36+ Lamed Vovnick stories 1

Elie Weisel tells us that God created mankind because God loves stories. Some of these stories are about the wondrous miracles of pious and saintly scholars; and are found in the Midrash and within Hassidic Tales. Then there are the countercultural tales and fables of people, who to all other eyes are just ordinary Jews, often well below average in piety and scholarship, who turn out to be one of the hidden saints, whose presence on earth keeps society from meriting self destruction.

According to Jewish tradition there are 36 (Lamed Vovnick) unknown righteous men whose existence sustains the whole rotten world. But this is not entirely correct.

First of all these righteous people are not all males. In Hebrew, a mixed group of men and woman are always called men even if 35 of the 36 are women.

Second, there are always at least 36 righteous men and women, but usually there are many more (36+), and often there are many righteous Gentiles and converts to Judaism among them.

An example of an anonymous gentile Lamed Vovnick who risked his personal safety to save a Jewish woman is related by Reform Rabbi Lawrence Kushner.

A German gentile man was sitting on a Munich bus next to a Jewish woman whom he had never met. A Nazi officer boarded the bus to check the passports of those who were riding and to arrest any Jews among them. Seeing the fear in the woman’s eyes the man knew she was Jewish.

Suddenly, the gentile began shouting and cursing at her. When the Nazi rushed over to see what the commotion was, the man looked up calmly, handed the Nazi his Aryan passport and said, “I’m sorry officer, but my stupid wife has forgotten her passport again even though I have told her 100 times to remember it when she leaves the house.” The Nazi simply nodded and went on to the next passenger.

An example of a Lamed Vov convert is Count Valentine Potocki, a young Polish nobleman who went to Paris to finish his education. There he became close friends with another Polish nobleman, Zarembo, Both of them met a Jewish teacher and asked him to teach them Hebrew. After some time each independently decided to become Jewish.

Potocki went to Amsterdam where it was safe to convert to Judaism and then went to Israel. After a few years Count Potocki grew homesick and took the dangerous step of returning to Poland. He settled in the Vilna district of Belarus posing as a born Jew, and spent all his time studying Torah.

When the police found out he was a convert to Judaism he was arrested and sent to Vilna. There the bishop tried to save his soul with reason, followed by torture, and then by being burned alive in the center of Vilna in 1749.

The following month, when the Baal Sham Tov heard what happened to Potocki, he said two things. First, Potocki’s soul was a Gilgul (a reincarnation of sparks of the soul) of Rabbi Akiva, whose father was a convert to Judaism.

Second, Potocki was one of the Lamed Vav Tzadikim ל”ו צדיקים or “Lamed-Vavniks”.

These two stories are a few of the miraculous stories of the human spirit that God loves. More will follow.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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