I sometimes imagine what it would have been like to have been born at a different time. In some ways I fantasize that I could have been born in the Chalutzic generation, that generation of pioneers who went out at the beginning of the 20th century and the end of the 19th century to settle the land of Israel. I’d have liked to have been one of those initial kibbutzniks, draining the swamps and building up the land.
Or, I imagine that I would have been born just a few years later than I was, so that I could have been born as a digital native with the worldwide web already existing and all of that technology already at my fingertips rather than developing as I grew up. Either way, I was born into the generation in which I was born, and there’s nothing that I can do to change it.
In this week’s Torah portion, as we read about Noah, we’re introduced to him as an ish tzaddik tamim hayah bedorotayv. He was a righteous man, he was blameless in his generation. For the rabbis, this led to a great deal of debate as to how righteous, how blameless he really was. On the one hand, they read this “in his generation” suggesting had Noah been born in another time, he might not have been that special. If Noah was born to a different generation, people wouldn’t have noticed his righteousness.
This leads into the comparison between Noah and Abraham that takes place contrasting these two biblical figures in the way that they behaved. Ultimately the rabbis seem to conclude that Abraham was the more righteous person and that’s why the covenant of the Jewish people started with him.
But I think this misses the important point about saying “in his generation”. Noah was born in a generation which was so bad, so wicked, so evil that God decided to destroy the whole earth, save for Noah. And, in that generation, he was still worthy of being described as tzaddik righteous and tamim blameless. Perhaps we should therefore elevate Noah even further, because in the situation in which he found himself, to be righteous and blameless was a very impressive state.
Noah therefore comes as a reminder to each one of us, that it doesn’t matter how we would have behaved had we been born 50 years earlier, or how we would have behaved had we been born 50 years later, we’re born into the context in which we are born and we have to make the best of it, living our lives in a way which can be described as righteous. We don’t choose when we are born but we choose how we live our lives and what we do with that birth. In his context, Noah was the one man worthy of saving the world and for that, he was righteous then and we should still consider him righteous today.