Parashat Noah- Following the Example of Noah and Yosef
Parashat Noah tells the famous story of Noah, the lone righteous person in a corrupt, sinful generation, and who was thus saved by the flood which G-d brought upon the earth by constructing an ark as G-d had commanded him.
Rav Menahem Azarya of Fano (Italy, 1548-1620) writes that Noah’s soul later resided within the person of Yosef. This is why both Noah and Yosef are given the title "Sadik" ("righteous person"). Noah is described as an "Ish Sadik" in the first verse of Parashat Noah, and throughout the ages, Yosef has always been referred to as "Yosef Ha’sadik."
Indeed, numerous parallels exist between these two righteous figures. Most notably, perhaps, both sustained the world during a period of grave crisis. Noah sustained humankind and the animal kingdom on the ark during the flood that killed all living creatures on earth, and Yosef, through his prophetic insight which forewarned of an impending famine, oversaw the storage of grain in Egypt which sustained the ancient world during the devastating famine which would have otherwise caused widespread starvation.
Noah is described as having "found favor in G-d’s eyes" ("Masa Hen Be’eneh Hashem" – Bereshit 6:8), just as Yosef found "favor in the eyes" of his master, Potifar ("Va’yimsa Yosef Hen Be’enav" – Bereshit 39:4). Noah spent twelve months trapped in the ark, and Yosef spent twelve years in the Egyptian dungeon. Furthermore, our Sages teach that the sea split for Beneh Yisrael in the merit of Yosef, whose remains were being transported out of Egypt for burial in Eretz Yisrael. Just as Yosef saved Beneh Yisrael from the waters of the sea, Noah saved the world from the waters of the flood.
It is worth probing a bit deeper into the fact that these two great men are both credited with sustaining the entire world. The Hebrew root "Z.N." has two seemingly unrelated meanings – sustenance (as in the verb "Zan" – "feed"), and promiscuity (as in "Zenut" – forbidden intimate relations). A clear example of these two meanings is the description of Rahab – the woman who assisted the two spies sent by Yehoshua to scout the city of Yericho – as an "Isha Zona" (Yehoshua 2:1). This has been interpreted to mean either that she had a store, selling food to sustain the townspeople, or that she worked as a harlot. While at first these two meanings seem unrelated, in truth, they are very much connected. King Shlomo warns in the Book of Mishleh (6:26), "Ki Be’ad Isha Zona Ad Kikar Lahem" – "For the sake of a harlot woman, until a loaf of bread." This means that a person who pursues forbidden relationships sacrifices his livelihood, and ends up sacrificing "a loaf of bread" for the sake of forbidden relations. It as though a person chooses which "Mezonot" he will have – sustenance, or illicit relationships. These are the two sides of the same coin.
With this in mind, we can return to the connection between Yosef and Noah. They both earned the privilege of sustaining the world because they both withstood the formidable challenge of temptation. Yosef, of course, was tempted by Potifar’s wife, and he escaped rather than succumb. And Noah lived in a generation overrun by immorality, but with great strength and conviction, he resisted this influence and lived a noble, dignified lifestyle. As both excelled in avoiding one meaning of "Mezonot," they were granted the special privilege of providing the other kind of "Mezonot" for the entire world.
Like Noah, we, too, live in a generation which has all but eliminated even the most basic standards of morality. And the influence of this culture is far more pervasive and powerful than it was in Noah’s time. Let us follow his and Yosef’s example of strict adherence to our values and principles in the face of temptation, and may Hashem reward our efforts by blessing us all with sustenance, success and prosperity, Amen.