Lamed Vovniks, Liviu Librescu
& the Virginia Tech Massacre
by Simon Jester
Copyright 2007   

    Above my desk at work hangs an unusual symbol, and sometimes the people who come to see me ask about its meaning. I explain that it symbolizes a special group of individuals referred to in Jewish folklore as the Lamed Vov Tzaddikim (or the Lamed Vovniks, as they are called in Yiddish.) I then tell them how old legends assert that the continued existence of our world depends on the prayers and saintly acts of these extremely important individuals.
   What I usually don't reveal is how I created the symbol (which appears above the title of this article) and how it grew in a most peculiar fashion out of meditations I performed using techniques derived from the ancient Jewish mystical tradition known as the Kabbalah. I also don't tell people about the terrible tragedy and the great heroic act with which this symbol became associated, at least in my own mind.
   The symbol's tale began fourteen years ago while I was using the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet as symbols upon which to concentrate during meditations. This method—called Pathworking in more contemporary Kabbalistic literature—is similar to what Carl Jung meant when he talked about using the “Active Imagination,” only more structured because it centers itself on a particular symbol or set of symbols.
   Like daydreaming, Pathworking involves “seeing things” with the imagination. Visualization is an essential part of this kind of meditation. But like dreaming while sleeping, Pathworking (when performed with discipline over a long period of time) can begin to produce spontaneous imagery in the mind—imagery which seems to be “objectively” experienced, like the things we see in dreams and believe are real and actually happening to us. Things appear in the mind which we ourselves do not consciously seem to create.
   Pathworking on the Tree of Life is often a strange business, highly intuitive and visionary in nature. It is a skill that improves with practice, one in which a person learns to become increasingly receptive to other dimensions of reality and other forms of perception. You surround yourself with correspondences, perform the rituals, and focus on the appropriate symbols. The visualizations begin, and you find yourself moving across a threshold into another world, one which obeys laws of temporal arrangement and linguistic significance utterly different from those observed here in our day-to-day existence. Unusual connections between events begin to appear and our inner and outer experiences become entwined in unexpected ways.
    In 2007, while working the Path of Heh (the Path that connects Tiphereth and Chocmah and is symbolized by the Emperor card of the Tarot Major Arcana). I found myself standing on a wooden ladder looking out a window onto a green, sunny landscape dominated by high, snow-covered mountains in the distance. On one of the mountains, near the top, appeared a building. It had an ancient appearance, somewhat like a Tibetan temple high up in the Himalayas.
    A voice spoke to me and said: "This is the Dwelling of the Hidden Ones."
    "Who are the Hidden Ones?" I immediately asked.
    "That's what you must discover. You will someday tell their story."
     I concluded the Pathworking and kept wondering exactly who the "Hidden Ones" could be, tentatively forming the opinion that these beings were probably repressed aspects of my own self that needed to be brought to consciousness.
    With this Jungian conclusion in mind, I later opened my Myspace page and saw a bulletin requesting help from a friend who had received a cryptic email. A woman had sent him a comment about one of the images on his page, and he wanted to know what some of the terms in the comment meant. I looked over the attached comment and saw something that rang a bell. It was the term "Lamed Vovniks."
    I had encountered the Lamed Vovniks a while ago while doing meditations on the Hebrew alphabet. I had gotten a deck of Kabbalah cards designed by Edward Hoffman and with them had come a little book devoted to meditations on each letter. In the entry for the letter Lamed, Hoffman writes about an old Jewish tradition concerning the 36 righteous souls who are supposedly born in each generation. According to the tradition, these are especially saintly individuals on whom the salvation of the whole world depends. In Hebrew, the letters lamed vov signify the number 36, hence the name for this special group of people: the Lamed Vovniks.
    I wrote back to my friend and explained the meaning of this term. Then I speculated a bit on these 36 very special people. Perhaps, I wondered, the Lamed Vovniks are organized into an esoteric society, similar to the Roscrucians. Or perhaps you can be a Lamed Vovnik without even knowing it! Maybe being a Lamed Vovnik is like being a mystical "sleeper agent." You're here on a mission that you don't even consciously know about until events transpire and awaken your potential to act in just the right way to further human salvation and the divine plan. You find yourself at the right place at just the right time to perform a certain act and this sets off a "Butterfly Effect" that culminates in something incredibly important for everyone.
    I decided to do more research on the Lamed Vovniks, and so, after sending off my email, I searched online for more data. Coincedentally, I read that some of my speculations concerning this special group of people were accurate. According to various versions of this myth, it is indeed possible to be a Lamed Vovnik and not know it. The identities of these individuals are kept secret, even from themselves. Once this identity is revealed (usually through some miraculous happening) the "exposed" Lamed Vovnik must either die, according to some beliefs, or move to another area where anonymity can be restored. Additionally, I learned that "Lamed Vovnik" is a Yiddish slang version of the title: "Lamed Vov Tzaddikim", which translates into something like "the 36 Righteous Ones." Significantly, I also discovered that these 36 special people are called the "Nistarim," which means "The Hidden Ones."
    I immediately thought of my Pathworking in which I looked through the "window" of the letter Heh (the Hebrew Heh traditionally symbolizes a window) and saw the mountaintop Dwelling of the Hidden Ones. I was told to find out who they were. I just had! I experienced the sudden conviction that my Pathworking was directing me toward the idea of the Lamed Vovniks, the Tzaddikim Nistarim, the 36 Hidden Ones.
    I did another Pathworking and climbed once more up a ladder on the Path of Heh to look through the symbolic window formed by this letter. Once more, the mountain with the building appeared before me, only this time it was surrounded by people who were all peering up into the clouds. Within the swirling clouds complex patterns of light and shadow were taking shape. I glimpsed a complicated hexagram-like pattern, and then the vision faded.
    Afterward, I drew some hexagrams and studied them, trying to recreate the unusual symbol I had seen in the Pathworking. I wanted to create a symbol for the Nistarim—the Hidden Ones. It suddenly dawned on me that a pattern of six hexagrams would form a total of 36 points—the number of the Lamed Vovniks! I went onto Paint Shop Pro and began playing around with a six-hexagram design. I interlocked six hexagrams to form a circular symbol, and soon realized that six smaller hexagrams were formed at the points where the large hexagrams interpenetrate. These hexagrams make another 36 points which, when added to the 36 points of the larger hexagrams, forms a total of 72 points.
    Most students of the Western Hermetic tradition know that 72 is the number of the Shem ha-Mephoresh, the Holy Extended Name of God, which is derived by means of complex Kabbalistic permutations of three special verses in the Book of Exodus. So my symbol for the Lamed Vovniks expresses a close connection between these 36 Hidden Ones and the number 72. Oddly, further research into the Lamed Vov Tzaddikim revealed that they are believed in some traditions to "come together" in order to form 72 "bridges" that connect our world to God. I have to wonder if some ancient Qabalist had also drawn superimposed hexagrams in order to derive this idea.
    To complete the symbol, I added the Hebrew letters lamed and vov in the center. Around this, running right-to-left (counter-clockwise) in the centers of the larger hexagrams I inscribed the word Tzaddikim. The word Nistarim was transliterated into the letters "NSTRIM" and written in yellow in the same fashion in the centers of the smaller hexagrams. The "yod-heh-vov-heh" of the Tetragrammaton may be seen in the triangles formed by four of the large hexagrams at the center of the design to the left and right of the central lamed vov. And the Name Adonai, which may be transformed into the number 72 via gematria, appears written in white in six of the points of the large hexagrams. Here is the complete symbol which I designed:


