March 27, 2019
Boruch Merkur in #1160, Editorial, Moshiach & Geula, Moshiach & Geula, Tanya, hiskashrus

“A person buys a ticket to win the lottery – not the second or third prize, but first prize! Someone has to win – he reasons – so why shouldn’t it be me? What makes me less likely to win than all the others? * So too in our case, he can indeed be one of the Lamed-Vov tzaddikim…”

By Rabbi Boruch Merkur

There was once a group of shluchim known as der Vilde Sheivet, who came to Brunoy, France with the intent of turning it upside-down. Their goal was to reconnect the bachurim of the yeshiva, who – they felt – had slipped in their hiskashrus to the Rebbe. The mashpia, Rabbi Nissan Nemanov, renowned for his emphasis on personal avoda and discipline, was not amused by the shift, feeling it came at a high cost. These shluchim apparently saw inward avoda as a contradiction to hiskashrus. They were unruly in their approach, truly a Wild Tribe. Reb Nissan called them in for a talk and told them that it’s wonderful to inspire bachurim to a greater, deeper connection to the Rebbe – but at least show up on time for seider!

If you want to make a revolution, at least demonstrate its practical benefits by committing to the yeshiva program, being conscientious and disciplined, being there – on time – fully attentive and engaged. It’s not a contradiction to hiskashrus!

If I identify as a Vilde Sheivet, feeling energized and inspired to be in such an elite clan, and I manage to eke out a deeper connection to the Rebbe in the process, what could be wrong with that? – especially if it doesn’t interfere with my other spiritual priorities. There is great power in having a positive self-concept and identity. Let people think what they want of themselves, so long as it inspires them.


But what happens if our identity is misguided? Let’s say it is in fact beneficial, but it contradicts the truth. What if I see myself as a tzaddik, for example, but I’m not? Is a false but positive identity preferred or is it always harmful?

We all know the opening lines of Tanya by heart, “v’afilu kol ha’olam kulo omrim lecha tzaddik ata, heyei b’einecha k’rasha – even if the entire world tells you, ‘you are a tzaddik,’ see yourself as a rasha.” In other words, don’t fool yourself into thinking you are a tzaddik; halevai if you’re a beinoni… 

The Rebbe Maharash elaborates on this topic:

There is no harm in a tzaddik knowing he is a tzaddik. The harm is only for one who is not at the level of tzaddik – this person should not be mistaken to think of himself as a tzaddik, as explained in Tanya Ch. 13. The main warning here is not to rely on the fact that the entire world tells him he is a tzaddik.

There were many tzaddikim who testified about themselves that they are tzaddikim. But they knew they are tzaddikim not because of the accolades, etc., but by other proofs – and they were in fact tzaddikim. Thus, there is no harm in their identifying as tzaddikim. As explained in Chassidus, just as one must know his deficiencies, he should know his own virtues.

(Likkutei Biurim Vol. 2, pg. 327)

Here the Rebbe Maharash decries being swayed by public opinion, the way we are perceived by others. It is important to know our true standing, be it positive or negative, but only we can make that determination.

In a humorous tone, the Rebbe MH”M offers a fascinating, revolutionary perspective on this topic:

Regarding the avoda of Atzilus, it says in Tanya that “it is not our concern to delve into secrets”; it is relevant only to great tzaddikim. […] But the very fact that Tanya, Seifer Shel Beinonim, rules out the universality of the avoda of Atzilus indicates that we must contemplate it, and thus have a certain connection to it, as well.

There are many people, who if approached privately – not in public but one on one – and asked if avodas ha’tzaddikim pertains to them, they would say yes. Some people don’t need to first be asked; they have made a self-assessment and determined that the avoda of tzaddikim is applicable to them. Others may have never considered it, but when the topic is broached and explained to them, they can be convinced. […]

In particular, if one is aware that it says there are Lamed-Vov tzaddikim, thirty-six righteous people in each generation, it could well be that he is one of the Lamed-Vov!

We spend money on lottery tickets, for example. Since he knows there are many people who buy tickets and only one of them can win, why does he buy a ticket, knowing that the odds are not in his favor?!

Moreover, he buys a ticket to win the lottery. Not that he will just be a winner, winning the second or third prize, etc., but first prize, the biggest prize! Someone has to win, he reasons, so why shouldn’t it be me? What makes me less likely to win than all the others?

So too in our case, he can indeed be one of the Lamed-Vov tzaddikim. True, he does not see his own virtues, but that itself is proof that he is (a tzaddik) nistar; his righteousness is merely concealed – even from himself. All he must do is reveal it. […]

Considering oneself to be a tzaddik is a good thing. The message here is reminiscent of the well-known teaching of the Rebbe [Rashab], nishmaso Eden, regarding interpretations on Tanya: it can be done if it leads to avodas Hashem and fear of Heaven. The same applies here: If it brings the person to Torah study and Mitzvos observance, it is good and proper, etc. And perhaps he will indeed reach the level of tzaddik. It is even possible he is already a tzaddik.

 (Sichos Kodesh 5741 Vol. 1, pg. 795-797)


“We know what we are; we know not who we might be.” Our potential is beyond our imagination, yet we get stuck in a status quo of our own making. Ask someone who learns Tanya which of the three categories – tzaddik, beinoni, or rasha – most Jews fall into? Halevai they should say “beinoni” – and that’s regarding others, where we are melamed z’chus. It is devastating and debilitating to (falsely) see ourselves as r’sha’im, yet we seem to embrace the stifling voice inside us that snickers, “Who are you and what are you to pursue such lofty goals?!”

If we have to err about ourselves (and certainly about others) it is best to err on the side of favor. That way we will at least be energized to do what is incumbent upon us, to summon the necessary audacity to approach the King of Kings – even if it is “lo cha’dahs” – and beg and demand “es tzemach Dovid avd’cha m’heira satzmiach,” with the true and complete Redemption through Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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