When the Torah praises him as “righteous and wholehearted in his generation” it seems to be saying that in another generation he might not have been deemed so great; his failing was that he did so little to urge others to repent.
Abraham, by way of contrast, tried over and over again to get God to save Sodom and Gomorrah from extinction.
True, it was already a mark of moral courage that Noah kept aloof from the sins of the generation and at least preserved his own integrity and sanity. But could he not have done more for the people of his time?
One could argue that they might have refused to repent, but shouldn’t he have made the effort?
Didn’t Jonah try to save the generation in which he lived, and with his “Another forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed!” didn’t he achieve their repentance?
The case against Noah seems overwhelming. But there is another side to the story, and the sages recognised this too.
The call to repentance which the prophets framed in great rhetoric might not have been the best approach in Noah’s age.
Instead of orations and exhortations it might be said that every day in which he ostentatiously worked on the ark carried its message to the public of his time. Every act they saw him perform should have persuaded them that something was afoot.
They would have laughed at him at first but before long they would have seen that he was serious and they could have saved themselves from impending doom.
They came, they saw – and they were not conquered. They brought their fate on themselves…