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Noach – The Rise and Fall

The Rise of Moses and Fall of Noah


“R. Berechia said: Moses is more special than Noah. Noah moved from the status of “a righteous man” (6, 9) to “a man of the earth” (9, 20), whereas Moshe began as an “Egyptian man” (Ex 2:19) and progressed to become “a man of G-d” (Deut 33:1)…” Bereshis Rabba 36:3

This Midrash draws upon a contrasting parallel between the characters of Moses and Noah. The key word is ‘Ish’ (person). Noah moves from ‘Ish Tzaddik’ (righteous person) to ‘Ish Adama’ `a earthly man’. Moshe moves from his ‘Ish Mitzri’ an Egyptian man’ status to ‘Ish Elokim’ – the man of G-d, reaching the human limits of G-dliness.

Noah’s life is a story of decline and fall: he was constantly diminishing in stature. Initially, he won the distinguished appellation “a righteous man” subsequently to be described as ‘Ish Adama’ –an earthly man, a nickname that accentuates his lack of spirituality and his emphasis on materialism. In contrast, the life of Moses was constantly on the rise by leaps and bounds; the daughters of Jethro who met him fleeing Pharaoh’s sword called him by the description, “an Egyptian”. At the end of his career, he is described as a “Man of G-d”.

What made Moses rise in stature and while Noah fell from his spiritual heights, to the physical “earth”? Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (1843-1926) explained as follows:
there are two ways to serve G-d – one way is to who isolates himself from worldly activities devoting all his energies to his own spiritual development. The other way is to distinguish himself in his work for others and to devote himself to public needs, negating his own interest for those of others.

There are people who concentrate all their energies and endeavors only on their own spiritual advancement,.  In contrast, there are persons who constantly occupy themselves with the needs of others with no thought to their own needs.

Which of the two types of people will advance spiritually? It seems obvious that anyone who constantly labors for his own spiritual welfare will reach great heights of spirituality than one who has no time for himself. However,here is a surprise: Noah was a recluse… he did not involve his contemporaries in the challenge of saving humanity (Sanhedrin).  He was busy saving himself yet he dropped in spiritual heights and fell from the status of “a righteous man” (6, 9) to the lowly status of being “a man of the earth” (9, 20).  Moses, though, who is called an “Egyptian man” after being forced into exile upon killing an Egyptian progressed to become “A man of G-d” (Deut 33:1) and achieved the zenith of spirituality known to Man.

We therefore can understand that the development of spirituality is not the result of personal retreat, but dealing with public needs. Noah, who was apathetic to the needs of his generation, began his career with the promising description -” a righteous man “-and then was reduced to the low point of being -” “a man of the earth”. Moses, the Egyptian (Ex 2:19) progressed to become “A man of G-d” (Deut 33:1)…” His way in life was caring and showing concern for all. We may assume that his preoccupation with the people enabled him to develop his inner qualities in a more effective way than by being egocentric. By virtue of assisting his Fellowman, Moses was eventually able to reach the pinnacle of serving Hashem.

Rav Meir Simcha’s explanation of the Midrash teaches an invaluable lesson. The apparent conflict between service on behalf of others and service of Hashem is not only artificial, it is inherently flawed; success in spirituality can be a consequence of service to and for others: one does not exist without the other.

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