“These are the generations of Noah – Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generation…” (Genesis 6:9).
The text could have just told us Noah was righteous. What is added by telling us he was righteous “in his generation”?
In his commentary to this verse, Rashi (11th century, France) says that some of our sages saw this as a way to heighten the praise to Noah. Even in his wicked generation he managed to be righteous, how much more so would he be in a generation like Abraham’s.
However, Rashi points out that some saw this as a slight to Noah. Sure, compared to his wicked generation he looked righteous. But in Abraham’s generation, he wouldn’t have been so great.
There are several reasons for questioning why Rashi cites this alternate view:
1. The positive view was expressed by our sages. This negative view was just something that was out there, not necessarily the view of learned people.
2. Scripture says Noah was righteous, so why confuse the issue by citing a contrary view.
I once heard an interesting explanation here. By citing the view of those who take our verse as not so complimentary to Noah, Rashi is actually revealing how great Noah was. The idea here is that people who are truly great often have opposition and detractors. Lesser righteous people don’t usually rub anyone the wrong way. Therefore, Rashi is not simply quoting two differing views. Both of these views ultimately point to the true greatness and righteousness of Noah.