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Why Was Noach Not the First Jew?

Civilization Was Saved Because of Him. But Only Abraham Became the Father of Judaism. This Teaches Us the Essence of Judaism

56 min

Class Summary:

It would seem that Noah is the ideal forefather for the Jew; the man who, like Noah, will always be alone amongst the nations, and who lives life based on his own inspired standards and not based on popular trends.

But no. Noah is clearly not Jewish. As a matter of fact, all non-Jews are called by the Torah ‘the children of Noah’. Only Abraham who is born ten generations later will be chosen as the ‘first Jew.’ Why?

Noah is a hard man to understand. On the one hand he is paid the highest of compliments, and is the only man that the Torah itself explicitly coins as a “A Tzadik (righteous man), perfect in his time.” He saved civilization, and every human alive today is one of his descendants.  Notwithstanding the ridicule of his neighbors and acquaintances, he trusts G-d implicitly and singlehandedly builds an enormous ark that takes him 120 years! He is a lonely man of faith who rejects world opinion and peer pressure, and retains his integrity despite living in the most morally depraved generation in the history of humanity.

The defining difference between Abraham and Noah is not found in their own levels of faith and piety, rather it is found in how much of that piety they influenced upon others. The hallmark of the Jew is not only that he believes, but that he inspires others to believe. It is not only that he is good, but that he infuses his surroundings with goodness. And that is where Noah failed.

This class will explore the essential meaning of what it means to be a Jew, and why only Abraham and not Noah had what it takes to become the father of the Jewish faith.

We will also learn the history of the name ‘Jerusalem’: Who named the city? When? Why? And what does the name even mean? And what does this have to do with Noah?

Please leave your comment below!

  • Anonymous -3 months ago


    Are you saying we have no more Jews because of the flood and because Noah, wasn't a Jews . In that case why is Jesus coming for his people to save them.in the end..

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    • JG

      Jay Gale -2 months ago

      I am a Lutheran Christian and can tell you that your statement is flawed.  Yes, there are Jews who bless this Earth because Abraham was born 10 generations after Noah. The Bible and the Torah both attest to this. 

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  • KOS

    Kenneth olen Smith -5 years ago


    Shalom U'vracha Dear wonderful Rabbi YY Jacobson, "Todah Rabbah for your wonderful Torah lessons, they are wonderful.Noach and family the beginning of the new world, the children of Noach in our world today are small, if you ask about the Noahides few people know of them. According to the Divine Holy Torah, all the people in the world should be Noahides, except the jewish people. The Sages say the Noahides will one day return to the Holy Torah,and a new world will begin. Avraham is called the father of the nations, Noach was a builder, a man of conviction, G_d reveals His Divine plan and Noach completes it. The children of Noach are people of conviction, but lack the ability to be faithful to the 613 Divine Laws, in other words do not become a Jew unless you can be a good Jew, as my dear friend Rabbi Tovia Singer says. G_ds Priest-hood must be faithful to the yoke of the Torah, and have the ability to share the love of the Creator with all the people of the world. So the Noahides will be faithful to the Divine Seven laws, and feel that they are able to be faithful to G_d. What event will one day bring the people of the nations into unity of the Noahide Laws, in your opinion.

    Sincerely with Gratitude


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  • M

    mamush1999 -8 years ago

    Transcript of the Shiur with additions:

    Noach Was A Righteous Man . . . But

    By Yochanan Gordon

    The theme of this
    article is based on a shiur from Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson on
    www.theyeshiva.net with additions of my own where noted.

    Noach is an enigmatic personality. The Torah
    itself seems to equivocate regarding his celebrity. The opening verse of the parashah states that Noach was righteous in his
    generation. Rashi, whose commentary is dedicated to improving the literal
    readability of each verse, comments on the words “in his generation,”
    essentially asking what the Torah’s implications were with that statement.
    Rashi mentions that there are sages who interpret these words both positively
    and negatively. The first group of rabbis explain that Noach was so great that
    his sagacity was unaffected by the degeneration of the society in his time.
    However, the second group of rabbis said that the Torah was being critical of
    Noach, saying that his greatness was only discernible due to the sinfulness of
    his generation, and had he been accompanied by a sage on the caliber of Avraham,
    he would certainly have been overshadowed.

