In my first entry I thought I’d focus on what drew me to this project?
When I was in High School at Ida Crown Jewish Academy (Chicago, IL), I was in Rabbi Eugent’s Nivi’im (Prophets) class. Rabbi Juzint was a very old man and Torah scholar. My friends and I were scholars of spit-balls and other classroom shenanigans. We were 12 guys who all got along, included everyone, never really got in trouble for anything major but goofed off in class. Rabbi Juzint was very upset with our mischief. So he wanted to help us simmer down. He got up and walked over to the room which was set up in a U-Shape facing front. He took an old book, written in Hebrew but we could not make out the words. Slowly he walked around the room showing each student a particular page. The writing was bizarre and looked like nothing we had ever seen before. He stopped at one student, Billy, but did not show him the book. Billy had a photographic memory and Rabbi Juzint purposefully avoided him. Why would Rabbi Juzint show us this book? Why did the lettering look off and what did it say? Why could Billy not see it?
Some believed that Rabbi Juzint was a Lamed Vavnick (one of the 36 righteous Men of God) who were able to perform miracles and keep the world intact. A story later told to me was that Rabbi Juzint was able to survive the Holocaust by turning himself into a fish and swimming from Europe to Ellis Island. Maybe I lost some of you there. This was a story told to me when I was a teenager. And while no one confirmed the story, it was said that Rabbi Juzint also never denied it. As a teenager did I believe this story to be true? No. But the stories of the Lamed Vavnickim are not isolated. Lamed Vav, the letters that represent the number 36, are believed to be 36 men who are able to perform mini-miracles and are unknown to the common person. How could they perform these miracles? As a teen I learned it was by enacting the 72-letter name of God known as the Shem-Hameforash. Which, as we debated in High school, quite possibly could have been the bizarre lettering that appeared in Rabbi Juzit’s book, exactly why he could not show it to the one student in the class with a photographic memory.
This story has intrigued me my entire adult life. And the origins of the Lamed Vavnickim are steeped in Jewish tradition. I hope this blog sheds some light onto the Lamed Vavnickim as I try to unearth some of the legends surrounding these individuals.