Thursday, October 15, 2015

Parsha: Noach - Who is a Tzadik?

Rav Aryeh Leibowitz

The Torah refers to two individuals as “tzadik” – Noach and Yosef.   What links these two great men?  What common trait earns them alone the title “tzadik?” 

Both Noach and Yosef provided for others - Noach in the teiva feeding the multitudes of animals and Yosef as the viceroy of Egypt feeding the inhabitants of Egypt (Midrash Tanchuma).  It was their concern for others and their willingness to sacrifice for them that gained Noach and Yosef the title “tzadik.”  

In fact, we find in both of their respective situations another manifestation of their sensitivity to the plight of others.  Noach and Yosef both found themselves in situations where others were suffering, while they experienced relative comfort.  Noach enjoyed the protection of the teiva as the outside world suffered.  Yosef enjoyed the bounty of Pharaoh’s palace, while the general population starved.  How did they react to their respective situations?  Chazal highlight that both refrained from marital intimacy throughout the tenure of the ordeals, for they deemed this behavior to be inappropriate in light of the plight of those around them.  Here too, we see the tremendous sensitivity for others that these two great men exhibited.
The Torah teaches us by calling only these two men “tzadik” that providing for others and being sensitive to their circumstances is the definition of a true tzadik.  Indeed, the word “Tzadik” (צדיק) comes from the root “tzedek” (צדק), which is generally used in Tanach to refer specifically to proper behavior between man and man - mitzvot bein adam le-chaveiro (See Malbim, bi’ur ha-milim, Yeshaya 51:1)

The importance of how we treat others is also borne out from the end of our parsha.  One notes that the generation of the flood was utterly destroyed, while the generation of the tower of Bavel did not suffer destruction.  Why did Hashem deem the sin of the tower builders, who rejected the dominion of Hashem, less offensive than the generation of the flood, who stole and cheated?  Chazal teach us that from here we see that sins between man and man are far more egregious in the eyes of Hashem than those between man and God.  

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