[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 his home.

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 faithful.
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.

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