The first verse of the parasha tells us about Noah and his character, and why he is not one of my favorites. “Noah was a righteous man in his generation. With God walked Noah.” (Bereishit 6:9). The Torah statement about Noah having been a righteous man in his generation was explained as “if he had been born in a more respectable age, he would have been no more than average” (Yochanan). Other commentators said that his worth came from the fact that in a generation of wicked people, he managed to be a good man. (Reish Lakish).
I go with Yochanan. Just look at the difference between Noah and Abraham. When God told Abraham He would destroy Sodom – a city of real evil and perverted people – Abraham confronted God in the famous bargaining argument about saving the city for the sake of the 50, 40, 30, 20, and even 10 righteous men living there.
Noah, on the contrary, when told about the flood that would destroy all human life, didn’t open his mouth! He built the ark, thinking, perhaps, “I’ll be fine, my family is OK, I don’t care about the rest.” (Does that sound familiar in our day?) Noah is an example of those who walk with God, but don’t care about humankind. When a fundamentalist Muslim blows himself or herself up in a pizzeria or a bus, the last words are: “God is great.” That may be praying and walking with God five times a day, but that surely is not walking with men. When, during the Inquisition, Jews and Muslims were burned alive, the officiating priests were surely very religious, they walked with God in every mass, but they didn’t walk with men. In our own camp, when a religious Jew in his neighborhood throws stones at a vehicle on Shabbat, or a religious Chassid spits and calls names at an eight-year-old girl in Bet Shemesh because her sleeves weren’t long enough, maybe they think they walk with God three times a day – but they don’t walk with men.
In Judaism you can’t walk with God if you don’t walk with men first. Walking with God means becoming His partner in recreating His Creation for the better. It means making this world a better place. It means “flooding” the world with lovingkindness and justice.
May God give us the wisdom and the courage to walk with Him in the path of Tikkun Olam.