SAID Rabbi Jehuda: "Whilst the antediluvians were living,67a-67b the Holy One looked down up the hearth and beheld no one able to save them from being destroyed. If it be asked, was there not Noah? the question is of no force, since Noah had not that abundance of personal merit to save them; it only sufficed to save himself and for repeopling the world. Therefore it is written of him, 'For thee only have I seen righteous before me in this generation' (Gen. VII, 1); that is, compared with the rest of his contemporaries, he was the only one who lived uprightly."
Said Rabbi Jose: "The words 'in this generation' far from diminishing the merits of Noah, rather exalt and increase them. The meaning of scripture is, that they were not comparative with respect to others, but intrinsic and would have made him distinguished had he lived in any other age, even if it had been in that of Moses. If Noah with his righteousness was unable to save the world, it was because there were not ten righteous men to be found to effect this. We infer this from the request of Abraham, whilst ruin was still impending over and threatening the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. 'Let not the Lord be angry and I will speak yet but this once: peradventure ten should be found there; and he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake' (Gen. XVIII, 32). Now in the time of Noah, including himself with his sons and their wives, there were not to be found ten such men as he, in that generation,
otherwise it would have been spared for their sake and escaped destruction."
Said Rabbi Eleazor to Rabbi Simeon, his father: "Tradition informs us that when the sins and iniquities of unrighteous men abound in the world and attain their climax, and divine justice is ready to overtake and destroy them, the just and upright should plead on their behalf, for they alone are able to expiate the guilt of their fellowmen."
Said Rabbi Simeon in reply: "We have learned that when Noah came forth out of the ark, the Holy One desired he should repeople the earth. The judgment of the antediluvians was unable to fall upon and affect him, as he was concealed in the ark and so escaped the eye of the destroying angel. Observe it is written, 'Seek after righteousness, seek after meekness, it may be, ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord's anger' (Zeph. II, 3). This was done by Noah, and by entering into the ark he was hid in the day of the Lord's anger and so escaped the power of the accusing angel. This passage of scripture has reference to a great mystery known and understood only by the highest initiates and adepts; that is, the thaumaturgic power of the twenty-two letters of the celestial alphabet wielded by angels in destroying and exterminating the wicked.67b Therefore it is that scripture states, 'they were destroyed from the earth' (va-imchon). Remark now the difference that distinguished Moses from all other men. At the time the Holy One said unto him, 'Now let me alone that my wrath may wax hot against them and that I may consume them and I will make of thee a great nation' (Ex. XXXII, 10). Moses without a moment's hesitation replied, 'Shall I give up and forsake Israel for my own personal exaltation and advantage? If so, will not worldly people say that I was a traitor and sacrificed them because of my ambitious and selfish desire of becoming ruler and chief of a great nation, like unto Noah who when the Holy One said unto him, 'Behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life from under heaven and everything that is on the earth shall die, but with thee will I establish my covenant and thou shalt come into the ark, thou and thy sons and thy wife and thy sons' wives with thee' (Gen. VI, 17-18). Far from entreating God for his fellowmen, not to destroy them, Noah thought only of his own safety and that of his own family, and, owing to this neglect on his part, the
waters of the deluge bear his name; for so it is written, 'For I67b have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth' (Is. LIV, 9). But Moses thought thus: If the people of Israel is destroyed, it will be said I acted selfishly in that I refrained from interceding on their behalf and allowed them to perish for the sake of personal gratification and ambition to become the head of a great nation. No, it is better for me to die and by my death save Israel from perishing; and so it is written, 'and Moses besought the Lord, his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people' (Ex. XXXII, 11) . He prayed for mercy and it was granted to him, and thus was Israel saved."
Said Rabbi Isaac: "How could Moses in his entreaty with the Lord on behalf of Israel say, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people? The Israelites had worshipped an idol as God, had just informed him and become idolators as other nations, for they had made them a molten calf and bowed in worship to it and sacrificed unto it and said, 'These be thy gods, oh Israel, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt.' Yet after such heinous iniquity and forgetful ingratitude, Moses could say, 'Let not thy wrath wax hot against thy people.' What was his reason in so doing? In reply we say, whoever takes upon him the office of a mediator and intercessor is bound to exterminate the delinquency of the offender before the injured one, and magnify it in the sight of the guilty one. Thus acted Moses who spoke as though the iniquity of the Israelites was of little account, yet did he not fail to upbraid them severely, and said unto them, 'Ye have sinned a great sin' (Ex. XXXII, 30). Yet ceased he not pleading for them, and even offered his own life for their forgiveness and preservation, as it is written, 'If thou wilt forgive their sins, and if not, blot me I pray thee out of thy book which thou hast written. It was after the utterance of this prayer, the Holy One pardoned the Israelites and repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people. Not so did Noah act, but prayed only for his own salvation and made no effort to save the world; so that when divine judgment afflicts it, the cry of the Holy Spirit is heard far unto the world when no Moses is found to intercede for it. But it is written, 'He remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? Where is he that put his holy spirit within him' (Is. LXIII, 11). These
words allude to Moses, especially to his earnest intercession;67b-68a so that the Lord said, 'Wherefore criest thou unto me? Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward' (Ex. XIV, 15), and thus they were saved at the Red Sea through his prayer, so that they went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground and the waters became as a wall unto them on their right and on their left.' It was also through Moses that the Schekina descended and made its abode in their midst and, therefore, on account of his constant care and solicitude for their welfare, are they described as 'the people of Moses.'"
Said Rabbi Jehuda: "Though Noah was a just man, yet was his righteousness not such as to prevail with the Holy One to forgive the sin of the antediluvians. Observe that Moses never trusted in or made mention of his own merit, but of that of the patriarchs, and in this had a great advantage over Noah."
Said Rabbi Isaac: "Notwithstanding Noah could not avail himself of the merits of the patriarchs, he should have prayed for his fellowmen when God said unto him, 'I will establish my covenant with thee,' and the prayer of thanksgiving he offered after coming out of the ark, he ought to have made before the deluge, and pleaded for the preservation of the world."
Said Rabbi Jehuda: "In defence of Noah, how could he offer sacrifice on behalf of the antediluvians when they were continually committing outrageous and heinous offenses against the Holy One. It is true he saw the awful judgment impending over mankind that was about to destroy them off the earth on account of their exceeding wickedness, and feared lest he himself might be overwhelmed by it."
Said Rabbi Isaac: "Always whenever the wicked increase in the world, it is the righteous found amongst them who are the first to suffer, as it is written, (and begin at my sanctuary) (Ez. IX, 6) (mimiqdashe). Now this word should not be translated and read at my sanctuary, but rather by those who sanctify me (miniqdashi). But why was it that Noah escaped the impending destruction? Because it was destined, through him, the earth should be repeopled, inasmuch as he alone was found just amongst his fellowmen. Furthermore his preservation was owing to his earnest exhortations and continuous preaching to them, notwithstanding they persistently refused to listen to him or to regard his predictions of coming evil. It
is therefore to him the words of scripture apply, nevertheless68a if thou warn the righteous man that he sin not and he doth not sin, he shall surely live because he is warned, also thou hast delivered thy soul. (Ez. III. 21). From which words we may gather that whoever warns sinners, saves himself even though they give no heed unto him. He has performed his duty, and if they perish, it is owing to their perverse refusal to take advice."