The Concept of Zaddik

The zaddik is an individual of extraordinary spiritual gifts whose devekut (the Hasidic objective of cleaving of the soul to God in worship) is nevertheless dependent on the congregation that gathers around him. His special task is to raise the souls of his followers toward the divine light, which means that he must at times step down from his own spiritual level to that of the common people [a concept known as yeridah letzorekh aliyah — "descent for the sake of ascent"].

The zaddik's duties include pleading to God for the people, involving himself in their daily cares and anxieties, counseling them, and strengthening their faith. Thus the relation between Hasidic zaddik and his hasidim is much more intimate and personal than that of the professional kehillah [community] rabbi [a paid position in the town government limited to those found qualified by other rabbis]: The zaddik was the "rebbe" (a more affectionate Yiddish term) rather than "rov" (the more dignified scholarly title).

The concept of the zaddik was, however, quite authoritarian. For the ordinary hasid, faith in God meant faith in the miraculous powers of the individual zaddik who was his intercessor and protector in the higher worlds. Hasidic interpretation of the bibilical statement that "the righteous man is the foundation of the world" (Prov. 10:25) was that the zaddik acted as the channel through which divine grace flows down and the ladder by which the individual's soul rises up. Devekut meant cleaving to the zaddik — in order to cleave to God. Never before in rabbinic Judaism did unquestioning loyalty to the person of the religious leader become, to such an extent, such a prerequisite for salvation.


Barnes and Noble linkFrom: Seltzer, Robert M. Jewish People, Jewish Thought. Copyright © 1980 by Robert M. Seltzer (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.), pp. 494-5.

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