I loved that show!
The episode you're remembering was called "The 36th Man." It starred Ross Martin.
"Nov 14, 1974 The 36th Man Ross Martin"
CBS Radio Mystery Theater Fan Site: 1974 Season Directory
"The 36th Man
Set in the early 1900?s, this tale is based on a Hebrew legend which
states that the earth is protected by the lives of 36 human beings
whose lives are virtuous. Harry Cohen appears to be a poor businessman
and this wife, Ruth, is frustrated by his childlike kindness which
prohibits them from getting ahead. When approached by an elderly man,
during a torrential rainstorm, Harry accepts the burden of being one
of the 36 unblemished souls. He is tempted several times by the Prince
of Darkness, his mistress Lilly, and by his wife, but Harry accepts
his burden and assumes the role of the 36th man."
CBS Radio Mystery Theater Forum
Here's some info about the legend upon which this program was based:
"JM [Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove]: I believe the number '36' is very
significant in Jewish mysticism.
DSD [David S. Devor, Chairman and Exec. Director PROJECT MIND
FOUNDATION, Jerusalem]: That's correct. It is said that, at any given
time, there are 36 hidden Righteous Men who maintain the world, or if
you like, prevent it from being destroyed by the forces of Evil.
JM: The 36 Tzaddiks.
DSD: They?re called 'Tzadikim,' the 'Righteous Ones'. In Hebrew, Lamed
Vav, are the letters that express 'thirty-six'. Why 36? It's
conjecture. Eighteen numerically symbolizes Life so perhaps it refers
to two forms of life, a Higher Life and a Lower Life that have to be
Project Mind: Virtual U Wisdom Radio Interview
This article provides quite a bit of information about the legend:
The Dozenal Society of Great Britain: The Thirty-Six Just Men
One of the most famous literary adaptations of the legend is "The Last
of the Just":
"Before the study of the Holocaust became the focal point for all
Jewish suffering throughout the ages, one of the most powerful
evocations of historical anti-Semitism was depicted in Andre
Schwarz-Bart?s The Last of the Just. Schwarz-Bart was born in 1928, in
Metz, the son of immigrants from Poland. In World War II he joined the
French Resistance, but returning home, he learned that his entire
family had been murdered in the Nazi death camps.
Rather than be swallowed by this catastrophe, Schwarz-Bart confronted
it. He wrote The Last of the Just in 1959, in French, but unlike his
more published contemporary, Elie Wiesel, there were no other
Holocaust narratives forthcoming. Indeed, no more were necessary,
since this was a book that evinced an eternal Jewish pathos - both
tragic and hopeful - that did not require further explication. The
story sought to reinterpret the ancient Jewish legend of the Lamed Vav
Zaddikim ('Thirty-Six Righteous Men') beginning from the 12th century
massacre of York to Auschwitz. Although the Jewish tradition is
distorted in the novel - Schwarz-Bart views the Zaddikim ('Righteous
Men') as a hereditary clan, rather than three dozen hidden saints
whose virtues preserve the Jews in each generation - the book remains
a powerful indictment of Christendom from the era of the religious
poet, Yom-Tov ben Isaac of Joigny, until the death of the fictional
Ernie Levy, the 'last of the just."
Congregation Emanu-El: Andre Schwarz-Bart, The Last of the Just
A very entertaining fantasy novel, "The Alchemist's Door," by Lisa
Goldstein, is based upon the legend:
"Dr. John Dee has known power and respect, but now the famed occultist
finds himself slipping out of Elizabethan England like a fugitive...
Dee's flight brings him to Praha - Prague - the capital of the Holy
Roman Empire. Here, seeking the patronage of the Hapsburg emperor, Dee
meets an erudite older man, whom the Christian occultist is astonished
and anxious to learn is a Jew. But unmistakable portents indicate that
Dee and Rabbi Judah Loew, though sons of enemy cultures, must work
together. If they do not, the world will be destroyed.
According to Jewish tradition, 'the world rests on the shoulders of 36
righteous men ... [I]f they die before their time, or leave the path
of righteousness, the world will come to an end' - for whoever kills
one of the 36 gains the power to remake the world however he pleases.
But only God knows who the 36 are. Loew and Dee must combine their
alien talents to discover the identity of the 36th man, and save him -
before either the mad Hapsburg emperor, the treacherous Edward Kelley
or the fallen angel finds the man and creates a literal Hell on Earth.
But even with Creation itself at stake, can a Christian and a Jew make
Science Fiction Book Reviews: The Alchemist's Door
It's a long stretch, but the popular film "Men in Black" may be seen
as an extension of the legend into modern times:
"The movie Men in Black is nothing more than a modernized and updated
version of famous Jewish legend: the Lamed Vav Tzadikim, or 'lamed
vavniks,' the 36 hidden righteous people. There is a teaching in the
Talmud that says the world depends on lamed vav tzadikim, on 36
totally righteous and hidden people for its existence. Later
teachings describe these 'hidden tzadikim' as very humble, ordinary,
normal appearing people. Yet the existence of the world depends on
their quiet and unassuming faith and righteousness. There are many
folk tales which describe some kind of great danger that faced a
community, and one of these lamed vavniks quietly appeared, took care
of things, and once again faded into obscurity."
Rabbi Barry Leff Digest: Number 55 Date 091203
Google search strategy:
Google Web Search: "the 36th man" "ross martin"
Google Web Search: 36 OR "thirty-six" tzadikim OR zaddikim OR "lamed vav"
I hope this helps. If anything is unclear or incomplete, please
request clarification; I'll gladly offer further assistance before you
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