Rabbi Avraham Chayyim of Zlotschov asked, “What if the ‘one person’ is a tzaddik – a righteous person who constantly works on his soul? Is it possible that despite his righteousness he might still sin?”
We know of course that “there is no righteous person on earth who does only good and never sins” (Kohelet 7:20). But what sort of sin does a tzaddik sometimes do? Says Rabbi Avraham Chayyim, “His sin is to be nefesh achat, ‘one person’, concerned for himself and his own soul and withdrawing from society”.
There is a Yiddish saying about the tzaddik in pelz – the religious man in a fur coat. Think of a freezing cold railway station somewhere in Russia. If there is no heating the waiting room is unbearable. But if one person has a thick fur coat, he says, “I’m warm, so what’s the problem?”
True religiosity should never isolate itself from the community. Give up on the community and you strike out much of the Torah. True, the community is sometimes slow to respond and reluctant to taste the religious way, but if you write them off now they may never try again.
This is not only theory; it says something about modern Israel. Those who are too shocked or self-righteous to bother with the secular segment are rather too comfortable in their metaphorical fur coats. To work only on your own and your own group’s salvation is hardly Jewish teaching. We need bridges between Jews, not chasms.