Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tzadikim Nistarim

Living the life you love or living a life that makes sense is one of the big debates across the personal finance/motivation community. On one extreme are teachers who counsel their students to do what they love, assuring them that if they do what they love the money will follow. On the other extreme there are writers who point to studies correlating college majors to careers at Starbucks as a barista.

The classic joke:

What is the question most frequently asked by someone with a liberal arts degree?
Answer: Would you like fries with that?

In between are authors who suggest that their readers make realistic compromises with life; first counting the cost of the lifestyle they desire; then selecting the most attractive career path with a reasonable probability of delivering that kind of income.

Let’s consider a different way to look at this problem, from God’s perspective. Many years ago I ran into Jewish folk stories of the Tzadikim Nistarim, the 36 hidden righteous ones. These are the people who are so righteous their prayers postpone God’s judgment. If even one of them went missing, the world would be destroyed.

In these stories the Tzadikim live humble holy lives, their great mystical powers hidden from the eyes of ordinary men. In some versions, the Tzadikim don’t even know their exulted place in God’s economy. Perhaps a great man who leads his nation through a dark time, then dies or disappears was a Tzadikim in his generation; perhaps the old man pushing a broom down the halls of your local school house is a prince in the Kingdom of our Lord.

I am privileged to have met a small handful of men and women whom I consider hidden treasures of our God. They live quiet lives of service and prayer, doing good, giving of themselves and their substance, extending mercy to those who do not deserve it, offering the world loving kindness and compassion wherever they find the need. I can imagine that perhaps one of them might be a Tzadikim Nistarim.

If the Tzadikim are the kind of people who impress God; just living a humble life of prayer and service to others, maybe I should try to live that kind of life, forgetting about my own self fulfillment and the implications that the latest headlines might have for my life.

There is a basis for this idea in scripture. When Abraham negotiated with God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God clearly stated that if only ten righteous ones could be found in those wicked cities, he would spare everyone from the destruction they so richly deserved.

Genesis Chapter 18:

20 Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous
21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD.
23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?
25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
26 The LORD said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” .
32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

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