Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Three Levels of Tzaddikim


In every generation there exists 36 tzadikim nistarim [hidden righteous men] - sometimes known as "the Lamed Vav-niks" - [Lamed Vav is Hebrew for 36], whose existence sustain the world.

When one of them dies, G-d finds another replacement.

A tzadik nistar is a hidden tzadik, whose righteousness remains unknown to his community. In every generation there are 36 tzadikim nistarim in addition to 36 revealed tzadikim. [see Leviatan and Behemot]. Together they combine to form the 72 "bridges" (corresponding to the 72 Names of G-d) described in the Zohar as linking together the concealed and revealed worlds. It requires tremendous self sacrifice for a tzadik nistar to reveal himself to the world. This was first accomplished in full by the Ba'al Shem Tov.

A tzadik is someone who has succeeded in fully overcoming the evil inclination of his animal soul (and has converted its potential into good) and who dedicates himself to spiritually elevating his people.

There are in general three levels of the tzadik:

1. A "complete tzadik" [tzadik gamur] who not only vanquishes in full his innate evil inclination, but even transforms it into good [for which reason he is referred to as tzadik v'tov lo," a tzadik who possesses only good].

2. An "incomplete tzadik" [tzadik she'eino gamur] who has not yet completed the task of vanquishing his evil inclination, though he has mineralized it in essence [for which reason he is called a tzadik v'ra lo," a tzadik who [still] possesses [a bit of] evil].

3. A "relative tzadik" [tzadik b'shem hamushal, or tzadik b'din] whose merits exceed his liabilities [see Tanya, chapt. 1].

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