Aaron Pessin is so adamant that everyone should meet a tzadik, he makes it his business to see that they do.
Which is why he became a professional tzadik facilitator.
"Looking at the face of a wise person brings sanctity to one's soul," says Pessin, 38, quoting the work Pele Yoetz by Rabbi Eliezer Papo. "Seeing a tzadik can awaken one to do tshuva."
His flyer, floating about in hotel lobbies throughout Jerusalem, boasts in bold letters: "You read about them, you study their holy wordsâ€¦ isn't it time you see them?"
"When I was growing up, I loved seeing gedolim [great rabbis], so I wanted to do this for other people," says Pessin, explaining how he chose this unusual line of work. "Each person wants something different. Some want to daven with a rabbi, others want to ask a question or get a bracha (blessing)."
People often come away from the experience of meeting a gadol "with a certain calmness combined with a feeling of being uplifted. This can carry people for weeks," he says.
Pessin brings visitors to a roster of 30 rabbis, including Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Hassidim and mekubalim (who claim to be experts in Kabbala). There is even a woman on the list who claims she can remove the evil eye (ayin hara). He will not take clients to mekubalim he is not familiar with for fear they are not bona fide tzadikim.
"I only take people to someone I know is for real," he says.
Among the hottest requests on his tzadik hit list are Rabbi Shalom Yosef Elyashiv, a famous Jerusalem rabbi who is 100 years old; Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg of Jerusalem who wears more than 100 pairs of tzitzit; Rabbi Chaim Kanyevsky of Bnei Brak who completes the entire Gemara every year; and former Sephardi chief rabbi Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Sometimes Pessin's services are in such demand that he has to take several people to the same rabbi at the same time. Some clients go to a few rabbis in one day. Among Pessin's regulars are businessmen who travel to Israel multiple times a year and request consultations with specific rabbis.
Most rabbis do not seek payment, although if a visitor leaves a check or several bills on the table, it won't be turned away, Pessin says. However, there are other forms of gratitude the rabbis would like to get, too. "One rabbi gets upset that nobody calls him to thank him when his bracha works," Pessin says.
Pessin charges anywhere between $50 and $200 for an appointment. The cost depends on the distance, duration and service involved in the visit. Sometimes getting a blessing can take less than an hour. Other times, Pessin drives his customers to Bnei Brak and the visit can take three hours. As part of the service, Pessin frequently chauffeurs his clients through Jerusalem traffic in his Mazda mini-van.
When Pessin isn't shuttling around clients to rabbis, he works at a day job: He and his wife work as cancer exercise specialists who help patients and survivors of cancer through exercise. The pair, who live in Ramot, were certified at a cancer training institute in Oregon. They are the only specialists in this field in Israel, according to Pessin.
In addition to his tzadik business and work as a cancer specialist, Pessin also lectures at Aish Hatorah and other yeshivot and writes books. Thus far, he has published three books on Judaism, including a recently published work Mida Keneged Mida (Measure for Measure), which is an encyclopedia containing more than 3,000 sources demonstrating "how Hashem runs his world measure for measure and that for every action we take down here, there is a heavenly echo," he explains.
Most of his clients who want to meet a tzadik come armed with specific requests or questions, including blessings for health or business success for themselves or their loved ones.
Michael S. a businessman from Detroit, suffered from terrible migraines. He decided that since he had tried so many medicines and doctors, it was time to go to a rabbi. "I took him to a mekubal," Pessin recounts. "He was shocked when this very old sage started asking him questions about his daily routine, nutritional habits and sleeping patterns."
When the mekubal insisted that the man adopt a healthier lifestyle, the man agreed. "A month later, Michael called to tell me the headaches are history. After years of pain, he was finally headache-free!" beams Pessin.
Baruch Ben-Yosef, a businessman from Kew Gardens Hills, used Pessin's services last January.
"I had never met any gedolim before, but my rabbi, Rabbi Peretz Steinberg of the Young Israel of Queens Valley, always told me that when you go to Israel, you are supposed to see the greatness of the people and the land. When I saw Aaron's advertisement, I figured this would be a perfect opportunity to engage in that. Aaron provides a great service. It's not possible for most people to just walk up to these guys. Aaron is able to provide access. Since he's in that milieu, he has become friendly with the movers and shakers who are around these individuals."
Pessin took Ben-Yosef to pray with Rabbi Moshe Shapiro, a renowned rabbi, at his service at the Western Wall. Pessin also got him an audience with Rabbi Elyashiv. The next day, Pessin took him to pray the Shaharit service with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
"It was like a five-star davening," says Ben-Yosef. "The whole experience carried me for months. It was absolutely uplifting. The aura of kedusha of these people is absolutely palpable."
Pessin says that for him, the experience of meeting so many "precious Jews from all over" who are interested in meeting great rabbis is a thrill.
"It's the smile spreading on their face when they fulfill their dream of seeing whomever it is that they dreamed of seeing. It's the inspiration I see in their faces that in turn inspires me and makes me want to continue. Just imagine, for example, if a secular person got to see his favorite music artist or sports star or, better yet, spent time with them!" he says.
"People who truly absorb this experience can be affected in so many ways. Also when one gets a bracha from a gadol [great rabbi], it will often have a very soothing effect, and that is very apparent. Overall, people report a spiritual uplift, and for me that's what it's all about."
But what gives Pessin the greatest feeling, he says, is when people tell him that meeting a gadol was the best part of their trip to Israel.