Wednesday, August 23, 2023

What is a tzadik?

 Baal Shem Tov once mentioned that there was a great person who would be together with him in Heaven. The Chassidim of course were interested in meeting this great tzadik and they asked who it was. The Baal Shem Tov mentioned the person’s name and the village where he lived. A group of the Chassidim immediately started on the journey to that distant village. The excitement abated when they reached the village. There were very few Jews there. None of these were religious. When they inquired about the home of the one they looked for they were met with astonishment. “Why would anyone want to visit that person? All he does is eat and eat and eat.” The Chassidim found the broken‑down hovel. Through the doorway they saw a grotesquely fat person busily eating. He didn’t look like a tzadik and he certainly didn’t act like one. He was obsessed with doing one thing - stuffing as much food as he could in his mouth. He was obviously irritated at their interrupting his meal - as he muttered, “What do you want?” The perplexed Chassidim told him of their mission and asked why the Baal Shem Tov thought so highly of him. The person responded between bites, “I don’t know what he is talking about. I am nothing special.” They then asked him why he was constantly eating. “It is very simple. When I was a child, my father was arrested for being a Jew. He was a pious Jew who kept the mitzvos with simple faith. He refused to convert. The non‑Jews decided that his rejection of conversion was a crime that deserved the punishment of being burnt alive in the public square. I still remember the pitifully small fire that they made of him - since he was a small thin man. I vowed then that when they burned me that there would be a giant fire and everyone would notice they were burning a Jew.”

 The Klausenberger Rebbe said: Our grandfather the Ateres Tzvi once said while fish were being prepared and they were flopping around after their heads had been cut off. "In this same manner will the chassidic rebbes dance and jump - without a head - before the coming of Moshiach." In my humble opinion in understanding the words of the sages and their mysteries - that the intent of our grandfather was positive concerning our times. These times in which we see the lowliness of the generation. A time when there are no great people to ask or seek counsel from. The question spontaneously wells up in the heart concerning the value of the chassidic movement which was founded by the Baal Shem Tov. I have personally said many time commented concerning the well known frightening letter that the Gra wrote erev Yom Kippur - how could he speak so harshly against those great tzadikim? In fact the dispute between the Gra and the Chassidim was similar to the dispute between Yosef and his brothers... They asserted that offspring that are no good - severely diminish the forefathers retroactively for many generations. And surely it has a bad impact on the future. Perhaps this was the reason for the strong opposition of the Gra and the misnagdim when they saw with ruach hakodesh up until the time of our generation. They wanted to reject chassidus because they knew how degenerate it would become in the generation just before the coming of Moshiach. In contrast the Baal Shem Tov and his followers - despite the fact that they all foresaw the degeneration in chassidus which would develop - but they also saw its benefits. In fact it is quite obvious that chassidus has in fact been the main factor in saving Yiddishkeit even in our generation - even though we are well aware of its lowly state. In fact there would be little left of Yiddisheit if it weren't for chassidus with its special clothing and the close attachment of the chassidim to the community and their rebbe. This external social cohesion is the basis of the vital strength of chassidus. The strength of chassidus has significant influence on the non-chassidic world also. This then was the intent of our grandfather's statement. He wanted to indicate the tremendous value in chassidus even just before Moshiach and that we should not fall into despair when we see the lowliness of the generation. The rebbes - even though they are mindless creations without heads - nevertheless they jump about and still have some vitality and provide social cohesion. They retain the strong spirit that sustains Yiddishkeit.


  1. The man in the story, the tzaddik is teaching the first lesson in Zionism.

  2. It is the State of Israel that saved Judaism from becoming an obscure religion following the Holocaust. If there are so many Chasidim dancing around like headless fish today it's because Zionism gave them a safe place to flee to and replenish their numbers while also helping the rest of the Jewish people recover and grow again.

  3. Also, the Baal teshuva movement, and Zionism in the diaspora have saved many Jews from being swallowed up in exile, assimilation etc. One Baal teshuva said that after the 6 day war, they could be proud to wear a kipah again.

  4. But the Baal Teshuva movement only really took off after the 1967 victory.

  5. Yes, it's true - a few rabbis started bt yeshivas for young Jewish students and visitors - these became aish, Ohr Sameach and brovenders.
    Rav riskin basically changed Lincoln sq from conservative to orthodox, the entire community with it.


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