Reply To: Can a Non-Religious Jew be a Tzadik?

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Wow, I am just catching up on all of the beautiful essays that people wrote here – especially the one from Lilmod-Ulelamaid. Thank you for that, very well said!

Even if we stick to the most common definition of a Tzaddik as having more Zechusim than Aveiros, I think that we can all agree that the bottom-line actual value assigned to each aveira or mitzvah is so complicated that no human can ever understand it or know all the factors. For example, Mitzvos done in suffering or poverty are worth more than those that come easy. Aveiros might be attributed to an insufficient religious upbringing. It gets even harder when you consider that the value can change after the fact by doing teshuva, having Charata (even for Mitzvos), and deeds done even after death by others that were affected by the deceased before he died (decendants, or others that he was mekarev, or lives that he saved.) There are stories in the Gemara about people who acquired Olam Habah in one moment or act of teshuva. No one can even pretend to be able to figure it out.

I often think about this Sukkos time, when I go shopping for an Esrog or in shul during Hallel. I wonder about the comparison between a poor man who pays $50 for a simple Esrog with great difficulty and sacrifice, versus a wealthy man that pays $500 for the most beautiful Esrog in the shul, but for whom even that sum of money is insignificant. Whose Esrog is really nicer to Hashem?

Rabbi Shlomo Perl Zt”l gave a shiur (he gave many of course). He began by describing the parents of some friends he went to school with when he was very young. The father was a ‘bible scholar’ professor who knew how to learn very well but did not believe in any of it or keep any of it. They did not keep shabbos or kosher etc, even though he knew all of the halachos. Rabbi Perl then asked – Sounds like a rasha – no?

Then he seemingly went off on a new topic, and described his own life in detail. He originally went to public school and his family knew nothing at all. In 5th grade, a neighbor convinced his mother that Public School was too dangerous, and for that reason alone she switched him and his older brother into a yeshiva. He then described his life’s journey. His brother became a Rosh Yeshiva, and he went on to become a world-renown expert in Hilchos Shabbos who gave over 1000 shiurim on various halacha topics. When he was niftar he was the Rosh Kollel of the night Kollel in the Bostoner Bais Medrash in Flatbush (where I daven.) He then asked -imagine the Olam Haba that that neighbor deserves, for causing all of this Torah learning and generations of frum yidden that came from that act.

Then he surprised everyone by tying it back to his first question – the two stories are about the same people. The neighbor was in fact the same non-frum parent of his schoolmate. Rabbi Perl left it at a question. Not even he knew the answer to what the heavenly status of those people is.