“These are the offspring of Noach, Noach was a righteous man…” Bereishis 6:9
What practical lesson can we learn from Noach, the great antediluvian figure? The pasuk praises Noach by proclaiming that he was a צדיק; he was righteous. This is a tremendous attainment and a worthy ambition for us to seek, but we need some direction as to how to act and what to work on in order to achieve this lofty goal.
The Rabbeinu Bechayei helps us to define the concept of a צדיק, by expounding on a pasuk in Mishlei. ״מתהלך בתמו צדיק אשרי בניו אחריו״ – “One who walks in his innocence is a righteous man; fortunate are his sons after him.” The Rabbeinu Bechayei explains that Shlomo HaMelech is teaching us that a person is not considered a צדיק until he is ״התהלך בתמו״ in his service of Hashem. This “walking innocently” means that he performs the mitzvos properly out of love and fear of Hashem. Not in order to make himself great, and certainly not in order that he should be honorable in the eyes of others for his “righteous” acts. The real and true service of Hashem is to perform good deeds and righteous acts according to one’s capabilities and not to draw attention to them. To work hard to help others and not to utter a word about what he has done. In fact, by relating ones good deeds, publicizing them, and accepting praise for them, one brings about bad in place of the good he sought to achieve in two specific ways. Firstly, he will quickly become haughty when people buy into his glorified tales, and secondly, he will cause embarrassment to the ones who innocently accepted his help, as they now finds themselves and their plight highlighted in block letters on the front page.
The defining characteristic of a צדיק is not to mention the good he has accomplished. As an added bonus, the pasuk in Mishlei ends off ״אשרי בניו אחריו״, which teaches us that not only will the צדיק himself benefit from his humble stature, but his righteousness will as well serve as a protection for his future generations.