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By "tzaddik" I mean a person who does no sins and has no evil inclination.

Is it possible to become a tzaddik? Or you have to be born one?

For example: If someone is not raised Jewish and then became much more religious, can he become a tzaddik? Or even: If he was raised Ultra-Orthodox, can he become a tzaddik?

And if yes, how?

  • Answer it as many ways as possible. – user5224 Jul 4 '14 at 1:30
  • Rav Hutner says yes! And not only that, but he seems to say that struggling and failing is a prerequisite to becoming a true tzadik. A large portion of the letter where he says this is excerpted here. Recommended read. – WAF Jul 4 '14 at 2:04
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    Unclear what you are asking? – Double AA Jul 4 '14 at 2:30
  • You asked a great question '613. I think a lot of people assume that an ultra-Orthodox Jew would be closest to being a tzadik but as we see in the news, that is often far from the truth! There is a concept that Hashem loves the Baal Tshuva most of all because they experienced "sin" and overcame (or are striving to overcome). their evil impulse. Although I am hardly answering your question, my intuition is to say yes, one can become a tzadik. – JJLL Jul 4 '14 at 12:52
  • @WAF That sounds like an answer to me..... – MTL Jul 4 '14 at 13:14
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As explained at length in the first part of Tanya, everybody can avoid sin, and never actually sin, no matter the circumstances of their birth or their past behavior.

However, only a minority of people can have no evil inclination. Most who achieve that level are born with the ability to achieve it. Some can receive it later as a gift for all their efforts.

Two additional points:

  • Someone who serves G-d while having an evil inclination accomplishes something that a Tzaddik cannot.
  • אפילו כל העולם כולו אומרים לך צדיק אתה היה בעיניך כרשע - Even if the whole world tells you have achieved that level of Tzaddik and have no Yeitzer HaRa, don't believe it about yourself, rather the Yeitzer HaRa is dormant, lacking opportunity for expression, not dead.
  • So all the other answers/comments do those people disagree with the Tanya or are speaking of a different tzaddik if "speaking about a different type of tzaddik" which kind? – user5224 Jul 4 '14 at 14:28
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    @user613, I'm not familiar with Breslov Chassidus or Rav Hunter to say. Sometimes things are talking about in behavior only (thought, speech and action), which Tanya doesn't disagree with. I would imagine that if something disagrees with Tanya it would more disagree with the premise that anyone ends up without a Yetzer HaRa (even though the idea of "killing" it is in the Yerushalmi and the Zohar). – Yishai Jul 4 '14 at 15:04
  • @Yishai although the difference between a high-level-Beinoni and a low-level-Tzaddik isn't terribly great – Shmuel Brin Jul 4 '14 at 19:08
  • @user5224 I would assume that most other people refer to Tzadik in the classical sense of "more merits than sins", However, the Tanya has a much stronger classification of a Tzadik....Most people are Beinonim--and if you do any since once, until you do tshuva, you are classified as a rasha. – andrewmh20 May 7 '15 at 5:18
  • How does the tanya understand אין אדם יעשה טוב ולא יחטא – Shoel U'Meishiv May 7 '15 at 11:30
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I second this comment:

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that becoming a tzaddik depends on one's efforts, not on one's birth. In Sichos HaRan, he said that people have the misconception that he was only able to reach his exalted level because he was the great-grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov, but he said that this was incorrect, and anyone could reach the same level.

Similarly, he said the following: "Anyone who listens to me and carries out everything I say will certainly become a great Tzaddik, come what may." (Chayey Moharan #320).

I just want to add my thoughts on it. Chassidus on Tehillim 82:6 explains that we can all reach the level of Elokim. See Likutei Sichos, vol. 22, p. 278. We have amazing potential being made in the tzelem of Elokim.

I think what people get confused the most in pilpulim is definitions. Tzaddik is more of a status than a person; the cheftza over the gavra. Playing devils advocate rak rega, if we assume lich'orah that people are born as tzaddikim than this takes away bachirah. In this light, they would davka be less than malachim. Malachim still have a bissl bachirah, as one well remembers how Hashem had to rescue us on Pesach and not through an malach as even they would be corrupted. The Zohar is replete with stories of malachim going OTD. After the four went to Pardes, the malach Met. was given firery lashes. I think it's a different type of bachirah, more like how they choose to follow Hashem's commands or face incineration and rebirth from river Dinur, but it's still a type of free will. They even argued against Moshe getting the Torah while he was up in Shamayim.

