The Elusive, Invisible, Tzaddik

The tzadik is one with G-d.

We recognize him because within each of us is also a tzadik who is one with G-d.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Tzaddik”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

This is amazingly difficult for me to get my brain around, mostly because I can’t imagine it applying to me, not even a little. But there are only a few sentences here to try and understand Rabbi Freeman’s point. What about how others reacted to this blog post?

*Posted June 24, 2012 by Yaakov Branfman, Jerusalem, Israel
So, in other words, when he goes against the Tzaddik, he’s really going against that part in himself who is a Tzaddik. And, not even talking about going against, but when he simply doesn’t value the Tzaddik, he’s not valuing that part of himself.
When he values a “regular” person, he’s valuing that part in himself, and when not valuing that person, he’s not seeing the good parts in himself.

*Posted Aug 22, 2009 by Anonymous, New York, NY
Yosef is the only one in the Torah was called HaTzaddik. Yet we find that Yosef made mistakes, and struggled, yet overcame his inclination, but is not that he had _NO_ such impulses.

By the way this is a phenomenal pearl of wisdom by written by Tzvi Freeman… If we look at people, and look for the Tzaddik within them… we can _PULL_ the Tzaddik to the surface.

*Posted Aug 9, 2009 by mark alcock, Durban, SA
“Tzaddik, The: A wholly righteous person. In the context of Chabad literature, one who has conquered his animal impulses and is filled entirely with love and reverence for G-d.” One is either righteous or not, not sometimes without sin.

*Posted Aug 9, 2009 by Michal
When I look at it this way,
then even I am a Tzaddik.
Most of the time.
Unfortunately not always !!!

I think what Rabbi Freeman (or the Rebbe) is trying to say is that we should look for the best in other people and the best in ourselves. There is supposed to be some spark of wonder, divinity, and even perfection within each human being and, if we can try to relate to that part of another person rather than the other parts that are imperfect, then maybe they will aspire to be what we see in them, rather than what the rest of the world sees.

That has profound implications. If you know someone who is perpetually sad or angry or cynical or sarcastic, you tend to relate to them by their primary presentation. We all tend to believe that a person is the way we see them and the way they act. But what if we choose to look at and to treat each person as if they were a tzaddik, even if that is the farthest thing from who they actually appear to be?

No, it wouldn’t suddenly change them. Chances are, they’d think you were faking it when you treated them with respect, honor, and deference (how else should you treat someone who is one with God?). Chances are they’d think you were lying. But what if you always treated the other person with respect, honor, and deference, even though their behavior didn’t warrant such treatment and even though everything inside of you tells you that they don’t deserve it?

At the very least, you’d confuse the other person. At the very most, they might, just might be able to see something of a tzaddik in themselves and start behaving differently.

OK, it’s a long shot and most of the time, it wouldn’t work, but how could it hurt? And what if their life is somehow a message to us?

So even if one is your enemy, and justifiably so; even if his moral and spiritual downfall is one of his own making – it could have happened without your having been made aware of it. That you have witnessed it has nothing to do with him: it is a message to you, enjoining you to deal with a similar negative element – be it in subtlest of forms – within yourself.

-Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement

What if someone where to treat you like a tzaddik? How would you react?


If you go around thinking you’re pretty cool stuff, you might think that it’s only what you deserve and you’d let it go to your head. That would be too bad, because if you go around all the time thinking you’re pretty cool stuff, chances are, you really aren’t. Chances are, things like humility, honoring God, and loving your neighbor as yourself might have escaped you. Yet none of these things would escape a tzaddik. If even one other person started treating you like a tzaddik and kept treating you that way, do you think those things that had escaped you before would begin to become noticeable?

And what if you look and look but you don’t see the tzaddik in yourself? What if you see a total screw up who, no matter how hard he tries, just can’t stop making mistakes, losing track of important details, and whose past is a ghost attached around his neck with heavy, iron chains, haunting not only his every waking moment but every minute of his dreams? And what if no one ever treated you like a tzaddik, not that you’d ever expect such a thing?

Can you look for and find the tzaddik in yourself or is there only your past, your mistakes, and how everyone else sees you in exactly the same way you see yourself?

Don’t be “this”. Don’t let them define you. If you catch yourself fitting into a definition, contradict it. Never travel a single road.

Be forever walking through the splitting of the sea.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Being Paradox”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

If there is even a tiny spark of the tzaddik in you, then not only can God see it but He placed it there. When a person can see only his mistakes, he also believes that’s only what God sees. It’s not that God can’t see past our flaws, but when we are drowning in our own despair, it’s impossible for us to believe God can see in us what we can’t see. It’s impossible for us to believe that there is something more in us than our own self-definition or the way others see our behavior and choose to define us. It’s impossible for us to think that we can escape the definition and become the paradox. Rabbi Freeman’s commentary on the above statement tells us that only God is truly the paradox:

If we wish to touch G-d Himself, we cannot find Him in any defined, bounded form. He is entirely unbounded, free of any definition. and that can only be discovered in utter paradox.

