Sunday, 16 November 2014

Or Tzaddikim Yismach

The Hidden Light

It is a traditional Jewish belief that the world was created for the use of humankind. But what kind of use? The use of becoming a tzaddik, a righteous one, or true human being. This is behind the popular Rabbinic sayings that the whole universe was created for the sake of the tzaddikim; that the world is not destroyed "because of 36 righteous people"; and that the tzaddik is the yesod olam, the "foundation of the world".  It is also behind one of the quotations ascribed to Yeshua HaMashiach in the apocryphal besorah tovah of Yehuda Tomah, or the "Gospel of Thomas". There is says:

V.12  The talmidim said to Yeshua: We know that you will leave us; who is it who will be great over us? Yeshua said to them: Wherever you are, go from there to Ya'akov haTzaddik, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.

The phrase "for whose sake heaven and earth came into being" is a way of saying that Yeshua's brother Ya'akov (James) is a truly great tzaddik, worthy of their full trust and obedience. 

In the Mesilat Yesharim (Way of the Upright) the Ramchal (Moshe Chaim Luzzatto 1707-1746) discusses this concept. He states there:

The world stands as in a great balance. If humanity is drawn after the world and distanced from the Creator, humans become degraded and degrade the world with them. However, if they control themselves and cling to the Creator, and use the world only as a way to serve the Creator, they are elevated and the world itself becomes elevated with them......This is similar to what our sages, of blessed memory, said regarding the light that the Holy One, blessed be, stored for the righteous (Chagigah 12a): 'Once the light saw that the Holy One, blessed be, had stored it for the righteous, it was gladdened (samach), as it is stated, 'The light of the righteous is gladdened" (or tzaddikim yismach).'  [Mesilat Yesharim Ch. 1, my translation]

Reading this paragraph I was reminded of Rav Sha'ul's words in Romans 8:19-24 (my translation): 

For the creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the children of God; for the Creation was subjected to ephemerality, not willingly but because of the one who subjected it in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning with birth pains right up the present moment...

Rav Shaul seems to me to be saying here that when humanity fell it degraded the whole creation, which now waits with groaning to share in humanity's uplift as we truly become, and are revealed to be, the children of God. There is a fascinating glimpse of the continuity of Jewish thought here, and the Rabbinic sensitivities of Rav Sha'ul. 

In the second part of the Ramchal's paragraph, he makes his point by citing the Talmudic statement that the "light stored away" was glad to see that it was to be given to the righteous. The sages derive this from a creative reading of a verse in Mishle which literally means, the "illumination of the righteous brings gladness" but they read as "the light for the righteous is gladdened". This is a reference to the light that was created on the second day of Creation. The Rabbis ask, if light was created on the first day, then why are the stellar lights created on the fourth day? They answer that the light referred to on day one is a spiritual light that Hashem then hid away for the tzaddikim (this light is known in Jewish theology as the or haganuz). 

 There is a sod (a secret here): the words for "samach" (shin-mem-het) are also the root letters of Mashiach (mem-shin-yud-het). Yochanan (1:1-5) says that the Davar (Word) was the "light of men", or in other words, the spiritual light that illuminates men. Yeshua is the source of the light, as Yochanan states many times in different ways. This is even clearer in the passage in Mishle, which in Hebrew reads "the light of the tzaddikim gladdens": "or tzaddikim yismach" (yud-shin-mem-het), the exact letters of Mashiach (mem-shin-yud-het). The passage can thus also be read "the light of the tzaddikim is Mashiach". 

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