The difference between the verses "Noah walked with G‑d" (Gen. 6:1) and "G‑d before Whom I [Abraham] walked" (Gen. 24:40) is as follows: Noah needed G‑d to "hold his hand", so to speak, whereas Abraham was self-propelled and always took the initiative. Noah was afraid to mix with the corrupt society he lived in and isolated himself with only G‑d as his companion because he was afraid of contemporary society's possible influence. Abraham was not only confident that he would not succumb to the corrupt society around him, but he tried to lead his fellow-men back to the path of monotheism and a life of good deeds. I have elaborated on this elsewhere. This is the plain meaning of those verses. Abraham had awakened himself to recognize and serve his Creator…

According to the path we generally follow, it will be shown that Noah's strength was not as great as Abraham's in other matters. Abraham had "awakened" himself to recognize and serve his Creator. As a result he received considerable input from Divine Inspiration. This is what is meant when I said that rapprochement to G‑d must proceed from "the bottom up", i.e. man must be the initiator.

Noah, on the other hand, relied on Divine Inspiration to be the first step. Walking with G‑d means after G‑d had inspired him first. The "awakening" came from Above.

On the verses "I regret I created them. But Noah found favor in the eyes of G‑d." (Gen. 6-8) Rav Kahanae comments that the end of verse 6 shows that even Noah had not really been found to be worthy; he was "lucky" to have found favor in the eyes of G‑d, whereas Noah "found", G‑d did not "find". (Bereishit Rabba 29:1) The meaning is that Noah "found" that G‑d awakened him, G‑d however, did not "find", i.e. did not see in Noah something He felt he had to "respond" to. The reverse was true of Abraham, as demonstrated by the verse we have quoted. Noah…responded to inspiration from above

This is also the meaning of "You have found his [Abraham's] heart loyal before You." (Nehemiah 9:8) It is well known that Midrash Rabba 30:10 points out that the word for "in his generations" means that had Noah lived in another generation, he would not have been considered outstanding. Whereas the Midrash compares the generations mentioned in our parasha with those of Moses or Samuel, Rashi compares them with the generation Abraham lived in.

The Torah says of Moses, "He is trusted throughout My household". (Numbers 12:7) Chronologically, Abraham preceded Moses in this area of self-propelled upward spiritual motion. He did it so persistently that G‑d revealed Himself to him to an extraordinary extent. When it came to the attachment to G‑d and His ways, Moses excelled over Abraham. This is why G‑d paid him the compliment recorded in Numbers. The ultimate compliment it is possible to pay a human being is to describe him as a fully-fledged member of G‑d's "household". The reason that Moses separated from his wife, i.e. from family life and the fulfillment of the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, is that "Moses ascended to G‑d". (Ex. 19:3) Having reached such a stage, further "upward" motion was not necessary. This is the deeper significance of someone becoming "a man of G‑d", as described in the Zohar. If Ben Azzai refused to marry and procreate because "his heart cleaved to the Torah," this may have been due to his being descended from a root such as that of Moses. (cf Yevamot 63)

Noah then was righteous in terms of his generation since he responded to inspiration from "above". …Although Noah did not compare favorably with Abraham, it is entirely possible that, had he lived during the time of Abraham, he would have been so inspired by Abraham that he would have equaled the latter in stature. After all, also Abraham had been told by G‑d: "Walk before Me and become perfect". (Gen. 17:1)

[Translated and adapted by Eliyahu Munk.]