Zaddik

A Hasidic spiritual leader believed to maintain a channel to God.

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Sustaining the Zaddik

Whenever Hasidim pay a visit to the "court" of the Zaddik (the royal metaphor is applied throughout) they present him, through his gabbai ("retainer" or "overseer") a kvittel ("scrap of paper") and a pidyon nefesh ("redemption of soul"). The kvittel is a written statement by the Hasid, containing his name and that of his mother, of his more pressing needs, material or spiritual. The pidyon nefeshis a sum of money which goes to the upkeep of the Zaddik. The usual rationale for the latter is that, while the Zaddik really needs nothing for himself, his Hasidim can only have real contact with him by contributing to his upkeep. In some versions of Hasidism the Zaddik must live in regal splendor in order for the channel of blessing which he represents to be broad and wide. Much of the money, it has also to be said, is distributed for charitable purposes. A basis for the whole practice was found in the biblical passage (I Samuel 9: 8):  

"And he said to him, 'Behold now, there is in the city a man of God, and he is a man that is held in honor; all that he saith cometh surely to pass; now let us go thither peradventure he can tell us concerning our journey whereon we go.' Then said Saul to his servant, 'But behold, if we go, what shall we bring the man?  For the bread is spent in our vessels, and there is not a present to bring to the man of God; what have we?'  And the servant answered, and said: 'Behold, I have in my hand the fourth part of a shekel of silver, that will I give to the man of God, to tell us our way.'"

Man of God or False Prophet?

In many Hasidic circles it is the practice for a Hasid to place a kvittel on the grave of his Zaddik so that the Zaddik in the upper worlds should pray there on his behalf. The Mitnagdim poured scorn on the whole institution, maintaining that a Hasid is wasting money that could be better spent on alleviating his sufferings and those of his family. True, the Mitnageddim argued, there are biblical parallels like the one quoted but the "man of God" in the Bible is a true prophet while, for the Mitnagdim, every Hasidic Zaddik is a false prophet. They defended his daring comparison of the Zaddik to the prophet or the holy men of earlier times on various grounds, one of the most popular being that in the generations before the advent of the Messiah an abundance of new spiritual illumination has been released in anticipation of the tremendous event. As Solomon of Radomsk (d.1866) puts it:

"This is why scripture says: 'And God made the two great lights' [Genesis 1:16], hinting at the two types of Zaddikim, those of earlier times and those of later. 'The greater light to rule the day,' this refers to the Zaddikim of former generations who had the power to nullify all decrees against the children of Israel. 'And the lesser light,' referring to the Zaddik of this generation, 'to rule the night,' in the bitter exile which is like night. He, too, has the power of prayer as in former ages. God speaks well both of the early ones and the later ones, for He has eternal paths reaching from heaven by means of which He can be seen on earth."

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.