The Search for a Tzadik
Before I came to Tzfat, I was driving with my friend Inbar and talking about my plans to journey there. She was amazed at my willingness to go to such a sacred place.
“You should find a tzadik,” she said.
“A what?” I asked.
“A righteous person. There aren’t any in the United States, but there are quite a few in Tzfat. It is said that if you give your prayers to a tzadik, their will becomes G-d’s will.”
My friend Inbar was always into the more mystical elements of the universe, but from that point in the conversation I wanted to find what she was pointing me towards. Tzadiks are supposed to be anonymous, yet somehow known. Their energy is different, and they connect. Like people who were looking in India for a guru, I was looking for an answer to my prayers.
As Lauren, Avi and I rode up to Tzfat, I rode up with a lot of prayers. I thought about my mother, who was so ill, and my family who was suffering tremendously because of it. I thought of me, who had come through so much with my previous life and was somehow still not stable in this new one. I needed direction, guidance. I had to find a tzadik. Maybe it was a lot to ask from in a Shabbat in this town, but somehow I had to try.
As Hannah and I continued our walk through the town of Tzfat during Shabbat, we passed through courtyards and past areas where the artisans make their home in this town. We passed by men dressed all in white, and I wondered if they were tzadiks. I kept questioning who was what as I walked through this town. I riled this idea in my head that I was going to find one. But somehow, with my tears, I had let go of everything except that sense of adventure.
“Here’s a place you should see,” Hannah said as we approached a house. “It’s David Friedman’s gallery.”
“David Friedman?” I asked.
“He’s a very famous kabbalistic artist. He lives here and his gallery is here. I wonder if it’s open.”
We walked into the courtyard with a tree to a blue door. She creaked it open, and much to our surprise, it was unlocked.
“C’mon, let’s go check it out,” she said.
“Are you sure we can?” I asked.
“Of course. Why not?”
Maybe she hadn’t been in America in long enough to remember that, on a day like today where everything was closed, it was best not to walk into places that also looked so.
The gallery was shaded yet filled with golden light as we looked at the pictures, which looked like a combination of Peter Max psychadelia with Kabbalistic twelve-pointed trees and symbols. There was a sense of warm energy, with the hardwood floors seeming to be soft under our footsteps as I admired these paintings.
Suddenly, I heard a woman’s voice that made me jump. “Can I help you?” she asked. It wasn’t rude, simply curious, her eyes looking at us over the white African-style headwrap that covered her hair. My voice began trying to find words, but Hannah jumped in quickly.
“I just came back to Tzfat, and she’s never been here, so I just wanted to show her David Friedman’s gallery,” she explained.
“Oh, well would you like to join us for lunch?” she asked kindly.
My mouth was open. We somehow barged into an unopened gallery and got invited to lunch for it? Hannah and I agreed that we would say our hellos before we went back to the hostel, as they were already providing lunch for us there. It turns out the woman who invited us in was Rivka, the artist’s wife.
We were greeted by a table of eight people, relaxing after having their first course of appetizers. They were curious about these two girls who walked in, one all the way from Los Angeles on a spiritual quest and the other who had made her home there. Hannah at one point met one of the ladies whose daughter was a friend of hers from back home, so they began chatting animatedly. I settled back into the kitchen with Rivka, who was pouring a soup that looked a little like cholent, which is a traditional slow-cooked food that is served for Shabbat lunch.
“So what brought you here?” she asked.
“I just always wanted to come to Tzfat,” I said. “I had always heard stories about the mystics and just wanted to be a part of it.”
“I see. Is there something you’re looking for?”
As I looked at Rivka, who stood so much shorter than me, I sensed this tremendous energy coming off of her, her tan skin and angular features somehow meant to be in my sight. It wasn’t an accident I was standing in her kitchen. This was meant to happen as last night’s table was. Divine providence.
“There’s something that my friend told me before I came up here,” I said. “About finding a tzadik.”
“What about?” she asked.
“Well, she said that if I find a tzadik, they can help me. There is so much trouble in my life right now, and I need a direct line to G-d. My friend said a tzadik can give me that.”
She rubbed her hands with a towel and looked at me sincerely. “I get the sense that you don’t need to find one,” she said. “You came to find something that is already in yourself.”
I looked at her confused. “That I am the tzadik?” I asked. She nodded, and thus added to my puzzlement. How could this possibly be? I am a secular girl living in the United States. There aren’t tzadiks there, and if I was supposedly one of these chosen people to answer prayers, G-d needed some help picking. I could barely help myself, let alone anyone I loved.
The next day after Shabbat, just as I was about to leave for Tel Aviv, Hannah and another friend took me down to the cemetery in Tzfat, where you’re supposed to pray at the blue-marked graves on holidays; in our case, Purim. The blue marks indicated where known tzadiks were buried, and you were supposed to pray there for your own prayers.
That’s when I saw her. She was small, wearing a puffy black coat and a black dress, with long brown hair and freckles. The friend pointed out to me that she was a tzadik, a woman praying up and down Israel for anyone she could find.
As I came to her, I felt in awe. But somehow, her face seemed to recognize mine. She barely spoke any English, but she somehow saw me, all of me. I poured all my prayers into her, for my mother and family, for my friends and eventually for myself. I began to cry, not wanting to be away from her.
“No,” she said in her thick accent, pointing to my heart. “You… happy.”
There was enough in a few words; maybe I was a tzadik, maybe I had no way of ever being one. But I was meant to be happy despite the circumstances. She reminded me of that as I headed back up the mountain to collect my bags and head back to the secular world. As my vision of the rebbe told me (more about that later), perhaps I was just meant to give the world happiness. It may not make me a tzadik, but it’s as good of a cause as there ever was.