Back to Main Page

Heads or Tails

By: Mrs. Aliza Schwartz

Our parsha introduces Noach as a “tzadik”, a righteous man, “b’dorotav”, in his generation. Rashi immediately picks up on the seemingly extra word of “in his generation”. He quotes chazal who are divided into two opinions of what this means. Some say this is a praise of Noach, and if he were in a generation of all righteous people (unlike his own), he would still be considered a tzadik. Others say it can be seen as a flaw or fault. Noach was only considered a tzadik in his generation because everyone else was evil; if he were in Avraham’s generation, he wouldn’t be considered great.

There is a great lesson to be learned from this very famous Rashi. Compared to his generation, who filled the world with evil, of course Noach was considered a tzadik. The moral yardstick he was measuring up against was quite short. We sometimes find ourselves in a similar situation; the environment we are in might not be filled with the most motivated, growth oriented, overall positive people, so of course any accomplishment we make feels huge. We might begin to think of ourselves as tzadikim, but only because we are measuring up against tiny people.

The mishna in Pirkei Avot (4:20) teaches: “It is better to be the tail of a lion than a head among foxes”. When choosing an environment to place oneself in, it is natural to want to be the head, the leader. However, we are warned against finding crowd with the wrong people - the foxes - referring to the sly, the immoral. It is easy to slide into this type of group; the head of the foxes, the tzadik amidst the evil. The mishna is teaching us that it is better to be the tail of the lion, the smallest one in a group of giant tzadikim. Although we might not be the leader of the pack, we will learn much more from the “lions”, the strong, the righteous and the motivated.

We should be zoche to not only be the heads “among the foxes”, the righteous amidst a generation of evil, like Noach.  We should strive to surround ourselves with “lions”; people who we can truly admire and aspire to be like, who can influence us and push us towards growth.  Through this, not only will we be considered a tzadik among resha’im, but also walk side by side with other tzaddikim.  It is true that our surroundings shape us, but we are the ones who choose the surroundings we wish to be affected by.

Shabbat Shalom






Back to top