That is why everything a Jew does according to Torah, is bound up with paradox–because it is divine.

A Jew enters that identity when He is bound up in the Torah. A Christian would have to be bound up in Christ, the living Torah, to transcend the definition as Rabbi Freeman suggests, and to find the tzaddik within.

It would be wonderful to suspend the definition and to find the tzaddik who is completely concealed inside of me. But most days, there’s just who I see when I look in the mirror, and who the world sees when it looks at me, and who knows what God sees? Some days are better, and some days are worse, and some days all there is to see in me is a rasha. Have you even seen the tzaddik in you, let alone met him or her? If so, what is it like?

One of the Alter Rebbe’s great and very close chassidim had yechidus, in the course of which the Rebbe inquired after his situation. The chassid complained bitterly that his financial situation had utterly deteriorated. The Rebbe responded: You are needed to illuminate your environment with Torah and avoda of the heart – (davening). Livelihood and what you need – that, G-d must provide for you. You do what you must, and G-d will do what He must.

“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Tamuz 5, 5703
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943)
from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

7 thoughts on “The Elusive, Invisible, Tzaddik”

  1. “The tzadik is one with G-d. We recognize him because within each of us is also a tzadik who is one with G-d.” The idea of seeing good in ourselves is a speck of dust compared with the full meaning of these sentences. They rely for their meaning on the Chassidic idea of the tzadik and the spiritual system of status and power in which the tzadik has become an elevated soul, one with God.

    Rabbi Freeman has written elsewhere, “According to the Talmud and the Zohar, those righteous souls who have passed on from this world are still very much in touch with their students and family and care for them and their problems. We petition them to pray on our behalf–and they do and often their prayers are more effective than our own.”

    These are not metaphors but claimed as fact. Along with Catholic saints (and even more than they), the tzadik is said to stand in a special relationship with God and his students and family even after he has departed.

    The tzadik and the Catholic saint have earned the esteem of many; but whatever good there is in a person, there is no basis in the written Torah for the notion that the dead care for the living and receive petitions to pray for them. It is a sad delusion that obscures the light of Messiah, who actually does care for us and pray for us constantly.

    You wrote that, “I think what Rabbi Freeman (or the Rebbe) is trying to say is that we should look for the best in other people and the best in ourselves.” If they had meant that, they would have said it, no?. But actually they are referring to supernal beings who are one with a result of their lifelong spiritual ascent.

    It may not sound as elevating, but we are all made in the image of God and so we reflect God more deeply than we know. This is the basis for love and ethics.

  2. I can’t endorse the full meaning of what Rabbi Freeman and the Rebbe suggest and turn the tzaddikim into saints that one prays to, but as far as how I choose to understand those words, I think we can still try to see the best in each other.

    You are right that I stopped short of realizing the Chassidic viewpoint on this particular lesson of Rabbi Freeman, and I apologize for that (As the image says above, “I cannot brain today. I have the dumb.”).

    So if we chose to see that part of the other person who was created in the image of God, would that still work?

  3. I believe that we should not only try to see the best but expect and even assume the best until it proves otherwise. It’s not only a positive approach but, IMO, reflects the reality of every human being. Granted, the image is so marred and perhaps even unrecognizable in some; more’s the pity.

  4. Now if only we would put this into practice. Perhaps the world of secular humanism wouldn’t have so much to complain about when they consider religious people.

  5. The Tzaddik is not One with God..but has made himself a very important part of God-the reason above all why he -she -was born. As it is said in Tanakh: ‘David will sit on the throne before ME’. Not an easy feat…for ‘who can see G-D and live’.

    It makes me sad that even the Chabad organisation does not have a Tzaddik to lead it…that they have to go by book-rule-law-tradition-common sense…not by the Spirit that expresses and manifests Itself in and through the Tzaddik.

    Highly intellectual rabbis-have taken the place of the greater personality of the Tzaddik-the Spirit-His living word-his heart.

    Would they allow a Tzaddik to lead? (Such must begin with allowing the tzaddik principle in their own soul to have a say) Would they have trust in and submit to one who is not interested in power for own sake?

  6. Wow, Morice. Welcome to my blog. I had to re-read this blog post so I’d have a context for responding, since I wrote it over a year ago. I quoted Rabbi Freeman (and indirectly, the Rebbe) not as a blanket endorsement of their views, but because their views inspired me to try and look at people in new ways.

    If we were to treat others, especially others we don’t necessarily get along with on some level, as tzadikkim, the hope is that they’d rise to the occasion, so to speak. If they do, then we have helped in spiritually elevating someone. If they don’t, then we have made sure we treated the other person (and hopefully everyone else), with respect and honor.

    As Rabbi Kinbar commented above, “…we should not only try to see the best but expect and even assume the best until it proves otherwise.”

    I’m less concerned about the faults of the Chabad (and I’m aware they have plenty) as an organization than I am in improving my own state of being in relation to God and to other people. If we want to change the world for the better, we should start with who we are.


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