In college I read a novel called The Last of the Just by André Schwarz-Bart inspired by a legend/theory from the Talmud — that there are thirty-six righteous souls (the Lamed Vav) in every generation whose existence justifies “the purpose of mankind” to God. From Wikipedia:
As a mystical concept, the number 36 is even more intriguing. It is said that at all times there are 36 special people in the world, and that were it not for them, all of them, if even one of them was missing, the world would come to an end. The two Hebrew letters for 36 are the lamed, which is 30, and the vav, which is 6. Therefore, these 36 are referred to as the Lamed-Vav Tzadikim. This widely-held belief, this most unusual Jewish concept is based on a Talmudic statement to the effect that in every generation 36 righteous “greet the Shechinah,” the Divine Presence (Tractate Sanhedrin 97b; Tractate Sukkah 45b).
I hadn’t thought of the Lamed Vav or Schwarz-Bart’s book for a while until the other day when my friend Banfsheh Zand, an Iranian activist, sent her email list a YouTube video from Belgium.
A man — seemingly by himself — had stood up at a town hall meeting in that country and denounced the installation of two Islamists who had just won positions in a municipal election. He said their election was illegal because the men were avowed adherents of Shariah law, which is in direct contradiction with Belgian civil law and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The man was right, of course, but no one rose to his defense. When he left, the formal installation of the Islamists was completed as if nothing happened.
Was this lone man one of the Lamed Vav?
If so, I hope his thirty-five compatriots are paying attention. (And that the man himself has the good sense to watch his back from here on in. He doesn’t need to be the next Theo Van Gogh.)
When you look at the faces of the others in the room visible on the video, you don’t exactly see “profiles in courage.” I would wager, however, that if you asked each of them individually whether they favored equal rights for women and homosexuals, as well as separation of church and state and liberal democracy and Enlightenment principles in general (all anathema to Shariah), they would uniformly say yes. Further I would imagine they would all be appalled at the idea of a global caliphate under Islam, and therefore the end of Belgium as a sovereign nation, the very intention of Shariah.
Still, political correctness — leavened, to be sure, with a modicum of cowardice — overwhelmed their good sense and allowed the decent and courageous man to leave by himself.
If you ever wondered how Hitler happened, you have part of your answer on this video.