Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Tzaddik

One of the contributions of Chassidut to the corpus of Jewish thought and life is the institution of the Tzaddik. The word tzaddik literally means someone who is very righteous and pious. The Chassidic Tzaddik is a divine communal leader who is intended to be an intermediary between the Jewish people and HaShem.

Kabbalah states that special individuals are able to impact the higher realms with their mitzvot. These individuals can also use esoteric mystical knowledge (like permutations of the Aleph Bet and the different names of HaShem) to effect change in this world. The general picture of this special Kabbalist is an ascetic hermit who is barely connected to this world. Like the Talmudic story of R. Shimon bar Yochai (the author of the Zohar) who lived in a cave for years eating carob. (An occasional carob bar from a Health Food store is okay, but I can't imagine eating it for a week - never mind years!)

This special Kabbalist is also part of the identity of the Tzaddik. The Tzaddik is able to daven and do mitzvot more effectively than other Jews. But unlike the Kabbilistic hermit, the Tzaddik lives in the community and is available to the people. Chassidut encourages people to daven with a Tzaddik, because the Tzaddik can also help the tefillot of individuals. Their davening is connected to the Tzaddik and their prayers carried to higher realms with the Tzaddik's prayer. The Tanya (פרק ב) encourages people to daven with a Tzaddik for this same reason. Even though every LCR (Local Chassidic Rebbe) is not on the level of a true Tzaddik, the role of the Tzaddik is crucial to Chassidic thought.

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