“Mommy, are you one of the 36?”
I bowed my head and said quietly, “No one knows who the 36 are, not even the 36 themselves.”
There is a teaching from the Babylonian Talmud that every generation has “not less than” 36 righteous souls living on earth. Without these souls, the belief is that the world will end. My base understanding is that the purpose of the 36 is to save the world through acts of righteousness.
There are many rituals of all religions, which I find to be somewhat superstitious in nature, but I often do them anyway (i.e., dip my apple in honey for good look on Rosh Hashanah). I treat religious stories with the same deference: whether they are truth or myth, I find value in consideration.
The more chaotic the outside world becomes, the more time we as a family spend strengthening our inner world through our spiritual beliefs.
We practice meditation, and raising our frequency, but we also read stories (legends) such as Tzadikim Nistarim, those about the 36, Lamed Vav Tzadikim. I can’t think of any time in my life when the notion of being saved has been more desired than now.
I told my daughter, “I really believe that the story of the 36 righteous souls is to inspire us all to act as if we are one of the 36.”
Act as if. The fact of the matter as to who is, or is not part of the 36, is not as important as is the choice to act as if everyone is a righteous soul.
“What does it mean to be righteous?” My 10-year-old daughter asked.
I read her the definition of the word, but as always, she is more interested not in what Merriam-Webster believes a thing to be as what her parents believe a thing to be. In order to offer my own definition, I find myself succumbing to the Socratic method of asking more questions.
Is righteousness a life of perfection? I don’t believe in human perfection beyond being perfect in our inherent imperfections. I think at the core, righteousness is awareness. It is living life with an awakened mindfulness of everyone in the world, versus living a life of sleep walking apathy and self-focused, reactionary defensiveness.
I think to be righteous is to live a life of ethical virtue and morality, or more literally, to simply do what’s “right.”
The question of course is, what is “right?” And that is where imperfections and the notion of sin enter. “Right” can be a complex construct that is context dependent. Perhaps, “right” is merely: not doing “wrong.”
While we might not always know what the right thing to do is, we almost always know in our hearts when we do something wrong. We feel a twinge of guilt, we find ourselves justifying our choice or claiming to “not care” about what others think. Whereas, when we are heart centered, we care about everything, to some extent.
Many people today seem to live disconnected from the heart. When we do something that lacks righteousness, it is usually from a place of being in reactive mode, from fear, ego, and anger.
Righteousness puts those feelings aside and asks, “If I were coming from a state of grace, and a place of unconditional love, how would I handle this situation?”
When I was younger, I believed that the 36 were the people I saw asking that aforementioned question and they included Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Gandhi. In recent years, I have often wondered if Oprah and Malala might be part of the 36. Now, I make eye contact with every homeless person I see. Anyone can be one of the 36.
We teach by example, we learn through inspiration. When we can touch the hearts of others through simple acts of kindness, compassion, and unconditional love, we ignite the light of righteousness in ourselves and others.
Perhaps, to be righteous, is to simply stay grounded by standing our moral ground. In this way, may the 36 righteous souls be a symbol for our own righteousness the way we look to lady liberty’s torch to symbolize enlightenment.
In the end, the path of enlightenment and righteousness, may be the ultimate freedom from oppression; and it’s the freedom from oppression I think all beings seek.