Parashat Noah- The “Fur Coat” Sadik
The first verse of Parashat Noah describes Noah as an “Ish Sadik” – a righteous man. Rashi, surprisingly, cites the Rabbis of the Midrash who claim that although Noah was a Sadik, he was a Sadik only in relation to the sinful people of his time. Had he lived in the time of Abraham Abinu, he would not have been regarded as much of a Sadik.
These comments seem strange. We are not, and should not be, in the business of comparing Sadikim. There is no sense in comparing Torah leaders with one another to determine who is better than whom. All Sadikim are outstanding individuals with their own uniquely exceptional qualities. Why, then, did the Sages find it necessary to bring Abraham Abinu into the Torah’s discussion of Noah? The Torah called Noah a Sadik. Why should we start comparing him to next week’s protagonist, Abraham?
The answer is that the Midrash seeks to answer a fundamental question. Why didn’t Am Yisrael begin with Noah? Why was it only Abraham who was chosen to establish a special nation? If Noah was a Sadik, then why wasn’t he worthy of being our patriarch, of being the one from whom God’s special nation would descend?
The Midrash answers by clarifying that although Noah was a Sadik, he paled in comparison with Abraham Abinu. He was a Sadik in his time, but would not be considered much of a Sadik in Abraham’s time.
What is the precise difference between Abraham and Noah? What quality did Abraham possess that Noah did not, on account of which Abraham was chosen to father God’s special nation, but not Noah?
The difference between Abraham and Noah is the difference between two people’s reactions to uncomfortably cold temperatures in a room: one person puts on a fur coat to stay warm, and the other raises the thermostat so that everyone in the room would be comfortable.
Noah was a “fur coat Sadik.” He kept himself and his family safe from the sinfulness and corruption that swept the world at the time, but he did not work to help the other people of his generation. Noah spent 120 years building the ark, and yet not one person changed during that period; not one more passenger was added to the ark. Noah did not get involved trying to teach and improve the people, and he did not pray to God to annul the decree. He saved himself and his family, but nobody else.
Abraham Abinu was different. The Torah (Bereshit 12:5) speaks of the people whom Abraham and Sara “made” (“Ve’et Ha’nefesh Asher Asu Be’Haran”). They expended great efforts to disseminate the truth about God, to bring people to the recognition of the one true Creator. In a pagan world, Abraham did not isolate himself. He went out to teach and instruct. And he also prayed on the people’s behalf. Had he lived in Noah’s time, he would have worked to teach the people to change their conduct. And if God had appeared to him and told him of His plans to destroy the earth, Abraham would have prayed – just as he prayed on behalf of the condemned city of Sedom.
And this is why specifically Abraham was chosen to be the father of God’s special nation – because he not only built himself, but also worked to build those around him. He did not seclude himself in the Bet Midrash without concern for the world around him. He felt a responsibility for not only himself and his family, but for the entire world. And this drove him to work tirelessly to help the people of his time grow and improve.
This is the quality that Noah lacked. When Noah heard of God’s decree to destroy the earth, he obediently constructed an ark, but he did not try to avert the disaster by reaching out to the people or by praying to God. And for this reason, God forced him to spend the months of the flood in an ark together with all the animals, bearing the unfathomable burden of caring for and feeding them all. He needed to learn this lesson of looking beyond himself and working on behalf of others.
The Mishna in Pirkeh Abot teaches, “Im Lamadeta Torah Harbeh Al Tahazik Toba Le’asmecha, Ki Lechach Nosarta.” This is commonly translated as, “If you studied a lot of Torah, do not pride yourself, for this is why you were created.” But this passage may also be read to mean, “If you studied a lot of Torah, do not retain the goodness for yourself – for this is why you were created.” We must not keep our accomplishments in Torah to ourselves. Certainly, we need to spend time in Yeshiva studying, growing, accumulating knowledge, and fortifying ourselves spiritually. But then, “Al Tahazik Toba Le’asmecha” – we mustn’t keep it to ourselves. We were created to advance the world, not just ourselves. And we therefore bear the responsibility to “share the wealth” and work to disseminate the Torah we have studied, rather than feel content with what we ourselves have achieved.
Every knowledgeable Jew can and must get involved in outreach. We all have Torah knowledge and values to share. Rather than cloister ourselves in an ark like Noah, we must follow the example of Abraham and work to spread Torah. Needless to say, we must put in the time to develop ourselves. But this is not where it ends. The more we develop ourselves, the more we are able and obliged to work to develop others, doing our share and fulfilling our obligation as the descendants of Abraham Abinu to make the world a better and more Godly place.