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Wednesday, February 6, 2019


So I was studying with my rabbi, and wondering what is a tzaddik? Do you know any tzaddikim? What does it take, what does it mean?

Our tradition says that there are thirty six such people at anytime on the earth, thirty six of these holy individuals. That the sake of the world depends on their being here, you can't have the world without them and without them there is no world.

 Do you know any of them? Are they out there? 
It was a difficult question, and I wasn't comfortable with an answer. 

I wouldn't feel good pointing out someone I thought was a tzaddik and at the same time I don't know if somebody who was one of the thirty six could stand being pointed out.

That doesn't mean that I don't think they're out there doing good in the world. I'm just not sure they can or maybe should be identified. Then I thought, how do you define the righteous? Is it a definition that changes over time? I'm not the same person day to day. I think I've been better and worse than I am right now. Is that part of what it means? Are they always great people? 

 Was Moses one of these people? How about Noah, who was the most upright man in his time? Is that enough to make you a tzaddik? 

  Is it a relative thing, is it transferable? Are you one of these people all the time or does it come and go from individuals as the world needs? 

  Was Gandhi one of these people? Was Dr. King one of these holy men? The Dalai Lama? Do they need to be men? Do they need to be Jewish? 

I listen to an interview this week on a podcast called Unorthodox. This time it contained a discussion with Derek Black a young man who is the son of the founder of America's most notorious White Supremacist publication. 

He was in college and espousing white nationalist beliefs when Jewish classmates of his started inviting him for Friday night Shabbat dinners at their place. He was in a lonely place, on a small liberal arts campus in Florida because of his espoused beliefs and he took them up on it. They met over and over for Friday night dinners and it caused a change in Derek. He found out first hand everything he was brought up to believe was wrong, and he changed. Today he's working on his advanced degrees and helping fight against the cancer of racism in America. 

Were his fellow students, Jews who knew full well that they were inviting a man into their sacred space that condoned violence against them, were they of the thirty six? 

Talmud gives us this to contemplate as well: 

 Whoever destroys a soul [of Israel], it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life of Israel, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.
I think I want the thirty six to be in motion, moment to moment, as we need and are needed. I think it's a matter of being open to the possibility that you can do good in this world and a certainty that good exists even when we cannot seem to find it.

I hope, and because of that I know they are out there, somewhere.

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