influence over subsequent generations. And second, amid the general message of Adam's negative contribution to mankind, Noach is cited as an "exception to the rule," and the source of humanity's ultimate salvation.

But, all along, the context is Adam's life and influence. Noach appears only as a part of Adam's story. Therefore, here is not the time to praise Noach, or to highlight his righteousness. That belongs in Noach's "biography" which, of course, begins at the opening of Parshas Noach.

Rashi's Two interpretations

Rashi was troubled by the question: why does the Torah state, "These are the offspring of Noach," and then digress to inform us that "Noach was a righteous man, etc.," before telling us who the offspring of Noach were (namely, "Sheim, Cham, and Yafes")?

To answer this problem, Rashi explains, "Since the Torah mentions him, it tells his praise"; i.e., the Torah digresses temporarily to mention the righteousness of Noach before telling us who his offspring are, based on the principle that a righteous man should always be praised when mentioned.

However, this explanation is problematic, since it is difficult to accept that the Torah would make such an awkward digression in the middle of a sentence.

Therefore, Rashi continues with a second explanation, that our verse teaches us that "the main 'offspring' of the righteous are their good deeds." This solves the problem of digression, for it allows verse nine to be read as a self-contained idea: "These are the good deeds of Noach; he was a righteous man, etc."

A problem with this second interpretation is that we are forced to render the word "offspring" non-literally, as spiritual, not physical, offspring. Since this is a deviation from the literal meaning of the words, Rashi places this interpretation second.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 5, p. 36ff.)