In referring to the Mabul described in this week’s parashah, the Navi Yeshayah states: “For the waters of Noach this shall be to Me.”
The Zohar Hakadosh teaches us that the Mabul was called mei Noach, implying that Noach was somehow responsible for it, because when Noach was told that he and his sons would be saved he failed to daven for the rest of humanity.
Why, indeed, did Noach not daven on behalf of his fellow humans?
It certainly was not due to a lack of compassion on the part of this illustrious ancestor of ours. Chazal say that for the entire 12-month period that he spent in the teivah, neither Noach nor his sons managed to get any sleep. Noach perceived it as his clear duty to feed and care for the animals, birds and insects that were aboard. Each of them had its own feeding schedule, and as Noach discovered when he once delayed feeding the lion, they did not appreciate being left waiting for food.
It is inconceivable to think that Noach, whom the Torah describes as a righteous and perfect man, should care any less for his fellow man than for the creatures that he so tirelessly tended.
There are numerous reasons given why he did not daven for his brethren. One is the fact that what ultimately sealed their sentence was robbery. Robbery — a sin between man and his fellow man — can only be forgiven if the perpetrator returns what he stole.
(The Maharil Diskin, zt”l, adds that this is why the sentence was sealed by robbery. It had reached a point where the only way the world could be rectified was by wiping out all of humanity, leaving only Noach and his children. As the sole surviving heir, Noach now inherited the estates of both the victims and the perpetrators — so everything that was stolen was back in the hands of the “rightful heir.”)
Another explanation — as taught by the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh — is that when the Ribbono shel Olam informed Noach that the Mabul was coming, He did so in a manner that left no room for tefillah by Noach. “I am about to destroy them from the earth,” Hashem told him.
Ten generations later, when Hakadosh Baruch Hu spoke to Avraham Avinu about Sedom, He said: “The outcry of Sedom and Amorah has become great, and because their sin has been very grave, I will descend and see…” The fact that Hashem did not use a term of finality in speaking to Avraham indicated that He gave permission for Avraham Avinu to daven.
Yet another explanation is that a minimum of 10 tzaddikim is needed to protect a generation. In this case (following the petirah of Mesushelach), there were only Noach, his three sons and their spouses — a total of eight. Knowing that his tefillos wouldn’t accomplish their goal, Noach declined to make the effort.
In that case, Noach had a valid reason not to daven; so why is the Mabul attributed to him?
Chazal teach us that when Pharaoh proposed to cast the newborn infants of Bnei Yisrael into the Nile, three advisers were present: Bilaam, Iyov and Yisro. Bilaam, who counseled Pharaoh to drown the babies, was eventually slain by Bnei Yisrael during the war with Midyan. Iyov, who remained silent and refrained from committing himself on the matter, was punished with terrible suffering. Yisro fled to Midyan. His reward was that his descendants later became members of Sanhedrin and sat in the Lishkas Hagazis on Har HaBayis.
Iyov knew that any protests would be fruitless; therefore, he chose to remain silent. Nonetheless, he was severely punished. The Brisker Rav once explained it to be middah k’negged middah punishment: Just as when one is in pain, he cries out even though he know that his cries will not help ease his pain, so too Iyov should have spoken up even though he knew that he would not be able to change Pharaoh’s mind.
When others are suffering, let alone are in danger of annihilation, silence and inaction are not options. There are times when it appears that nothing can be done, but even then we must continue to daven.
Noach should have felt pain over the fate of his fellow man, and this pain would have forced him to cry out to Hashem. It was this failure to feel pain over their fate that caused the flood to be attributed in some measure to him. (Based in part on the teachings of Hagaon Harav Chaim Shmulevitz.)