Friday, March 20, 2009

Lamed Vavniks: The thirty-six righteous who sustain the world

[One of the 36 hidden?]

A slight digression from my earlier entries on esoteric masters of the Talmud, but not much of one. Think of it as a byway on the theme. A congregant asked me about the Tzadikim Nistarim (Heb.) or Lamed Vovniks/"Thirty-Sixers" (Yiddish).
The Thirty-Six [Righteous] are the minimum number of utterly moral people in each generation that are necessary to sustain the world. The legend evidently evolved from an earlier tradition of interpreting the “thirty shekels of silver” mentioned in Zechariah 11:12 as an allegory for godly people; God ensures there will always be thirty righteous people in every generation.
It also may have roots in the story of Abraham's efforts to save Sodom (Gen. 18), where it becomes evident that any society must have a minimum number of decent people in order to survive (Gen. R. 49:3; Zohar I:105b; Tikkunei Zohar, 21).

In the earliest version of this idea in rabbinic literature, found in Gen. R. 49:3, there are forty-five, “fifteen in Babylon, thirty in the land of Israel.” There is no firm explanation for how the tradition settles upon the number thirty-six (Sanh. 97b). Perhaps it is symbolic of "abundant life": double the number eighteen, the number value of the word chai / "life." According to the “thirty-six” legend, most of the thirty-six are nisterim, unknown, anonymously doing their good work unnoticed by the world. A esoteric prooftext for the number is found in Isaiah 30:18 - "For the Eternal is a God of justice; fortunate are those who wait for Him." In Hebrew, the pronoun "for Him" has the numeric value of 36. Thus the verse is read as "...fortunate are those who wait - [the] 36"
(Thanks to the anonymous reader who called my attention to this Isa. verse)

The reward for their anonymous labors is that they are privileged to directly experience the Shekhinah. One of them in each generation is suitable to be the Messiah (Sanh. 97b; Chul. 45a; Gen. R. 35:2; Mid. Teh. 5:5; Zohar 2:151a).

The fine Holocaust novel by Andre Bart-Schwarz, The Last of the Just, employs this legend, but "christianizes" this Jewish tradition in that the book claims that the 36 are destined to suffer for the sake of sustaining the world. Suffering and myrtrdom is not a big element of the lamed-vavnik tradition

To learn more consult the: Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050


Blogger Sweet Dreamer said...

Why the LV can give their love and healing to the suffering is that they can empathize...feel it themselves and seek to take away the suffering. Nothing is suffering unless you feel, actually FEEL the suffering of others as if it's your own and you suffer and cry for it. And for anyone who gives of themselves, comfort or tears, it is not based by ego, but by heart. Not for attention or to save anything or anyone. What is sad, to me, is that thirty-six is such a low number in our world of people who would be able to give of themselves in this manner. Why not 360,000, or 36million? That is sad that such a number of people who FEEL for others would be so low. It makes me feel so badly for humankind if that is the case. However, I think by us all showing the best of ourselves, to give of our heart, to feel empathy...and love then maybe it could pass on to others and maybe lamed vov would be a higher number. It should not just be relegated to Jews, but to all peoples. This world is a world of pain, despite it's visible beauty (nature). The emotion and suffering of humanity is like a whipping on the soul, at least on mine because I feel everything around me, even the emotions of animals and plants. I'm sure there are other people who can relate and know how it feels.
If the God of Judaism/Christianity needs the tears of suffering, to know that someone gives a crap about the pain of the world here, then I'm sure I've filled my quota of vials and cried my suffering loud enough to encircle the globe. Yet, I am not a depressed person. I love life. We can have empathy and care without being sad people.
End Ramble.

8:22 AM  

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