The strange ways of Tzaddikim

The strange ways of tzaddikim


From the beginning of time, the followers of the true Tzaddikim have frequently had questions and difficulties about the sometimes bizarre behavior of their holy teachers and rebbes.

No tzaddik’s followers are immune to this, and even the holy Rebbe Nachman of Breslov alluded to the fact that many of his practices and actions seemed weird and impossible to understand for the wider public, and on occasion, even for his own followers.

Yet, while the reasons for many of the more unusual practices of the Tzaddikim are often hidden from us, every so often the veil is lifted, and we’re given a glimpse of the awesomely deep spiritual considerations that actually underpin their every word and movement.

The following selection of stories about Tzaddikim was translated and abridged from the Hithadshut magazine, Volume 17. If you’d like to order copies of Hithadshut (in Hebrew), please call: 079-931-8318.


The story is told of one man who came to the holy rebbe, Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin, zt’l. Know one knew who this man was. He suddenly came into the Rebbe’s hall without asking for anyone’s permission, then placed half a silver ruble on the Rebbe’s table and stretched out his hand to receive a parting blessing from him.

“I’d like you to tarry with me,” the Rebbe told him. The man immediately agreed to stay on, then left the room.

After he’d left, a crowd of the Rebbe’s followers surrounded the stranger, amazed at the warm welcome the Rebbe had given him. Surprised by their reaction, the stranger told them: “Don’t make the mistake of thinking that I’m someone important. I’m just a simple Jew, and I’m not at all worthy of the attention that the Tzaddik gave me. If you like, I’ll tell you the story of how I came here.”

The man continued: “My brother and I shook hands on a deal, and promised each other that the first of us who would depart from the world would return to his brother in a dream, and tell him what had been done to him on high. My brother died 10 years ago, but only fulfilled his agreement with me a few days ago.

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“He suddenly appeared to me in a dream, and told me that until then, he hadn’t been given permission to come to see me. So he hurried to reveal himself to me, and this is what he told me: ‘On the day I died, the holy Tzaddik Rabbi Shalom of Prohobitz also passed away, and in shemayim (heaven) the following proclamation was heard: ‘Make room!’ and all the Tzaddikim streamed out in his direction.

“And then, a second proclamation was heard: ‘Whoever saw his holy face in this world [i.e. the physical world] – they are exempt from Gehinnom (purgatory)!’ And then a third proclamation was heard: ‘Whoever gave him money in this world [i.e. the physical world], they are exempt from all judgments!’

“When I heard the words of my brother,” continued the stranger, “I started to cry, and to beseech my brother to tell me what I should do, so that I would also be rescued from Gehinnom. This is what my brother told me:

‘The Tzaddik Rabbi Shalom is now found in the next world, but his son is still there in his stead. He’s a Tzaddik, the son of a Tzaddik. If you travel to him, and give him half a silver ruble, it will be considered for you as though you gave money to his father.’”

Later, when the chassidim told Rabbi Yisrael about what the man had said about his visit, he told them: “Because this man had a true spiritual intention, I received him with honor.”

[Taken from the Hebrew book: The House of Ruzhin, Chapter 9]


It’s the holy Shabbat eve by the pure table of the Maggid of Mezritch, a place of splendor, spiritual arousal and dvekut (attachment to Hashem), holy Shabbat niggunim (melodies), spiritual transcendence and soulful elevation.

The Maggid started to give over words of Torah. It was his usual custom to clothe his Torah discourses in verses from that week’s parsha, but that night, he changed his holy custom and started discoursing on the verse ‘a soul that would sin’ from Parshat Vayikra. This was a wondrous thing, in the eyes of his students.

During the Shabbat meal, the Maggid returned to this same verse, as the surprise of his students only continued to grow. They were sure that he was speaking about a non-Jew.

Suddenly, an avreich (Torah student) entered the beit midrash (hall of study) in a very agitated state and started telling the onlookers how he’d recently had a crisis of faith, and had been considered converting, G-d forbid. He’d explained that he’d already gone to speak to a priest about the matter, where he’d suddenly changed his mind about it – but he had no idea why.

He tried to run away from the priest’s home, but couldn’t because all the doors were locked and bolted. So then, he decided he was going to try to jump down from a window, even if he’d end up seriously hurting himself. Better that than he should end up converting, G-d forbid! When he actually tried to do it, he saw that was able to get down from the window in a miraculous fashion, despite how high up he was.

