Let My People Know

"The truly holy men"


A superior man is no longer in need of the personal satisfaction of the mitzvah or the correct action.

Whatever he does is done for the sake of Heaven. 

This is illustrated by the story of two Chasidim who met after having once, long before, studied together with the same teacher. 

One asked another: "Why was a man created?" 

The other answered: "A man was created in order to correct himself, to make himself. 

To which the first said: "Have you forgotten what we learned–that man was created to raise the Heavens?" 

Such a posing of the issue emphasizes the difference between the two types of men:

–the one who strives to reach God by improving himself and– 

–the one who strives to raise the Heavens, that is, to realize a union of God and His Shechinah without thinking of his own craving for union.

To better comprehend this latter point it may be important to recall that devotion and self-sacrifice can comprise more than offering up one's life for something. 

When a person is prepared to die for a cause, it proves a certain physical devotion.

When a person is prepared to renounce his very soul for the sake of Heaven, this is spiritual devotion. 

That is to say, the readiness for spiritual self-sacrifice is a far greater thing than physical martyrdom. 

Among the truly holy men, this conscious submission of one's spiritual well-being is a more profound sacramental offering than the death of the body. 

This is exemplified by leaders like Moses who sacrificed the joys and blessings of Divine Union in order to take care of the weak and sick, that is, to deal with the petty problems of the ordinary man. 

One sees it quite clearly in the reluctance shown by such men to assume tasks of leadership. 

Naturally enough, men like Moses want to remain in the state of blissful Divine Union and have no desire to bother with stubborn Pharoahs or to deal with a complaining slave people and their petty grievances, their fears and their faithlessness. 

Therefore, when Moses does assume the task, it is a true act of self-sacrifice.

He descends from his real greatness and the height of the spirit which he had attained. 

Indeed, it is said that any genuine leader is one who has to be compelled to abandon his inner peace and glory for the thankless task of caring for ordinary people. 

The Tzadik of his generation thus becomes the leader of his generation by sacrificing himself for the sake of Heaven.

There is an apparent contradiction here, namely, that for the perfect Tzadik, who can transform darkness into light, being himself so full of light, the world remains a problematic factor full of pain and temptation. 

To be sure, since most men never achieve that higher level of being, it is not a pressing question. 

Nevertheless, what is apparent from traditional experience is that at the level of the Tzadik, there is no strong feeling of a gap between above and below, between the physical and the spiritual. 

The true Tzadik has no sense of a separation between worlds: He can pray to God and also eat and talk to common people with the same unvarying keenness of interest and total participation. 

This, as we have seen, is only one aspect of that higher level of being.

Another aspect of this same level is that the perfect Tzadik does the work of God without any thought of self, and, in fact, renounces himself in the doing. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Long Shorter Way by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz