Parshat Vayera

Torah Reading: Vayera (Genesis  18:1 - 22:24)

Candle Lighting: 5:52 PM 

Shabbat Ends: 6:51 PM 

30 and 36 Tzadikim to Bring Moshiach

30 Like Abraham

Before dispatching His angels to destroy the evil city of Sodom, G‑d revealed His plan to Abraham.

G‑d’s rationale for divulging His plan to Abraham is summed up in this week’s parsha:

“G‑d said, how can I conceal from Abraham what I am doing. Abraham will become a great and powerful nation, and all of the nations will be blessed through him. For I love him because he instructs his sons and his household after him to keep the way of G‑d, acting with charity and justice in order that G‑d will bring upon Abraham everything he had said about him.”

Commenting on this verse, the Jerusalem Talmud (Avodah Zarah 2:1) states: “The world cannot have fewer than 30 tzadikim-righteous people like our father Abraham.”

To support this assertion the Jerusalem Talmud cites the foregoing verse: “Abraham will become…”  The Hebrew word for “become” “yihyeh” has the numerical value of 30. Hence, the Jerusalem Talmud reinterprets the words as “Abraham will become” as Abraham will be the progenitor of 30 people like him.

The Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Sukkah 45b) seems to have a divergent view concerning the number of righteous people that are needed for the world to exist:

“There are no less than 36 righteous people in the world who receive the countenance of the Divine presence each day.” The Talmud finds support for this number in the verse (Isaiah 30:18): “Praiseworthy are all those who wait for Him.” The Hebrew word for “him” – “lo” has the numerical value of 36.

We must try to understand and reconcile the divergent views of the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds concerning the number of righteous people in whose merit the world stands.  And how do the numbers 30 and 36 relate to the verses that are cited to support each view?

The Number of Royalty

To understand the significance of the numbers 30 and 36, we must preface our discussion with the statement in the Ethics of the Fathers (Avos 6: 6) that royalty is associated with the number 30. The first Jewish king, Joseph, assumed the mantle of leadership in Egypt at the age of 30. The value of the letters that spell Yehudah, who was the king of the other tribes, numerically add up to 30. Likewise, King David was 30 when he assumed the leadership of the Jewish nation.

The number 30 in Hebrew is depicted by the letter Lamed. Lamed is also the “tallest” letter in the Hebrew alphabet and is the central letter of the word king in Hebrew: Melech.

What is the connection between 30 and royalty?

The word Melech is an acronym for the three dominant vital organs of the body: Mo’ach-brain, lev-heart and ka’ved-liver. Of these three primary organs, however, it is obvious that the brain is the most important and thus the true “king” of the body.

The brain itself is divided into three parts that parallel the three intellectual faculties of: chochma-conceptual wisdom, binah-analytical wisdom, and da’as-attachment to the subject. These form the head of the entire structure of ten faculties that constitute the spiritual genome of the human being.

Kabbalah also teaches us that each of the intellectual faculties is comprised of ten elements: Chochma consists of ten faculties that are subsumed within it; the same is true of binah and da’as.  Together, they combine the 30 intellectual faculties which exercise leadership of one’s life.

We can thus see, by analogy, that the emphasis on 30 righteous people pertains to the role of the righteous as leaders of their respective generations.

The Source of Royalty

Abraham, among his many roles, was also a king. Rashi cites a Midrashic interpretation of the place called Emek Hamelech-the Valley of the King, mentioned in last week’s parsha: “A valley where all the nations agreed to make Abram their king…” Similarly, in next week’s parsha, the Hittites declare to Abraham: “You are a prince of G‑d in our midst.”

Abraham displayed the power of royalty first by gaining full mastery over every organ of his body, particularly after he circumcised himself.

We can now understand why the Jerusalem Talmud speaks of the number 30—the number associated with royalty—in connection with Abraham. Abraham was a king and it was this power of royalty that he bequeathed to his children. This is particularly true of those whose lives are governed by Torah study, as the Talmud states: “Who are the kings? The Sages.”  Furthermore, this power of royalty, possessed by every Jew as an inheritance from Abraham to those who follow in his footsteps, earns us profound respect and admiration from the nations of the world.

This then is what G‑d meant when He stated that He must tell Abraham about His plans for the destruction of Sodom. As a king who has mastery over himself and by extension his followers and his environment, Abraham cannot be oblivious to what happens in his own backyard.

This is the duty of every Jewish leader. They cannot be unaware or indifferent to the things that happen within the Jewish community. As we get closer to the ultimate period of royalty, the Messianic Age, the leader must also promote justice and righteousness that they may flourish among the other nations of the world.

