How to Remember a Tzadik
Parshas Noach starts with the phrase “Aleh Toldos Noach, Noach Ish Tzadik;These are the offspring of Noach, Noach was a righteous man.”
Rashi questions why Noach’s righteousness is mentioned before his offspring. Rashi explains that since the pasuk mentions Noach, who was a tzadik, it’s proper to praise him, as it says, “The remembrance of a tzadik is one of praise” (Prov. 10 7).
Rabbi Chait questions, why does the pasuk in Mishlei say that the “remembrance” of a tzadik is one of praise? Why isn’t the tzadik praised during his lifetime? He answers that while the tzadik is alive, people are envious of the tzadik’s perfection. It makes them feel guilty about their own imperfections, so they avoid recognizing the tzadik’s perfection. However, after a tzadik has passed away, people now look at the tzadik’s actions objectively, because the tzadik’s personality is gone which disturbed others, and all that remains is the history of his good actions. People no longer feel threatened by the tzadik so they can now praise him after his death.
Rashi gives a second explanation of the phrase “Noach Ish Tzadik.” The reason Noach's righteousness is immediately mentioned is to teach us that the main product of a tzadik are his good deeds, not his offspring. But why do good deeds surpass children and even learning Torah, as the true value of a tzadik?
A tzadik’s good deeds are an example for the whole generation and influence the masses. A tzadik’s deeds can bring more good to the world than children.
Why are a tzadik’s actions more important than his learning of Torah? This idea is supported in Pirkei Avos 3:17:
He used to say: one whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, to what may he be compared? To a tree whose branches are numerous but whose roots are few, so that when the wind comes, it uproots it and overturns it, as it is said, “He shall be like a bush in the desert, which does not sense the coming of good. It is set in the scorched places of the wilderness, in a barren land without inhabitant” (Jeremiah 17:6). But one whose deeds exceed his wisdom, to what may he be compared? To a tree whose branches are few but roots are many, so that even if all the winds in the world come and blow upon it, they cannot move it out of its place, as it is said, “He shall be like a tree planted by waters, sending forth its roots by a stream. It does not sense the coming of heat, its leaves are ever fresh. It has no care in a year of drought; it does not cease to yield fruit” (ibid, 17:8).
A man’s actions are a measure of his values and convictions. Someone who learns a lot about a mitzvah but does not fulfill it in action show that he does not value the mitzvah. But a person who learns less but puts all of what he learns into action shows that he clearly values the mitzvah.
A tzadik’s true products, his greatest value, is not offspring, but his good actions. They are “Better than sons or daughters” (Isaiah 56:5).