    These days, nary an hour goes by without
    devastating headlines from the Holy Land. So while our thoughts are affixed to
    Israel and specifically Yerushalayim, it would be appropriate here to dwell on
    the origins of the name of our holy city and how its name relates to the
    present idea. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah (56:10) states, “Avraham called the
    city Yirah based on the verse, “And Avraham
    called the name of that place Hashem Yirah.” Shem,
    the son of Noach, called the place Shaleim based
    on the verse, “MalkiTzedek, the King of Shaleim.” G‑d said, “If I call the name
    of the place Yirah in accordance with the name
    given by Avraham, Shem, who is also a holy man, will object. Rather, I will
    call it Yerushalayim, combining the two names together.”

    Front-and-center in this week’s Torah portion
    is the story of the flood which claimed all of civilization save Noach, his
    family, and select animals that Noach was commanded to take with him onto the
    Ark. Given Noach’s righteousness, why didn’t G‑d choose him, not Avraham, as
    the progenitor of the Jewish people?

    Avraham is credited with being the father of
    monotheism. But upon further reflection that is not accurate and it is not the
    characteristic that defines Avraham’s legacy. Noach himself was a monotheist;
    Shem, the son of Noach, we know was the head of a rabbinic academy in which
    Yaakov our patriarch learned. It is where Rivkah, when she was confounded with
    her pregnancy problems, went for advice. The Torah, at the end of Parashas Bereishis, introduces
    us to wonderful, seemingly G‑d-fearing personalities as Shes, Lemech, and
    Mesushelach—all of whom could be classified as monotheists. So clearly there is
    something deeper at play in Avraham being the one whom G‑d chose to found the
    Jewish nation.

    There is a perplexing verse in Yeshayahu 54 which states, “For this is to me [as] the
    waters of Noach, as I swore that the waters of Noach shall never again pass
    over the earth.” If Noach was righteous and the one person in all of
    civilization who gave G‑d a sense of respite in creating this morally bankrupt
    world, why is the flood then attributed to the one person who was chosen to
    rebuild the world after the flood?

    The Zohar on Parashas Noach (58, page
    67b) writes, “Once G‑d told Noach that he and his family will be saved, he did
    not pray for the rest of civilization and it was destroyed. That is why the
    flood is named after him.”

    The Zohar, on
    the same page, quotes a saying of Rebbe Yehudah who said in defense of Noach,
    “What could Noach have done better? Noach was scared for himself that he not
    perish among the guilty of the world.”

    It is emerging clearer based on the words of
    the Zohar that Noach’s error was that he acted a
    bit selfishly in saving himself and his family from the flood and not worrying
    about the safety and wellbeing of the world. You’ll recall that Rashi at the
    outset of the parashah insinuates the question,
    “Why did G‑d command Noach to build the Teivah as
    a means to saving himself and his family from the flood? G‑d has many ways with which he
    could save.” Rashi explains that the Torah was teaching us that Noach was
    commanded to involve himself in the construction of the Ark over a 120-year
    span, in order that it would pique the curiosity of passersby and he would
    arouse them to repent, ultimately leading G‑d to repeal the decree to destroy
    the world. It seems, however that Noach missed the message that was being
    imparted to him, and through his inaction on behalf of civilization proved to G‑d
    that he was not the person to promulgate the message that G‑d had envisioned
    for his people.

    The Gemara in Shabbos, regarding the laws of Chanukah and where to
    situate the menorah, further accentuates this
    idea. “The rabbis taught: the mitzvah is to place
    the Chanukah menorah at the doorway facing the
    outside. If you live on a second floor, place it by the window overlooking the
    public domain. But at a time of danger, it is enough to just place it on your

    Both the Avodas
    Yisrael of Koznitz and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of
    blessed memory, interpret this Gemara
    exegetically, referring to the inner message behind the luminescence of the
    Chanukah menorah. Each Jew represents a walking menorah. We are in this world to promulgate the light
    of Torah and mitzvos to fellow Jews, and a life
    of ethics and morality based on the mitzvos that
    were commanded to Noach for civilization as a whole. As far as the letter of
    the law is concerned, the Gemara clearly states
    that if there is spiritual danger in which a specific individual doesn’t feel
    secure enough to protect him or herself from the ails of society, it is enough
    for such a person to bolster his self-image by performing the mitzvah within his or her own four cubits. In a sense,
    Rebbe Yehudah’s defense of Noach as recorded in the aforementioned Zohar raises this supposition. Noach was afraid of
    perishing with the guilty of the world; hence, there was not much more that
    Noach could do in his situation.

