by HaRav Shaul Yisraeli
from Siach Shaul p. 16-17
The midrash (Bereisheet Rabba 30:9) says on “in his generations” (Bereisheet 6:9) that according to Rabbi Yehuda, if Noach would have been in the generation of Moshe or of Shmuel, he would not have been considered a tzaddik. According to Rabbi Nechemia, in those generations it would have been even clearer that he would have been a tzaddik.
Let us explain the matter by looking more closely at the comparison to Moshe and Shmuel. The approach of these two great men was very different from that of Noach. Noach’s whole generation was corrupt, and he and his whole family remained on a high spiritual level, as we see that all of them received a prophetic message (see Bereisheet 9:8). In contrast, Moshe and Shmuel sacrificed themselves for their nation, but Shmuel’s sons did not follow his path (Shmuel 8:3) and Moshe’s sons did not come close to his level. The midrash[editor- we did not find the exact source] attributes the failure of Shmuel’s sons to the fact that Shmuel was so occupied with the needs of the public, and it is likely that the same is true of Moshe’s sons. Thus, we are talking about a sacrifice of leaving one’s children largely “unattended” in order to save the generation.
In the case of Noach, while we do find criticism of Noach for being underactive in dealing with his generation, he still had the merit of creating the bridge to the rebuilding of the world. Thus, he had elements that deserve our praise and elements that deserve our scorn.
If we compare all of the above to Avraham, we will find that he merited having success in both spheres. On the one hand, he had the “souls that he made in Charan” (Bereisheet 12:5). On the other hand, he had success in raising his successor, Yitzchak.
If we want to pursue the reason behind these distinctions, it would seem that the difference between Noach and Avraham was their wives. Sarah and Avraham are introduced as a spiritual team. The matriarchs are parallel to the patriarchs: “Avraham converts the men, while Sarah converts the women” (Bereisheet Rabba 39:14). In contrast, Noach’s wife is anonymous; neither her name not her actions are revealed to us. Apparently, there was nothing about her that was worthy of honorable mention. While Avraham could give over his chinuch responsibilities to his wife, Noach apparently could not, and that took away from Noach’s ability to impact on others to his full potential.
It is clear that Shmuel could only become who he became because of his great mother, Chana. We do not know a lot about his father, Elkana, and we know nothing about Elkana’s other children from his other wife. It was Chana who prayed for the child, who shaped his character, and who filled him with deep spirituality with her “lullabies.” Shmuel did not merit to have a wife as great as his mother, and therefore his children did not turn out as they should have.
It is not that we just need great men; we need great women. We need more Chanas if we have hopes of more Shmuels.