Who Is a True Tzaddik?
The average individual cannot understand the true tzaddik fully, nor is he capable of discerning who is a true tzaddik. How then, can one know who is a true tzaddik or not?
by Rabbi Shalom Arush
Translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody
Imagine asking a child in the third grade of elementary school to test whether an aeronautical engineer is a competent professional or not. It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Naturally, the child with his knowledge tools of addition, subtraction and multiplication can't possibly evaluate the engineer's knowledge of physics and aerodynamics. Understandably, the child is simply not on the engineer's level, as we all understand.
Oddly, people make judgments about tzaddikim when in effect there is just as big a gap between the average person and the true tzaddik as there is between the third-grader and the aeronautical engineer. In reality, no one has any genuine understanding of the true tzaddik, because the tzaddik defies understanding. To this day, no one fully understands who the Baal Shem Tov was. Rebbe Natan said more than once that he had no idea who Rebbe Nachman really was, despite the fact that Rebbe Natan devoted his whole adult life to spreading Rebbe Nachman's teachings.
Yet, in order to cling to the true tzaddik, we must have some way to discern who is a true tzaddik. If we can't comprehend the tzaddik and we lack the capacity of evaluating him, then how do we know who he is?
The answer is surprisingly simple. We recognize who a true tzaddik is by looking at his pupils. If the pupils are dedicated servants of Hashem, devoted to Torah while guarding their personal holiness, then it becomes apparent that their teacher is a true tzaddik.
We can understand the above principle by looking at a rubber stamp. If we look at the rubber stamp itself, it's difficult to discern what's written on the stamp because the letters are inverted. But once we dip the rubber stamp on an ink pad and the stamp a piece of paper, the message becomes clear and apparent. In like manner, although we can't grasp the tzaddik in our minds by looking at him directly, we can certainly see the impression he leaves on his pupils.
Looking at the tzaddik's pupils can be perplexing in itself. Generally speaking, we see that there are two main types of pupils. One type is making constant spiritual growth, yet the other type hardly changes, staying more or less the same over the years. What's the difference between the two?
Let's preface our answer by saying that neither of the two types of pupils is capable of implementing the demands that the tzaddik makes on them. For example, the tzaddik tells them that in order to cling to Hashem, they must rid themselves of their lust for women. The stagnant pupil shrugs his shoulders and says to himself, "What, does my teacher think I'm an angel? I'm human! I can never do that! Let's be realistic I'm a young man with an evil inclination. This is the way Hashem created me
" As such, the tzaddik's teachings and directives go in the stagnant student's one ear and come out the other.
The other pupil winces and says to himself, "My teacher has me nailed. Yes, this lust is still burning like a fire within me. I might be light years away from being like me teacher wants me to be, but if he's demanding this from me, then I must be capable of attaining this." The pupil who maintains constant and steady spiritual and personal growth takes the tzaddik's teachings with him to the field in personal prayer and spends thirty minutes a day pleading with Hashem to help him implement his Rebbe's teachings: "Merciful Father in Heaven, how can I cling to You when my heart is full of lewdness and my brain is contaminated with forbidden images? Have pity on me and rid me of this lust. How can I surrender a life of inner peace and holiness for a purgatory of debauchery and fantasy? Hashem, in Your loving-kindness, You gave me my teacher and spiritual guide; please, help me fulfill his teachings and directives. Don't let me go through life like this. I want You, Hashem help me be a kosher Jew!"
The growing pupil, the one who makes the constant and steady growth, is the one who prays to Hashem every day. Although he understands that he alone can't fulfill his teacher's directives, he can with enough desire, perseverance and Hashem's help. When we see true pupils like this, we know that they are connected to a true tzaddik.
Rabbi Shalom Arush is an Israeli Breslov rabbi and founder of the Chut Shel Chessed Institutions. He spreads the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov among Sephardic and Ashkenazic baalei teshuva around the world through his books and speaking appearances. Rabbi Arush is considered one of today's leading Hasidic spiritual guides, inspiring hundreds of thousands through his books, audio CDs and online presence.