Lamedvavnik = 36 = 2×18 = Two Lives

They are both on the elevator when I get on.  He is leaning against the back windowed wall, eyes gently gazing down, off to the side, askance, as he does.  She is standing kitty-corner to him, her right cheek up against the invisible, personal boundary, as if to press on it without smudging.  She is twelve years old relative to his early sixties.  Though not really because, of course, she is old enough to be a knowledge worker, same as all of us; pushing ideas instead of boxes, around a warehouse of thought.

“Say what you want,” I comment to my imaginary audience, “but that is a man of integrity.” He talks to her. She mentions that she was part of the team that was part of a team that happened to help prepare the last meeting he attended; she was not invited being as junior as she is.  She, without saying, says that her role was influential. She worked hard.  You almost see the late-night lights bouncing off the box of Chinese takeout she ate at her desk.  He thanks her for the effort.  She is six, maybe seven layers, below him in the hierarchy, – like a cousin of a cousin of a cousin from a step child of a cousin.  No matter.  He engages – interested.

Contrasted, the business executive I work for, two levels ahead of me (so one would assume closer than her six degrees away from elevator man), has yet to even extend his hand.  Might not recognize him if I fell over him in the hallway – headshots being fuzzy and all, not always revealing the human beneath the staged head turn: “Just this way a bit. That’s it. Perfect.”

And then I remember last week – it was a big week for sermons – it being the Jewish holidays and all. The Rabbi raised her hands in the air and said, “Double chai!  Here’s to the 36 Righteous.” And I said, “Huh? Maybe I am one of them since I still, at the ripeness of 47, am unclear about where I might fit in.” Which, by the way, and of course, immediately disqualifies me, because the righteous never say that they are so.  From Wikipedia, the almighty source of all things not currently known to you, I learn:

Lamedvavnik (Yiddishלאַמעדוואַווניק‎), is the term for one of the 36 humble, righteous ones…At any given time [it is believed] there are at least 36 holy persons in the world….who are hidden; nobody knows who they are…For the sake of these 36 hidden saints, G*d preserves the world even if the rest of humanity has degenerated to the level of total barbarism…Since nobody knows who the Lamedvavniks are, not even themselves, [all] should act as if they might be one…leading a holy and humble life, [hoping for peace] for the sake of fellow human beings. The term lamedvavnik is derived from the Hebrew letters Lamed (L) and Vav (V), whose numerical value adds up to 36…twice 18…the number 18 stand[ing] for “life,” in Hebrew.  ~Adapted from

So it is – two lives (at least) – mingling in every interaction; and one (or both) can be amplified or snuffed when it’s over.  I look to this elevator executive, visible and public, criticized and ridiculed, for this decision or that lack of one; for the softness with which he speaks; and the kindness with which he rose-colored-glasses all he sees.  I used to be glass-half-empty myself, but given the world feels darkening in its spirit, I choose him. I choose the two lives he lifts up: engaging, embracing, elevating.  This man.  He is my corporate 36. I’d rather that kindness then the barge of berating brains that makes up leadership when power, not people, matter most to a person.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

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