Contributed by: R. Ezra Mizrahi
In the first verse in this week's parasha we read: "This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God." (Genesis 6, 9)
This translation is not exact for a number of reasons. Let's focus on one. "Of his time" is translated from the Hebrew word "BeDorotav"- the word "Dor" means generation, the "tav" at the end of the word means "his". However, embedded in the word is the plural form "Dorot" which means generations (plural). If the intent of the verse was to tell us that Noah was righteous in his time, in his generation, the verse should have used the word "Doro" – a combination of "Dor" – generation, and "Shelo" – "his".
Why does the verse use the plural?
It is with this difficulty that Rashi explains his famous answer based on the Gemara in Sanhedrin. The plurality of the word has us looking at Noah in comparison to other generations. This can be done in two ways:
a) in Noah's praise – Noah was a Righteous individual even in this time when mankind brought the great deluge (mabboul) upon themselves, all the more so if he lived in a time of other righteous men, that Noah would be even greater.
b) In criticism of Noah – Noah was a Righteous individual in this generation filled with evil people. Had Noah lived in other generations where other Sadiqim lived, he would not even be considered anything special.
Rashi brings forth these two opinions, yet later in the parasha seems like Rashi sides with the interpretation that the verse is in Noah's criticism. We read later in the parasha: "And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood." (Genesis 7,7). Here Rashi explains based on the Midrash, which Noah was an individual of little faith in Hashem because the verse states that Noah entered the ark because of the water. This means that Noah waited for rainfall and did not enter the ark on his own fruition, believing that Hashem would bring the water as He had dictated.
Seems like Rashi sided with the second opinion.
However, upon examining the Gemara we see that these two opinions are an argument between R. Yohanan and Resh Lakish. R. Yohanan interpreted the verse against Noah, while Resh Laqish interpreted the verse in Noah's praise. Upon examing the Midrash we see that the author of the explaination of Noah being a man of little faith is none other than R. Yohanan! He continued to explain the verses in the same flavor as his initial opinion.
Many people are not sure what to take from Noah- to learn from him or not, especially with the events that transpired after the mabboul. Even if we are to explain the verse like R. Yohanan, today we are not living in the time of the likes of Abraham Avinou that Noah would be considered "nothing special" (as Rashi put it).
Today, Noah would soar above many for a simple reason: ".and he walked with God". Onqelous translates this to the Aramaic "Bedahalta" which means "in fear." In a time when mankind's fate was sealed due to "hamas", petty theft, an act which overtly shows that one does not fear the Creator nor believe that Hashem is watching, Noah walked with Hashem. That is plenty for us today to aspire to reach.w.chkbnr.