Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “There is a very clear message.”

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

Rabbi Steinsaltz said:

It is written that the voice on Sinai was a mighty voice that did not stop.

Many years later this is repeated in much of the Hasidic literature, that the voice giving the Law, the Ten Commandments, never stopped.

It is still giving the Law, for ever and ever, for eternity.

Put in another way, there is a very clear message that is always being transmitted.

The thing that has changed is that we are no longer listening. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an interview in Parabola Magazine

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The full harmony uniting all creation”

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

The most elevated blessing, the Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim), reaches its highest point in the words, “May the Lord lift up His countenance to you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:25).

The blessing of peace is the epitome of all blessings, since peace is the highest level of existence.

And on this our Sages said, “God’s Name is ‘Peace’” (Shabbat 10b). 

This “peace” is not just peace in its most literal meaning – namely, lack of war between different groups.

Saying that “God’s Name is ‘Peace’” means that peace has a meaning beyond lack of war, a meaning that also transcends the transient phenomena of our world and reaches the highest levels of existence.

It is peace not only between people who hate each other, or between the beasts of the field, but a general, all-encompassing peace which is an expression of the whole (in Hebrew, the words “peace” – shalom, “whole” – shalem, and wholeness – shleimut, all come from the same root).

It is therefore peace between all the warring forces in the world: between the opposing forces of nature as well as between the various spiritual forces – emotion and thought, passions and ideas.

This peace is the full harmony uniting all creation; it is the eternal serenity of all the worlds, when they advance in unity toward the fulfillment of their goal.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “The Blessing of Peace”, January 1, 1956

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Let the fire of God burn within you.”

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz said:

I never hiked the Himalayas. 

I never went to the moon. 

I never killed a lion, although, I did manage to get hold of a lion’s skin, at the age of ten-years-old, to compare my hair-color to his. 

To my fascination, it was identical! 

But after seventy five years, this is the real memory I hope to take with me, in this world and in the next: 

I want to create memories in forms of people who are pleasant-looking. 

Not externally, but internally. 

People of character and of action, in whom I can take pride in, as stated in the verse: “Israel, in whom I take glory” (Isaiah 49:3). 

A ninety-four year old friend gave me today an 18-year-old whiskey in honor of my birthday. 

The real gift, for which I am truly thankful, was the mere fact that he came to see me at such an age. 

But if you want to give me a birthday gift, I plead you, make something of yourselves. 

Be more. Do more. Become more. 

Let the fire of God burn within you. 

And strive to grow into beings of “glory before God” and beings of “glory before others,” (Ethics of our Fathers, Chapter 2:1).

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Spoken at the 75th birthday of Rabbi Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “More rich, more studious, more doers”

Monday, August 13th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz said:

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov once told his disciples that he wants “Chasidim and disciples of a higher level.” 
His students were puzzled. 
They could not understand what their Rabbi meant exactly. 
They thought that the Rabbi was referring to a lofty and esoteric level. 
Finally, Rabbi Nachman explained to them:  
“I want my disciples to be more rich, more studious, more doers.” 
This is also my goal. 
I also want my students to be more rich, more studious, more doers. 
Perhaps not in all three categories, but at least in one of them.  
I ask myself: a year has gone by; was I successful in creating such students?
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “I came to visit my family.”

Saturday, August 11th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz said:

I wish G-d would send me a note from heaven with exact instructions of what He wants me to do. 

But I have not received one yet. 

So for now I can only contemplate. 

Nevertheless, there exists a heavenly note that we read in our prayers, that has become my real desire and mission in life: 

“Guardian of Israel, protect the remnant of Israel, don’t let Israel be destroyed, those who say “Shema Israel.”

I want to make sure that the remnant of Israel continues to say “Shema Israel.” 

I am not referring to only one group of Jews, such as the Jews in the German Colony in Jerusalem where I reside. 

I am referring to Jews worldwide. 

I once visited a Jewish community in a far away town in Siberia, where the local governor asked me what the purpose of my visit was. 

I replied to him very simply: “I came to visit my family.”

And it is the entire family of Israel that I care for deeply. 

This is true on a very personal level too. 

I may have caused many Jews to become a little more observant. 

Some may even be wearing “Kippahs” because of me. 

But I ask: “so what – does that really count?” 

