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Judaism: The number of tzadikim in The Land of Israel

Dvar Torah written by Nachshon Vered, presented by Avrum Leeder

”ואכרה לי בחמשה עשר כסף וחמר שערים ולתך שערים”…”כסף” – אלו צדיקים.. ”חומר שעורים ולתך שעורים” – אלו מ”ה צדיקים שהעולם מתקיים בהם. ואיני יודע אם שלשים כאן וט”ו בארץ ישראל ואם שלשים בארץ ישראל וט”ו כאן, כשהוא אומר: ”ואקחה שלשים כסף ואשליך אותו בית ה’ אל היוצר”- הוי אומר שלשים בארץ ישראל וט”ו כאן; אמר אביי: ורובייהו משתכחי בבי כנישתא דתותי אפתא.

“And I bought her for me for fifteen pieces of silver, and a ḥomer of barley and a lethech of barley.” “Pieces of silver”: these are the righteous … “And a ḥomer of barley and a lethech  (half a ḥomer) of barley:”  these are the forty-five righteous men on account of whom the world continues to exist. But I know not whether thirty of them are here (in Babylon) and fifteen in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), or thirty in Eretz Yisrael and fifteen here; but when the verse says. “And I took the thirty pieces of silver and cast them into the treasury, in the house of the Lord,” I know that thirty are in Eretz Yisrael and fifteen here. Abayye said:”Most of them are to be found in at the back of the synagogue.” [Gemara (Talmud) Hullin 92b]

Explanation of the Gemara

The Gemara elucidates the verse in Hoshea to teach that there are always at least forty-five tzadikim who maintain the world.[1] Since the verse in Hoshea presents ḥomer (equal  to thirty se’ah) and lethech (fifteen sea’h) separately, the Gemara understood the forty-five tzadikim to be divided into a group of thirty and a group of fifteen.

Furthermore, the Gemara understood the two groups to be separated geographically, one in Eretz Yisrael, the other in Babylonia. The verse from Zachariah, referring to “thirty pieces of silver” is understood to refer to the group of thirty tzadikim who are “cast into the house of the Lord,” the Temple, teaching that it is the thirty who are in Eretz Yisrael, leaving the remaining fifteen in the Diaspora.

Abayye adds that the forty tzadikim of the Land are to be found “at the back of the synagogue.” Rabbi Yosef Ḥayyim of Bagdad (1835 – 1909) in his book Ben Yehoyada explains that Abayye’s intention is that we not think that the forty tzadikim of the Land are well-known; quite the contrary, they are primarily completely unknown, and one who searches for them must look “at the back of the synagogue,” the place where simple members of the congregation are seated.

We raise two questions about the Gemara statement:

1. What is symbolized by the number forty-five, which represents the total number of tzadikim?

2. Why are the tzadikim divided into two groups of thirty and fifteen and why is the larger group in Eretz Yisrael?

Fifteen – The Ultimate Level

The number forty-five factors as three times fifteen. Maharal explains that fifteen represents the highest level; thus Am Israel was redeemed (from Egyptian subjugation) on the fifteenth of the month of Nissan, a time when the moon is full. Since Israel’s destiny is to achieve the highest level of any nation, it is appropriate that they were redeemed on the fifteenth of the month.

Also, in the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) there were fifteen stairs which ascended from the Courtyard of the Israelites to the Nikanor Gate, the entrance to the Courtyard of the Kohanim. In addition, the Divine name “Yah” has the gematriya (numeric equivalent) of fifteen. All these points indicate that the number fifteen represents the highest level.

Three – the Straight Path

Maharal explains that the number three represents Israel, which is a “three-fold nation.” Apparently, Maharal refers to the Talmudic statement:

”ברוך רחמנא שנתן תורה משולשת (תורה נביאים וכתובים) לעם משולש (כהנים לויים וישראל) על ידי שלישי (משה- שלישי לבטן) ביום השלישי (לפרישה) בחודש השלישי (סיוון).”

Blessed be the Merciful One who gave a three-fold Torah (Torah, Prophets and Writings) to a three-fold People (Kohanim, Levi’im and Yisraelim) through a third born (Moses) on the third day (of separation between men and women, Exodus 19:15) in the third month (Sivan, the third month from Nissan, the month of the Exodus).[Gemara Shabbat 88a]

Maharal understands the Talmudic statement as a reference to the straight path, the middle path which runs straight between the extremes and represents harmony. Thus, the number three itself represents harmony and being straightforward.

