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They don't die they multiply
April 10, 2006 9:51 AM   Subscribe

The Tzaddikim are 36 legendary saints for whose sake God does not destroy the world. Ancient writings of the Middle East claim that in every generation there exists a minimum number of beings upon whose merits the fate of the world rests. The number varies, but in Jewish legend 36 "Just" beings, or Tzaddikim, are considered to be the Foundation Stones of the World. Sometimes called the Tzadikim Nistarim or just the Lamed-Vav the hidden tzaddikim do their good deeds quietly. Their neighbors do not know who they are.  They are not saints; they are not holy people, they are not recognized or known even to themselves. They simply are what they are and in their very being, they somehow sustain the world. If, however, that minimum of truly saintly people does not exist, then the world itself will perish. Neil Gaiman quotes Death in thinking Emperor Joshua Norton was one.
posted by Smedleyman (30 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
The rest of them must be pretty well hidden, especially lately.

Oblig. Wiki link.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:52 AM on April 10, 2006


One of the characters in my play Kishinev is one of the 36 Secret Saints. And I know they're not really saints, but it's a common translation, and most non-Jews simply cannot pronounce the tz in tzaddik.

Great post.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:04 AM on April 10, 2006


This should be your link to Death, I think.
posted by cgc373 at 10:10 AM on April 10, 2006


Fascinating. The math of the system must come from Babylonian sexagesimal astronomy/numerology - which pops up all over the place - I had not seen this example before.
posted by carter at 10:15 AM on April 10, 2006


Fascinating. The math of the system must come from Babylonian sexagesimal astronomy/numerology - which pops up all over the place - I had not seen this example before.

It's gematria. Wiki.
posted by birdie birdington at 10:18 AM on April 10, 2006


thanks.
posted by semmi at 10:18 AM on April 10, 2006


The novel Last of the Just uses this legend when it deals with the Holocaust. A very fine novel indeed.
posted by Postroad at 10:51 AM on April 10, 2006


Emperor Norton didn't do much quietly.
posted by mendel at 11:01 AM on April 10, 2006


Emporer Norton is more of a Noble Drew Ali kind of character than a tzaddikim, I'd say, one of these characters who found himself in a particular place and time, and finding it unsatisfactory, just rewrote the whole script of the world.

I guess Noble Drew Ali had a bigger influence, though.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:06 AM on April 10, 2006


The Seinfeld series was based around this concept.
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:08 AM on April 10, 2006


“This should be your link to Death, I think.” - posted by cgc373

Argh! Thanks.
*shakes fist at teh internet*
posted by Smedleyman at 11:14 AM on April 10, 2006


This post is one of the reasons that god doesn't destroy metafilter.
Thanks.
posted by Divine_Wino at 11:43 AM on April 10, 2006


Yep. It's true. I'm about the only thing standing between you and destruction at the hands of an oddly rigid, systematic god.

I suggest you all treat like something between a cross of nobility and a jar of nitrogycerin ;)
posted by sourwookie at 11:52 AM on April 10, 2006


Emperor Norton inspired the name of a famous MetaFilterian AND a recent presidential candidacy.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:55 AM on April 10, 2006


I have to second Postroad on The Last of the Just. Excellent book.
posted by ltracey at 12:11 PM on April 10, 2006


I smell a Hollywood blockbuster! Or better yet, a Bollywood blockbuster!

In all seriousness, this is pretty fascinating.
posted by schroedinger at 12:23 PM on April 10, 2006


I find it astonishing that the "Why 36?" article, which goes on and on about silly numerological significances without referencing what seems to me (and I imagine to most Jews) the most obvious connection that 36 is twice 18. In Hebrew, the word "chai," meaning "life," can be written the same as the number 18. Yes, this is completely arbitrary, but if you're going to attribute significance to a number just for being a number, you might as well stick with the one that everyone else has already attributed the most significance to. 18 is the only number that Jews wear around their necks with any frequency. When Jews donate money, it's almost always in multiples of 18. In many parts of the U.S., on their 18th birthday, Jewish men (five years over 13; can't really call them boys) go out to strip clubs, but that might not have anything to do with it.

I just thought it was odd they didn't mention it.
posted by ErWenn at 12:32 PM on April 10, 2006


Great post.

The Seinfeld series was based around this concept.

Sgt, could you provide any more information on this? Links, article references, anything? I'd love to read more about it.
posted by synecdoche at 12:43 PM on April 10, 2006


Aw crap. I've been outed.
posted by Kickstart70 at 12:48 PM on April 10, 2006


All of you who keep saying that you're lamed-vovniks should know that, if one recognizes he is one, he instantly dissolves in a shower of dust.
posted by nonane at 1:08 PM on April 10, 2006


"The Last of the Just." - looks interesting. I'm going to have to read it. Thanks!
posted by Smedleyman at 2:08 PM on April 10, 2006


Great post AND great Bebe's Kids reference.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:16 PM on April 10, 2006


All of you who keep saying that you're lamed-vovniks should know that, if one recognizes he is one, he instantly dissolves in a shower of dust.

So they're vampires then.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:17 PM on April 10, 2006


MetaFilter: This should be your link to Death.
posted by Foosnark at 4:00 PM on April 10, 2006


i find it odd too, ErWenn--and thought it was 36 so that we'd have backups of each of the first 18. : >

In many ways we're supposed to live our lives as if we are one of the tzaddikim anyway--they're really no better than us nor worse.

(Astro, put the play on in NY--i wanna see)
posted by amberglow at 4:16 PM on April 10, 2006


Ok dont laugh, but I read the word "sake" as Sake (酒; pronounced "SAH-KEH" in Japanese, but often mispronounced as "SAH-ki" by English speakers) is a Japanese alcoholic beverage, brewed from rice.

So I thought, hmm it's nice that these priests brew this drink, but why does God care about it so much?

LOL
posted by mikojava at 4:53 PM on April 10, 2006


> All of you who keep saying that you're lamed-vovniks
> should know that, if one recognizes he is one, he instantly
> dissolves in a shower of dust.

We'd better hope these living saints don't have some kind of get together or convention. There'd be a ot of dusting afterwards, then the destruction of the earth by a vengeful god.
posted by tim_in_oz at 6:08 PM on April 10, 2006


In Hebrew, the word "chai," meaning "life," can be written the same as the number 18.

I wonder if neo-Nazis know that, what with their fascination with the number 18 for very different reasons.
posted by jack_mo at 7:22 PM on April 10, 2006


sonofsamiam -

I think Neil Gaimans point in saying that Emperor Norton was one of 36 was in saying that God doesn't destroy the world because of people that are so ridiculus and crazy that he finds them funny, therefore destracting him from the rest of the world. I don't think that he was twisting the meaning of tzaddikim rather than saying Emperor Norton was one in traditional sense.
posted by klik99 at 9:13 AM on April 11, 2006


I suspect Norton was a truly righteous man. He did a great deal of good and stopped a lot of evil without resorting to force or taking actual political power. Certainly he was in some aspects ridiculous, but that wasn’t the sum of what he was.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:28 AM on April 11, 2006


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