The haftara of Noach is taken from Yeshaya perek 53, and it refers to the great flood as ‘The waters of Noach’ ( mei no’ach – Yeshaya 53:9). Why is the flood attributed to Noach here? The Zohar answers that Noach was at fault for not praying to G-d on behalf of his generation: perhaps the flood would have been averted had he prayed. Several sources compare Noach to Avraham Avinu and find Noach lacking in his trait of chesed. As the Sforno comments, unlike Avraham, Noach did not spend his days spreading Hashem’s light to others, and even when he knew that the flood was coming, he made no major extra efforts to save his generation. Hashem put Noach into the ark to correct this trait of chesed; Noach was to spend every hour of the day taking care of the animals and caring for everyone in the ark – an intensive chesed course (hence his waiting for the instructions to leave the ark even after he knew that the land had dried, for he was unsure whether his chesed obligation was over). Yet chesed and outreach are certainly not limited to actions; praying on someone else’s behalf also has very real effects1 (indeed, part of the mitzvah of bikur cholim is praying for the ill person’s recovery). And Noach certainly could have prayed for Hashem to stop the flood – even though the people deserved the flood – just as Avraham’s prayers for Sedom delayed the destruction that should have been imminent2. This highlights the importance of communal responsibility. Had Noach felt that extra level of responsibility he would have prayed and Perhaps averted the flood.
To deepen this idea somewhat the (famous Kabbalist the) Arizal commented that Moshe had the same spark of the soul (i.e. was a form of gilgul) of Noach. Given that Noach’s error was lack of communal responsibility, Moshe corrected Noach’s error in a very real way. Moshe assumed total responsibility for Bnei Yisrael, to the extent that he endangered his life by killing the Egyptian taskmaster, and he sacrificed entering Eretz Yisrael for Bnei Yisrael (see Devarim 1:37). Yet, the greatest act of total responsibility and self-sacrifice was at the golden calf when Moshe begged Hashem ‘Please erase me from Your book’ (mecheini na mi’sifrecha). Moshe was willing to become totally anonymous and have all his achievements go without any recognition to gain forgiveness for Bnei Yisrael. As the mystical commentators point out, the word “mecheini na” spelled backwards reads ‘I am Noach’ (ani noach), and the word “mecheini” alone can be rearranged to read “mei noach’ (the waters of Noach). The message here is that Moshe learnt from the mistakes of Noach and assumed full responsibility for others. This feeling of responsibility is a key to teach ourselves to help others genuinely.