Parshas Noach – The Failed Great Man

Noah's ArkNoah was a very great man.

Righteous and complete, he was head and shoulders above the rest of his generation.

He also was an epic failure.

As the Medrash notes, at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Noah is called “a righteous man,” but the parsha ends off describing Noah lying on the ground, drunk and dissolute.

This is not done to ridicule Noah, who even at the end of his life was certainly great. After all, alone among mankind, it was he who merited being saved from the great flood, was deemed worthy to be the father of all civilizations, and merited a renewed covenant with G-d.

But he leaves center stage in degradation. The Rabbis explain that despite his greatness, he failed miserably when it came to influencing others. Despite being given 120 years to prepare, he was unable to find even one solitary individual worthy to join his family on the ark. Only he, his family, and the animals survived the flood.

Noah is explicitly contrasted with Moshe, who is referred to in the Torah at first as a simple “Egyptian man” and ends up being called the “man of G-d” Similarly, Avraham is initially described without much fanfare, but is ultimately portrayed as one loved by G-d. Both Moshe and Avraham, unlike Noah, gave of their own individual spiritual abundance to lead, influence, beg and pray on behalf of others.

The Torah’s lesson to us is that, ultimately, such sacrifice is no sacrifice at all. Selflessly giving to others is actually the greatest possible form of self-actualization. Noah may have been great, but his influence was limited. Avraham and Moshe are our teachers for all time.

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