In a d’var Torah on this week’s parasha, my teacher Rabbi Jeff Segelman, Rabbi Emeritus of the Westchester Jewish Center, introduced me to the idea of “ah tzaddik in peltz,” a “righteous person in a fur coat.” The term was coined by the great Chassidic master, the Kotzker Rebbe, who once referred to another rabbi in this way. The Chabad website elaborates:
The Kotzker explained: When it is winter and it’s freezing cold, there are two things one can do. One can build a fire, or one can wrap oneself in a fur coat. In both cases, the person is warm. But when one builds a fire, all who gather round will also be warmed. With the fur coat, the only one who is warmed is the one who wears the coat.
So it is regarding spiritual warmth — one can be a tzaddik in a fur coat…
Rabbi Segelman’s reference was to the protagonist of this week’s Torah reading, no less a person than Noah. The parasha famously begins with a cryptic statement: Noach ish tzaddik tamim haya bedorotav – “Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his generations…” Why does the Torah qualify his blamelessness? Why “in his generations?” Wouldn’t it be enough to say that he was “righteous” and “blameless” without the qualifier?
In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 108a), the argument falls on two sides: one says that Noah was only righteous compared to the wicked people of his generation, but had he been born at another time (e.g., Abraham’s time), he would not have been deemed quite so righteous. The other says that because his own generation was so wicked, how much more so should we consider Noah’s righteousness, that he was not drawn into the evil ways of his contemporaries.
In the discussion about Noah, there is a well-known comparison to Abraham. In parashat Vayera (we’ll read it in another two weeks), God informs Avraham that God is going to wipe out the cities of S’dom and Amorah (Sodom and Gomorrah). Avraham, in an astonishing act of moxy, famously bargains for the lives of the residents, attempting to save the few righteous people who may yet reside there. Noah, on the other hand, upon discovering that the world is to be destroyed, builds the ark quietly, following God’s instructions, and when the time comes, takes his family (and the animals, of course), boards the ark, and away they sail. He is a tzaddik in peltz – in his own way, he’s still a tzaddik, but he’s the kind who wears a fur coat, not the kind who lights a fire.
One of the lessons here is that it’s better for us to share our gifts. Knowledge, bounty, hands, hearts – each of us has the option of guarding our gifts or sharing them. The tzaddik in peltz isn’t a bad person by any means; he just didn’t make the leap to thinking about others in that moment. For most of us, thinking of others, especially at the immediate sacrifice of our own comfort, is a muscle that needs to be exercised. The juxtaposition of the Noah story with the Abraham story is our reminder to get to the spiritual gym and start working out. The tzaddik in peltz is still a tzaddik, Noah is still a righteous man. Maybe next time, they’ll be even better!
The Torah encourages us to be ever on the spiritual march forward and upward. As we settle in to reading it over again from the beginning, I pray that its warmth nurtures all of us in the year ahead.
Shabbat shalom um’vorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat.
Rabbi Sam Levine
A few quick notes:
- Thursday morning Torah class
- Last week’s Shabbat service
- Dr. Ben Lapidus podcast on Cuban music
- Rabbi Sam update
- Our weekly parashat hashavu’a class resumes next Thursday morning at 10:30. Join us for our lively discussions about the coming Shabbat’s Torah portion. All are welcome. No prior knowledge is necessary. Come when you can – each week’s discussion stands on its own.
- Thanks ever so much to Stephen Appell and Ed Guterman for holding down the fort this past Shabbat. Steve delivered the d’var Torah and introduced the scriptural readings, and Ed kept the service flowing from start to finish. Thanks also to all the Torah readers, daveners, and other participants. It’s nice to have so many quality folks to rely upon.
- Dr. Ben Lapidus, the wonderful Latin jazz musician, musicologist, and EMJC board member, is featured in an hour-long podcast on Changüí, a musical genre that comes out of Eastern Cuba. You can hear it here:
Here’s the blurb:
Changüí is a little understood, loose and lively, community-based music of eastern Cuba. In this program we sample recordings from the 2021 box set Changüí: The Sound of Guantánamo, and hear from Gianluca Tramontana, the man who made the recordings. Rooted in Afro-Haitian music, pan-Caribbean styles, Spanish poetic traditions and more, Changüí emerged in the mid-19th century in plantations, not unlike the blues. We also hear from musician and scholar Ben Lapidus, author of the only English language book on Changüí, and we update the story with Changüí fusions into jazz, salsa and hip-hop. Prepare to dance!
- And lastly, I’m pleased to announce that I have been hired as adjunct faculty at the Academy for Jewish Religion, the seminary where I received my rabbinical ordination. I will be teaching the Ritual Skills workshop this trimester; I had my first class yesterday afternoon. It’s wonderful to be able to give back to a place that gave me so much, and it’s a great honor to be asked to teach.