If you are looking for meaning in life, you could do worse than to consider three dozen people who don’t even know who they are.
The Lamedvavniks are 36 righteous souls whose role in Jewish tradition is to redeem mankind in the eyes of God: by their decency, to compensate for the imperfections of humanity. Their identities are unknown to each other, unknown even to themselves.
Should a Lamedvavnik realize his true purpose and value, he soon dies and his function is taken by another, innocent of the special place he now occupies in the fabric of existence. But for the presence of such precious beings, the Almighty would destroy every human on the globe, as he came close to doing during the Great Flood and at Sodom and Gomorrah.
Each anonymous member of this select group, we are told, is otherwise ordinary. Humility prevents them from any awareness of their uncommon position.
Some religious scholars think the idea of a handful of essential men comes from Genesis, Chapter XVIII:
“And the Lord said, ‘If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.'”
Whether one believes in the literal truth of this part of our ancient inheritance, perhaps these stories offer guidance. The question thus becomes, where does the example of the Lamedvavniks take us?
Though I’m no theologian or moral philosopher, this tale suggests to me that each of us holds responsibility for the condition of the world and our fellow-man. Rather than saying, “They should do something!” perhaps we should ask, “What can I do?”
The humble Lamedvavniks are doers.
Act or stand aside. Do right. Repair the world of men and women or let others take it where they wish. Is the planet so peachy a place we are guaranteed to survive nicely without any effort on our part?
All I can say is, if you believe that, please pass whatever you’re drinking this way.
The paintings are both by Paul Klee. The first is called, Two Gods. The title of the second is, The Saint of Inner Light.