“For how can I bear to see disaster fall on my people? How can I bear to see the destruction of my family?” — Esther 8:6
A rabbi once made a derogatory comment about a colleague in whom he was deeply disappointed. He called the other rabbi “a tzaddik in Pelz,” meaning “a righteous person in a fur coat.” He explained that if a person is cold, there are two ways that he can get warm. Either he can wear a fur coat or he can light a fire. If the person lights a fire, others can benefit from the heat as well. If he wears a fur coat, he alone experiences the warmth.
In this case the rabbi was criticizing his colleague for keeping his spiritual wisdom to himself. However, the term has come to describe anyone who cares only for himself without taking into account the needs of others. And it may surprise you to know, but this term has come to be associated with Noah in the Bible.
Noah may have been close to God, but he neglected to care for humanity. He knew about the flood and built the ark so he and his family could survive it. But in all the years that he spent building the ark, Noah never once tried to save others or get them to repent and avert disaster. We also don’t hear Noah asking God to save the people as we do later when Abraham begged God to save the people of Sodom when he understood God’s plans to destroy it.
The irony is that while Noah was only concerned with his own family’s survival, his downfall came after the flood when he simply couldn’t handle the fact that everyone was gone. He got drunk to escape reality and was discovered naked, in a shameful state, by his sons. As the rabbis commented, “One who saves only himself, even himself he does not save.”
In contrast, there are many characters in the Bible who corrected this wrong – those who took responsibility for the wellbeing of others. Abraham, Joseph, and Moses were all individuals who recognized that we are all part of one whole and we cannot stand by while others suffer. Queen Esther expressed this exact idea when she said to King Xerxes: “For how can I bear to see disaster fall on my people?” Esther could have said nothing and saved herself, but she recognized that she was part of a greater whole for whom she was responsible.
Today, we have a similar choice to make. We can take care of only ourselves, even as we are spiritually connected to God, but ignore the plight of others. Or, we can follow the lead of great leaders before us and speak up for the oppressed and take care of the needy. We hope you will join us at The Fellowship as we dedicate our efforts to helping our brethren in need around the world.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President