Much of Parshat Noach is taken up with genealogies.  The first line of the parshat “These are the begettings of Noah,” is the classic introduction for a genealogy throughout the book of Bereishit (see Ber. 10:1, 11:10, 11:27 for some examples).  Here though, instead of being followed by an enumeration of Noah’s children, or an account of his own birth, as we might expect, the verse stops to tell us about Noach’s moral and spiritual qualities—that he was a righteous man, that he walked with God—before going on to tell us about his children.  “Noach was a righteous whole-hearted man in his generation; in accord with God did Noach walk.  Noach begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Yefet. This structure is a bit surprising.  Why this detour before moving with the genealogy?

Rashi suggests two possible explanations.  First, he suggests the mention of Noach’s righteousness is purely parenthetical.  Since Noach was such a righteous man, the verse can’t mention Noach without telling us that, following the principle of Zekher Tzadik Livrakha “the mention of a righteous person should be a blessing.”  This explanation is a little problematic, since this is far from the only mention of Noach, and is not even the first mention of Noach, but it’s only here that the Torah talks about his righteousness.  This perhaps motivates Rashi’s second explanation—that the verse is telling us the essential, or primary legacy or “begetting” of a righteous person is not their biological offspring, but their actions.

Our tradition is a very pro-natal one.  Having and raising Jewish children is an important part of our how we perpetuate the life of our people, but Rashi is telling us that how we behave, how we act, can be just as important.  Not everyone is blessed to raise children of their own, but all of us, whether we have children or not, can have an impact on future generations through our actions.  This isn’t just true for those who serve as caretakers and educators for the next generation. All who contribute to the physical and spiritual wellbeing of our community and the larger world, have a “toldot,” a legacy, that will live on after they are gone.

Rabbi Garth Silberstein