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(5740) Explanation of the debate between R' Yehuda and R' Yitzchak (Zohar 1:68a) if Noah's not seeking mercy for the world was a shortcoming or not.

The reason that "Others interpret it derogatorily" (Rashi beg of Parsha Gen. 6:9) even though one should judge every person favorably  


Praying for Others

Our Sages relate that Noach did not pray for the welfare of humanity before the Flood, unlike Moshe who prayed for the welfare of those who made the Golden Calf.

There is a dispute among the rabbis with regard to Noach’s lack of prayer: R. Yehuda concedes that Noach failed to pray like Moshe did, but points out that Moshe beseeched G‑d in the merit of the Patriarchs. Since Noach could not have done so, he cannot be blamed for his failure to pray on behalf of others.

R. Yitzchak, however, maintains that even though he was unable to invoke the merit of the Patriarchs, Noach should nonetheless have beseeched G‑d’s mercy on behalf of the world’s population.

The Torah commands us to judge every person favorably, to give every individual the benefit of the doubt. Why then does R. Yitzchak seem to condemn Noach’s behavior, rather than recognizing that Noach lacked people in whose merit he could plead for Divine mercy?

In fact, we can argue that R. Yitzchak agrees that Noach was unable to pray for his generation, because he was lacking individuals on whose merit he could rely. R. Yitzchak is not seeking to indict Noach, however, but rather wanted to be sure that his failure to pray for the welfare of others would not set a precedent for future generations.

R. Yitzchak therefore concludes that it is necessary to portray Noach’s lack of prayer as a flaw — although, in his case, there was nothing else he could have done — for it teaches later generations that all possible means must be used in order to obtain mercy and compassion for one’s fellows.

The statement of R. Yitzchak thus in no way contradicts the command to judge every person favorably, for he too judges Noach favorably, and agrees that he would have had to rely on the merit of others in order to succeed in his prayers. R. Yitzchak merely intended to encourage other individuals always to intercede on behalf of their fellows, although the chances of success may seem remote.

Moreover, if Noach’s failure to pray for the welfare of others had not been discussed, then this itself could have a detrimental effect on Noach, for his behavior, innocent though it was, may have led to the misconduct of others.

There is a lesson here for us all. A person may well do all he can in order to have a beneficial effect on his environment, but fail due to circumstances beyond his control. Such an individual might well think that, since he did all he could, he has no further moral obligation to himself or to others, and can now rest comfortably; the fact that he didn’t succeed is not his fault.

R. Yitzchak therefore teaches us that a person may very well have done as much as he was capable of doing, and is not merely fooling himself into thinking so. Nevertheless, says R. Yitzchak, one cannot make peace with such a situation. He must continue to “beseech mercy for his generation”; failure to do so can well be considered a fault.

Such relentless concern for the welfare of others may well bring G‑d to negate those factors that are causing the untoward situation, for He provides every Jew with the opportunity to successfully seek Divine mercy on behalf of his generation.

Especially so, since the Rambam rules that the “Torah guarantees that the Jewish people will ultimately repent at the conclusion of their exile, and will immediately be redeemed.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXV, pp. 19-22


1. There is a known saying of the Sages concerning Noach that, he did not pray for his generation. As the Zohar states: “He did not beseech mercy for the world” (לא בעי רחמין על עלמא), unlike Moshe Rabbeinu who prayed for the makers of the golden calf.

There is a debate between R' Yehuda and R' Yitzchak (in Zohar 1:68a).

  • R’ Yehuda says that Noach's not praying like Moshe was (not a shortcoming) because “Moshe did not beseech   G-d on behalf of his own merit”, but rather on the merit of the Patriarchs. Whereas Noach, understandably, could not beseech G-d on the merit of the Patriarchs (since they did not yet exist).
  • Whereas, R' Yitzchak maintains that, notwithstanding this, Noach should have prayed and awakened mercy for them.

