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    Who is the greatest?

    17th century depiction of Noah with the plans for the ark

    17th century depiction of Noah with the plans for the ark

    Great people abound in the Biblical stories that occupy the Jewish world at this time of year. Inevitably people compare them.

    The process starts at the beginning of Parashat No’ach when we read that No’ach was “righteous in his generation”, which leads Rashi to quote a rabbinic idea that though No’ach was great in his generation, in a better generation he would not be assessed so generously, and a comparison with Abraham would end in Abraham’s favour.

    Then comes the Zohar and complicates things by bringing Moses into the equation and asking which of the three, No’ach, Abraham or Moses, was the greatest.

    They all have points in their favour. No’ach was great in terms of saving himself and his family from the Deluge. Abraham was the greatest when it came to caring for and saving the souls of others. Moses was the greatest when what was required was sharing the fate and fortunes of other people.

    The rabbinic conclusion is that, all things considered, Moses wins the contest.

    But I have a niggling doubt that it’s such an artificial question that there really can be no winner.

    In a community I know, one rabbi was great as a pulpit orator, another was great in people skills, and a third was a remarkable teacher.

    Who was the greatest overall? Answer: each in his own way, “in his own generation”. You can never have a winner in an unreal contest like this.

    Who was the greatest – No’ach, Abraham or Moses? Answer: every one of them.

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