The big question is: “What remains afterwards?” 

This is the deeper meaning of the ‘remnant of Israel’ in the aforementioned verse. 

We must ask ourselves: “Beyond the Kippahs, does our inner soul, our inner ‘remnant of Israel’, continue to genuinely connect to and say ‘Shema Israel’?”

At a celebration with students on the occasion of the Rabbi’s 75th birthday

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz : “The evaluation is obligatory.”

Friday, August 10th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz said:

What is the purpose of celebrating a birthday?

Perhaps the answer is found in the verse that speaks about the one-year-old sheep that were brought as sacrifices to the Temple. 

“One yearling sheep for a burnt offering” (Numbers 7:75). 

In order to qualify as sacrifices, the priests would have to count the 365 days that elapsed from their birth to determine their exact age.

The priests would also evaluate their health, their weight etc.  

This is the purpose of a birthday: to look back and count each and every day of the past year, to evaluate where one stands in life. 

At times we may find that our ‘sheep’ is completely worthless. 

Other times, we may find that our ‘sheep’ is quite valuable. 

But the evaluation is obligatory. 

When I evaluate my ‘sheep’, I am oftentimes discontented. 


From Remarks on the occasion of the Rabbi’s 75th birthday

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Beyond our grasp”

Thursday, August 9th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Certain conceptions can only be explained by saying what they are not.

Many electro-magnetic waves pass us by without our being able to distinguish them; they are darkness.

Still, the limited range of such waves that we see as light (and can even distinguish as color) is enough to prove to us that, beside the fact that there is something there, much of what is there is beyond our grasp.

We are aware of little more than a tiny sliver of reality.

So, too, concerning the mitzvot to do and not to do, the darkness of the unknown in abstinence may contain something more profoundly meaningful than we are able to guess. 

From Sanctity and Restrain in The Candle of God

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Most kabbalistic concepts do not have a hold on the senses “

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Let us take the concept of the Garden of Eden.

Were we to attempt a quantitative estimate of its area, the number of acres, the nature and names of the trees, and so on, we would very obviously be on the wrong track.

To be sure there are halakhic or religious concepts, like the fringes of the prayer shawl or the size of a sukka or the time for introducing and parting from the Sabbath, that have reasonable definition in measurable terms.

However, most kabbalistic concepts do not have a hold on the senses or the imagination.

Names denoting entities of infinite vastness remain abstract: the World of Atzilut (Emanation), the World of Bri’a (Creation), and others. 

The Way of the Soul and Torah in The Candle of God

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “It’s not that Newtonian physics is wrong

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

God is actually totally other, the realm of the holy is apart from all else.

The effort to make contact with this otherness was advanced significantly by the Kabbala of the Ari in a way that can be compared to the difference between the modern physics of Einstein and the physics of Newton.

It’s not that Newtonian physics is wrong.

It has simply been proven to be a description of a particular aspect, and not of the whole, of the physical world.

In modern mathematics, too, there are formulae and proofs that are valid for only part of reality.

So, too, we may regard the views of such classical Jewish thinkers as the Rambam.

The soul, like the Divine of which it is a spark, is beyond all definitions and qualifications.

The problem for man is to find a way of connecting with the soul from essence to essence.

And this ultimately means: How shall we find the way to God?



The Way of the Soul and Torah: Essence and Structure in The Candle of God

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The mind is not the same as the soul”

Monday, August 6th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

The conscious aspect of the soul may be considered no more than an instrument, one of the ways of its manifestation.

The mind is not the same as the soul; it is only one of its channels of expression, just as are the emotions.

After all, the definition of anything in itself is, that which does not change.

Its qualities may vary but the essence remains unchanged.

Thus, the mind, which is always undergoing transitions and modifications, cannot be considered anything but a manifestation of soul.

That which is essence is not entirely revealed by any of these constant manifestations of consciousness, which are really just so many vibrations and pulsations and not even a constant flow.

The mind or intellect is just a mode of the soul’s expression; it is not the soul itself.



The Way of the Soul and Torah: Essence and Structure in The Candle of God

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The essence of the soul is beyond us”

Sunday, August 5th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes: 

The soul is composed of ten aspects of being corresponding to the (kabbalistic) Sefirot of the higher worlds:

Hokhma, Bina, Da’at, Hesed, Gevura, Tiferet, Netzah, Hod, Yesod, and Malkhut.

