Relatable Righteousness – Shabbat Noah 5780 (2019)

Daily, I trip over one of the middle blessings of the weekday ‘Amidah.

.עַל הַצַּדִּיקִים וְעַל הַחֲסִידִים. וְעַל זִקְנֵי עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשרָאֵל. וְעַל פְּלֵיטַת סופְרֵיהֶם. וְעַל גֵּרֵי הַצֶּדֶק. וְעָלֵינוּ

“May Your compassion, Adonai our God, flow to the righteous (tzaddikkim), the pious (hasidim), the leaders of the people Israel, the remnant of the sages, the righteous converts, (geirei ha-tzedek), and us all (‘aleinu)…”

I, as a worshipper, don’t include myself as among the righteous. Indeed, a line or two later the blessing articulates this request: וְשים חֶלְקֵנוּ עִמָּהֶם – “and may our share be among them.” The commentary in Siddur Lev Shalem puts it well: “In the shadow of these people we ask for God to turn to us as well.”

A couple of questions: If I am neither righteous nor pious, then who/what am I? Who are ‘these people’ – the righteous and the pious? Are ‘they’ people I know or are they imagined prototypes? Either way, is it possible for me to be/become more like them?



[Venice, mosaic, 12th century]


Parashat Noah opens with a well known statement about the central character’s character.

נֹ֗חַ אִ֥ישׁ צַדִּ֛יק תָּמִ֥ים הָיָ֖ה בְּדֹֽרֹתָ֑יו אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֖ים הִֽתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹֽחַ׃  – “Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God.” Close readers will note that the Torah’s statement is actually three statements – 1. Noah was righteous (tzaddik); 2. Noah was blameless (tamim) in his age (b’dorotav); and 3. Noah walked with God.

Would Noah have been ‘blameless’ in another age or generation? In evaluating righteousness, how much does general environment matter? Perhaps Noah’s ability to be ‘righteous’ in a time of lawlessness means that he’d be ‘righteous’ in a less challenging environment as well. And perhaps, the Torah means to convey the precise opposite – only relative to his surroundings can Noah be described as ‘righteous’; in a time of different (higher?) standards, he’d not have measured up.

Dena Weiss makes beautiful sense of Noah’s righteousness and its intended role modeling potential for each of us. “The reason why Noah, a totally average person, is nevertheless called a tzaddik is so that we ordinary readers of the Torah will think to ourselves, ‘If that totally average person can be considered righteous, can be called a tzaddik, then so can I.’ … Noah is relatable and Noah is emulatable. The secret of Parashat Noah is that Noah is us. He is righteous in the way that we are.”

Relatable righteousness, I suggest, connects Noah and the daily Amidah. Both invite us to strive for just a bit more in our very challenging time. And both models hold out the hope of Divine grace and compassion in response to that striving. ‘May our share be among them’ indeed. Shabbat Shalom.

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