We have seen this expansion of Jewish leadership in the Rebbe, whose concern for every Jew is legendary. Moreover, the Rebbe launched a major initiative to promote the Seven Noahide Commandments amongst all of humanity. He connected this effort to our proximity to the Messianic Age, when the power of royalty will reach its pinnacle and humanity will recognize the oneness of G‑d and serve Him accordingly.

The seed for this development was sown by Abraham, who bequeathed this power of royalty to each and every Jew, but especially to the 30 special righteous people of every generation. More specifically, this power is vested in the souls of the greatest Jewish leaders, who embodied the 30 traits associated with royalty, and whose impact has brought and continues to bring the world so much closer to its final recognition of the sovereignty of G‑d.

Royalty and the Jerusalem Talmud

The Jerusalem Talmud is known as the Talmud of Light for its unique ability to see the future in the present. The Jerusalem Talmud thus sees royalty at every step of our journey to Redemption.

Indeed, the Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 47:2, which Rashi asserts was composed in the Land of Israel, and is similar in approach to the Jerusalem Talmud), finds royalty in every nook and cranny of the Land, even in Sodom! Commenting on the verse in Psalms “I have found My servant David,” the Midrash asks, “Where was he found?” and answers: “In Sodom.” Commentators explain that Sodom was where Lot resided. Because he resided there, he was taken captive by the four mighty kings and head to be rescued by Abraham. Ultimately, Lot became the ancestor of Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, and thus the progenitor of Jewish royalty until Moshiach. Abraham, according to this Midrash, was obsessed with sowing, nurturing and protecting the seeds of royalty.

We can now gain an even deeper insight into the reason G‑d wanted Abraham to know what He planned for Sodom and how it is connected with the 30 righteous people the world needs in every generation.  As discussed above, these 30 righteous people are the heirs to Abraham’s royal status. It was therefore crucial for Abraham to save Lot, Sodom’s most illustrious citizen, to ensure that the royal line of David, leading to Moshiach, will survive. 

It is the Jerusalem Talmud’s premise that we must search for the royalty of the future now.

Babylonian Talmud’s Approach

The Babylonian Talmud, which is associated with the darkness of exile, sees things the way they are now, through the prism of a Jew who is in exile but seeks to get out of it.

The Babylonian Talmud’s style is dialectic. The Talmud gropes through the darkness to ultimately discover the answer to difficult questions. In contrast to the Jerusalem Talmud, which finds the answers directly, the Babylonian Talmud struggles with myriads of questions and arguments. The struggle to find answers is seen by the Kabbalists as a spiritual force that helps to refine the person who studies it and by extension, the world around him. This force helps us dispel the darkness of exile.

We can now understand why the Babylonian Talmud speaks of 36 righteous people. The number 36 is descriptive of the six primary emotional traits, each consisting of six elements. The three intellectual traits and the seventh emotional one—Malchus-royalty—are absent in this count. The focus of these 36 righteous people is the emotional upheaval of exile. They are not charged with leadership per se but rather with expressing compassion, empathy, warmth and support and instilling hope for all Jews suffering in exile. This is much like the Ba’al Shem Tov, who led a clandestine organization of hidden tzadikkim—many who were reputed to be members of this elite group of 36—to help the downtrodden Jews of that period.

Thus the Babylonian Talmud finds support for the 36 righteous people in the verse, “Praiseworthy are all those who wait for Him,” which speaks of the need to wait and hope. This is also the role of all those who wish to emulate them: to express hope and faith in the ultimate Redemption. These 36 righteous individuals and their disciples recognize exile for what it is, a period of darkness, and plead with G‑d to end this dark time.

Combining Both Approaches

We are now living in a time when it is imperative that we follow both approaches. From the Ba’al Shem Tov onward, we see how the great Jewish leaders have integrated the approaches of the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds. On the one hand, we must see the darkness for what it is. We must empathize with those who are less fortunate, comfort them and declare ad masai-how much longer! We must be conscious of our situation and constantly look for ways to get out of this quagmire known as Galus.

On the other hand, we must also see the light that penetrates the darkness. We must open our eyes to the light of Redemption and the miracles associated with it. We must see the revelation of the teachings of Chassidus as the light of Geulah that illuminate our lives in the present. We must recognize the light that emanates from all of the great Chassidic masters, from the Ba’al Shem Tov through our Rebbe, who are all great figures whose holiness pierces through the darkness and gives us a taste of the future.