Rabbi Mirvis' Archive

The commencement of today’s Sidra does not appear to make much sense.  We open with the words, “These are the generations of Noah”.  After other similar subject headings in the Torah, the names of descendants follow immediately.  But, not here.  Instead, the Torah goes on to tell us “Noah was a righteous man; he was perfect in his generations.  Noah walked with G-d”.  Only after that, the narrative continues on from the opening statement about generations:  “And Noah begot three sons, Shem, Ham and Japhet”.

As can be expected, Rashi shares our dilemma and he gives two possible explanations.  The first is “Zecher Tzadik Livracha” – when we mention the name of a righteous person, we extol the virtues of his character.  This explains why the praises of Noah come in parenthesis here, between details of his generations.  One of the rules of Rashi’s commentary on the Torah is that he leaves his preferred explanation for last. It is easy to understand why he provides an alternative commentary here.  While it makes sense for the praises of Noah to follow the mentioning of his name, the Torah, however, does not do this for other great Biblical characters.

In his second explanation, Rashi indicates that the term “toldot” – generations, can also mean the good deeds that one has performed.  The lesson is abundantly clear:  in the same way that one can give birth to physical generations, so, too, through practising good deeds, one can make an indelible mark on the lives of others, which, in turn, will be transmitted through to the generations to come.

The Torah here thus makes a very perceptive and poignant point.  Not all people have the good fortune to raise families.  Nonetheless, it is within the grasp of every single one of us to have the joy of producing “generations” through the hearts we touch and the minds we mould. As a result, Noah lives on within us to this day, as we are the heirs to his legacy of good deeds, and we, in turn, have the capacity to earn our immortality through the kindnesses we perform for others.