Ok, But is Every Yid Really A Big Tzadik?

Noach was a big Tzadik, Noach was a big Tzadik, From His Keppele to his feesele, Noach was a big Tzadik,

Every Yid's a big Tzadik...

During a Chol HaMoed trip, with “big Tzadik” blasting in the car, my kids began to wonder and ask me: Is every Yid really a big tzadik? What does it mean to be a big tzadik?

These are good questions in general, but as they pertain to this niggun, we might be tempted to dismiss the premise of the question entirely. Who says that every Yid is actually a Big Tzadik? Perhaps the words of the song are little more than catchy lyrics?

But even if we dismiss the song, the profundity of the questions remain, and we still need to explain the pasuk in Navi (ישעיהו ס׳:כא):

וְעַמֵּךְ כֻּלָּם צַדִּיקִים לְעוֹלָם יִירְשׁוּ אָרֶץ – And your people, all of them righteous, shall possess the land for all time.

What exactly is this pasuk teaching us?

It's hard to imagine that the Navi is informing us that every single Jew throughout history is a Big Tzadik. It's no secret that the Tanach is replete with the narratives of many Jews who were decidedly not big tzadikim. Perhaps then, the pasuk is telling us that at some future time everyone will be tzadikim? But how?

Radak, rather harshly suggests, that the Navi is teaching us that eventually Hashem will put us all through the wringer in order to ensure that we're tzadikim, (or perhaps that whomever remains will be a tzadik.) That is to say, through the trials, tribulations, hardships and pain of generations of exile, we will emerge as tzadikim. (If this is so, it's likely not something we're excited to sing about.)

The Alshich also maintains that the Pasuk is talking about the future. He explains, however, that Hashem will give every Jew as many opportunities as they need to become a tzadik. Hashem never gives up on us – לא ידח ממנו נדח – He will never allow any Jew to be lost. In the grand scheme of history, 100% of our people will eventually achieve the status of Tzadik, though it might take many iterations of our neshamos returning to this world to work on ourselves.

The Alshich's explanation, while certainly more positive, still falls short of declaring “Every Yid's a big Tzadik”. Eventually we will be, just not now.

The Noam Elimelech (דברים ב׳:א) presents an entirely different read and explains: Some Jews are Big Tzadikim, but every Yid is not a Big Tzadik. Nevertheless, the Jewish People as a whole is the “Big Tzadik” of Humanity. The Navi is not referring to a particular group, or even to a generation, but the entirety of Klal Yisrael throughout history. If we anchor our goals and destiny to that of our nation, we too can be a part of the global, intergenerational enterprise called “Big Tzadik.”

None of these explanations, however, can adequately account for the statement that “Every Yid is a Big Tzadik.”

Perhaps the simplest way to understand the song (and the pasuk), is not that every Yid is actually, currently a big tzadik, but that we are all capable of it. As it turns out, this is the pshat offered by the YouTube description of “Big Tzadik”:

Inspired By Rabbi Jungreis From The Niklesburg – Woodburne Shul. De Rebbe, Rabbi Jungreis is a champion of hope and positivity for a generation that feels it can never live up to the standards of greatness of our past Tzadikim. De Rebbe constantly reminds us that just like Noach was a big tzadik during a very tough chapter of history, so too every yid today is a BIG Tzadik and can achieve walking in the ways of Hashem and being a Light unto the world.

Accordingly, the central message of the song is that every Yid has the potential to become a Big Tzadik, regardless of our challenges and circumstances. This is certainly a message we can all get behind.

There is, however, another way to understand the Pasuk, counterintuitive as it may be:

Perhaps every Yid is actually a Big Tzadik right now. Or at least a Small Tzadik; even wayward sinners. This explanation is presented by none other than than the Ramban in his commentary to Maseches Niddah (נדה י״ד א׳).

There, the Gemara quotes a Beraisa teaching that “רוכבי גמלים כולן רשעים – Camel drivers are all Reshaim (wicked)” but in Kiddushin (פ״ב א׳), the Mishna records that “והגמלין רובן כשרין – Most camel drivers Kosher.”

What does it mean to be “Kosher”? Rashi explains:

שפורשין למדברות למקום גדודי חיות וליסטין ויראים לנפשם ומשברים לבם למקום Camel drivers travel into deserts, places of wild animals and bandits, and as such they are constantly afraid for their lives. In their vulnerability, they open their hearts to Hashem.

In grappling with these two contradictory statement of Chazal, the Ramban explains:

במילי דעלמ' ולבן לשמים, הכא רשעים בדבר הזה In general, they are upstanding people; their hearts are dedicated to Hashem, but in one area, they are Reshaim. (Meaning, in some areas they fail.)

Effectively, the Ramban has shattered the “Tzadik” paradigm. Tzadik doesn't mean perfect. Tzadik doesn't mean 100%, or even 50%. In every area of our lives, we have the capacity to be a tzadik or the opposite.

Reb Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin (דברי סופרים אות ז׳) explains, based on this Ramban that שאין לך אדם מישראל שאין עליו שם צדיק באיזה דבר – There is no such thing as a Jew who is not a Tzadik in some area of their life.

This introduces a new idea to our understanding of the Pasuk. The Navi is telling us that despite all appearances to the contrary, every Yid is really a Big Tzadik... even in one tiny aspect of their lives. Even amongst all of the failures and mistakes, we can discern in each and every Jew some aspect of “Tzadik”.

How do we achieve this tzidkus and what does it mean to be a big tzadik? Reb Tzadok explains: Hashem challenges each one of us in a myriad ways according to our lives, growth, personalities and capacities. When we overcome that challenge we transform ourselves into Tzadikim in that area.

This perspective of ourselves and each other is codified by the Rambam, in his explanation of the well known Mishna at the end of Makkos:

רַבִּי חֲנַנְיָא בֶּן עֲקַשְׁיָא אוֹמֵר, רָצָה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְזַכּוֹת אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְפִיכָךְ הִרְבָּה לָהֶם תּוֹרָה וּמִצְוֹת Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya says: Hakadosh Baruch Hu sought to confer merit upon the Jewish people; therefore, He increased for them Torah and mitzvos.

Here the Rambam writes:

מעקרי האמונה בתורה כי כשיקיים אדם מצוה מתרי”ג מצות כראוי וכהוגן ולא ישתף עמה כוונה מכוונת העולם בשום פנים אלא שיעשה אותה לשמה מאהבה כמו שבארתי לך הנה זכה בה לחיי העולם הבא It is among the fundamental principles of the Torah that when an individual fulfills one of the 613 commandments in a fit and proper manner, not combining with it any aspect of worldly intent but rather doing it for its own sake, out of love, then they merit the World to Come through this single act.

There is no such thing as a Jew who doesn't do even one thing properly. There is no Neshama that doesn't, from shine a little light from behind the curtains of sadness, distraction, materialism and self-centeredness. We all do it already; and in these tiny corners of our lives, each one of us is already a Big Tzadik.

And that's what I told my kids:

Every Yid is a Big Tzadik in some small area. Hashem wants us to find it in our selves and be really proud of it. He wants us to look for the Tzadik in each other so that we can learn from it, and value it. And He wants us to continue working on these middos; conquering more and more parts of ourselves to become a Big Tzadik in bigger and bigger areas of our lives.

If Noach could do it, we can do it too. Hashem should help us to see the Tzadik inside of ourselves and each other, and grow to be the Biggest Tzadikim that we can become.