Sons of Noah

“Noah was a righteous man in his generation.”

(Genesis 6:9)

There are those amongst our sages who interpret this verse as praise: [If he was righteous in his wicked generation,] how much more wise would he have been in a generation of righteous people! And there are those who interpret it as condemnation: In comparison to his generation he was righteous, but had he lived in Abraham’s generation, he would not have been considered someone exceptional.

(Rashi on this verse)

 

Everything about Noah can be seen in a positive light, and in a negative light.

 

Noah built the famous lifeboat that saved him and seven other humans (his wife, his three children and their wives) from the Great Flood. So, you can thank him for saving humanity, or you can criticize him (as the Zohar does) for not saving the rest of his generation.

 

The Torah tells us that Noah did not enter the ark until the very last minute, when the rains were already falling. You can laud his optimism, or you can point out (as Rashi does) that he was a “small believer” in G‑d’s words.

The Torah also relates that even after the waters of the Flood had receded and the earth had dried, Noah still would not leave the ark until G‑d expressly commanded him to. You can call him timid, or you can admire (as do our sages) his obedience: G‑d had commanded him to enter the ark, so in the ark he remained until G‑d told him to come out.

The first thing Noah did to develop the newly barren earth he found upon emerging from the ark was plant a vineyard, make wine and get drunk. You can be dismayed by his fickleness, or applaud his determination to infuse some joy and merriment into a desolate world.

Noah lived 950 years—enough time to do everything wrong and everything right.

We are all descendants of Noah. Noah is a descendant of Adam, so we’re all sons of Adam, too. But the term used by the Talmud and halachah (Torah law) for humanity as a whole is bnei noah (“Sons of Noah”). The seven universal laws of morality that are binding upon every human being (belief in the One G-d, Honoring G-d, Respecting Family unity, Others Property, avoiding cruelty to animals; and mandating the establishment of courts of justice) are called “The Seven Noahide Laws”—even though six of them were actually commanded to Adam.

Adam was the first man. Noah was the first human being.

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