Even though I went to yeshiva growing up, I never learned about the role the tzaddik plays in my life. I enjoyed reading biographies about gedolim and I was taught to respect and admire Torah Scholars, but in contrast to what I’m learning now in the writings of Rebbe Nachman, it seems that I didn’t even scratch the surface. In fact, I would venture to say that it was purposely omitted from our education in fear of deifying another human being.
Breslov explains that there can be many tzaddikim but, in every generation, there is only one tzaddik haemes, the true tzaddik. As the verse says (Mishlei 10), “צדיק יסוד עולם”. This unique tzaddik is literally the foundation of the world. All the flow of the world runs through him (Torah 63). All the other tzaddikim are nurtured via him (Torah 56). Anyone familiar with the ten sefiros knows that all the earlier emanations flow into the world through the attribute of yesod, the aspect of the tzaddik. If this sounds like heresy to you, then you’ll also have a problem explaining the following statements in the talmud from Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai (Sukkah 45b). “I’ve seen that there aren’t that many great people, said Rebbe Shimon. If there are a thousand, then my son and I are one of them. If there are a hundred, then my son and I are one of them. If there are [only] two, then my son and I are the two”. Also on that page Rebbe Shimon claims “I can exempt the entire world from punishment”. These ideas are found repeatedly throughout the Oral Torah, as the Talmud relates in Eruvin 54b, (famously brought in Rashi on Chumash), Moses learned straight from Hashem, then taught it to Aaron, then to Aaron’s two sons etc. Everything first comes down through the tzaddik emes.
The Rebbe also brings in Torah 71 and 63 that the tzaddik accepts suffering upon himself for the sake of the people. Sounds Christian you say? Well the Talmud says (Baba Metzia 85a) that during the entire time Rabbi Elazar Ben R’ Shimon accepted suffering upon himself, no Jew died an untimely death. And the entire thirteen years that Judah Hanasi accepted suffering, the land yielded its produce without any rain.
In Torah 70 the Rebbe actually compares the tzaddik to the force of gravity. Just like gravity on earth draws things to the earth’s core, so too – צדיק יסוד עולם – he is literally the core of the earth. The tzaddik possesses a force of attraction by which he draws the entire world to himself, and ultimately closer to Hashem and the Torah.
There’s so many more details and aspects of how the true tzaddik is an integral part of our spiritual and material bounty, but that’s enough for now.
I don’t want to get into why this crucial understanding and relationship has been stripped from our education. But we need this person. So how do we find him? Is there someone alive today with these capabilities? Can a tzaddik who is no longer living be the tzaddik? These are all good questions.
The Rebbe (Torah 2, Torah 55) teaches that we should bind ourselves to the tzaddik in our prayers. Reb Nosson (הל’ העושה שליח לגבות חובו 2:4) added that it’s proper to connect ones self to the tzaddik in every mitzvah he does. This is one way to start. You might want to verbalize it, as follows: “I am hereby binding myself to all the truly righteous people in our generation.” If this sounds too weird for you, the least you could do is pray often to find the tzaddik emes. We need him.
Why? Why did Hashem create the world in this way, where everything comes by way of another greater human being? The truth is that Hashem only created this world for those tzaddikim. The word tzaddik actually means to justify. They justify the creation of the world and, unfortunately, we don’t justify its creation nearly as much. Because the tzaddikim emulate Hashem, they can justify our existence. They see the good in us and in their merit – because we’re in with them, so to speak – we can exist.
But that’s from Hashem’s side. Why do we need the tzaddik from our side?
Let’s not forget that the Torah calls Hashem (Deuteronomy 4:24) “a consuming fire, a zealous God”. Yet, we are commanded to cling to Him like glue. That’s a dangerous proposition, as Rashi points out (Eikev). So we need to bind ourselves to the tzaddikim. Not just by doing business with them and marrying our children to them but by tying our souls to their souls. That’s the only way we can sustain a relationship with Hashem.
Maybe this is why Rebbe Nachman said that his fire will burn until mashiach comes? Maybe he meant that by his teaching about the tzaddik’s role, the world will become familiar with the critical need to connect to the tzaddik. So when mashiach finally does arrive, במהרה בימינו, we’ll be ready and willing to unify our souls to his holy soul and lift up the world once and for all. אמן!