The Tzadikim Nistarim ( Hidden righteous ones ) or Lamed Vav Tzadikim (36 righteous ones ), is a notion steeped in Jewish mysticism.
It’s a notion, that in every single generation there are 36 truly righteous men on whose true righteousness and piety, the fate of the world depends. It’s a notion that interests me.
An early source for it, you will find in the book of Proverbs.
“As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more: but the righteous is an everlasting foundation. “( Proverbs 10:25 )
Indicating that the righteous man will support the world. Like Atlas who held up the Heavens and if he disappeared the Heavens will fall, if you take away these 36 righteous, the world is no more. There must also ( according to the notion ) be not one less than 36. The questions arise from that, ” What happens if there are not 36 righteous ones ? ” And ” How will the world be redeemed ?”
The hidden righteous ones are simply that, they are hidden. According to some versions of the legend, in some cases they themselves don’t know who they are.
One work of fiction that explains the lengths they will go to, to stay hidden is the fast paced thriller ” The Righteous men “, by Sam Bourne.
Without giving too much away, the books main character, Will Monroe a reporter on the New York Times, is sent on what he thinks is rather a mundane case of a man found dead in an Alley way. The man, in life, ran a brothel.
I must add here though, that the Righteous ones of the Jewish legend are not men who appear to be steeped in sin. And I suspect the story line in the novel that these righteous ones will do anything to remain hidden, even doing their best to hide their righteousness by appearing to be quite immoral, is to spice up the story.
Will Monroe thinks this is nothing surprising, that a man such as this should meet his end this way. That is, until he meets a woman who knew this man. She was a woman who had lost her Husband, was desperate for money and offered herself to work in this brothel in order to feed her children.
He hears, how when she made this offer, the owner of the brothel told her no but would get back to her. He turns up a few days later with a very large sum of money but with no explanation. She hears from others how this man had sold nearly everything he had to get her this money so she wouldn’t have to sell herself.
She then said to Will, ” I have no care what people say about this man. To some he was wicked. To some he was immoral, but he wasn’t, he really looked after those women, he saw no harm came to them, and to me he was the most righteous man I have ever met “.
Will is then sent around the world to report on other killings, and in every single case he heard the same phrase ” This was the most righteous man I ever met “.
Someone was systematically killing righteous men for some unknown reason.
I digressed there a little as I got quite excited when I remembered the novel :)
At first the Talmud viewed the righteous as merely being good individuals, but later they began to be seen as hidden saints and many legends then circulated about them. Unrecognized by their fellow-men and unknown even to each other, they are said to look for humble occupations. They do not admit their identity to anyone and, if challenged, would deny it. If the identity of one is revealed, he dies. The Almighty is said to replace a lamedvavnik immediately upon his death, thus keeping 36 in the world.
A just man is believed to emerge and use his hidden powers when a Jewish community is threatened and return to obscurity once his task has been completed. Legend says that they come at times of great danger, called out of their anonymity and humility by the necessity to save the world.
Another aspect of the legend says that at any time, in any given generation, one of the 36 could be the Messiah.
Rabbi James Stone Goodman explains,,,,
” We Jews began to get familiar with them, referring to them in Yiddish as the “lamed vov-niks” (lamed vov is Hebrew for thirty-six), and seeing them everywhere in the anonymous acts of good people who rise to great acts in difficult circumstances. And because one of the lamed vov-niks, one of the anonymous thirty-six might be the Messiah, we tended to treat strangers with kindness and the possibility that he or she could be the one.
It could be the person we least suspect, because the thirty-six, like all the sustaining notions of the world in the Kabbalah, are hidden. They may appear, they may not appear. If they do appear, they may be known, they may be unknown. In each generation, we look for them everywhere. “
Obviously as a Christian, I believe the Messiah has revealed himself already but the notion of the 36 righteous interests me and has my attention.
So, 36 righteous men or not ?