 My father explains the reason why: 

“R' Yehuda turns this in Noach’s favor and R' Yitzchak turns it oppositely, as Noach‘s fault.”

is because:

“Each one is commenting according to his level and station”:

  • R' Yehuda is the level of Chesed and therefore “twists it in his merit according to his (own) level – Chesed”
  • Whereas R’ Yehuda “is the level of Gevurah (severity) and … therefore .. twists it to his fault according to his (own) level – Gevurah”

 One must however have an explanation:

The directive of Torah is to “judge every person favorably” (הוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות), is quite simply a rule for every Jew, even for one whose character is the “level of Gevurah”. How then can R’ Yitzchak turn this to the detriment of Noach, and not judge him to the side of merit (like the command in the Mishna)?

 2. Similar to the two views of R' Yehuda and R' Yitzchak – there is also a dispute in the verse in the beginning of our Parsha:

“Noah was a righteous man etc. his generations”:

  • “Some of our Sages interpret it (the word: ‘in his generations’) favorably: How much more so if he had lived in a generation of righteous people, he would have been even more righteous.
  • Others interpret it derogatorily: In comparison with his generation he was righteous, but if he had been in Abraham’s generation, he would not have been considered of any importance (Rashi Gen. 6:9)

This too is not understood (according to the above question). Since we have a choice – we can interpret it favorably or derogatorily – why should we say that the intent of the Torah is to depict the derogation of Noach?

Moreover, there is a maxim that even “Scripture did not speak disparagingly of an unclean animal” – The Torah does not use ‘disparaging” language even with regard to an animal, and how much more so would the Torah not speak disparagingly of Noach. If so, how can there be a viewpoint that the Torah adds the word “in his generations” just to bring out derogatory aspect regarding Noach?!

One could say, by prefacing that which we once explained regarding the maxim – that Torah does not use disparaging language.  Namely that this rule only refers to the stories of Torah. However, when Torah discusses a Halacha and law – the Torah uses clear language, even if, because of this, one must use an improper phrase. This is because Halacha requires clear language, a clear ruling, in order to negate the possibility of error when actually carrying out the law.

Accordingly, in this case, where the Torah adds the word “in his generations” meaning (according to one explanation) “derogatorily”: If Torah had not brought out this “derogation”, one could theoretically have had a source to err in Halacha – in actual practice:

We find aspects in Noach‘s conduct that show that he did not possess complete righteousness. Therefore, if Torah would have described Noach as a “perfect Tzaddik” and not pointed out that this was “in his generations” (only with regard to his generation), one could think that such a conduct is the conduct of a perfect Tzaddik. Therefore, the opposite of praise for Noach, needed to be emphasized - in order to learn a clear lesson how one should act.

 3. According to this, one could additionally say:

The intent of: ‘“There are some (that) interpret it derogatorily", is not to tell us that Noach had an actual fault, but rather “they interpret it derogatorily” – it is an interpretation and study (what is considered a) “derogation” for another, to prevent him from a shortcoming and mistake by learning from Noach.

For one could say that the dispute:

“Some . . interpret it favorably . . and some  interpret it derogatorily”

is not a debate concerning the level of Noach‘s righteousness. Rather both are saying independent ideas that do not conflict.

They do not argue, in actually, whether Noach‘s righteousness, “would have been considered of any importance, in Abraham’s generation”. On the other hand, they all hold that Noach was not at fault for not being such a great Tzaddik as Abraham. For it was because of the situation and great decline of his (Noach’s) generation.  Additionally, that “if he had been in a generation of Tzaddikim he would have been even more righteous”.

The issue is – what is the Torah emphasizing with the word “in his generations”?

  • One commentator states the “favorable” ( שבח). Namely that the Torah is praising Noach; 
  • The other commentator says that through this (phrase), the Torah wishes to warn us (באווארענען), that there should not arise any mishap (תקלה) in the Avodah of a Jew, who learns about Noach.

