"These are the offspring of Noach, Noach was a righteous man, he was complete in his generations." It would seem more appropriate for the text to state that Noach was righteous "in his generation," in the singular form. Why is the word pluralized? What is meant by the word "generations?"
The Talmud explains that Noach was a public figure during דור המבול and the דור הפלגה, the generations of the flood and the tower of Babel. Despite the forces and influence of the pervading attitudes and atmospheres at the times, Noach remained the Tzadik he always was.
I would like to focus on and contrast these two events, as explained by Rabbi Benjamin Yudin of Congregation Shomrei Torah in Fairlawn. The flood was a result of people of mistreating one another; it was a punishment for sins done between man and his fellow man. The Tower of Babel was built because people strived to reach the domain of God. By elevating themselves above the realm of human beings, they risked destroying (their perception of) God's uniqueness and oneness; their transgression was between man and God.
The punishment for the latter was the creation of new languages and dispersing of the people, thereby preventing future attempts to reach the domain of God. But the punishment for the former was the destruction of the world! The punitive measure for sins done between man and God was relatively minor in comparison to the punitive measure for the sins done between man and his fellow man.
Several years ago, a student of a famous Rosh Hayeshiva was seen driving on Shabbat. While he was reprimanded for his act, the Rosh Hayeshiva allowed him to remain in the Yeshiva. Some time later, another student was caught after having stolen an object from a fellow student. He was dismissed immediately.
Matters that are between man and God are an offense, and sometimes even a "slap in the face," to God alone. When it comes to events of this nature, God often has no trouble waiving the honor and respect due Him. But when it comes to matters between man and his fellow man, God has considerably less tolerance. When one person hurts another, it is tantamount to the destruction of the world!
If only we would learn this lesson from the story of the flood. If only God would not need the rainbow to remind Him of His promise to never again destroy the world. If only...