Rabbi Mayer Twersky
Rabbi Mayer Twersky

Bnei Noach

Noach is, in many ways, a cryptic figure. "Tamim haya b'dorosav - in his generation he was spiritually complete / wholesome" records the Torah. Is the phrase "in his generation" intended to accentuate or, conversely, limit his greatness? Rashi famously quotes a midrashic dispute regarding this point. Was an integral component of Noach's greatness that he courageously, compassionately rebuked his contemporaries (see Seforno) or is his greatness tainted by his neglect to rebuke and pray for his contemporaries (see Zohar Hakadosh)[1]? And thus Noach remains a cryptic figure.

Nevertheless, one overarching dimension of his greatness remains unequivocal. He did not assimilate. He remained firm and steadfast in his own beliefs and convictions. He did not waver in his own avodas Hashem, successfully withstanding all societal pressures and influences.

In rabbinic parlance humanity is referred to as bnei Noach, children / descendants of Noach. Seemingly our rabbis are simply referring to mankind's common biological ancestor and, in fact, paternity or ancestry is often recorded as a simple biological fact. At times however, there is also a profound message. Paternity and ancestry are intended to establish expectations for children and descendants.

The Torah identifies Jews as bnei Avraham, Yitzchak, v'Yaakov, and Chazal[2] teach that "chayav adam lomar mosay yagi'oo ma'a'ssay l'ma'asey avossay Avraham Yitzchak v'Yaakov - a person is obligated to ask himself when will my actions reach the level of my forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov." Our forbearers are our standard bearers.

And thus on a deeper level the rabbinic parlance of bnei Noach contains a moral imperative. Noach is forbearer and standard bearer for humanity. No matter how corrupt or depraved the society, Hakdosh Baruch Hu expects Noach's descendants to uphold the basic canons of belief and practice (i.e., the Noachide code). Societal pressures are real, and yet Hakdosh Baruch Hu at all times insists that humanity responds and be equal to the challenge of being bnei Noach.

[1]See The Waters of Apathy, by Rav Twersky -Editor.

[2]Tana Dvei Eliyahu chapter 25

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