Parshat Noach introduces Noach by first proclaiming that Noach was a “righteous man in his generation, and a man who walked with Hashem” (6:19). Commentaries clarify the words “in his generation” in two ways, both brought down by Rashi. It could either be a good thing, that although Noach’s generation was so evil, nevertheless he was righteous. On the other hand, it could mean that only in his generation was Noach considered righteous, and were he to have lived in another generation, he would not have been considered so righteous.
Everyone in Noach’s entire generation was evil, yet he remained righteous, and still some commentaries say he would not have been righteous in any other generation. Moreover, as the flood was taking place, Noach and his family were in the ark, while everyone else was on the outside, dying. Some explain that Noach’s fault was that he kept too much to himself and did not try to correct those around him (which was the reason that Hashem made the building of the Ark take so long, in hope that the people would repent). Noach was faulted for having bad surroundings, and he did not even have a choice! His whole generation was bad, yet it was his responsibility to try and change them.
Applying that to our lives, we see the importance of associating oneself with the right group of friends, and the importance of reaching out to others. We need to realize how critical it is that our friends not bring us down. Conversely, we must make sure that we are not lowering anyone else’s standards, and that we are only helping others. The Torah is full of rules that are designed to sensitize us to our friends’ needs, and we should take some time to think about that. We should find at least one Halacha that we can strictly adopt, grow through it, and encourage our friends to do the same!