By Rabbi Shloimie Lindenbaum
נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדורותיו (פרק ו פסוק ט)
The Torah introduces us to Noach by saying that he was a righteous man and perfect in his generation. Rashi says that the פסוק stresses that he was righteous in his generation either to praise Noach or to point out a flaw of his. That is, either he was even a צדיק in a generation as evil as his, or he was only a צדיק relative to his wicked surroundings, but in a better environment he would not have been considered special. Many ask, if we can explain the words “righteous man” in a positive way, why would we come up with a way to explain it negatively? R’ Shimon Shwab answers that חז”ל knew that everything in this world that comes from a source must have its root in the source. When we look at Noach’s descendants, we see many great צדיקים and at the same time many terrible רשעים. Clearly, even within Noach there was a seed and potential for evil and simultaneously for good and righteousness. Therefore, even a clearly positive פסוק about Noach’s essence is understood to have a hint to evil within it as well.
ויאמר אלקים לנח…והנני משחיתם את הארץ (פרק ו פסוק יג)
Hashem tells Noach that He is going to destroy the world. He then commands Noach to build a תיבה, an ark, and details the construction. Only following that does Hashem explain that he will bring a flood to the world and Noach will be saved through the תיבה. It seems to be out of order, shouldn’t Hashem first explain how He will destroy the world, i.e., with a flood, and then command Noach about the תיבה, the escape route? R’ Moshe Feinstein answers that Hashem was conveying to Noach the way in which he should build the תיבה, and this relates to us in our performance of מצוות. Hashem had many ways in which He could have saved Noach, the purpose of building the תיבה wasn’t necessary for Noach’s salvation, rather there were other purposes in its construction. Hashem was telling Noach to build the תיבה just because He told him to- with no personal reasons attached. In fact, when commanded to build it, Noach did not even know why it would be needed. This is an instruction for how we are to perform מצוות, only for the sake of fulfilling Hashem’s command, with no ulterior motives.