Question & Answer With Rabbi Micha Golshevsky - Recognizing A Tzaddik
A Simple Jew asks:
In Likutey Moharan II:116, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught:
Some people mistakenly believe that one must recognize the tzaddik by his face and appearance, or that his appearance and movements will be unusual. But this is not so. The tzaddik has the same appearance as anybody else. Nevertheless, he is completely different from other people, and he real does not resemble other people at all. A holy Jew appears to go about with the same insides as any other human being, but he is really a totally different being.
If I meet a tzaddik today, given this teaching, is there any way I will be able to recognize him as a tzaddik?
Rabbi Micha Golshevsky answers:
There are several ways to recognize a tzaddik. Rebbe Nachman writes that although one cannot tell who is really a tzaddik, from the students of the tzaddik one can tell. This is like a seal. It is hard to read the writing on a seal because the writing is backwards. After the seal is stamped on something we see what is written on the seal. The impression made on the tzaddik's students offer a glimpse into the nature of the tzaddik himself.
Another way is by searching assiduously for the tzaddik. The Tanah Divei Eliyahu writes that Hashem sends an angel to guide a person who sincerely searches for the truth.
The key is to search for the connection to holiness through knowing a tzaddik or at least going in the ways of tzaddikim by following their advice and learning their works.
It is very important to realize that one may "recognize" a tzaddik and remain completely unchanged. Once while Reb Nosson and his student, Rav Nachman of Tulchin, were being ferried across the river by a very simple person, Rav Nachman exclaimed, "If I could only have seen the Rebbe!"
Reb Nosson replied, "This ferryman saw him many times. And he is still a ferryman!"
You may see and recognize a tzaddik and not change an iota!
It comes out from Rebbe Nachman writings that even one who has found a true tzaddik and counts themselves as a follower of the tzaddik, but doesn't really want to serve Hashem, is not connected to the tzaddik at all. Only one who genuinely wants the holiness of the tzaddik has a true connection. This is similar to Eretz Yisrael (the first example of the Torah quoted in the question.) It is possible to live in Eretz Yisrael and never search for the holiness and purity accessible in Eretz Yisrael. Although the Talmud writes that one who walks four amos in Eretz Yisrael is a ben olam habah, this doesn't mean a wicked person who has no interest in spirituality. Rather, it means someone who is seeking the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, as Rebbe Nachman and other great tzaddikim like Rav Moshe Vali said.
The main thing is to follow the spiritual path of the tzaddik. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zt"l, said, "In order to feel the holiness of the Kosel, one must learn mussar for half an hour as preparation." Similarly, one who wishes to really connect to Hashem by finding the tzaddik must work hard to find Hashem and do teshuvah.
Rav Shlomo of Zevhil expressed a desire that at least one of his grandchildren should marry a Breslover chassid. When asked why, he explained, "When a Breslover arrives in heaven this makes big waves—dos macht a groyser ra'ash—but only if he was really earnest—oyb er is gemaynt ernst!"