I subscribe to a number of weekly e-Torah columns authored by rabbis and writers from around the world. Every single year, as I check out the offerings for the section of Noah and the flood, I wonder what exactly Noah did to justify so much criticism.

The Torah records that Noah was a righteous man, and then adds, almost as a throwaway line, "for his times." Faint praise it may be, and the commentators may well try to justify this thinly disguised put-down; however, it is astonishing how much scholarship has been devoted throughout the ages to explicate in agonizing detail the character flaws which might explain the less than fulsome description of Noah’s righteousness.

Some sages explain that Noah deserved censure because he was preoccupied with saving himself and family, with the result that he ignored the needs of others. A subtly different reason given is that, convinced of the hopelessness of the situation, Noah neglected to pray for the salvation of the rest of the world. Another possible explanation concentrates on his lack of faith, while other commentators advance ever-darker descriptions of his perceived inadequacies.

It is surprising that we should go out of our way to highlight anyone's failings, let alone as complicated a character as Noah. Try to imagine the stresses he would have been subjected to on a daily basis: Noah was the lonely man of faith living in a depraved world, full of wickedness. He devoted a good chunk of his life to single-handedly building an ark on G‑d's command, all the while suffering threats and humiliation from onlookers. He was the first conservationist, directly responsible for the propagation of plant and animal life after the flood, and had the strength and confidence to pick up the tangled remnants of existence and start rebuilding the world all over again at a relatively advanced age.

And yet, and yet… Noah may well have spent every waking moment of a long and honorable life devoted to G‑d, and yet the Torah still records that more could have been done. There is a subtle but crucial distinction between dedicating oneself to G‑d’s tasks, and dedicating oneself to G‑d.

The fifth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber, once attended a conference of rabbis which had been convened by the Russian government in their effort to ram through massive changes to the traditional Jewish educational system. At the risk of their lives and liberty, the rabbis worked passionately and collectively to protect our common heritage.

After the meetings broke up, Rav Chaim of Brisk came to say farewell to the Rebbe and discovered him sitting in his hotel room, overcome with tears.

Lubavitcher Rebbe,” he exclaimed, “you needn’t weep. You did absolutely everything within your power!”

“Maybe so. But after all that, we did not succeed in foiling their plans.”

If you view yourself as an employee of G‑d with a job to do, as long as you put in the maximum effort while acquitting yourself honorably and responsibly, then, even if you fail, you can still sleep calmly at night.

However if one is less concerned with one's personal scorecard and instead focuses purely on G‑d’s purposes and desires, then one can never surrender nor relax, no matter the difficulties that challenge.

When Noah assessed the situation and recognized that his prayers would not improve the situation, did that acceptance excuse him from trying again and again? Certainly no blame can be directed at Noah for the fact that he alone was saved, but we must never make peace with a system where the many are lost and the few are saved.

Who among us can honestly state that they’ve exhausted every option, explored every path on our life-long mission to save the world? And if the world stubbornly refuses to be changed, does that excuse me from continuing to try? Noah did the best he possibly could, under the circumstances, but the lesson the Torah would have us learn is that as long as another person is in physical or spiritual danger we must not accept the inevitability of fate and content ourselves with self-preservation, but must try and try again, risking life and soul, to help save the world.