[Hebrew, tsadik = just, righteous] - A
charismatic leader of the Chasidic community, also called "rebe". As
Chasidism was taking shape, during the lifetime of its founder Baal Shem
Tov, the institution of the tzaddik did not yet exist. It developed
only later, during the generation of his pupils.
Elimelech of Lezajsk described a tzaddik's role and tasks. A
tzaddik's authority sprang from the belief in mystical initiation and
from inherited charisma, which made them mediators between people and
God, and which would manifest itself in the power to perform miracles.
Ecstatic practices, which play an important role in Chasidism, required
inner perfection, outside the reach of normal people. They could come
close to this state only through contact with a tzaddik, around which
religious life was centered; thus, some ceremonies would take place in
Most tzaddikim founded dynasties, passing their
position on to their sons and sons-in-law. They established new
communities in other locations, helping the spread of Chasidism.
Tzaddikim maintained "courts" made up of their most important pupils,
the gabay who would manage practical matters, and their families.
Usually, local and visiting Chasidim would also visit, and often the
poor did as well. For the major holidays, groups of Chasidim would go
there for blessings and lessons - and sometimes these groups would
number in the tens of thousands. Although the Sabbath was a family
holiday, it became a custom to have the third Saturday meal at the home
of the tzaddik, who would teach and bless them. After the meal, those
present would try to take with them crumbs that had been touched by the
tzaddik's hand. This custom was called "shirayim" [Hebrew, "what
remains"], associated with the belief in the strength of the tzaddik's
prayer, which also served to emphasize the unity and closeness of the
Chasidim demonstrated their joy from having
come into contact with the tzaddik--and through him, with God--by
dancing and singing that had an ecstatic character. Many of them also
visited the tzaddik during the week, hoping for advice on religious and
private matters. They would hand the gabay a kvitlekh [Yiddish, "slip of
paper"] upon which a request was written, as well as a small sum of
money, the "pidyon ha-nefesh" [Hebrew, "payment for one's soul"].
The teachings of specific tzaddikim, related in the form of
parables, differed, as Chasidism did not have a uniform doctrine. Heated
debates took place between some courts. One such example took place in
the mid-nineteenth century between the tzaddik Chaim Halberstam of Nowy
Sacz, who put strong emphasis on studying the Talmud and on a modest,
ascetic lifestyle, and the tzaddik Israel Friedman of Sadogora, the
author of many parables who loved luxury and not place much importance
on study of the Talmud.