We resume our discussion of Avraham Avinu and Noach.
Here’s what we have so far:
• Noach walked in solitude ‘with God’ in a totally corrupted world. Had he lived in Avraham’s time he would have been even greater.
• Avraham proactively influenced others, as he spent his life ‘converting’ people to faith in Hashem.
• At the age of 99, Avraham was commanded to elevate himself even higher- to ‘walk before’ God and ‘be complete’.
• Noach and Avraham were thus both associated with ‘completeness’.
• Interestingly, Noach is called complete in the same verse that says he walked with God, while Avraham’s completeness is in the same verse in which he was told to walk before God.
• This new covenant was connected to the mitzvah of Brit Milah (circumcision); only that could help elevate Avraham.
• Hashem presented the mitzvah of Milah using the name Elokim. This name represents God’s strict justice- and also His title of ‘Creator’.
• The purpose of Creation is to bring honor to God, and it is Man who facilitates this- through following Hashem’s will and by bringing others to do the same. The Chosen People must be ‘a light to the nations’, inspiring the world to follow their lead.
• Even one who prepares himself to inspire others by leading a righteous life, but does not have the chance to actually influence them directly, is said to have ‘completed himself’ and brought honor to God.
• Now unique through his Milah and as the patriarch of a future nation, Avraham’s mission had unavoidably changed. Instead of ‘converting’ others to join his spiritual sphere, as ‘Av Hamon Goyim’ he would now influence the outside world even as they remained apart from the Jewish Nation.
• So Hashem used the name Elokim because Milah and Avraham’s new role would help realize the purpose of Creation- bringing honor to Hashem.
Let’s pick up from there.
The Netziv, continuing his theme, points out that in the Torah’s recounting of the Mabul, from the world’s growing corruption to after the flood, Elokim is the only name of God used. Why? Being that the fate of the world was at stake, the Torah is highlighting Hashem’s ‘position’ of Creator. Only when the ark had finally landed on dry land and Noach brought sacrifices to Hashem, was Hashem’s four-letter name of Mercy used:
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Noach built a Mizbe’ach (altar) for Hashem (Four-Letter Name), and he took from all kosher animals and from all kosher birds and brought up burnt-offerings on the Mizbe’ach.
We still remain with a major difficulty, though. As righteous as Noach was, how could the Torah call him ‘complete’? If Avraham Avinu merited this level only through the mitzvah of Milah and through his new mission to influence the nations of the world, how could Noach- who was not a part of the Chosen People and who did not actively influence those around him- be given the very same praise?!
Perhaps we can resolve this issue by better understanding the two praises given to Noach: that he was
1. Tzaddik: ‘Righteous’;
2. Tamim -‘Complete’
To quote from our studies in Parashat Noach a couple of weeks ago:
The Talmud (Gemara Avodah Zarah) teaches that words Tzaddik , ‘righteous’, and Tamim, ‘complete’, are to be read as two separate descriptions, each a praise of a different attribute:
Tzaddik : In action
Tamim : In his ways
What does ‘in his ways’ mean? Perhaps it means that Noach was complete in his approach to serving God- in his everyday ‘ways’. In other words… he was correct to isolate himself, and was not to blame for not influencing his generation.
So… Noach was complete in his path of solitude, while Avraham was complete in his own, opposite path of direct influence! Noach could not influence his ‘generations’- and so he could not be made to be the patriarch of the Chosen People, whose destiny it would be to do just that. Noach, therefore, could not possibly be given the commandment of circumcision, nor be told to walk ‘before God’! Righteous enough to be saved from the Mabul and thus allow for the world to be restarted, Noach was called ‘complete’ because he was complete within his position and the isolation it called for. Avraham, on the other hand, was complete as well, but his ‘completeness’ was in a different sphere- he was complete while walking before Hashem.
Since the world is intended to bring honor to Hashem, Noach truly fulfilled his mission in life! Think about it: since only in Noach’s merit was the world not completely destroyed, labeled forever a failure, Noach’s lifework truly salvaged Hashem’s honor. Noach was thus ‘complete’, in that his life- and so the world’s very existence- called out that there is a God and Judge! Noach’s work paved the way for Avraham, who would be ‘complete’ not only in his personal stature but by channeling his character into directly influencing others.
Suddenly, this perspective on Noach fits perfectly with Netziv’s comments on Avraham. Remember, a righteous person can be called ‘complete’ even if he could have inspired but was never granted the opportunity to do so; that’s exactly what we now understand about Noach! In this sense as well, he was indeed complete in his generations.
You may find it interesting to learn, though, that Noach was actually not so far removed from Milah as one might think. In fact, the Kabbalah connects the two verses that we have been dealing with all along:
These are the descendants of Noach; Noach was a righteous man; he was complete, in his generations. Noach walked with God.
‘He was complete’:
(Meaning) that he was born already circumcised,
as it says (using the same word regarding Avraham Avinu and the Brit Milah):
…Walk before Me and be complete.
-Lech Lecha, 17:1
-Wow. The wisdom and depth of Torah never ceases to amaze!
Have a great Shabbat!
Elli Schwarcz is an alumnus of the Toras Moshe, Ner Israel, and Carteret Yeshivos, and has been involved in Jewish outreach for almost 15 years. He is a Hebrew School and English Language Arts teacher, and has a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Johns Hopkins University. Of all his pursuits, Elli most enjoys teaching high-level Jewish thought and Talmud to teenage boys, exposing them to the beauty and wisdom of their heritage while highlighting their own ability to engage in advanced Torah learning. Elli lives in Lakewood, New Jersey, with his wife and children.