I believe the 36+ Lamed Vav Tzadikim ל”ו צדיקים or “Lamed-Vavniks” are composed of at least18+ men and 18+ women, whose simple lives of doing kind and compassionate deeds help redeem our society from the negative effects of destructive cynicism and nihilism.
Or perhaps there are 3 sets of 12+. The first set of 12+ are from the tribe of Levy; half are descendants from Aaron, the first high priest, and half are descendants from Miriam, the first female prophet.
The second set of 12+ are from Judah with at least one of them a descendant of Ruth, and at least one descendant from David.
The last 12+ are descendants from Noah; in our generation half are righteous Gentiles (most of them among the 26,000+ Righteous Gentiles recorded by Yad V’Shem) and the other half are converts to Judaism (among the tens of thousands of converts in the diaspora and in Israel).
When the numbers of righteous people in each generation are much higher than the 36 minimum, the number of righteous Gentiles and converts to Judaism becomes very high.
In honor of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur I share the following Lamed Vovnick story, taken from an obituary in the NYTimes by a California Reform Rabbi, which shows that even in our generation, average human beings can transform themselves into the kind of people who justify the continued existence of our species; because they make God smile.
One winter, an 11 year old boy lost his only pair of gloves. “I felt very guilty about it,” Meyer Greenberg said, “don’t ask me why. I never asked for another pair. I don’t think I ever had another pair until I went into the army. Ever since then, for me, being rich is being warm.”
Can you see this young boy who loses a glove and is scared to tell his parents, because he knows they can’t afford another pair? Can you see this boy who never forgets what it’s like to go around with bare hands in the bone-chilling winter of New York City? What happens to a boy like this?
Sometimes a boy like this grows up angry — angry that his parents couldn’t provide for him; angry with richer folks around him who walked right by and never gave a thought to a kid whose hands were freezing in the cold.
Sometimes a boy like this grows up hungry; acquisitive; working as hard as he can to amass a pile of money so he can buy more gloves than he’ll ever need.
Sometimes he grows up scared that everything he’s got will slip through his fingers and he’ll be out in the cold once again.
And sometimes he grows up callous, hard and suspicious — damned if he’ll offer anyone else a handout. He had to struggle to get where he is — so why shouldn’t they?
But this boy didn’t turn into a bitter tight-fisted man. He grow up to be Gloves Greenberg instead, a man who for over 30 years gave thousands of pairs of gloves to the poor and homeless in New York City. WHY?
The answer seems clear from his 1995 obituary in the New York Times. It was his father. It was this father about whom we know almost nothing, except that he was a baker who taught his son one simple thing, one good and true lesson about life.
No matter how deprived you are, he said, don’t deprive yourself of the Mitzvah of Tsadakah, the joy of giving.
When his father died in 1963, Meyer Greenberg decided to honor his father’s memory by giving away gloves.
So an ordinary man with an unremarkable job took on a mitzvah—and in doing so, became extraordinary. Neither Meyer Greenberg nor his father were Jewish saints; although either might have been one of the Lamed Vovnicks; the 36+ men and women whose stories of kind and compassionate lives, when they become known, help inspire us to redeem our society from the destructive forces of cynicism and negativism generated by the daily news.
To the glass, it does not matter at all if it is half empty or half full; but for the one who drinks from the glass; sometimes it matters more than anything else in the world.
As Tankhuma Ki Tisa 27 states: When Moses ascended Mt. Sinai, God showed him a huge treasure house and three smaller ones. The smaller ones were for Torah scholars, those who support Torah scholars, and those who raise orphans as their own children. Moses asked, “For whom is this very large treasure house?” Whereby God answered: “For all who are empty of mitzvot, I freely supply and help them from this treasury”.
Commenting on this Midrash, Rabbi Moses Cordovero states: “There are people who lack mitzvot; yet God has mercy upon them, for God says: “Their ancestors had merit..and human beings should also act thus, whenever a pious person meets unworthy persons, he should not behave insultingly towards them, but should have mercy upon them, saying: “Are they not the children of Abraham?”