    While working on this symbol and wondering just why the Hidden Ones had been called to my attention during my Pathworkings, the horrible news about the Virginia Tech massacre (on April 16, 2007) blasted from the TV. A gun-wielding 23 year old student named Seung-Hui Cho had gone on a homicidal rampage through buildings on the campus, murdering 32 people and wounding 25 others before taking his own life. Like most people, I set aside what I was doing, and watched in shock as the details of this terrible tragedy emerged.
    The brutal contrast between the disturbing images on TV and the metaphysical content of my recent meditations was at first painfully obvious. The beautiful world of the 36 Hidden Righteous Ones was rudely shoved out of my consciousness as I watched the news footage of wounded young students and helpless security forces. Where, I asked myself, were the miraculous healing powers of the Tzaddikim during that terrible bloodbath? For a while it was easy to imagine that our world truly is abandoned and lost in darkness, and I felt a tidal wave of nihilism begin to rise up inside of myself.
    But then a report emerged from the depressing chaos that drew my attention and made me wonder again about why my Pathworking of several days earlier had directed me to investigate the Hidden Ones of Jewish folklore and mystical tradition.
    Professor Liviu Librescu was an old man of 76 on the day he began to teach his final class in Virginia Tech's Norris Hall. Born in Romania in 1930 to Jewish parents, young Liviu managed to survive the persecutions and ethnic purges of the Holocaust. That in itself is a miracle. Strange forces had conspired to spare the little Jewish boy from the extremely efficient Nazi killing machine that patrolled the ghetto streets of Ploiesti, a city scarred by war and death. He survived the anti-Semitic insanity that engulfed Europe and grew up to become a respected scientist and professor. Known for his friendliness and kindness, Dr. Librescu was beloved by students and fellow faculty at Virginia Tech. And on the morning of April 16, 2007, as people in Israel and throughout the Jewish community observed another Holocaust Awareness Day, Dr. Librescu heard and obeyed a call to act.
    Life is a collection of moments, some of greater and some of less significance to the world at large. Liviu Librescu had been spared death at the hands of the Nazis, and all the subsequent events of his life had culminated by placing him at just the right nexus of events to be able to perform an act of enormous importance. Hearing the gunshots in an adjacent classroom and wishing to protect the young lives entrusted to his care, Dr. Librescu barricaded the door of his classroom by bravely standing in front of it and sacrificed his own life in order to give his students the few seconds needed to leap out the windows to safety. Another man may have acted differently. Another person might have decided to save himself and run in a panic, pushing others aside. But all the billions of tiny factors that contribute to the making of a human decision reached critical mass for Liviu Librescu at that precise place and time, and he decided to act. His action saved lives.
    Are there such things as hidden Lamed Vovniks? Are there 36 special individuals walking among us on whom the world's survival depends; people chosen by a higher power who unknowingly wait for just the right moment when their actions will effect the course of destiny? The scientifically minded skeptic will laugh at such an idea, but I'm far from certain that science supplies us with the comprehensive view of reality it pretends to provide. The example of Liviu Librescu, a person who escaped the Nazis and ended his days on earth as a hero in a classroom is enough to make even the most cynical skeptic wonder.
    And isn't it especially odd that the first and last letters of Liviu Librescu's name, when transcribed into Hebrew, are lamed and vov?

Virginia Tech Massacre Memorial Website

More about Liviu Librescu