I cannot find any raaya saying that people are born tzaddikim, so I will address a few misconceptions.

One could say that the Nasi Hador is born a tzaddik. However, this is not limited to just one person as Rabbi Aba Wagensburg writes about on Adar and Purim:

The Tikuney Zohar (69,112) says that Moshe Rabbeinu’s sanctity spreads throughout every generation. The Meor Einayim explains this to mean that every single Jew has a spark of Moshe Rabbeinu in them, and through that spark we have the ability to understand the Torah. Thus Moshe Rabbeinu remains the eternal lawgiver to every generation.

He goes on to explain that we all this level of Ish Elokim (vadai!). This is echoed by the Alter Rebbe who writes that we all have a chelek Elokah mamash. This also includes woman, like the Maiden of Ludmir. Everybody can do something to hasten or bring the world closer or check one more item off the list for Geula. לגאול?

Besides the fact that the Shechinah is called Matronita, the mother of the Mashiach is mentioned in some obscure midrashim as vanquishing the forces of evil. First a prelude:

“The rod which the L-rd will give to Chetzibah, the mother of Menachem [ben] Amiel, is made of almond-wood; it is hidden in rakkat, a city in (the territory of) Naftali. It is the same rod which the L-rd previosusly gave to Adam, Moshe, Aharon, Yehoshua, and David HaMelech. It is the same rod wich sprouted buds and flowered in the Tent (of Meeting – Bamidbar 17:16-26) for the sake of Aharon. Eliyahu ben Eleazer (i.e., Kohein Pinchas, grandson of Aharon) concealed it in Rakkat, a city in Naftali, which is Tiberias.”

  • “L’apocalypse de Zorobabel et le roi de Perse Siroés” by Israel Lévi, REJ 68 (1914): 135.3-6.

Now the reason for this is given in Sefer Zerubavel: The mother of Menachem ben Amiel will wield the staff of the L-rd G-d [sc., Aharon’s rod] and cause a spell of dizziness.

Where have we seen this, at least in allegory:

Though Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka would say plenty of Tehillim, she would do so with many mistakes. When one of her sons pointed this out to her, she asked her husband, the Tzemach Tzeddek, perhaps she should stop saying Tehillim. The Rebbe advised her to continue and then called his son and admonished him, saying that it was her Tehillim that had protected him at the rabbinic gathering in Petersburg. The government, enraged by his views, had placed the Rebbe under house arrest twenty two times, and it was her Tehillim that had saved him from a more serious punishment. On another occasion, when a libel was plotted against the Tzemach Tzeddek, he requested his wife to recite Tehillim for him.

(תורת שלום ע׳ 81 ,שיחו״ק תשל״ט ח״ב ע׳ 458)

One might point to the lamedvavniks. Besides the fact that they're more relegated to Folklore, they are so nistar becuase of their anavut they don't even know they are nistar! As will make sense infra, their gantze tachlis for being is to "greet the Shekhinah." Sanhedrin 97b; Sukkah 45b. B'klal, the 36 constitue the pool of constituents wherefrom Hashem chooses the Moshaich of that generation. But even if we're disqualified from candidacy, that doesn't preclude us from attaining the level of tzaddikim.

I also second the comment about Tanya, which is the world's first self-help book. Maybe people could misinterpret Tanya, so I'll start with Likutei Amarim, ch. 52:

ולכן נקרא אם הבנים, על דרך משל, וכנסת ישראל, שממקור זה נאצלו נשמות דאצילות, ונבראו נשמות דבריאה וכו׳

Therefore it is figuratively called “mother of the children” i.e., of Jewish souls, and is also called “community of Israel,” for from this source the souls of Atzilut have emanated, these being “emanations” and not “creations”, and the souls of Beriah have been created, and so forth,

But there it explains that we all derive from the Shechinah which is even higher than the worlds of ABYA and b'frat in order to draw down this light we must make garments which themselves stem from an even higher source: Hashem's will and wisdom through His Torah.

From this, we can understand ch. 39, that the abode of tzaddikim is in the higher worlds:

ולכן מעלת הצדיקים גדולה מהם, כי מדור נשמות הצדיקים הוא בעולם הבריאה, ומדור המלאכים בעולם היצירה

Therefore, tzaddikim are on a higher level than them (the angels):1 the abode of the souls of tzaddikim is in the World of Beriah (Creation), whereas the abode of the angels is in the World of Yetzirah (Formation).

