The following is a brief summary of a thought said over by R' Frand in his shiur this evening. I have attempted to reproduce this vort to the best of my ability. Any perceived inconsistencies are the result of my efforts to transcribe the shiur and should not be attributed to R' Frand.
In Bereishis 6:9-10, the Torah introduces us to Noach. The first pasuk of the parsha states "Eileh Toldos Noach, Noach Ish Tzadik, Tamim Haya B'Dorosav" - these are the offspring of Noach, Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations. The next pasuk then identifies Noach's children, explaining that he had three sons, Shem, Cham and Yafes.
The development of the parsha is curious as one would expect the Torah to have followed the statement that "these are the offspring of Noach" with an identification of the children. Instead, the Torah describes Noach's character and only afterwards states the names of his sons. Rashi explains that the the most important "offspring" of a tzadik are his good deeds, not his children.
This answer may be logical for some tzadikim, however we know that all human life on this planet came through Noach as he populated the world after the flood wiped out all those who were not on the ark. As such, shouldn't his descendants be his most important feature?
The Mahahral in his sefer, Gur Aryeh offers two answers to the above question. Initially, he notes that one's children are the product of a three way partnership involving both parents and Hashem. As such, a person is not solely responsible for the way one's children turn out. On the other hand, a person's good deeds are completely the result of the person. As such, the tzadik's good deeds are even more important because they are solely reflective of his actions.
The Maharal also offers a second explanation. He notes that one's children are other independent people. On the other hand, one's virtues and good deeds are integral parts of the person himself.
R' Yehoshua Hartman explains the meaning behind the second answer of the Maharal by making reference to another statement of the Maharal. The Maharal notes that Adam selected names for all the creatures. However, in choosing the name for man he selected Adam - because man comes from the ground (Adama). It can be asked - don't all creatures come from the ground? The Maharal explains that man is more closely connected with the earth then other creatures. When a person looks at a field waiting to be planted he sees the potential in the field - it could be a corn field or a wheat field. The same way, a person has potential within him. An animal is programmed to do the functions its nature tells it to do. A person has potential to do much more. Indeed, when a parent has a newborn child in his/her arms the parent may think - my child is cute. However, the parent also thinks about what the child can potentially accomplish.
R' Hartman explains that this is what is meant by Rashi -- the tzadik is identified by his good deeds because they represent his fulfillment of his potential. If one works on himself and accomplishes great things, they will be forever tied to the person and his legacy will be identified by these acts.
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