“The Dude” from The Big Lebowski is a lamed-vavnik, or so argues Cathleen Falsani in her very fun book The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers.
The concept of the lamed-vavnik comes from a certain school of mystical Judaism. Falsani explains its meaning and significance:
According to various kababalistic teachings, at any given time in history there are thirty-six righteous people (lamed-vavniks take their name from the Hebrew letters lamed— meaning “thirty”– and vav— “six”) on whom the fate of the world rests. If even one of them were to perish, God would destroy the world. The lamed-vavniks–also known as menschen in Yiddish– don’t know the identity of one another and in fact don’t even know that they themselves are counted among the righteous thirty-six. Sometimes the lamed-vavniks appear to be humble fools– slackers or burnouts, in the parlance of our time– but the rest of us should take heed. We never know when we might meet one of the thirty-six, so we should treat everyone as if the fate of the world rests on their unassuming shoulders. (110)