While the Torah attests that Noah was a tzaddik – righteous – the Sages were conflicted over how righteous he really was. The verse says that he “was a righteous person in his generation” (Gen 6:9). Some Sages read this as a compliment: if he was righteous even in his unsavoury generation, how much more righteous would he have been among other righteous people. Others read this as an insult: compared to the others of his generation he was righteous, but had he lived in a different generation he wouldn’t have been considered so praiseworthy.
What is it about Noah’s actions that would cause the rabbis to think badly of him? They see Noah as a person who cared about himself and his family, but nobody else.
According to the rabbis’ calculations, building the ark took Noah 120 years (he was 600 years old when the flood began and he died aged 950). God’s intention in giving him such a long time to build it was to allow Noah to convince his neighbours to repent and thus be saved from the destruction of the flood themselves. Instead of reaching out to others, though, Noah merely built the ark for his own family.
Our Sages contrast Noah with Abraham, who, when told of the upcoming destruction of Sodom, argued with God, trying to save all the citizens and not just his relatives. Similarly, they contrast Noah with Moses: following the sin of the golden calf, God intended to destroy all of Israel and rebuild the nation from Moses’s descendants alone, but Moses argued with God and begged for the people’s forgiveness.
Ultimately we are remembered as descendants of Abraham and not of Noah, though our lineage flows through both of them. We are all responsible for one another and need to constantly look out for each other. When WE build our arks, let us be sure to invite our neighbours to ride with us as well.