Noah – Noah’s first descendant

These are the descendants of Noah. – Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God. Noah begot three sons…(Bereishit 6:9,10) And Noah did just as God commanded him, so he did. (Bereishit 6:22) 

Noah’s first descendant
These are the descendants of Noah:
The first person you sired
was yourself.
The world around was evil.
You had to decide
who you really were
and how you would live.

A righteous man, blameless in his age.
Were you upright, only
compared with your neighbours?
Or were you as resistant to rot
as gopher wood,
as impervious to depravity
as black pitch?

And Noah did just as God commanded him.
Is that all it takes to be virtuous?
Just obey the commandments,
no questions asked.
Were there no bystanders
worthy of salvation?
Or did it demand all your strength
to keep yourself unsullied?

Rashi says that since, after stating “These are the descendants of Noah…” the text does not immediately mention the names of his children, but declares that he “was a righteous man”, the Torah is teaching us that the real progeny of righteous people are their good deeds. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch elaborates by noting that in a time like Noah’s, it would have required a great effort to save oneself from succumbing to the surrounding depravity so the first “product” of an upright person would be himself. As the JPS commentary (the Etz Hayim) says, the first person Noah “gave birth to” was himself.

The phrase, “A righteous man, blameless in his age” has given rise to much debate, particularly when comparing Noah to Abraham. In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 108a) R’ Yohanan argues that Noah was righteous only in comparison to his wicked compatriots. In a more moral age, he says, Noah would have been no better than average. Resh Lakish, however, contends that anyone who remained moral in such an evil society would have been even more exemplary in a more pious generation. The Midrash addresses the phrase, “Noah walked with God”, comparing Noah to Abraham, who “walked before God”. Chazal point out that a father takes a young, immature child by the hand and walks with him, while an older, more mature child walks ahead of him. Thus, they conclude, Abraham was the moral superior of Noah.

An obvious comparison between Abraham and Noah is that Noah simply accepted the fate of the other people without trying to ascertain whether there was anyone who could be saved, while Abraham argued with God over the projected destruction of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gemorrah. Morris Adler, in The Torah: A Modern Commentary, says that Noah seems to have been standing apart, never expressing a single word of concern for the rest of the world. He calls this a fatal flaw which resulted in Noah not becoming the father of  a new people or religion.


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