At the end of the first chapter of the Torah, Genesis (Bereshit), G‑d regrets, as it were, creating humanity that became depraved:
And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth… And the Lord said: ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth…; for it repenteth Me that I have made them.’” (Gen. 6:5-7)
Nevertheless, one man, Noah (Heb. Noach), found favor in the eyes of G‑d:
But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8)
We don’t learn about Noah’s righteousness until the following weekly Torah portion, Noach. So, what did Noah do to find favor in the eyes of G‑d?
The hint may be found in the earlier verse narrating Noah’s birth and his naming by his farther, Lamech:
And he called his name Noah, saying: ‘This same shall comfort us in our work and in the toil of our hands, which cometh from the ground which the Lord hath cursed.’” (Gen. 5:29)
Commenting on this verse, Midrash says:
Once Noah was born, he invented plows, scythes, spades, and all kind of tools” (Midrash Tanchuma, Genesis 11)
(See also Rashi, Zohar 1:58b) By inventing the plow and other agricultural tools, Noah made it easier to work the land and lifted the curse from the land. No doubt, the invention of the plow was no small accomplishment, which required discovering some facts about metallurgy. But was so great as to merit finding favor in the eyes of G‑d?
This Midrash may be indicating that Noah was the first inventor – he was the first to invent a tool to make human activity – in this case, toiling the land – easier and more efficient. The significance of this cannot be underestimated. Earlier in this Torah portion, summarizing the works of the Creation, G‑d declares:
And on the seventh day G‑d finished His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And G‑d blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it; because that in it He rested from all His work which G‑d created to make.” (Gen. 2:2-3)
This verse in a literal translation as above ends rather awkwardly, “…which G‑d created to make.” What does it mean? It means, of course, that G‑d created humans as His partners in Creation, and He created the world for us to make, i.e., to improve and refine. This principle mission of humanity is encapsulated in the Hebrew phrase Tikkun Olam – rectification of the world. It seems from the Midrash that, as the first inventor, Noah was the first to engage in Tikkun Olam. He was the first to understand the universal mission of humanity. And this was what found favor in the eyes of G‑d.
Inventing new things, however, requires the study of science and technology. Granted, Tikkun Olam involves more than creating new technology. On a mystical level, the concept is related to rectification of the first universe, called the Olam Tohu, i.e., the Universe of Chaos, first created and then destroyed by G‑d.
Now the earth was chaotic (tohu) and void” (Gen. 1:2)
This followed by the creation of the next world – Olam haTikkun – the Universe of Rectification. The mystics teach us that this rectification is done by redeeming the fallen sparks that descended into this World of Rectification (tikkun) from the Universe of Chaos. This is done primarily by eliminating all forms of idolatry, doing mitzvot (Divine commandments), and learning Torah. It is worth remembering, however, that it was the first act of invention, i.e., rectifying this world in a physical sense by utilizing science and technology, that found favor in the eyes of G‑d.
The evil generation of the Flood, espoused, I suppose, the philosophy of Madam Pompadur, who infamously said, “Après nous, le déluge” – “After us, the flood.” The mission of the humanity is just the oposit – the betterment of the world, to leave this world after us better than we found it. The ultimate mission we have been entrusted with is to make for G‑d a dwelling place in this lowest of the world – a tikkun istead of chaos, a garden insteaf of the flood. The invention of the first agricultural tools by Noah was the begging of long road tikkun towards betterment of this world. This is why Noah found favor in the eyes of G‑d.