אֵ֚לֶּה תּוֹלְדֹ֣ת נֹ֔חַ נֹ֗חַ אישׁ צַדּיק תָּמ֥ים הָיה בְּדֹֽרֹתָיו אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִים הִֽתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹֽחַ:
As is famously known, the Torah mentions that Noach was a tzadik. The Torah also mentions that this is in comparison to his generation - a fact that caused a dispute among chazal. Some of the rabbis said that this was mentioned in his favor, understanding how much mental strength is needed to behave differently than those around you. Others understood that it was mentioned as a fault, meaning that only compared to his generation was Noach considered a Tzadik.
The truth is that even mentioning that he is a Tzadik at all is a rare thing. In next week’s parasha, we meet Avraham Avinu, and even though we all know how moral and dedicated he was, we cannot find such a statement for him, Yitzchack OR Yaakov. It therefore seems that we should pay more attention to this special statement.
The Maharal M’Prague addresses this question twice in two different ways. On this occasion we will discuss only one. In his commentary on Rashi named גור אריה, the Maharal focuses on the fact that Noach is mentioned as a Tzadik “in comparison”. The Mahral points out that in general we don’t mention one’s good behavior because it speaks for itself. Nobody needed help recognizing Avraham’s greatness, and therefore we didn’t need it pointed out to us. It is when things are not clear that we need to actually state it. That is why we mention one’s Tzidkut only after their passing away, by saying- Zecher Tzadik Levracha, because they are no longer with us, and one wouldn’t be able to have the opportunity to see it by themselves anymore.
It seems that we are taught an important lesson about actions and their meaning. Many times we think that if something isn’t spoken of or published, it has no presence and influence, but here the Torah teaches us the opposite. Avraham Avinu, with no titles and publicity, influenced the entire world with his actions- promoting faith and teaching people to recognize there is a creator to the world. While on the other hand, Noach failed to prevent the flood and couldn’t influence his generation to change their ways.
And maybe there is another lesson being taught about the role of a Tzadik. Sometimes, we acknowledge a Tzadik by title or by position meaning that he is in a role that demands or suggests leadership. In many ways, this is a great way to encourage people to take on these roles, and many times they will grow into their position and succeed.
We can imagine that Noach tried very hard to change the world’s fate, but in the end we wasn’t able to handle the task. He was his generation’s Tzadik, but that wasn’t enough to influence the situation. After him came Avraham, with no title or formal role, and he changes history. No outside recognition, but plenty of influence on the people surrounding him.