The story of Noach and his generation is a most interesting one. A man receives a message from G-d: “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with robbery; and behold, I am about to destroy the earth. Make for yourself an ark…” (Gen. Ch.6 V.13-14).
The story of Noach continues in the same vein as the stories of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel: these stories discuss the idea of personal choices and how those choices affect us, and the world around us. Why does G-d pick Noach to survive the destruction? The answer to this question is found at the beginning of this story. “Noach walked with G-d” (Gen. Ch.6 V.9). The Seforno (Spanish commentator on the Torah) gives us a fascinating insight into what this means: Noach went in the ways of G-d, in that he did kindness to others, and would show them the right way (In Hebrew, the word for rebuke and the word for show, demonstrate, and prove are the same word. The implied meaning is obvious.).
He was therefore chosen to build the ark. This was an activity G-d hoped would lead the people to inquire of Noach why exactly was he doing this, and through Noach’s explanation, spur them on to return to G-d, and not necessitate the destruction of the world (Noach built the ark over a long period of time, thus giving a large window of time that which the people could return to G-d).
Noach understood what the world was all about. Although he did not observe the laws of the Torah (unlike Abraham), he did keep the seven laws which are considered a categorical imperative (Not to engage in idolatry, not to curse G-d, not to steal, not to murder, sexual laws—adultery, incest and homosexuality—not to eat the limb of a live animal and establishing a court system to enforce these laws.). Although he lived in an evil generation, he understood that man is meant to live on a certain level of dignity, and to not only take, but to give. This was how he imitated G-d.
The generation he was living in, however, did not understand this principle. And what was the sin they did which sealed their fate? Robbery. This epitomized their mindset – that other people do not have value. Just because my friend has acquired something, why should it be his, if I want it? A world in which every man exists solely for himself is not a world worthy of perpetuation.
What do we learn from this story? It states in the Torah: “And G-d saw the earth and behold it was corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth” (Gen. Ch.6 V.12). This is an awesome concept: that mankind holds the keys to the world in its possession. If we choose the right way we can fulfill our mission in this world through perfecting it. But if we choose the wrong way we will cause the corruption of the earth.