But as explained passim, the kavanah and avodah of Jews as well as malachim is what determines their abode above.

Working backwards further, the Alter Rebbe brings up this machlokes from the Talmudic passage that describes Job as saying to G‑d: “You have created tzaddikim (righteous men), and You have created resha‘im (wicked men).” In the first chapter of Tanya the Alter Rebbe asked: How can G‑d be said to have “created” righteous and wicked men? If man is wicked, it is his own doing. G‑d ordains only whether one shall be clever or foolish, strong or weak, and the like; he does not declare whether one will be righteous or wicked, for doing so would negate man’s freedom of choice. How, then, could Job say, “You have created men as tzaddikim and resha’im?”

He resolves this stira so pashut in ch. 14 that any other shita is tiyuvta:

The matter becomes clear, however, in light of the Alter Rebbe’s statement here that the ability to become a tzaddik is a gift from G‑d, not granted to every man. “You have created tzaddikim” thus means that G‑d created souls capable of attaining the rank of tzaddik. In the Alter Rebbe’s words:

ולכן אמר איוב: בראת צדיקים כו׳

Therefore did Job say, “You created tzaddikim….”

We can now understand Job’s statement as a reference to those souls created with the capacity of attaining the rank of tzaddik. (The meaning of “You have created resha‘im” is explained in ch. 27.)

וכדאיתא בתיקונים, שיש בנשמות ישראל כמה מיני מדרגות ובחינות

As stated in Tikkunei Zohar,2 there are many grades and degrees in Jewish souls:

חסידים, גבורים המתגברים על יצרם, מארי תורה, נביאים כו׳, צדיקים כו׳, עיין שם

Pious men (“chassidim”), strong men (“gibborim”) who gain mastery over their evil inclination, scholars of the Torah, prophets,...tzaddikim, and so forth. Note there.

Accordingly, within the ranks of the souls there are those who are categorized as tzaddikim.3

ובזה יובן כפל לשון השבועה: תהי צדיק ואל תהי רשע

Now we may understand the repetitious wording in the oath administered to every Jew before birth, “Be a tzaddik and be not a rasha” (as quoted from the Talmud in the opening words of Tanya).

דלכאורה תמוה, כי מאחר שמשביעים אותו: תהי צדיק, למה צריכים להשביעו עוד שלא יהיה רשע

At first glance it seems unintelligible: once he is charged to “be a tzaddik,” implying clearly that he not be a rasha, why the need to adjure him again not be a rasha?

אלא משום שאין כל אדם זוכה להיות צדיק, ואין לאדם משפט הבחירה בזה כל כך, להתענג על ה׳ באמת, ושיהיה הרע מאוס ממש באמת

The answer is that inasmuch as not everyone is privileged to become a tzaddik, nor has a person the full advantage of choice in this matter of experiencing true delight in G‑d and of actually and truly abhorring evil,

ולכן משביעים שנית: אל תהי רשע על כל פנים

[each person] is consequently adjured a second time: “You shall, at any rate, not be a rasha.”

Even if a person is not privileged to become a tzaddik he should at the very least not be a rasha, being instead a Beinoni.

שבזה משפט הבחירה והרשות נתונה לכל אדם

With regard to this (not being a rasha) the right of choice and freedom is extended to every man,

למשול ברוח תאותו שבלבו ולכבוש יצרו, שלא יהיה רשע אפילו שעה אחת כל ימיו

to control the spirit of lust in his heart and to conquer his nature, so that he shall not be wicked for even one moment throughout his life.

בין בבחינת סור מרע בין בבחינת ועשה טוב, ואין טוב אלא תורה

[This applies] both in the realm of “turning away from evil” — refraining from transgression, and in that of “doing good” — performing all the positive mitzvot in which he is obligated; and especially the mitzvah of Torah study, which is specifically termed “good”, as our Sages say,4 “There is no ‘good’ other than Torah,”

דהיינו תלמוד תורה שכנגד כולן

meaning the study of Torah, which “balances (i.e., is equal to) all [the other mitzvot combined].”

By reason of the freedom of choice granted him, one is expected to surmount even the difficulty of faithfully observing this most difficult mitzvah of Torah study.

For this reason the oath is administered a second time. Even if one does not have the opportunity to become a tzaddik, it is still possible for him — and therefore expected of him — not to be a rasha.

