Why Did Noach Find Favor?
Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week’s parsha, Noach, appears to be the antithesis of Bereishit which describes the creation of the world and all that is in it. Hashem brought the world into being for a purpose. He blessed all the animals to be fruitful and to multiply. He charged man with the task of gaining dominion over the forces of nature, to inhabit the world and build it up. There is every indication that Hashem wants the world to exist and thrive. Yet in the very next parsha we read that Hashem, albeit with great reluctance, is prepared to put an end to the world He has created. How can the Creator act in such a seemingly contradictory manner? We can learn an important lesson from this. Man occupies a very central role in the scheme of things. Indeed, the Rabbis teach that the Earth was created for the sake of man. The human race was created from a single individual so that each person can say “for my sake was the world created.” This does not mean that one should live only for self gratification. He should recognize that he was created in the image of G-d. This elevates him above the level of animals who are creatures of instinct. Man is a being endowed with the capacity for knowledge and wisdom. This gives him the ability to act in accordance with justice and compassion. It is G-d’s will that man should live a “godly” existence. However, he is not compelled to do so. He has been granted the full freedom of choice. He therefore earns great reward when he chooses the good. The downside of this is that he may also be swayed by the temptations of his imagination and choose evil. Man has the power to turn his back on the divine element of his nature and choose to follow the urgings of the snake. He can become so entrenched in this lifestyle that he obliterates his divine soul. When that happens he is no longer human and is merely an advanced animal. If the world was created for the sake of man it follows that when man self destructs and reduces himself to the instinctual level there is no further purpose in the world’s existence. That is why Hashem negated His will and was prepared to destroy His Creation.
He would have done so had there not been one person who retained his humanity. This substantiates the idea that the righteousness of one person can sustain the world. Noach found favor in the sight of Hashem because he was a righteous person, wholesome in his generations. This means that Noach was able to resist the tide of the time and not fall prey to the prevailing culture of hedonism and narcissism. What special quality did Noach possess which enabled him to withstand the immoral influence of his peers? The Torah does not provide much information on this point, however we must seek to read between the lines. Hashem instructed Noach to enter the ark and said “for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.” Why was it necessary for Hashem to tell Noach why he merited to be saved? Was this not obvious to Noach? We can deduce from this that Noach did not regard himself as righteous. He was a truly humble person who did not think highly of himself and did not compare himself to the wicked people of his time. The Rambam says that the most significant moral virtue is humbleness. Man’s egotism leads him astray by giving him a false sense of greatness and entitlement. Only a truly humble person has the disposition to pursue wisdom and live according to truth even when it is contrary to his emotions. Noach did not fall prey to the evil of his generation because his humbleness compelled him to remember his Creator and be righteous “before Him.” True humbleness is the hallmark of the wise and the righteous. May we merit to attain it.