Who is willing to put the needs of others before their own needs? Who is willing to make sacrifices for the sake of humanity? Which one of us is prepared to suffer so others do not have to suffer? Who among us is ready to take the suffering of someone else upon himself?

The Baal Shem Tov is known to have once told his Hasidim: “The lowest of the low you can think of, is dearer to me than your only son is to you.”

The profound love of a great soul embraces all human beings. He cares for those that are close to him as well as those who are perfect strangers. He is concerned about the lofty and mighty as well as the downtrodden and forgotten souls of the world.

A great soul can absorb the sins of another. He can take on his karma. He can accept spiritual responsibility for the person’s wrongdoing and take the consequences of his actions upon himself.

When Sri Ramkrishna was ill with the throat cancer which would finally claim his life, he told one of his disciples,

“The Divine Mother has shown me that people are getting rid of their sins by touching my feet. I am absorbing the results of their sinful actions, so I am suffering from this terrible cancer.”[1]

We can understand this spiritual capacity of a great soul in a different manner as well. According to the teachings of spiritual science, suffering will open keter, the crown centre or chakra. When this centre is properly developed, then the energy of the Will of God will come pouring in. When the energy of the Will of God is combined with the energy of spiritual love, it creates the energy of redemption.

A great soul, then, will accept a life of struggle and personal suffering in order to develop the energy of redemption. This energy will then enable him to wash away the sins of others. It will enable him to clear the impurities and dross that have accumulated in their spiritual body and centres.

The following story that was told about Rebbe Zusya of Anipol (by the reader of his synagogue) provides us with a graphic description of the truth of these words.

“When I heard that Rebbe Zusya helped people to turn to God, I decided to go and see him. When I arrived at the House of Study in Anipol, I saw the Rebbe wearing his prayer shawl and reciting the psalm: ‘Answer me when I call!’ While he said these words, he wept more bitterly than I had ever heard or seen anyone weep before.

“Then, I glanced down on the floor and saw that a man was lying next to the Rebbe, moaning quietly to himself. Suddenly the man began to scream out: ‘I am a great sinner! I am a great sinner!’ He kept repeating this phrase over and over again as he flayed his arms in all directions.

“When the man stopped screaming and moaning, Rebbe Zusya bent down, took the man and gently turned his head around to face him. Then he lifted the man up with both hands, set him on his feet, and looking him directly in the face Rebbe Zusya proclaimed, ‘Thine iniquity is taken away and thy sin expiated.’

“Only later, when I had a private meeting with the Rebbe, did I learn the whole story.

“This man, Rebbe Zusya told me, was an assistant in the House of Study of the town in which he lived. He had committed a great sin and the rabbi there did not know what penance to give him. Therefore, he told the man to go to see Rebbe Zusya and ask him what to do as penance.

“’What did Zusya do?’ the Rebbe said referring to himself; ‘I climbed down all the rungs until I was with him, and bound the root of my soul to the root of his. Then he had no choice but to do penance along with me. And a very difficult and terrible penance it was. But when I raised him up off the floor, his soul was pure like the day that he was born.’

“When I heard these words from the Rebbe, I understood the magnitude of Rebbe Zusya’s spiritual power and the depth of his love for those that came to him. It was then that I decided that I wanted to be the reader in his House of Prayer.”

The Ethics of Our Fathers (6:11) tells us, “All that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory.” The Hasidic Master, Shlomo of Radamsk, believes that the greatest revelation of God’s glory in the world is not the beauty and grandeur of nature, but the manifestation of His mercy and compassion.

The Hasidic Master Nachum of Chernobyl teaches that the manifestation of God’s mercy and compassion is the special task of the tzaddik (spiritual master).

The Torah says, “And Abraham was old, advanced in age: and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.” Genesis 24:1

Rebbe Nachum explains that the Hebrew word for old in the Biblical phase above is zakain, the almost identical word that is used for beard (zakan). In the Zohar, the thirteen attributes of Divine compassion are depicted as thirteen aspects of the beard of the “Ancient of Days,” the Divine Being Who overshadows the world. These thirteen attributes represent a spiritual force whose source reaches right up into the highest reaches of the heavens. This supernal instrument overrides all the laws of judgment and karma to bring God’s mercy and compassion to suffering humanity.

The Torah, Rebbe Nachum continues, is telling us through this phrase that at this stage in his life Abraham was able to reach the level of the zakan and bring the power of the beard of the Ancient of Days into the world. In this manner, he became a blessing for all created beings. And ever since Abraham opened this spiritual door, Rebbe Nachum concludes, it has been the task of all of the tzaddikim after him to be the vehicle for these Divine attributes.


Ramanuja was one of the greatest saints of India. When he was a young man, he had a guru who taught him a sacred mantra that would bring spiritual liberation to anyone who repeated it sincerely. While giving Ramanuja the mantra, his guru told Ramanuja not to reveal this mantra to anyone else. If he did, the guru warned Ramanuja, he would go to hell.

Undaunted by the guru’s warning, Ramanuja ran into the marketplace and shouted: “I have just received a mantrum from my teacher, and whoever repeats this will attain liberation. Here it is, take it!”[2]

Ramanuja’s behaviour reflects the general attitude of all great souls. Swami Vivekananda once declared that he was ready to “be born and reborn again and suffer a thousand miseries” in order to serve humanity.[3]

The whole life of a great soul upon this physical plane is, in fact, an act of sacrificial love. These souls have long since reached the point where they do not have to take up a new body in this physical world. They volunteer to come back into incarnation as an act of compassion and love for humankind. The entire purpose of their lives is to uplift and redeem others, to alleviate their suffering and support them in their trials.

One of the old devotees at Sri Ramanashram recounted the story of a man who was always depressed and melancholy, but who used to dance and sing in ecstasy whenever he came into the Maharishi’s presence. Immediately after he left the Maharshi, however, he would fall back into his despondent state again.

On one occasion, after the man had gone, Sri Ramana remarked that whenever the man was near him, he put down his sins for a while and felt light and free, but after he left the ashram, he picked up his burden once again.[4]


In this broken world, we are all striving to fill the emptiness that we feel inside us. We are all trying to find some joy amid the sorrows of this world. Sometimes, our search for happiness takes us in a direction that is the opposite to the one in which we want to go. Sometimes, we fall into darkness in our attempt to find the light.

It is for such souls that the great teachers come into the world. It is to redeem the fallen that they have been born upon earth. The great soul relieves them of their burden for a moment, or forever. His love draws them out of the pit of darkness and up toward the heavens. His love floods their hearts with God’s infinite Light.

We cannot all achieve the immense love of these great souls. We can, however, strive to emulate them as best we can. When we sacrifice of ourselves for others, we are walking in their footsteps. When we descend into the depths with a friend or loved one and support him in his pain, we are being instruments of God’s mercy and compassion. When we reach out to a broken soul without caring what others will say or think, we are mirroring the unconditional love of the great soul; we are mirroring the infinite love of God.

This is why the Hasidic Master, Shlomo Karlin, once declared: “If only I could love the greatest tzaddik as God loves the greatest sinner.”

This all-encompassing love is the ideal for which we all are striving. This sacrificial compassion is the highest form of spiritual love that we can attain.


Copyright © 2008, by Yoel Glick

first published 21/11/2008

Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Swami Chetanananda, Ramakrishna as We Saw Him
  2. Swami Chetanananda, God lived with them
  3. Swami Chetanananda, God Lived with Them
  4. David Godman, The Power of the Presence, Part One