The Midrash is a fertile debating ground for the character of Noah. When the Torah calls him “righteous in his age (Genesis 6:9),” Sages take sides.
Does the text mean that he was just better than others in a time when everyone was horrible as Rabbi Yohanan argues? Or does it mean that he was so righteous, as Resh Lakish contends, that he truly walked with God in a way exemplary to all generations? (Bereshit Rabbah 28:8)
Whichever opinion one favors, the Torah’s flood story is unique among the many that proliferate in ancient texts. Why?
Only in the biblical account is a good, caring God grieved because of humanity’s inability or unwillingness to act righteously.
The Midrash recounts that God through Noah urged the Generation of the Flood to repent their evil ways. For 120 years, Noah persisted in his plea to the people, but they would not listen. Only then did God send the flood. (Tanhuma, Noah, section 5)
This Midrash underscores one of the vital messages of the story of Cain and Abel. After God accepts Abel’s offering and not his, Cain is angry and jealous. God warns Cain not to succumb to those feelings, but God does not stop Cain when he kills his brother anyway.
Similarly, God warns the people of the earth to change their wicked ways before the flood, but God does not make them do it.
Today too God wants us to use our talents for good, but God does not make us. We are not puppets, and God is not a puppeteer.
The free will God allows human beings is what makes our lives meaningful.
We not God must choose whether to act for good or for ill.. Too often, though, our choices leave a grieving God in tears.