Sunday, November 02, 2008


I. The Memory of the Righteous

The Torah portion of Noach begins with a brief description of the man: "This is the genealogy of Noach. Noach was a just man, perfect in his generations" (Gen. 6:9). Why does the Torah tell us that Noach was a righteous man? Rashi explains that this is based on the concept of "Zekher Tzadik Li-Vrakhah -- The memory of a righteous person is a blessing" (Prov. 10:7). Once the Torah mentioned Noach, it is proper to praise him because of that principle.

The Gemara (Yoma 38b) asks where we see in the Torah a hint to the principle of Zekher Tzadik Li-Vrakhah and answers that it is with Avraham. God decided to tell Avraham about His plan to destroy Sedom and the other cities:
Click here to read more

The LORD said, "Shall I hide from Avraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him? For I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring to Avraham what he has promised him."
Rashi points out, based on the Gemara, that once the Torah mentioned Avraham's name, it blessed him. R. Akiva Eiger, in his glosses on the Talmud, directs readers to the verse regarding Noach and implicitly asks why the Talmud does not cite Noach as the Pentateuchal source of the principle of Zekher Tzadik Li-Vrakhah.

Notice also that with regard to Noach, Rashi says that the Torah praised him but with regard to Avraham, the Torah blessed him. Why the difference if, as Rashi states, both phenomena are based on the same concept of Zekher Tzadik Li-Vrakhah? (Cf. Tur, Orach Chaim 124 that there is an obligation to bless the righteous when mentioning their names.)

II. Blessing For Whom?

I think we can answer this by asking what it means that the memory of the righteous is a blessing? A blessing for whom? For the deceased righteous or the people hearing his name? When the deeds of a righteous person are told, those stories can inspire people to emulate him and become more righteous themselves. In that sense, the memory of the righteous is a blessing for other people. However, the very fact that the righteous person's name lives on serves as a reward for him. Who would not be pleased to know that his legacy lives on in a very positive way?

Perhaps we can say that Zekher Tzadik Li-Vrakhah encompasses both ideas -- that the memory of a righteous person can be a blessing for the tzadik himself and for other people. When his righteousness is described that serves as a blessing to other people, who will strive to reach those same heights. And when the righteous person is further praised for achieving his status then it is a blessing for him as well. (Note that apparently neither ideas are fulfilled by simply saying "zatzal" after someone's name without mentioning his good deeds.)

Noach was a righteous person and many of his deeds are great examples for us to strive to imitate. However, Avraham was even more righteous. Perhaps Noach only reached the first level of Zekher Tzadik Li-Vrakhah and therefore only his deeds are mentioned. But Avraham reach a higher level and therefore both his deeds are mentioned and he is praised. The memory of Noach is a blessing for us but the memory of Avraham is a blessing for us and for him.

Perhaps that is why the Gemara points to Avraham and not Noach as the Pentateuchal source for the concept of Zekher Tzadik Li-Vrakhah. Noach was only a partial fulfillment while Avraham was complete.

III. Two Interpretations

Rashi offers another interpretation of Gen. 6:9 that does not invoke the concept of Zekher Tzadik Li-Vrakhah. Maybe these two interpretations tie into the two interpretations on the same verse over whether Noach was objectively righteous or only subjectively, based on the conditions of his generation. If he was objectively righteous, then he was on the same status as Avraham and he should have been both praised and blessed. But he wasn't. Therefore, Rashi had to find a different explanation for the verse. But if he was less righteous than Avraham than Zekher Tzadik Li-Vrakhah can appropriately apply to him.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More