The Alter Rebbe now goes on to state that everyone should strive to emulate the tzaddik’s service of G‑d, although he may never actually reach the rank of tzaddik. Specifically, one should train oneself to loathe worldly pleasures; and, conversely, he should try to awaken in himself a delight in the love of G‑d, which is accomplished through reflecting deeply on His greatness. Thereby one fulfills the charge, “Be a tzaddik,” to the best of his ability.

As is known to the initiated, the higher levels of ahava rabba and ahava betaanugim are gifts from Hashem and therefore not dependent on our histadlus howbeit we still have to ascend to the highest levels first. There has to be an "awaking below" (itaruta dilatata) to bring about an "awakening above" (itaruta dile'ela). I believe this is in line with the teachings of the mayin nukvin arousing the mayin duchrin.

So far as I understand Tanya, IMHO, then, we are all standing on the precipice of beinoni like a seesaw or teeter totter. This to me is a clear terutz why Rabbah said he was a Beinoni. As Earl said, lehavdil, the meaning to life is a moment and a choice. See Kohelet 12:13 (q.v.,the entire perek). There are 5 medraigos in our choice:

  • Tzadik Gomer or Vetov Lo

  • Tzadik Vera Lo

  • Beinoni

  • Rasha Vetov Lo

  • Rasha Gomer or Vetov Lo

What separates the two righteous and the two wicked is in regard to the lower level of itkafya or the higher level of ithapcha of the yetzer hara (which as the Rebbe explains is still present even in a tzaddik). See Tanya, ch. 10. And as the Rebbe explains, based on Zohar Chadash, that David HaMelech slew his yetzer hara, per the Yerushalmi, through Talmud Torah.

The way I see it is, l'moshel, if a cell phone goes off on Shabbos in a Frum shul Ch"vS. A rasha Gomer would really lay into this guy R"L and give him or her all sorts of tochacha and mussar. An incomplete rasha would stop and contemplate, but maybe the person on the phone is a doctor. An incomplete tzaddik would would hear the phone but not interrupt his davening. And a perfect tzadik wouldn't even hear the phone, (s)he would be too caught up with dveikus, yichudim, maaseh Merkavah, and hiskashrus and the like.

That being said, it can now be understood why a baal teshuvah stands on a higher level than a tzaddik. It was said of Rabbi Eleazar ben Dordia that there was no harlot in the world he did not have relations with. He did teshuvah and died, which I don't think would satisfy Rabbeinu Yonah's twenty criteria for repentence but for arguments sake I'll poskim al pi Rambam. A shayla: how would his repentence assuage the scores of whores he victimized over the years? How would this put him on a higher level than a tzadik?

I can give a whole drash on this, but b'kitzur the focus isn't on the person per se but their status thereof. D'heinu, that while a tzaddik still feels they're a tzaddik, they're actually undergoing a yeridah. It's this that makes humans on a higher level than malachim, because we are mehaleich as explained in Iyar 6 of HaYom Yom. Free choice is limited to moral decisions, which is based in the Torah, and so b'emet everything we do is either for or against Hashem. If one is not going up, they're going down. This actually ties in with the following point.

The sof maaseh is that it is nurture over nature. It's fitting, then, that the second book of Tanya, Sha'ar HaYichud VehaEmunah, starts off with Chinuch Katan. Since I'm already turning this sicha into a maamar, I'll only focus on the sof davar. Basically, when a tzaddik/tzedekes falls seven times that is because his/her current rung is b'etzem a descent until he returns closer to Hashem; the ratzon and the shov. I want to emphasize one point, to wit:

אך לא כל אדם זוכה לזה

Yet not everyone is privileged to attain this state of love which characterizes tzaddikim,

כי לזה צריך זיכוך החומר במאד מאד, וגם תורה ומעשים טובים הרבה

for it requires an intense refinement of one’s physical grossness, and in addition a great deal of Torah study and good deeds,

לזכות לנשמה עליונה

in order to merit a lofty [soul-level of] Neshamah...

It's pretty clear, than tzaddikim are made and not from holy seed or whatever. While some have the shoresh of their neshamah in higher worlds, that only gives them higher potential and possibly makes it easier to attain new heights. That being said, Eisav comes from Tohu, an even more supreme higher level. Etz Chaim, Heichal HaNikudim (Shaar 8, ff.). The higher the tree, the farther the apple falls.

