What made Noach such a big tzadik, a righteous person, that only he and his family deserved to survive the flood?
The pesukim in this week’s Torah portion of Noach twice mention that Noach was a tzadik before he entered the ark. The portion begins, “These are the offspring of Noach, Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generation; Noach walked with G-D” (Breishis 6:9). Then in the beginning of the next perek the Torah states, “Then Hashem said to Noach, ‘Come to the ark, you and all your household, for it is you that I have seen to be righteous before Me in this generation'” (Breishis 7:1).
The Ralbag tells us that the Torah “is informing us about the secrets of Hashem’s Divine Providence over man in specific terms and in general terms. For belief in them directs a person towards much perfection, besides the fact that the Torah in general is built upon it. This is what the Torah is teaching us when it said, “And Hashem said, ‘My spirit shall not contend evermore concerning Man since he is but flesh’ (Breishis 6:3), for the flood which was most incredibly bad, was still [Divine] providence on mankind, for He did not prevent them from reaching perfection, which is the purpose of creation just as originally. And the Torah is teaching us by saying, “because with him I saw a tzadik before Me in this generation,” for the tzadik is protected by The Blessed Hashem with incredible protection to save him from bad things that should rightfully come upon him, just as was explained by the saving of Noach and the protection Hashem gave him in this wonderful story. And if there would have been another tzadik besides him, he would have been saved with him, from the fact that the Torah goes out of its way to explain the reason why he was saved, which was that Hashem saw a tzadik before Him. What follows is that if there would have been another tzadik besides him, he would have been saved with him, to the point that if the entire generation would return to Hashem and leave their bad ways, they would have all been saved.”
It would seem from this Ralbag that what defined Noach as righteous was his incredibly high level of belief and trust in Hashem and His Divine Providence, both in general and specifically in his individual life. Because the faith of a tzadik is so incredibly intense and focused, so too the Divine Providence Hashem has over this person is more direct and personalized. Yet Hashem did not just create a force field around him and his family to save him from the elements with food from heaven. Rather, Hashem instructed Noach, “Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; make the ark with compartments and cover it inside with pitch… and as for you, take yourself of every food that is eaten and gather it in to yourself etc.” (6:14, 21). The Ralbag points out that “The Torah is already teaching us an incredible lesson by telling us of the command Noach was commanded, of making the ark in this exact fashion with specific parameters so that he will be protected, as well as collecting food which will be enough for while he is in the ark. There is an incredible lesson that can be learned [from these instructions] which is that even the righteous man who is guaranteed protection by Hashem should not be lax in preparing provisions for his household and to take action in the proper fashion just because he trusts in Hashem that he thinks it will be found for him food and health. All the more so all the other people should not be lax [in one’s hishtadlus, effort]. Chaza”l say, when it says, ‘in order so that Hashem, your G-D shall bless you,’ one might have thought this is true even if he sits around doing nothing, therefore it teaches you [one is blessed] ‘in all that you will do.'”
One would think that if a person is on such a high level of faith and trust in Hashem, that he is considered a tzadik under Hashem’s Divine protection, then he should not have to put in too much effort into life. In a sense, any hishtadlus [effort] is the antithesis of the highest levels of belief in Hashem’s Divine Providence, for one must believe that everything comes from Hashem and Hashem can do absolutely anything. So, if the more one trusts in Hashem the less he should have to do, and on the contrary the more personal effort one puts in the less of a connection one might think he has with Hashem! Case in point, Moshe went 40 days and 40 nights without eating, for he was on the highest level of belief in Hashem, “face to face”. Wouldn’t one think that that would be the level a tzadik like Noach might be on, if the Torah attests that he was righteous? Or at least on the level of the Jews of the desert who received manna from heaven, drank water from a rock and had Divine Protection by the Clouds of Glory!? Yet Hashem expected Noach to go to great efforts to build himself, his family, and all the animals an ark with exact dimensions, and to collect enough food for everyone.
How much exactly is the requirement for the effort one puts into his life and how does that balance with the concept of emuna and bitachon? Rabbeinu Avraham, the son of the Rambam gives general parameters to answer this question in his Sefer Hamaspik Li’ovdei Hashem. In the chapter on “prishus” he says, “the way to achieve true abstinence, meaning that with your heart, that is the effort to stand up against natural urges. For the love of this world is implanted in every person’s heart, and Shlomo already said, ‘He also but an enigma in their minds’ (Koheles 3:11). We set aside for the concept of hishtadlus the next chapter, and here we are just saying that the main effort one should have is to decide in a person’s mind a pure decision from any craze or delusions because the delights in this world are not the ultimate purpose of mankind…” Elsewhere in the next perek “Hashkeida” he says, “The main hishtadlus, efforts, should be that a person has a feeling to perfect himself spiritually, and to rise oneself, aspire oneself, and find oneself yearning for it. But afterwards focus in on the combo of soul with body and the closeness of one with the other, as well as the benefits from delectable treats, as well as one’s involvement in benefiting and settling his world, and then one will know that this is the reason of why one’s soul would be cut off from the perfection which it was destined for. Just as Shlomo said, ‘made me a keeper of the vineyards of idols, but the vineyard of my own true G-D I did not keep’ (Shir Hashirim 1:6). Because these two connections, the connection between it (the soul) and the world which it was hewn from and the connection it (the body) has from the world it finds itself involved in-are diametrically opposite. When one is strengthened the other is weakened and the amount that one is made greater, so to the other is weakened.”
We see from here that the soul and body are interconnected; therefore physical effort must always be factored in with all the trust and faith one has in Hashem. But the balance of how much effort one needs to put into this world depends on how much emuna and bitachon one has. The more belief and trust one has, the less effort one has to put into his life; not that it is zero, but it is less, (which is why Hashem expected Noach to provide for the animals, his family and himself the bare minimum of food and shelter), maybe even a lot less, than others who have less faith in Hashem. Those that have less trust in Hashem cannot rely on Him more and are expected to put in more effort, hishtadlus. The correlation between body and soul, as well as hishtadlus versus emuna and bitachon are dependent on each other and ones focus but they always coexist together in this world.