A tzaddik walks into a bar, and …
I really want to start that way, only the Tzaddik didn’t pick up the vav in a bar. The tzaddik has only been in a bar once in his life and that was when he was stranded (with a vavling, actually) in the middle of nowhere and the third game of the World Series was just starting and they couldn’t make it home.
No, actually the tzaddik was minding his own business, just walking up the garden path, when he saw the lovely vav sleeping on the stone bench under the redwood tree, and surrounded by luscious ferns. What a vision! He walked up to the lad and leaned over him. The tzaddik tugged at his long beard a bit and examined the find. Jeans and a white t-shirt, though I’m not sure the tzaddik knew about ‘jeans.’ Long bronze curls upon his head. No keppeleh. Dirty bare feet, with a pair of tanakhim sitting carefully placed under the stone bench. The tanakhim put the tzaddik at ease (not just a lost sheep but a lost potential shepherd), and so he shook the boy’s shoulder gently.
The vav awoke. Not startled at all, but as if he were maybe inside still his dream.
“Is this paradise?” he asked in English.
For what he saw was a real live tzaddik bending over him, surrounded by filtered light threading its way through the redwoods. The smell of the ferns and the nearby roses heady on his mind.
The tzaddik took the vavling home, of course. Made him to wash. Fed him. Mrs. Tzaddik took to him as well; he was a pretty boy. She would trap him with a cup of tea and hold him hostage with her higher intellect. But the vav had eyes (and ears) for the tzaddik only, and the tzaddik put him to work.
The function of the vav is to uphold the yud. The yud is the head, the king, inspiration, alchemical fire, the learned one. You can often see him wearing a crown upon the page. The vav is the heart and the spine — a connector — upholding the head as best he can. The vav (at his best) stands tall, but he knows his place. Alchemical air, he’s got lots of ideas, but he just can’t manifest. And here he was trying to do his job (uphold the tzaddik, his yud) but the upper hei maintained her relentless seduction. She was not subtle. He turned away.
This tzaddik was a lamed-vavnik, to tell the truth — one of the 36 concealed ones who roam this earth at any one time in times of trouble. This isn’t just my opinion. People have come up to me and whispered it in my ear. Of course the vavlings would be drawn. How could they not? Max Weber would call it something else, of course. Charisma, he would say. That ‘uncanny personal power to persuade’ — but that sounds so terribly social science.
The tzaddik put the vavling to work. At first it was to paint the fence around the garden. And then it was the stairs themselves. And when the boy’s mind had settled, he set him to selling the Encyclopedia Judaica to members of the tribe. With the boy’s natural charm and humor, he soon lost most of his hippy curls and tattered clothes and now wore fine button up white linen peasant shirts tucked into better pairs of jeans. The sidelocks he kept.
The vavling began studying Torah and Talmud. He became captivated by the law.
Soon there were other vavlings drawn to the tzaddik, each with his own talent and capacity. They formed a corporation together, and called it Gan Eden. And so, from that small primordial garden, they set out to grow a paradise together.
All the tzaddik ever wanted was to watch the vavlings thrive. His face lit up in their presence. He did not touch them, despite the rumors. No, he merely reveled in their company. And they were loyal to him until the day he was lain to rest. The vavs did not transmute into yuds themselves. Funny, that. They did not become the tzaddik, nor did they internalize him, nor emulate him. No, they merely saw him. They could see the concealed one!
Not once in my life did the tzaddik ever look at me the way that he beheld his vavlings. What he gave to me was something else entirely. And that is the gift the lamed-vavnik brings: to give each what is his due, each his attention, each her protection. I did not need to be awakened like the tzaddik’s first vavling in the garden.
I was raised to this garden. I am the gardener. I need no awakening.
The vavs, they saw the tzaddik. They saw the lamed-vavnik. The concealed one, blessed be he. But they never saw the man himself. That was left to me.