Based upon this, we can say that the number forty-five tzadikim represents the perfection of three times fifteen. Obviously, dividing forty-five by three yields an odd number; why does the Land receive thirty and the Diaspora fifteen?

The Importance of the Tzadikim in Eretz Yisrael

Rabbi Avraham Azulai (1569 – 1643) in his work Ḥessed l’Avraham states that Eretz Yisrael is the heart of the world, the heart of all lands. Just as the heart pumps blood and vitality to all organs and is the source of life for the entire body, so too Eretz Yisrael is the source of vitality for the entire world. For the heart to work properly it must be healthy; similarly, when the Land is “healthy” with tzadikim dwelling within her, her health will spread to the entire world. The “health” of the “heart of the world” is a function of the presence within her of tzadikim, who bring Divine abundance down to the Land and through her to the rest of the world.

Tzadikim in Israel: A Positive Sign for the World

The Gemara Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) presents a similar version to the Gemara Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) which we quoted, yet with a number of differences:

“And they weighed out my wages: thirty pieces of silver.” – these are the thirty tzadikim who are never lacking in the world, as Rabbi Naḥman said in the name of Rabbi Mana: “The world cannot be without thirty tzadikim like Avraham our father. And what is the reason? ‘Avraham will certainly become (hayo yihyeh),’ the gematriya of ‘yihyeh’ is thirty.” At times the majority are in Babylonia and the minority in Eretz Yisrael, at others it is the opposite. And it a good sign for the world when the majority are in Eretz Israel.

While the Babylonian Gemara speaks of forty-five tzadikim, the Jerusalem edition speaks of thirty. On the simple level we may suggest that the two versions speak of different levels of tzadikim, with the Jerusalem edition speaking of tzadikim on the level of Avraham. This suggestion would explain as well the fact that the two versions cite different Biblical sources. Furthermore, the Jerusalem Gemara does not fix the division of tzadikim between Israel and the Diaspora, but merely states that “it is a good sign for the world when the majority is in Israel.” Pnei Moshe explains the reasoning of the Jerusalem Gemara:

”מפני שעיני ה’ תמיד בה וכשרובן בארץ מתרצה השם יתברך והן מגינים על כל העולם כולו”

Since the eyes of G-d are constantly upon the Land (based upon Deuteronomy 11:12), when the majority of tzadikim are within the Land, G-d is pleased and they protect the entire world.

Pnei Moshe’s comment is consistent with that of Ḥessed l’Avraham: the presence of tzadikim specifically in the Land spreads life and enlightenment throughout the world.

Alternately, we may suggest that the two editions of the Gemara deal with the same tzadikim, but what then accounts for their differing comments? Recalling Abayye’s remark that the tzadikim of the Land are hidden, perhaps the Jerusalem Gemara chose to conceal the existence of these hidden tzadikim in the Land, and therefore at the outset refers only to thirty tzadikim who are divided between Eretz Yisrael and Babylonia. This is the significant addition of Abayye to understanding the Talmudic statements.

Summary

We saw the statement of the Babylonian Gemara that there are forty-five tzadikim in the world, thirty of them in Eretz Yisrael, the remaining fifteen in the Diaspora.

We saw the comments of Maharal, who notes that forty-five is factored as three times fifteen, and each of these numbers carries the symbolism of the highest level of perfection.

In addition we quoted Ḥessed l’Avraham’s comments that Eretz Yisrael influences all lands through the work of the tzadikim within it.  By way of analogy, we can say that the tzadikim are the laborers who irrigate the entire world with spring water, while the spring is the Land.

Finally, we saw the version of the Jerusalem Gemara and attempted to explain the numeric discrepancy between it and the version of the Babylonian Gemara, based upon Abayye’s comment that the tzadikim of the Land are hidden, and therefore the Jerusalem exegete wished to conceal their existence.

Thank G-d, in our days we are witness to a unique Divine reality. Since the establishment of the State and the return of Jews to their Land, the world is in an unprecedented economic prosperity. Wars are still a daily reality and there are still poor countries, but the world is in a more balanced situation. The world population has increased three-fold in the seventy years of the State’s existence. Sophisticated medical systems grant greater longevity, which was merely a dream a century ago. Life itself has become more comfortable, and the average citizen has a higher standard of living.

Indeed, many tzadikim, known and unknown are found in the Land and it is truly a blessing for the world.

Notes;

[1] Our Talmudic statement should not be confused with the one mentioned in Sota [45b] that the world has at least thirty-six tzadikim who greet the Shechina on a daily basis. Apparently there is a difference between the tzadikim who maintain the world and those who greet the Shechina.