Sunday 17 January 2021



In early Chassidic literature we find some fascinating and sometimes curious notions concerning the Tzadik-G-d relationship which seem to be the antithesis of the purer form of monotheism as defined by Maimonides.

In this article, which I have drawn extensively from the research of Professor Shaul Magid[1], we will explore some Chassidic texts which speak of such ideas as the Tzadik pre-existing creation and sharing the power to create.


The first text is from the third generation Chassidic rebbe, R. Elimelech of Lyzinsk (1717–1787), a student of R. Dov Ber of Mezeritch. R. Elimelech of Lyzinsk was one of the seven rebbes to carry the distinctive title of ‘Rebbe Reb’.

R. Elimelech writes in his Noam Elimelech:

God creates and makes the world to God’s will.

Opposite that, God creates the zaddik who can nullify divine decrees.

This opening statement is already interesting because it starts by declaring G-d the creator and the sole entity involved in Providence. But then it immediately introduces a type of semi-duality in that corresponding to G-d, is a created being called the Tzadik, who has the ability to “nullify” that Providence.

There is some precedence for this in the Talmud where it states that G-d spoke to David and said, תהא כמוני  you can be like me”, שאני גוזר גזרה ואתה מבטלה because I decree and you (David) nullify it”.[2]

(This appears to be the opposite of “The Tzadik decrees and G-d fulfils”. Here it is a softer “G-d decrees and the Tzadik nullifies”.)

Noam Elimelech continues:

Yet we can ask: how is this possible to nullify divine decrees that were already decreed in the supernal heavens?

However, as I have written numerous times, we read in Psalms (Ps. 33:6) with the word of God the heavens were made (b’davar Ha-Shem shamayim na’asu). 

This means that the zaddik, by means of engaging in Torah [the word of God] for its own sake (lishma) and drawing from this study new meaning (me-hadesh hidushim), makes/creates (na’asu) new heavens and engages in the act of creation (ma’aseh bereshit).

A new notion has now been introduced where not only can the divine decrees be nullified, but the Tzadik can engage in independent acts of ma’aseh bereishit, or creation ex nihilo.

Therefore, by force the decrees [of the old heavens] are nullified (betaylin) as they were now not part of the world that [was][3] created [anew] by the zaddik.[4] 

The mechanics are as follows: because the Tzadik has now created a new world, one which did not exist before where G-d’s old decrees still applied, the new world is governed by his new decrees which override the original G-dly decrees.

On a technical textual level, R. Elimelech re-interprets a verse from Tehillim (Psalms), generally understood as meaning that by G-d’s word the heavens were created - to now mean that by the Tzadik studying G-d’s word, the Torah, he can similarly engage in ma’aseh bereishit and create anew.

The Tzadik, as Magid puts it, is now able to render “the divine creation (creation as we know it from Genesis) mutable” and thus subject to change.  The Tazdik’s creation or ma’aseh bereishit can now override G-d’s ma’aseh bereishit, and overpower it.

We know from numerous sources[5] that G-d is said to have used the words of the Torah as a tool or key to create the universe. But in our text, the Tzadik can make use of the Torah just as well, in order to create.

This raises another issue of the power of the Torah which is elevated to a position of perhaps even more authority than both G-d and the Tzadik, as both require its agency in order to create.


Our second text is from the Torat haMagid, by the Magid of Mezritch (1700-1772), the successor to the Baal Shem Tov:

The text is an interpretation of the verse in Bereishit (28:11) describing Yakov’s famous dream about the ladder leading up to heaven: “And he [Yakov] took stones from that place and put them under his head.” 

It is known that the “stones” are [Hebrew] letters.

When the zaddik prays with these letters and binds (me-kasher) himself to the supernal wisdom (hokhmah elyonah), as is known, he has already entered the gate of eternity/nothingness (sha’ar ha-ayin).

He will elevate his heart until it is as if God’s power is in it. At that moment he achieves complete nullity (efes mukhlat).

As such, everything is divine power (koah) and his [the zaddik’s] speech is from the speech of God that created the world[6]

In this text of the Torat haMagid, the same result is achieved as the previous text of the Noam Elimelech. In both cases the Tzadik becomes like the Creator, who “engages in the act of creation” (Noam Elimelech) and whose

 speech is from the speech of God that created the world” (Torat haMagid). Reaching this level, the Tzadik now has the power to nullify not just G-d’s decree but G-d’s creation and create a new reality.

3) THE CHOZEH OF LUBLIN (1745-1815):

The Torat haMagid cited above, quotes a teaching from the Chozeh of Lublin:

I heard from the Maggid of Ravna, “Adon olam ha-shem[7] malakh beterem kol (Master of the world, the Name who rules before all was created . . .”).

The word “kol” (all) is called zaddik (the righteous one) who achieves the generalities (‘oseh kelaliot) of God with the people of Israel.

This is what it means when it says “before all [was created]”: the zaddik nullifies divine decrees.

