“Noach was a perfect tzaddik.” There is no other individual whom the Torah praises in such a way – a perfect tzaddik. This means that he never sinned – not in public, not in private, not in deed, not in thought. Yet immediately afterwards the Torah seems to take something away from Noach. He was “perfect… in his generations”. As Rashi says, “Noach was only a tzaddik compared to the people of his generation. If he had lived in the generation of Avrohom he would have been considered as nothing.” How can this be? He was a perfect tzaddik, who did not sin. How can one say that he would have been considered as nothing” And what imperfection could the Torah be hinting at? Could the proximity to the Yom Tov of Succos have any relevance?
Before trying to suggest an answer, I would like to repeat a concept I once heard from the late Rav Mordechai Miller zt”l of Gateshead. Imagine two rich men and the difference in their assets. One might have £1,000,000, the second £2,000,000. The first can be defined half as rich as the second. This is because we are discussing material assets. Each spiritual asset, however, is of infinite value. A person who knows one mesechta does not know half as much as the person who knows two mesechtas. There is no comparison between the two. An extra mesechta, an extra perek or an extra Mishna puts a person into a completely different world. We could even say that the first person knows “nothing” compared to the second. This is true with mitzvos or midos tovos or any spiritual achievement. Since each one has an infinite value, the more we achieve, the more we raise ourselves into a new spiritual world, incomparable to any other.
We are told (Brochos 58a) that Yishai, the father of Dovid Hamelech was a very special and powerful person in his time. Wherever he went, 600,000 people accompanied him to honour him. Another source (Shabbos 55b) tells us that Yishai was one of only four people who died because of the curse of the nochosh, which means that they died without sin. This is an incredible achievement – “without sin” must include any sin, even the sin of pride. If a person is accompanied by 600,000 people at all times, as a way of honouring him, how could he not fall occasionally into the trap of pride. Did anybody else have such a large entourage? Was he perhaps a malach?
The answer must be that despite the tremendous honour he was given, Yishai thought, “What room is there for pride? Could I take one step if Hashem did not give me the strength? Could I see if Hashem did not enable my eyes to function? Could I even breathe if Hashem decreed otherwise? Everything is only bechasdei Hashem. Today I am alive, tomorrow I might be in the grave. There was no room for pride in Yishai’s mind and when he eventually was niftar, it was only because of the nochosh. He had not sinned, not even with a trace of pride.
Like all of us, during Sukkos Yishai moved from his usual home to live in his sukkoh. Living in a sukkoh would have encouraged him – like us, to feel the humility which is a central theme of the mitzvah. From his quasi-regal travelling arrangements, we can assume his home was very comfortable. But for one week he was under a temporary roof. And if Hashem decided to bring rain or winds, he was as vulnerable as everybody else. What room is there for pride?
Did Yishai have a rôle model for living his life with such anivus? Possibly Noach from our parsha. The posuk says, “Noach walked with Hashem.” (Bereishis 6:9). In what sense did Noach walk with Hashem? In the same way as we have described in connection to Yishai. Wherever he went, whatever he did, he always thought, “Without Hashem, I could not do what I am doing.” He even appreciated that his great achievement – resisting the influence of his generation – was also only through siyata dishmayo. As the Gemoro says, (Kiddushin 30b), “If it were not for Hashem’s help, we could never resist our yetzer hora.”
Now we can understand that the whole posuk is discussing Noach’s humility. He was a complete tzaddik who never sinned, even in the way he compared himself to his generation. “Without help from Hashem, I would be no better than they are.” “And Noach walked with Hashem,” never forgetting that only help from Hashem enabled him to achieve even a single step. Nevertheless the Torah hints that despite his madreiga in humility, he was not on the level of Avrohom Ovinu who called himself “dust and ashes” (Bereishis 18:27). And being on a lower spiritual level is like being in a different world, as we learnt earlier. However great one is, one on the lower level is considered like “nothing” compared to one on a higher level.
To be continued.