Our Sages relate1 that Noach did not pray for the welfare of humanity before the Flood, unlike Moshe who prayed for the welfare of those who made the Golden Calf.

There is a dispute2 among the rabbis with regard to Noach’s lack of prayer: R. Yehuda concedes that Noach failed to pray like Moshe did, but points out that Moshe beseeched G‑d in the merit of the Patriarchs. Since Noach could not have done so, he cannot be blamed for his failure to pray on behalf of others.

R. Yitzchak, however, maintains that even though he was unable to invoke the merit of the Patriarchs, Noach should nonetheless have beseeched G‑d’s mercy on behalf of the world’s population.

The Torah commands us3 to judge every person favorably, to give every individual the benefit of the doubt. Why then does R. Yitzchak seem to condemn Noach’s behavior, rather than recognizing that Noach lacked people in whose merit he could plead for Divine mercy?

In fact, we can argue that R. Yitzchak agrees that Noach was unable to pray for his generation, because he was lacking individuals on whose merit he could rely. R. Yitzchak is not seeking to indict Noach, however, but rather wanted to be sure that his failure to pray for the welfare of others would not set a precedent for future generations.

R. Yitzchak therefore concludes that it is necessary to portray Noach’s lack of prayer as a flaw — although, in his case, there was nothing else he could have done — for it teaches later generations that all possible means must be used in order to obtain mercy and compassion for one’s fellows.

The statement of R. Yitzchak thus in no way contradicts the command to judge every person favorably, for he too judges Noach favorably, and agrees that he would have had to rely on the merit of others in order to succeed in his prayers. R. Yitzchak merely intended to encourage other individuals always to intercede on behalf of their fellows, although the chances of success may seem remote.

Moreover, if Noach’s failure to pray for the welfare of others had not been discussed, then this itself could have a detrimental effect on Noach, for his behavior, innocent though it was, may have led to the misconduct of others.

There is a lesson here for us all. A person may well do all he can in order to have a beneficial effect on his environment, but fail due to circumstances beyond his control. Such an individual might well think that, since he did all he could, he has no further moral obligation to himself or to others, and can now rest comfortably; the fact that he didn’t succeed is not his fault.

R. Yitzchak therefore teaches us that a person may very well have done as much as he was capable of doing, and is not merely fooling himself into thinking so. Nevertheless, says R. Yitzchak, one cannot make peace with such a situation. He must continue to “beseech mercy for his generation”; failure to do so can well be considered a fault.

Such relentless concern for the welfare of others may well bring G‑d to negate those factors that are causing the untoward situation, for He provides every Jew with the opportunity to successfully seek Divine mercy on behalf of his generation.

Especially so, since the Rambam rules4 that the “Torah guarantees that the Jewish people will ultimately repent at the conclusion of their exile, and will immediately be redeemed.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXV, pp. 19-22