    Every part of Torah is eternally relevant. Even
    the events of the flood and other stories we are told throughout Sefer Bereishis apply to
    each of us here and now as much as they did to the subjects of the stories at
    the time that they occurred. For this reason, the Baal Shem Tov sought to
    explain G‑d’s exhortation to Noach, “Enter the Teivah,”
    as if to command each of us in spiritually tumultuous times to take succor in
    the words of Torah and tefillah. However, we must
    not forget that later in the parashah, G‑d’s
    commandment to Noach to disembark from the Teivah
    was equally forceful. This means, if at one point or another we feel that going
    on display to promulgate the Jewish idea to the greater world will put us in a
    precarious spiritual situation, we are permitted to work inwardly—but that is a
    permissibility for that point in time and not a philosophy of life.

    With Avraham, his weltanschauung was
    different; it seems that he was chosen by G‑d specifically because of the
    message that he promoted. Rashi in Parashas Lech Lecha, on the words,
    “And the souls that they (Avraham and Sarah) made in Charan,” comments, “This
    means the people that they brought under the wings of the Divine presence; Avraham
    would convert the men and Sarah would convert the women.” The Gemara in tractate Sotah
    10b states, “And he called there in the name of G‑d, master of the world.” Reish Lakish said, ‘Do
    not read it “Vayikra,” meaning “he called,”
    rather “Vayakri, he made others call.”’ This
    teaches that Avraham our father taught all the passersby to call out in the
    name of the A-mighty.”

    Perhaps, this Gemara
    outlines the extent of the responsibility of the Jew to carry G‑d’s message to
    the world. The Gemara concludes, “This teaches
    that Avraham our father taught all the passersby to call out in the name of G‑d.”
    The words used by the Gemara for passersby is over v’shav. I’d like to suggest that these words on
    the level of remez tell us that a Jew’s
    responsibility is to involve him or herself with all people who fit between the
    over and the shav,
    meaning people who are transgressors and those who have already engaged in some
    form of repentance.

    It seems like this is the question which has
    in a sense divided the Jewish people throughout the centuries. Are we meant to
    focus our service inward or outward? The yeshiva
    world has always promoted the message of personal service. Notwithstanding
    that, the Chasam Sofer
    in his sefer on the Torah, as well as in the
    introduction to his responsa to Yoreh Deah, and
    the Chofetz Chaim in the third chapter of his sefer Chomas Hadas both write that the purpose of Yiddishkeit is to be found in the worldview of Avraham.

    This idea is what drives the differences in
    the name given to Yerushalayim by Avraham and Shem. Shem wanted to call the
    holy city Shaleim, as if to indicate that the
    purpose of a Jew’s life in this world is inward reflection in order to attain
    individual wholesomeness and perfection of character and Divine service.
    Avraham, conversely, argued that it is not enough for one to work on himself or
    herself. Avraham prescribed a life of yirah, where
    others should see and be influenced by our service of the Creator and
    ultimately seek a healthy life lived not selfishly, but to reveal a higher
    purpose in the lives of society as a whole.

    The world has clearly not solved the problem
    that we face with regard to radical Islam. Israel has seen an escalation in
    terror that it hasn’t seen for quite some time. The world as a whole has been
    consumed in discussion regarding the solution to religious violence and how to
    integrate religious Muslims into a civil society. Reb Naftoli Ropshitzer
    records an interpretation to a verse in Tehillim:
    “Mei’oyvai techakmeini mitzvosecha—from my
    enemies I have become wiser in my performance of mitzvos.”
    He writes, “We should apply the tactics of our enemies to our performance of mitzvos. Chazal teach us
    that there is a difference between the words oyeiv
    and sonei, both which mean enemy. Oyeiv refers specifically to Yishmael whereas sonei refers to Eisav. King David writes, “Mei’oyvai techakmeini mitzvosecha”—from Yishmael we can
    learn how G‑d would like us to perform His mitzvos.

    Perhaps if we internalize and embrace this
    message, this perpetual problem that has plagued us for decades will finally be
    resolved. v

    Comments for Yochanan Gordon are
    welcome at [email protected].

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  • TB

    Tuvia Bolton -11 years ago

    Idolatry and addiction
    I took a long course in addictions and I think that idolatry is something similar but much deeper.  To the degree that, Interestingly, idolatry can be the CURE for addictions; The addict is advised to relinquish his ego (admit his helplessness, confess, turn himself over etc)  to the 'god of his understanding' and ......all 'gods' work.  

    It seems to me that the reason Abraham was so anti-idolatry and adament in spreading 'his' idea of G-d was not bec. the others don't work or bec. they aren't 'true' but because they aren't ULTIMATE truth and leave too much room for egotism.  That Abraham prooved by undergoing ten TESTS that seemed to indicate that G-d doesn't work and He doesn't keep His promises!! In other words Avraham wanted the entire world to do as he himself did and 'believe in the truth BECAUSE it is truth.'  

