Naming Rights
Noach, the progenitor of all humanity, was a complex person. On the one hand he is described in the most glowing terms by G‑d Himself. Noach, the Torah states in this week’s parsha, “was a perfect tzadik who followed in G‑d’s ways.”
Yet, Noach, our Sages in the Zohar state, failed to alter the ways of his fellow human beings. Not one person mended his ways to avert being destroyed by the flood. Only Noach and his immediate family were spared. Indeed, our Sages tell us that because of Noach’s failure to avert the great flood, he earned the dubious distinction of having the flood named after him in the Biblical book of Isaiah (54:9)!
Our perception of Noach’s personality is dealt yet another blow by the Talmudic Sage, cited by Rashi, who qualifies and minimizes his greatness. Citing the very verse that extols his righteousness “Noach was a righteous man in his generation” he comments: “In his generation he was regarded as righteous. Had he lived in the generation of Abraham, he would have been regarded as inconsequential.”
And yet we find that Noach is described even more glowingly in the Torah than Abraham. With respect to Noach the Torah says that he was a “perfectly righteous” person, whereas regarding Abraham the Torah states that G‑d told him, “Walk before Me and you will be perfect[ly righteous].” This implies that Abraham had not attained the degree of completeness that Noach did.
This presents us with a conflicting picture of Noach, especially as we compare him with Abraham.
A Study in Contrasts
Arugas Habosem, a Chassidic commentary on the Torah, explains that, in truth, G‑d’s telling Abraham that he was not yet a “perfectly righteous person” was an accolade and that Noach’s “perfectly righteous” status was intended to point to his limited potential.
The salient difference between Noach and Abraham was that Noach did not reach out and influence others while Abraham always did. What was the cause of these different approaches? If one might, superficially suggest, that Noach, in his humility, did not believe in his own ability to influence others, would that imply that Abraham was less humble? Why did Abraham, think he could change people and Noach did not?
Rather, Arugas Habosem explains that it was precisely because of Abraham’s humility—who said about himself “I am merely dust and ashes”—that he saw the good in everyone else. To him, everyone was more righteous and more perfect. He looked up at everyone and sincerely believed that he could make a difference by talking to others.
Noach, by contrast, saw his own righteousness and perfection. And, indeed, he was a perfectly righteous person, as the Torah testifies. The problem was that he was aware of his own righteousness and perfection and from that perch of perfection he looked down at everyone else with a jaundiced eye and saw their grotesque imperfections. Noach therefore concluded, quite reasonably, that changing such flawed people would prove futile.
We can now understand why G‑d said to Abraham, “Go before Me and be perfect,” implying that he had not yet attained perfection, even though Noach was characterized as one who had indeed reached perfection.
Noach concentrated all of his efforts realizing his G‑d given potential for self-perfection. And Noach, admirably, reached that goal. His goal—and likely his potential—however, was not the world’s perfection.
Abraham, on the other hand, was suffused with a sense of mission to change the world.   No matter how much he strived in this direction he could never realize that elusive goal. G‑d therefore told him that he should keep on striving to attain perfection because his work had barely begun. And, on the other hand, with every accomplishment in inspiring even one more person, Abraham’s own righteousness and perfection was enhanced. His life was a perpetual journey towards perfection.
Noach, an Elitist?     
This analysis of the difference between Noach and Abraham leaves us with a question. How could the Torah state that Noach was a perfectly righteous individual considering the fact that he had an apparently elitist view of the rest of the world?
Moreover, Rashi explains that G‑d told him to build the ark as a way to get people to ask questions about this venture and for him to warn them of the impending disaster so that they may repent. If so, it is clear, that G‑d expected him to work on influencing others. Yet he failed to do so. How then can it be said that he was a perfectly righteous person?
Furthermore, we know that the Torah avoids saying anything disparaging about people. The Talmud states concerning the non-kosher animals that are mentioned in this week’s parsha that it employs a roundabout way of describing them so as to not use an offensive description of even a non-kosher animal! Why would the Torah concentrate on Noach’s inadequate efforts and his apparent failures?     
A Process
One way of understanding this is to view all of his history as a process. At first, the world was so coarse that it could not have been rehabilitated except by way of the flood which cleansed it. Under these circumstances, Noach could hardly be expected to change the world. True, he was told to speak to the people, and as the Rebbe explains he did speak but not with full empathy and conviction. That can be attributed to the fact that he was demoralized by the resistant nature of that generation. However, it may also be suggested that his half-hearted attempts at getting them to repent was a necessary first step, which ultimately led to Abraham’s more successful efforts. Noach planted the seeds for the future possibility of getting sinners to change their ways.
Abraham’s generation, which followed the flood and thus found itself in a somewhat more refined world, was more receptive to his message. That itself motivated Abraham to do more and to develop a much more empathetic approach towards the members of his generation.
An even more significant barrier to the world’s ability to be refined was removed after the Torah was given at Sinai.
And the closer we get to the final Redemption, the world progressively becomes more receptive to change. Presently, as we stand on the very threshold of Redemption, the world is at its “highest point” of readiness to be totally refined even if it appears to us that the world is rather unrefined and even regressing. The reason it seems that way is to challenge us to remove the last traces of resistance to the world becoming the G‑dly world that it was intended to be.
Our generation, which the Rebbe characterized as “the last generation of exile and the first generation of Redemption,” is therefore the one in which we have seen the idea of outreach assume a far greater role than ever before. The unprecedented revival of Judaism after it has been spurned by so many in the modern age testifies to this dynamic process that has taken place. The hundreds of thousands of Jews who have performed the Mitzvah of Tefillin since the Six Day War—which the Rebbe referred to as the “Great Shofar” of awakening that precedes and presages the coming of Moshiach—is just one example of the enhanced receptivity and refinement of the world. And, that in turn, motivates us to do more “in-reach” to elicit the spark of the souls of so many Jews.
Incorporating the Noach Approach
And for those who do not have the passion to reach out (or in) to others, they must learn the lesson from Noach who, despite his lack of motivation and his realization that his efforts would most likely prove futile, went through the motion of speaking to the people of his generation. We too—even when we might not be motivated to help someone and we feel no empathy for them—must incorporate the “Noach approach.” Even going through the motions of speaking to others and inspiring them to do one more Mitzvah is the necessary minimal first step that we must take.
This minimalist approach assumes even greater significance now as we stand ready for the final Redemption. The Rebbe quoted the Talmudic ruling, codified by Maimonides, that even one Mitzvah can bring total salvation to the world. Our intentions and feelings are extremely important, but the one Mitzvah—even if it is performed in the “Noach-minimalist” mode—can be the catalyst that will bring perfection to the world and will allow everyone to realize the maximalist state of Redemption.