God, as it were, is not king, rather [God is king only] with the zaddik, which is why the zaddik has so much power (koah).[8]

Magid explains:

We no longer read Adon olam ha-shem malakh be-terem kol, Master of the world, the Name who rules before all was created . . .” but “Master of the world, the Name who rules, before [everything] (be-terem), the zaddik (kol) was created. . . .”

We can also read it as:

Before creation, there was the zaddik, who helped fashion creation.

This means, as Magid continues, that the Tzadik is more than G-d’s emissary in a “normative sense” but rather he is the “extension of the divine”.


In a section of Shaar Gan Eden, by R. Yakov Koppel Lifschitz (d.c. 1740) Moshe Rabbeinu is described as being both human and divine:

It is said about Moses that he is an ‘ish ha-Elokim (a man of G-d). But if he is a man (‘ish) then he is not G-d (Elokim)?!
- Rather, Above (i.e. in Heaven) he is called G-d (Elokim) and below he is called a man (‘ish).[9]

Magid writes:

This is so striking rejects, even subverts, the more common euphemistic rendering of the passage (i.e. Moses is a “godly man”) opting for a rendition that enables Moses to be both human and divine simultaneously.[10]

Again, on this interpretation, it implies that Moshe, or any subsequent corresponding Tzadik, could assume a type of role of G-d incarnate!


The sheer audaciousness of this theology from a monotheistic point of view has led Magid to exclaim:

Under these conditions, Hasidism is practicing a kind of incarnational thinking…

[M]any Hasidic masters do not accept the categorical distinction between God and the zaddik that is common in non-mystical Judaism.

Then Magid gives his suggestion as to why Chassidism was able to get away with such an elevated depiction of the G-d-like role of the Tzadik:

…Hasidism develops in modernity largely outside the “Christian gaze,” that is, not invested in defending why Judaism is not Christianity [as opposed to writings from earlier periods][11]…it more freely engages in descriptions of God and the zaddik in ways that bring it in closer to proximity to Christianity showing, perhaps, that the categorical theological division between the two religions is less sound than we think.

Or, to put it slightly differently, he continues:

…Hasidism…is not party to the Maimonidean paradigm as conventionally understood…

Of course, there will be the counter-argument that these texts are taken out of context and that they really allude to something so subtly different that a superficial reading by the uninitiated would fail to grasp.

Perhaps they can be explained in a different and more creative ways even though they appear to mean exactly what they say. Ideas like “God, as it were, is not king, rather [God is king only] with the zaddik, which is why the zaddik has so much power,” do appear to speak for themselves.

Years ago, I spent a Shabbos at the home of one of my early teachers. In the house was a picture of a well-known Tzadik. When - as children are wont to do - my host’s little boy asked who that was in the picture, his father replied without hesitation; “Hashem”. When I questioned my teacher as to how any human could be called G-d, he explained that it was simply part of chinuch (early education).

From these Chassidic texts, however, it seems to be part of advanced and serious studies as well.

[1] Shaul Magid, The Case of Jewish Arianism: The Pre-existence of the Zaddik in Early Hasidism.

[2] Moed Katan 16b.

[3] Parenthesis mine.

[4] Noam Elimelech (Jerusalem, 1976), 277.

[5] Bereshit Raba, 18:4, 3:5, 64:8 and 31:8 as well as הסתכל באורייתא וברא עלמא, Zohar, Parshat Terumah, 161a.

[6] Torat ha-Maggid, vol. 1, 73a/b. Cf. 1, 76a.

[7] The popular texts of Adon Olam, read “asher malach”.

[8] Torat haMaggid, vol. 2 (Bnei Brak: Mishur Books, 2011), 442.

[9] Shaar Gan Eden 44b.

[10] Shaul Magid. Hasidism Incarnate: Hasidism, Christianity, and the Construction of Modern Judaism, p.18.

[11] Parenthesis mine. For example, one of the reasons why angels are not referenced in the Mishna (except for a veiled mention in Avot 4:11) - is to distance rabbinic literature from the emerging Christian perception of angels. Angels, however, are later mentioned regularly in the Gemara. [See Kotzk Blog: 110) ANGELS IN RABBINIC LITERATURE:].


  1. At least we have now some inkling why the GAON decided to put them into CHEREM

  2. One of the primary concepts of mysticism is not to take anything literally and that everything has a deep subtle metaphoric meaning.

    Cherry picking a few isolated quotes from sefarim is silly especially as it is known that the sefarim of the Chassidic masters contained only in brief a minor amount of their teachings.

  3. Couldn't we bolster these ideas from earlier sources? Rashi on bereshit 25:22 and 23 says את ד means she went to shem. Rabbi akiva said את is to include ת'ח. Also, in sanhedrin 65b on the the words of רבא rashi says if there's no sins theres no separation(between tzaddikim and hashem, therefore they can create a world).
    I want to double check but in the toldot yaakov yosef on yitro he brings more on this idea.