The Torah says “These are the generations of Noah, Noah was a righteous (and) complete (without flaws) man in his generation.” The classic question raised is whether the qualifier “in his generation” is meant to amplify or detract from his praise. Was Noah only comparatively great, in a generation of evildoers. Or was he great despite his surrounding society?
The Mishnah teaches in Avot (5:2) that there were 10 generations of sinners from Adam to Noah, before God brought the flood and hit “reset” on humanity. Likewise, there were 10 generations from Noah to Abraham, before Abraham redeemed humanity.
Each person faces different challenges. But what key difference do we see between Abraham and Noah? Each was warned about the destruction of sinners in surrounding society. In Abraham’s case, the Torah says that he negotiated with God, trying to find redeeming value in even the evildoers of Sodom and Amora. In contrast, Noah seems to accept the fate of the world, which is destroyed, while he and his family are saved. After leaving the ark and thanking God, he commits a strange sin–he becomes intoxicated and disgraces himself in front of his sons.
I think there’s a clear message here. When humanity sins–when we bring about our own destruction, there’s no pleasure for the Creator of the world. Abraham understand that, and tried to find some saving grace in a city of sinners. Abraham failed to save Sodom and Amora. But according to the Mishnah, he saved not just his own generation, but in fact redeemed ten generations of people. In contrast, Noah did the right things, but when his society was tearing itself, he was content to board a boat and sail away. Even afterwards, he was able to get drunk and enjoy himself, despite what he had witnessed. Perhaps a lack of empathy and compassion for the destruction of God’s creations, is the crux of the sin, and why Noah was not able to redeem his own generation.