It’s mythology. Or doctrine. You choose, because it’s fairly hard to differentiate sometimes. One way or another, they’re some of the strangest superheroes ever.
The Catholic church has its saints, people who are unusually holy and connected to God. The Hebrew faith has, among other interesting folk, its vuvniks.
They were introduced to much of the world as “wufniks” in the Jose Luis Borges book Manual de Zoologia Fantastica, translated into English as The Book of Imaginary Beings. Since then, it’s become a commonly used alternative phrasing by people who don’t want to skirt too heavily (and potentially offensively) into Jewish lore.
Simply put, they’re great people. Really great people. Not necessarily the best boxers or shoemakers or actors but merely the best at being righteous.
LAMED VAV ZADDIKIM (Heb. ל״ו צַדִּיקִים, “36 righteous men”), the minimal number of anonymous righteous men living in the world in every generation. They are privileged to see the Divine Presence, and the world exists on their merit.Jewish Virtual Library
So, that’s the REAL version. What’s the fairly close one from Borges?
There are on earth, and always were, thirty-six righteous men whose mission is to justify the world before God. They are the Lamed Wufniks. They do not know each other and are very poor. If a man comes to the knowledge that he is a Lamed Wufnik, he immediately dies and somebody else, perhaps in another part of the world, takes his place. Lamed Wufniks are, without knowing it, the secret pillars of the universe. Were it not for them, God would annihilate the whole of mankind. Unawares, they are our saviors.
Life is tough for a Borges wufnik. But it gets worse for the poor guys. The word “Lamed”, a proper noun and part of the Lamed Vav, has a specific meaning in English when no longer capitalized. Naturally, that’s caused some confusion.
In fiction that includes the wufniks, they are typically stricken with an ailment or deficiency of some kind, crippled in addition to being poor, ignorant and lonely. Given the option, I’d prefer to be one of the traditional group that can have fantastic lives and get to see the divine.
Question of the night: Have you ever broken a bone?