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Genesis 6:9 These are the generations of Noah, Noah was a righteous man he was perfect in his generations; Noah walked with God... 7:1 And the Lord said to Noah, "Come into the ark, you and all your household, for it is you that I have seen as a righteous man [a tzadik] before Me in this generation.
Noah was a righteous man (a tzadik) in his generation. What does this mean? The word righteous tells us that he was tsaddi'yq (tsad-deek). The root of this word is tsadaq (tsaw-dak) which means something that is clean, morally correct or upright: a righteous person. While each person is unique, of one who has merited this righteous level of consciousness our sages teach:One who thus serves [HaShem] in perfection has conquered the primeval duality and has brought hitlahavut [i.e. the burning ecstasy of oneness with God] into the heart of avoda [i.e. into his service to God]. He dwells in the kingdom of life, and yet all walls have fallen, all boundary-stones are uprooted, all separation is destroyed. He is the brother of the creatures and feels their glance as it were his own, their step as if his own feet walked, their blood as if it flowed through his own body. He is the son of God and lays his soul anxiously and securely in the [Great Hand] beside all the heavens and earths and unknown worlds, and stands on the flood of the sea into which all his thoughts and the wanderings of all beings flow. He makes his body the throne of life and life the throne of the spirit and the spirit the throne of the soul and the soul the throne of the light of God’s glory, and the light streams round about him and he sits in the midst of the light and trembles and rejoices
Martin Buber, The Legend of the Baal-Shem page 32.
How did Noah merit to be considered righteous (tzadik) by HaShem? He listened to God and did as he was directed (Genesis 6:9-8:22). Noah's righteousness was based on his emunah (active faith and trust) based intentional decisions. Unlike Adam and Chava (Eve) Noah chose the morally upright path of emunah when considering his options. Because of this HaShem declared him righteous. Likewise if we choose the morally correct path HaShem will declare us righteous as well. Because of Noah's righteousness HaShem entered into the Noahide Covenant with him and his descendents (i.e. with everyone). As people embrace a more moral and ethical life, either as Jews or as Noahidim, they draw closer to HaShem and He to us. Each of us is free to choose our path in life. When we do so based on Torah and emunah our success is guaranteed.
Notice that the text says Noah was "perfect in [or among] his generation." Of this Rashi tells us:
"Some of our Sages interpret it [the word בְּדֹרֹתָיו] favorably: How much more so if he had lived in a generation of righteous people, he would have been even more righteous. Others interpret it derogatorily: In comparison with his generation he was righteous, but if he had been in Abraham’s generation, he would not have been considered of any importance. — [Sanh. 108a, Gen. Rabbah 30:9, Tan. Noach 5]
From this we understand the relative nature of the word "perfect." Even in our wicked generation each of us have the ability to achieve righteousness. IF we chose to "walk with G-d."
Technically a tzadik is one whose yetzer tov outweighs his yetzer hara. In other words, one whose good/positive inclinations and qualities outweigh the bad/negative traits. This is the definition of Rambam (in Yad Hachazaka, Repentance chapter 3). However to be a true tzadik requires more. Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the Alter Rebbe (founding rabbi) of Chabad Lubavitch, explains in the Tanya that a real tzaddik is someone who either has no remaining yetzer hara (evil inclination) at all (this is the tzaddik v'tov lo, or tzaddik gomur), or one whose yetzer hara is so subjugated to the will of his/her yetzer tov (the good/positive inclination) that it 'never even voices its opinion', and is completely dormant. This is the tzaddik v'ra lo, or tzaddik she'aino gomur). This paragraph is referenced from Here.
And there are different types of tzadikim. We are created as unique individuals. While one could not be one of the tzadik nistarim (i.e. one of the '36 righteous ones' present within each generation) for instance without a specific anointing from HaShem, anyone can choose to live according to the derech HaShem (i.e. the Way of God) and thereby enhance their positive qualities. One becomes a tzadik by harmonizing his/her will with that of HaShem. Implicit in this is that one must exorcize emunah in HaShem as Sovereign. Torah reveals the path of harmony to all who seek it.
All of us stand guilty before HaShem for making poor choices and misusing the gifts He has given us (Isaiah 53:6). By correcting these errors through emunah-based Torah observance we can change our course through teshuvah (i.e. a heartfelt change based on a repentant attitude). If we wish to go from being ra'sha or ungodly to tzadikim or righteous people this is the secret:
The Misnagdim (opponents of the Chassidim) say that the main thing is to study Torah. The Chassidim say the main thing is prayer. But I say: Pray and study and pray.
-- Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Siach Sarfey Kodesh 1-87
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