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Home » Education, Noach

Noah: Spiritual Care

Submitted by on October 6, 2018 – 11:30 pmNo Comment | 9,649 views

Our sages were critical of Noah because he did failed to provide spiritual care for the people of his generation. Noah was a righteous man and worthy of rescue from the flood, but never once did Noah plead with G-d, let alone demand from G-d, to spare the people of his generation.

In Yiddish there is a saying, a tzadik in pelz, which means to be pious in a pelt. A pelt is an animal skin that has been stripped for tanning. When it is cold outdoors you can warm yourself in two ways. One is to drape yourself in a pelt (or more accurately the fur coat made from the pelt), the other is to build a fire. The difference is that a pelt, only warms you. A fire also warms others.

A tzadik in pelz is only concerned with his or her own piety and cares not a whit for others. A tzadik on fire provides spiritual care for others. They are not content to sit in their own homes or stand on their own streets, where they study Torah and conduct themselves piously. They deliberately seek out those who are otherwise uninspired and extend a warm and welcoming hand.

Abraham was a tzadik on fire. When G-d informed Abraham that he was about to destroy the entire population of Sodom, Abraham replied that it is inappropriate to slay an entire population, the guilty along with the innocent. So long as some people are righteous, the entire population should be saved on their account. It is unbecoming of the judge of the world, concluded Abraham, to behave so unjustly.

Abraham was not content to sit at home with his family and friends or in the study halls with his students. Abraham was concerned even with those who lived in Sodom, those who never attended synagogue and never visited the lecture halls. Abraham would not sit back in his pelt providing spiritual care for himself and his loved ones. Abraham extended spiritual care to all people.

Noah was a tzadik in a pelt. Abraham was a tzadik on fire.

Acting or Praying

Now before we are too critical of Noah, let’s remember that Noah did not ignore the people of his generation. He deliberately built his ark in a public place so that passersby would notice and ask why he was building a boat so far from shore. He would explain that the boat was not for sailing on the oceans but for floating above the city. He would then talk about the pending storm and exhort his co conversationalists to repent. Sadly, no one did, but that was not due to a lack of effort on Noah’s part.

If Noah tried so hard, why do we call him a tzadik in a pelt? Why should Noah be criticized for failing?

The answer is that though Noah attempted to sway the people of his generation, he never asked G-d to save them. For Noah, it was a simple equation. If they repent, then they deserve to be saved. If they don’t repent, they deserve to die, and Noah would not ask G-d to spare them.

Abraham was different. Abraham was willing to pray not only for the innocent, but also for the guilty. Abraham argued that so long as there were righteous people in Sodom, the entire population should be spared, the innocent and the guilty. Thus, Noah was a tzadik in a pelt and Abraham was a tzadik on fire.


Yet, even Abraham was lacking. When the Jews sinned in the desert, Moses prayed that even the sinners be spared. Moses didn’t only argue on behalf of sinners who lived alongside righteous people as Abraham did. Moses also argued on behalf of families comprised entirely by sinners.

By contrast, when G-d informed Abraham that there was not a single righteous person in all of Sodom, Abraham agreed that the city’s population be destroyed. Moses never considered that possibility. Moses argued brilliantly and successfully even on behalf of the sinners themselves.

If Abraham was truly a tzadik on fire, why didn’t he extend himself, as Moses did, for those not living in the presence of the righteous? Isn’t there a trace of a tzadik in a pelt in Abraham too?

Arc of Development

Good ideas develop gradually. First, we embrace the basic idea and gradually the idea evolves into an elaborate theory. For example, the founding fathers of the United States were brilliant visionaries who perceived that all men are created equal. Yet, their ideas were limited. Not only did they own slaves, they also viewed women as inferior. It would take nearly a century to emancipate the slaves and another half century for women to achieve the right to vote. This is not a mark against the founding fathers. On the contrary, they were great visionaries who were ahead of their time. But only slightly ahead. They were unable to make the entire leap at once.

The same can be said of the curve that began with Noah and continued with Abraham and Moses. Before Noah’s time there were righteous people such as Enoch and Methuselah, but nowhere do we find that they reached out to the sinners of their time to persuade them to repent. Noah was the first to reach out to the people of his generation. That Noah was not as advanced as Abraham is not at all surprising. For his time, he was a visionary. In Abraham’s time, Noah’s approach would have been considered elementary. But that is only because Abraham built on the principle that Noah established.

This also explains why Moses was further ahead than Abraham. It is not a mark against Abraham that Moses developed Noah’s initiative even more than Abraham did. On the contrary, it is due to Abraham’s work that Moses was able to continue the arc of the development.

Where Are We?
The question that we need to ask ourselves is, where do we fit on this curve? Are we like Enoch and Methuselah, are we like Moses, are we like Abraham, or are we like Moses?

If we are like Enoch and Methuselah, we are content with our own levels of observance and don’t mind if other Jews make their own choices. We never extend a hand to provide spiritual care to others because we don’t see it as our role or as our responsibility.

If we are like Noah, we make a cursory effort to help another because we feel obligated, but if we fail, we pat ourselves on the back and move on. If we are like Abraham, we do our best to help another, not because we feel obligated, but because we really care. However, if we did our best and still couldn’t help, we feel disappointed, but move on.

If we are like Moses, we never stop until we find a proper solution, a way to deliver the help that others need.

So where do we stand on this curve?[1]

[1] This essay is based on Likutei Sichos 15:83-92.

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