There is an ancient tradition that before the Great Flood there lived many great souls. Methuselah, for example, who lived the longest life on record. He received wisdom and knowledge directly from Adam and Seth, and taught it to many disciples. These disciples meditated and prayed and attained spiritual heights. Methuselah died seven days before the flood, but he left many other enlightened spirits behind.

Spiritual enlightenment, however, is not the only criteria for sustaining a world.

Before the Flood, the Creator reflected upon the world He had made and how its soul had been ripped out of it. He saw these people who prayed and meditated and transcended the bounds of body and earth.

And He said, "You people are not the solution. You are part of the problem. When I created this earth, I saw it was very good. My masterpiece of beauty, of awesome peaks and fathomless oceans, of raging conflict and exquisite resolution, of wisdom no microscope will ever exhaust, no mind will ever fully grasp. A world where infinite life hides in every grain of soil, in every drop of water, in every breath of air. And I placed you people within it to make a holy union of that life and the infinite within. But you have abandoned the earth rather than enriching it. You have divorced heaven and earth rather than marrying them. And so you have allowed the earth to become desolate and filled with corruption."

Noah, however, was not just a spiritual man. He was, as the Torah says, "A man of the Earth." According to tradition, Noah invented the plow to soften the earth so that it could receive rain from the heavens. That was Noah’s path: To bring the earth into harmony with its source above.

So G–d said, "Noah, who knows how to be above yet stay within, to bond body and spirit, heaven and earth, he alone can save My world."

I remember hearing the Rebbe cry about the tragedies that shook us. The Rebbe’s wife asked his students not to sing melancholy songs in his presence, because her husband would start to cry. He had lived through the horrors of Stalin and of Hitler, and every day mail came to him describing people’s sorrows. He survived and pushed forward defiantly. But he still cried.

I remember once when he talked about how the spiritual people among the nations, those who meditate and pray in their hermitage and in their ashrams, how they were quiet during the worst crimes of history. The ravaging of humanity, he said, happened with their permission.

Spirituality, by the Rebbe’s definition, is not an escape. It is something that embraces life on planet earth with all its inhabitants. Not something that sees the world as a dim corridor to race through on the way to somewhere better. There is no place better, not in the highest of heavens. The greatest riches of the soul come from sustaining this world we were placed in. Here we can make a garden of which the highest angels will be jealous.

"If you want to find G–d in all His Essence," he said, "become His partner in perfecting this world He has made."