And G-d said to Noah… Make yourself an ark (6:13-14)
Noah tried to save his generation by calling on them to repent. But the fact that he did not pray for them implies that, ultimately, it did not matter to him what became of them. Had he truly cared, he would not have sufficed with “doing his best” but would have implored the Almighty to repeal His decree of destruction — just as a person whose own life is in danger would never say, Well, I did my best to save myself, and leave it at that, but would beseech G-d to help him.
In other words, Noah’s involvement with others was limited to his sense of what he ought to do for them, as opposed to a true concern for their well-being. He understood the necessity to act for the sake of another, recognizing that to fail to do so is a defect in one’s own character; but he fell short of transcending the self to care for others beyond the consideration of his own righteousness.
This also explains a curious aspect of Noah’s efforts to reach out to his generation. When the Flood came, Noah and his family entered the ark — alone. His 120-year campaign yielded not a single baal teshuvah (repentant)! Perhaps public relations was never Noah’s strong point, but how are we to explain the fact that, in all this time, he failed to win over a single individual?
But in order to influence others, one’s motives must be pure; in the words of our sages, “Words that come from the heart enter the heart.” Deep down, a person will always sense whether you truly have his interests at heart, or you are filling a need of your own by seeking to change him. If your work to enlighten your fellow stems from a desire to “do the right thing” but without really caring about the result, your call will be met with scant response. The echo of personal motive, be it the most laudable of personal motives, will be sensed, if only subconsciously, by the object of your efforts, and will ultimately put him off.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)