    Could be the need for idolatry is rooted in human faults but I think it's more rooted in the human 'essense' i.e. the ability to choose. In this case the mistaken choise of  what apparantly 'works' over what's really  'right'.   That's why when Moshiach fills the world with truth all idolatry will be obsolete (as we say in Alenu).

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  • E

    eli -11 years ago

    the soul of addiction
    Much depth in this essay. Where to redirect our attention? Anybody have examples of 'true carriers of value'?

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  • SL

    shaul Leiter -11 years ago

    short and sweet

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  • Y

    yitzchok -11 years ago


    I don't see any of what Rabbi Jacobson said in the year 5717 parshas Noach (as printed in the pdf)? Perhaps it was a mistake? what sicha was it?

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  • K

    Kics -11 years ago

    Fire and brimstone!

    What makes you think Noah et al were embarassed about their spiritual viewpoints? 

    So, Abraham was the first Jew because of his prowess at Public Relations? Eh?

    I'm sorry, it doesn't wash. If Noah spoke to this God then he recognised this god. How does that not qualify him as a follower of that god, i.e. a Jew? 

    And, a lot of this sounds uncomfortably like a call to proselytisation.   

    This is but my drop of sanity on the volcano of religious pathology.  I'm not particularly hopeful this will be published, but what the hell. 


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  • RR

    Robert Rubin -12 years ago

    Noach's mission
    Great presentation. Thank you very much. It rings so true. To follow the post started by Levi, did not Hashem give him a mission to save mankind's future though Noach may have missed the point. Is it more than just Noach looking after himself?

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    • A

      Anonymous -12 years ago

      Re: Noach's mission
      Yes for sure. Our Sages and Rashi point out that one of the reasons G-d wanted Noah to build a Teivah, an ark, was so that the people would see the construction and perhaps be moved to change. Noah perhaps could have prayed for them, and even more, influence them, but he was more focused on retaining his own purity and goodness.

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  • L

    Levi -13 years ago

    Good answer
    That is a good answer. Can you identify what is the key words that singles this out as a gift?

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    • A

      Anonymous -12 years ago

      Re: Good answer

      "קח נא את בנך את יחידך"... "והעלהו שם לעולה".

      These two expressions, "nah," which is a request, and identifying it as a "kraban olah," represent that this was not a punishment in any sense at all, but rather a request from G-d for a sacrifice.

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  • Y

    Yitzchak -13 years ago

    to Levi
    Because the Akeidah was not a punishment, a penalty, or a form of dissapointement. It was requesting Avraham for a gift: I gave you a son, it was a miracle I made especially to give you a child; not I am asking you to give him back to me.
    Avraham did not see it as a result of a negative action; it was a request for a Karban, for a gift. Is that clear?

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  • L

    Levi -13 years ago

    If Noach is at falt for not defending the people even though Hashem told him to build the Ark. Why did Avraham not argue with Hashem to defend Yitzchak by Akaidas Yiyzchok??????

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  • DB

    Dov Barlv -13 years ago

    in south Africa.

    In the last few weeks I canot down loud audio on my computer.

    the shiur of Rabbi Paltiel doun loud fully

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  • KT

    Kayo, Tokyo -13 years ago

    Do my best
    Baruch HaShem

    I will do my best. May HaShem guide me all what I do.

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  • S

    shemaryah -13 years ago

    topic of lecture
    This lecture is a winner it gives great insight into Parsha Noach
    Curriculum is top notch and was very helpful in understanding subject.
    Yasher Koach
    Rabbi Jacobson

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  • M

    Michal -13 years ago

    Maybe it is not for topic of this class but
    Maybe it is not for a topic of this class but I can't read this article without tears and fear for our state of Israel. I see that I personally can help not with money but with Aliyah which I will make in near future. Please read it, maybe you get some sparks too: Arutz Sheva News (Israel National News)"Protesters Rally Against Sealing of Synagogue" http://www.israelnationalne...

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    • M

      Michale -12 years ago

      Re: Maybe it is not for topic of this class but
      I made Aliyah, and a lot of changes happend after my arriving. "Arab Springs" are symbol of coming redemption. We have other very powerful symbols. To be with Jews in our land is a great-great filling.

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Rabbi YY Jacobson

  • October 4, 2010
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  • 26 Tishrei 5771
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Dedicated by the Solomon and Teitelbaum families, in honor of Rabbi Mendel Solomon.
Dedicated by David and Eda Schottenstein in the loving memory of Alta Shula Swerdlov; and in merit of Yetta Alta Shula, "Aliya," Schottenstein

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