When he’d got down to the street, he’d immediately run over to the Maggid – and then everyone understood what the Maggid’s intention had been, when he’d been giving over his divrei Torah (words of Torah).

[Translated from the Hebrew book: Stories of the Chassidim, the Tents of the Tzaddikim]


The following story was written in the holy book of the Rebbe of Komarna, zt’l, (in the section on the Zohar Chai, Bereishit). Once, on the festival of Shavuot, the Komarna’s Rebbe, the holy Rebbe Zvi of Zidichov, zt’l began his morning prayer service before netz (sunrise). And the Amidah prayers for that particular shacharit lasted for six hours.

In the congregation, there was a houseowner who spent the remaining time reciting tehillim (psalms) until he finished the whole book, and who then went back to his room to sleep. When he returned to the beit hamidrash, he saw that they still hadn’t finished their silent prayers. At the meal, when this man saw that the Rebbe’s attendant hadn’t given him food in the manner he was expecting, he said to him: “The Rebbe is distressing us with his lengthy praying, and you’re distressing us by depriving us of food!”

The holy Rebbe of Zidichov heard this, and then took a cup of wine and gave it to him while saying: “Yosef, you say that I’m distressing you. You should know that there’s hundreds of people here, and that I have to create a rectification for each person’s soul and their dependents, from the smallest to the greatest.

“The truth is that you left behind at home two healthy children, but today they both got sick. The first one became so ill he nearly died, so I prayed for him, worked on his behalf, and continued to request life for him, until he returned to us, praise be to G-d. The second one I wasn’t able to watch over as much, and at this moment he’s still in grave danger.”

Yosef was very scared when he heard this, and immediately after Shabbat came to an end he harnessed his horse to his cart and hurried home. Once there, he saw that the situation was exactly the way the holy Rebbe had described it.

(Translated from the Hebrew book ‘The Crown of Splendour’.)


Why do our Tzaddikim sometimes keep us standing for prayers for hours and hours, even in the baking heat and cramped conditions? Why do they sometimes act in such strange, incomprehensible ways? Why do they sometimes do things that raise questions or doubts in their followers’ hearts, or that fly in the face about what so many people expect a Tzaddik to do, or say?

The answer is as simple as it is profound: The Tzaddikim are operating at a level of spiritual reality that most of us are completely oblivious to. We can’t see the judgments that are being formed in Heaven, we don’t know the spiritual rectifications that are being performed each second, we aren’t privy to the Heavenly accounts that are being settled all around us.

But the Tzaddikim know, and are often working behind the scenes to affect the outcome in a positive way for all their congregants, and the nation of Israel more widely.

The essence of emunat Tzaddikim, or believing in the true Tzaddikim is casting our own brains and intellects aside, and understanding that however clever, insightful, wise or spiritual we ourselves might be, our daat, or spiritual insight is nothing compared to that of the true Tzaddikim.


In the Kitzur Likutey Moharan (translated as ‘Advice’ in English, by the Breslov Research Institute), Rebbe Nachman tells us in the chapter called ‘Tzaddik’:

“Only through the Tzaddik of the generation is it possible to attain true awe and love of God. When a person is unable to experience true awe and love, it’s because the light of the Tzaddik has been hidden from him. It’s true that the light of the Tzaddik radiates in all the worlds – and especially in this world.

“But for this individual there is no light at all, because of the intensity of his own darkness. He could be in the same place as the Tzaddik and even sitting right next to him and still not taste or understand or see the great light which radiates from the Tzaddik and which could bring him to attain the true and enduring goal.

“This is because of his wrongdoing. As a result, his Divine intelligence has become clouded over with foolishness and bankrupt ideas. He looks at himself as a sophisticated person who needs to raise various questions and entertain doubts about the Tzaddik.

“All these doubts and questions are completely senseless. His wrongdoing has left his mind clouded and dull and the light of the Tzaddik is hidden from him. That is why he does not have awe and love of God.

“When a person gives charity to the Tzaddikim and to genuinely deserving poor people, it restores and clarifies his mind, and enables him to see the light of the Tzaddik, and to thus attain true awe and love.”

(All references come from Likutey Moharan Part 1, Lesson 17).

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