36 Righteous Saints

I don’t remember All Saints Day being part of my growing up. I don’t think I even knew it existed until I was an adult. My Protestant heritage has a complicated relationship with the whole idea of sainthood after that unpleasantry in the 16th century. For many folks, as soon as you put “St.” in front of someone’s name, you’re bringing up issues of sanctification, and access to God, and idolatry. Really, it’s best to just keep the “s” lower case.

So, on this Feast of All Saints I think I’ll keep things complicated and look to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97b; Sukkah 45b).

There’s a Jewish legend that at all times and in each generation there are 36 righteous people, the Lamed Vav Tzadikim (from lamed, Hebrew for 30, and vav which is 6), without whom the world would cease to exist. These holy people are Hidden Ones, who do not themselves know that they are among the 36. They exemplify humility. Some say they justify humanity’s continued existence to God, like the righteous in Sodom for whom Abraham pleaded.

Since no one, not even the lamedvavniks know who belongs to the 36, then everyone should treat others and live their own life as if they might be one. A lamedvavnik is holy and humble, full of compassion, always praying for others, and always ready to greet the Divine. They live lives that glorify God and not themselves–which is one of the reasons you just never know.


One comment

  1. Bob says:

    So three cheers for the lamedvavniks! And the poet said,
    Abu ben adam may his tribe increase….

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