The Midrash compares Avraham to someone who sees a building on fire and wonders whether the building has an owner, as no one seems to be responding to take care of things. Avraham saw the world on fire –he saw chaos -- and he asked himself whether the world had an owner or not. Hashem then revealed himself to Avraham and said, “I am the owner.”
The Shem m’Shmuel asks: Avraham had already recognized at age 3, or according to other views at age 48 – in either case, past history -- that Hashem is in control of the world He had already been moseir nefesh in the furnace of Nimrod for the sake of his emunah. Avraham is 75 years old when Parhas Lech Lecha opens. Surely Avraham already knew and accepted that the world has an “owner,” that Hashem is in charge of everything that goes on. How can the Midrash compare him to a person who wonders, present tense, whether that burning building has an owner or not?
Turning back to last week...
The Midrash contrasts Noach, who went from being called an “ish tzadik” to being an “ish adamah,” with Moshe, who went from being called an “ish Mitzri” in Parhas Shmos to being “ish ha’Elokim” in Zos haBracha. Some people grow, others slide downward – that’s obvious. What are Chazal trying to teach us?
Last week we spoke about the idea of comparative, relative judgment. A person who gets a 65 on a test is borderline failing, but if everyone else gets a 45, he/she looks like a genius. The same is true in ruchniyus as well. Noach was called an ish tzadik because he stood out relative to everyone else in his depraved society. Once the mabul wiped away that society, says the Ksav Sofer, here was no one else to compare Noach to, and so he became just a plain vanilla ish adamah. Moshe, on the other hand, started life raised as an Egyptian prince, an ish Mitzri, immersed in the culture of Egyptian society. Once you took him out of that society, he grew into an ish Elokim.
The Midrash really gives Noach a hard time. It takes the word “v’Noach” from the pasuk of “v’Noach matzah chein” and tacks it to the end of the previous statement, “ki nichamti ki asisi.”
כי נחמתי כי עשיתים ונח, אפילו נח שנשתייר מהן לא היה כדאי, אלא שמצא חן בעיני ה', שנאמר: ונח מצא חן בעיני ה':
How can the Midrash so harshly criticize Noach when our parsha opens by calling Noach a “tzadik tamim?” Again, it’s all about relative judgment. On an absolute scale, Noach was not “k’dai;” without Hashem’s special chein, he did not deserve to be spared. However, when judged relative to those around, “tzadik tamim haya b’dorosav.”
One final idea:
The Midrash quotes Noach as saying that he was undeserving, as he was guilty of the same crimes as those around him. Noach may have known himself well enough to know he was not an Avraham Avinu, but it seems extreme to say he was guilty of the same crimes as the dor hamabul! The Shem m’Shmuel explains that the dor hamabul’s fate was sealed because of the sin of chamas. For the dor hamabul, that meant people were thieves, plain and simple. Yet we find another use of chamas in Parshas VaYeira. When Sarah is upset with Avraham for not speaking out and defending her honor against the insults of Hagar, she tells Avraham, “chamasi alecha.” This is also a form of theft. Sarah felt Avraham was robbing her of his voice, his influence, which she felt could have changed the situation. When Noach claimed that he too was guilty of the same crime as the dor hamabul, it is this type of theft, this chamas, that he was referring to. Noach recognized that had he perhaps been more forceful in his protests, in his outreach, even in davening for his generation, his voice may have made a difference. Withholding one’s talents and not using them for avodas Hashem robs the community and leaves it poorer.