The book of Bereishis is about the evolution of human justice and the evolving dynamic of God’s relationship with people. Avraham is considered the first prototype of the kind of person God wanted people to behave like, and it is his descendants that would go on to receive the Torah.
But Noah was righteous too. Why is Noah not presented as a model of what a good person looks like?
Rabbi Shlomo Farhi explains that our role models never suspend their internal moral compasses, even when it brings them to the point of directly questioning God outright.
When Noah left the Ark, everything and everyone was gone. Noah properly took in the scale of desolation and loss, and questioned God – where was God’s mercy? The Zohar describes how God stunned Noah with a stinging reply – where was Noah’s mercy when God told him what was going to happen?
When God announced that Sodom would be destroyed, Avraham questioned God’s justice. When God threatened to destroy the Jewish people after they danced around the Golden Calf, Moshe questioned God’s justice. Throughout history, our heroes have challenged God when something is wrong.
Even if unsuccessful, they are still fundamentally correct. Avraham stood up for pagan barbarians, and said that if God is merciful and good, then that ought to be true even towards the wicked! Our heroes internal moral compasses tell them that something is wrong, and they follow through.
Noah simply accepted that his society was corrupt, and deserved annihilation. He did not question the course of events until it was much too late.
Accepting such things isn’t a feature – it’s a flaw. It meant that he agreed that everything and everyone was bad, and deserved what was coming. Reb Yisrael Salanter says that a hidden tzadik is no tzadik at all. Avraham went out into the world to show people a better way, whereas Noah just let his whole world fall into oblivion.
Maybe that’s why he never seems to make the list of truly righteous people. It may also be why he planted vineyards and turned to alcohol and solitude. The magnitude of his missed opportunity was enormous.
It is a Jewish characteristic to question everything, even of God. Just because God Himself says something, does not mean we must accept it. The entire point of prophecies of doom is that it spurs us to do something different and avert it so that God’s promise does not happen!
This may help explain the concept of prayer.
When something feels wrong don’t just accept it. It’s a challenge! Do something, say something.