This is what is meant by “some  interpret it derogatorily“. With regard to Noach himself, this is not any aspect of derogation or lacking. For being in such a generation, it was not applicable to be of the same caliber of righteousness as that of Avraham.  However, Torah must inform us that this level of righteousness is not the true completeness. On the contrary, it is a level of “derogation” compared to Avraham’s level ( “would not have been considered of any importance“). This is in order that the lesson of the story be clear.

4. In the same manner, one can explain the two views of R’ Yehuda and R’ Yitzchak concerning that which Noach did not pray for his generation:

It is that “both are saying independent ideas that do not conflict“:

Even R’ Yitzchak admits that the reason that Noach did not pray for the people of his generation is because he was (in that situation) not able to pray for them.  This was because “there was no one to depend his prayers on, like Moshe (was able to do so)”. Therefore, it was not a fault of Noach.

R’ Yitzchak, however, comes to warn us, that there should not come about a mishap, G-d forbid in a future generation, by interpreting that there is no fault if one does not pray for the people of his generation. Therefore R’ Yitzchak states that one must interpret (convey) that the matter, in and of itself, is a derogation (even though, that regarding Noach himself, it could not have been in another manner). For one must endeavor, in all possible ways, to pray and beseech mercy for another Yid.

Therefore, the view of R’ Yitzchak does not contradict the maxim: “judge every person favorably“. For even according to R’ Yitzchak, there was no “fault” (חובה), G-d forbid, in Noach. Rather he is warning that the matter is an aspect of “fault” (חובה) for others.

On the contrary:

If it would not warn us that such a conduct (in general), namely not seeking mercy for the people of the generation is undesirable – this  itself could contain within it an aspect of fault for Noach, namely that his conduct could cause a mishap for another Yid.

Therefore, this (also) is in the “merit” of Noach.  He himself wants, that one should emphasize that one must indeed pray for the people of his generation. So much so, as to say this in a manner, as if it is a lacking by Noach himself. (Like the plain wording of R’ Yitzchak “notwithstanding all of this . . (Noach) should have beseeched mercy on them”) – in order to ascertain that there not arise a lacking in another.

By clarifying that Noach’s conduct is an aspect of fault (not the true completeness), and therefore  one conducts oneself in other generations  in a manner that one does, indeed, pray for the people of his generation, - this itself “corrects” that  which Noach did not actually do. Even though that in his generation he was not able to carry it out. However, since, through him (meaning, through bringing out that such a conduct is not a quality) one has the lesson for future generations that one must indeed pray for the people of his generation, this brings the completeness in this aspect - even within Noach himself.

5. This is also the practical lesson in our times:

It happens sometimes, that one does what he is capable of doing, to influence his surroundings – namely, the “people of his generation”. However, due to circumstances (seemingly) beyond his control, he is not successful in this.

One could make an accounting, that at least he helped himself (he “saved his own soul” /אני את נפשי הצלתי). Not just with regard to his own Avodah with himself, but also with regard to the work with another, he did this with completeness (and has no further moral obligation). For although he did not actually complete it - it is not his fault.

R’ Yitzchak teaches us a lesson, namely that it could be that, indeed, he truly did do all that he could. It is not just a fantasy, but rather, according to Shulchan Aruch (Torat Emet) he did do this completely. Yet nevertheless, one must know that one must not remain like this. One must not be satisfied of this condition but one must always be in a state of “announcing” that “notwithstanding all of this . . he should have beseeched mercy on them”. Not beseeching mercy for his generation is a condition of “fault” (חובה).

This itself causes that it should become a condition of “merit”. Namely that G-d nullifies the causes of this undesirable condition, and gives a Yid an opportunity (געלעגנהייט) to beseech mercy  for the people of his generation, so much so that it influences them to do Teshuvah.

This is especially so in our times, in the heels of Moshiach, where Rambam rules in his book of Halachot that: “Torah guarantees that the Jewish people will ultimately repent at the conclusion of their exile, and will immediately be redeemed.“

MSichas Shabbat Parshat Noach 5743

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