No one Jew is greater than another, rather it is their status quo that determines their posture in Gan Eden. As chassidus explains heavily on kapitl 51, our sins are always before us. See Tanya, ch. 29; Likutei Sichos, vol. 4, pp. 1197-98. Each and every person has merits and sins. Rambam, Hilchot Teshuvah, perek 3. This expansive lashon would seemingly include even the chezkat mashiach for, e.g., not bringing the Jews back to Eretz Yisrael, not rebuilding the Temple, etc. B'poel, unless one gets a sex change, runs for kingship, and gets married into the kahuna somehow, there's no way one can (at least in maaseh) perform the Taryag mitzvot, not including the "if you get tamei, here's the procedure" types of mitzvos. Save for gilgulim, that is. The long and short of it is that nobody can look at themselves as being free of sins, however miniscule, which is a Yerida L'Tzorech Aliya, and, therefore, we all can become a tzadik Gomer even if just in the moment.


1 - The divine service of angels, the Rebbe points out, would seemingly have no place in Tanya, whose purpose is to serve as a guide to Beinonim — a guide to every Jew’s service of G‑d.

The simple reason, explains the Rebbe, is to emphasize the lofty level of Torah and mitzvot that are motivated by intelligent love and fear of G‑d. So sublime is this form of service, that it transcends the service of angels.

Moreover: Since this is a book written for Beinonim, the Alter Rebbe seeks to make it perfectly clear that it is “very nigh” — because it is innate — to every Jew to perform Torah and mitzvot with love and fear of G‑d experienced in the heart. An individual who attains this degree of natural love and fear of G‑d but lacks intellectual love and fear, should not be misled into thinking that his love and fear lacks intensity and consequently, his resultant actions are deficient as well. Rather, this degree of love and fear, too, is of remarkable intensity.

The Alter Rebbe makes his point by emphasizing that both the angels and the creatures of the Divine Chariot serve G‑d out of natural love and fear of Him. We are thus able to understand how great this manner of service truly it. It is deficient only in that it is an emotional form of service rather than an intellectual one.

However, with regard to service of G‑d being “very nigh in your heart,” natural love and fear fulfill this function admirably. Thus, every Jew is quite capable of revealing his latent love and fear of G‑d so that it emerge forcefully, for his love and fear is similar to the love and fear experienced by the angels and other celestial beings. This ensures that a Jew’s actions, which result from his feelings toward G‑d, be performed in a forceful manner as well, so that each and every Jew perform Torah and mitzvot with the inner life and vitality that stems from his love and fear of G‑d.

2 - Introduction to Tikkunei Zohar 1b.

3 - This appears to be the Alter Rebbe’s intention in citing Tikkunei Zohar. However, the Rebbe remarks: “This bears examination.” Possibly, the Rebbe is implying doubt as to whether the Alter Rebbe understands the mention of tzaddikim in Tikkunei Zohar as referring to those souls born with the capacity to become tzaddikim, since the other qualities mentioned there — especially those that characterize the “gibborim, who prevail with might over their Yetzer Hara” — are not hereditary, but are attained by dint of one’s efforts. On the other hand, “gibborim” may refer to souls that are inherently inclined toward Gevurah, as are “chassidim” toward Chesed, and so on.

4 - Berachot 5a.

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Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that becoming a tzaddik depends on one's efforts, not on one's birth. In Sichos HaRan, he said that people have the misconception that he was only able to reach his exalted level because he was the great-grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov, but he said that this was incorrect, and anyone could reach the same level.

Similarly, he said the following: "Anyone who listens to me and carries out everything I say will certainly become a great Tzaddik, come what may." (Chayey Moharan #320).

  • So do these people disagree with the Tanya? (look at answer below) or are just speaking about a different type of tzadik (which one) – user5224 Jul 4 '14 at 14:29
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I personally, don't believe a person is BORN a rasha, beinoni, or tzaddik.

I believe it is the same as "when does a person become an athlete"? When you wear your first gold medal?

I believe when it is "possible to become a tzaddik" when you DECIDE today is the day "lace up your shoes, instead of sleeping in, drink water instead of beer, etc" I'm going to better myself!!!

Instead of giving up and giving into sin, you WILL become a tzaddik. Can you? Is it possible? Absolutely!

  • This question asks about becoming a tzadik. Maybe when a person is born, he is already either a rasha, a beinoni, or a tzadik. – Daniel Jul 5 '14 at 19:18

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