When describing Noach the Torah says “He was righteous and perfect in his generation” (6:9), Rashi says some people interpret this as a derogatory statement; that if Noach would have lived in a generation with other Tzaddikim he would not be considered especially righteous. While others interpret it as a positive addition, meaning that if Noach were part of a holier generation then he would have been much holier than he was in his own time. Yet, even with that there was one mistake Noach made; that he did not go out into the world and attempt to bring others to Teshuvah, rather he sailed off on his own. This is in contrast to Avraham who would go out into the world, affecting people’s lives and separating them from idol worship, bringing them to a belief in the One and Only God. In truth, both were extremely righteous but there is a vast difference between their levels of outreach.
The Pasuk in Tehillim (92:13) says, “A Tzaddik is like a flourishing palm tree, like a tall cedar tree”. I’m not a botanist but I know for sure those are two very different types of trees, so how can a Tzaddik be both? Rather, as the Baal Shem Tov teaches, this is referring to two different types of Tzaddikim. Both are great Tzaddikim, so what divides them? One Tzaddik is constantly attached to God and does all that needs to be done. He is certainly a Tzaddik, but only for himself – not for others. This is the Tzaddik we compared to the Cedar which is a barren tree, it doesn’t produce any fruit. Because he is a Tzaddik only for himself – he produces no fruit – he doesn’t bring anything to the world after him. The second Tzaddik is compared to a flourishing palm tree which produces fruit, he causes good to flourish and spread to the world. This is what the Gemara means when it says, “a perfect Tzaddik cannot come close to the level of a Baal Teshuvah” (Berachos 34b) for the second type of Tzaddik is called a “Baal Teshuvah” because he is a master of bringing people back to Hashem.
The first Tzaddik who is a great Tzaddik, yet is mostly focused on himself is like Noach. Whereas the second Tzaddik, like Avraham, spreads Hashems light into the world. Creating fruit that nourish the souls of those who are “hungry”. When Avraham was commanded to leave his land, his birthplace, his father’s house, he was challenged greatly. But when Avraham went to sacrifice his only child he was tested even more, for when he listened to Hashem and left his land, it showed that he was dedicated to his own personal spiritual growth, but when Hashem commanded him to sacrifice Yitzchak it was no longer a test on his personal growth but now a test to see if he genuinely cared for the spiritual growth of those around him. It was this second test that showed Avrahams greatness and integrity. Thus solidifying his reputation as a master of repentance, “A Baal Teshuvah”. Becoming like the Tzaddik compared to a Date Palm that has now produced fruit which still nourishes the Jewish people to this day.
May we all find nourishment in the Torah and ways of Hashem.