The essence of the soul in itself, however, lies beyond our powers of description and beyond our very grasp.

It eludes us entirely and remains forever unknown.

In a certain old-fashioned manner of speaking, it may be likened to the difference between form and content.

And form, in this Aristotelian sense, is not necessarily the outer shape of things but their characteristics or qualities:

The sharpness of a knife is part of its form, its metallic substance is its content.

If one removes all form (or qualifications) from any object, what remains is amorphous matter.

It is the raw material, the basis for the characteristics, that give the object form and meaning.

Similarly, the essence of the soul, like basic substance, is practically out of our range of observation or understanding.

All that we can know is the revealed aspect of the soul, the vessel of its expression, the instrument through which it functions.

Just as the brain is the manifest instrument of the other, wise ungraspable mind; or as the mouth is the instrument of speech, the ear the instrument of hearing, and so on.

We are able to observe the functional organ, not the sense itself.

So, too, with the soul, its essence is beyond us; at best we know its form as revealed by the way the ten Sefirot manifest and express themselves in a particular person.



The Way of the Soul and Torah: Essence and Structure in The Candle of God

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The point of study”

Friday, August 3rd, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Talmud Torah, the study of Scripture, is not a continuing effort to learn something, whether it be information or instruction.

All these valuable and useful results are only by products.

The ultimate essence of Talmud Torah is in the interior engagement with it as a Divine message.

It is a need to be occupied with Torah as one is occupied with life itself, not as a fragmentary interest but as a framework within which all of mind and heart is involved.

Gemara (mishnaic and talmudic elucidations of the Bible), for example, includes a vast range of subjects for the mind to dwell upon: farming know-how about seeds and seasons, legal instruction, religious inspiration, details about the human body, social customs-in fact almost all aspects of living in the world.

Thus, in many ways, it appears to be an accumulation of human wisdom and not very heavenly.

The point of study is to reveal the Infinite light of God in all this.

The effort required is to draw upon and extend this Divine light into the world below.


The Way of the Soul and Torah: Essence and Structure in The Candle of God

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes: “The thirst is for God”

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

The prophet says,”All who are thirsty, go to the water” (Isaiah 55: 1).

What is one thirsty for?

If it is obvious, why say “go to the water”?

The point is that one is thirsty for God.

The thirst and the quenching of the thirst are not obviously on the same plane.

They have to be placed on that level.

Just as in the case of any severe pain or need, there has to be an indication of the nature of the lack before it can be filled.

One has to know that the thirst is for God.


The Way of the Soul and Torah: Essence and Structure in The Candle of God

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “There is a mystical union”

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Although the study of Torah may be matter-of-fact and seemingly dry in terms of spiritual delights, it may be the more genuine by virtue of the union created between knower and knowledge.

The numerous ideas of the Godhead and the human mind absorb each other, so to speak.

They merge like “drops of rain water meeting on the window sill.”

There may not be a sensational mystical feeling but there is a mystical union.


The Way of the Soul and Torah: Essence and Structure in The Candle of God

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “A misappropriation of holiness”

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

What are we suggesting when we declare that whenever a person inserts himself (egotistically) into a situation such as Torah study, he invalidates its effectiveness as a genuine mystical experience?

As is well known, there are any number of methods, ways, and means, and even traditional techniques for achieving spiritual rapture, and these can produce genuine feelings of transcendental oneness with God and the universe.

To what extent is such an experience lasting and existentially valid?

And to what degree can it be viewed as no more than a wonderful sensation, a passing delight that allows for all sorts of interpretation.

In contrast, we are taking the liberty of presenting Torah study as a more reliable approach to Divine union, in spite of the wrong turns this may take, as we have already shown.

That is, in spite how easily it can become a misappropriation of holiness.

Of course, there is a strong correlation between all sorts of genuine religious experience, and one cannot neatly separate them.

But there are relatively independent circuits that are considered preferable.

One of the most significant of these, we here maintain, is total and pure engagement with Torah.



The Way of the Soul and Torah: Essence and Structure in The Candle of God

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The opposite direction to the essential purpose of Torah”

Monday, July 30th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

When a person is caught up intellectually in a Talmudic discussion, he may very likely be unaware of his soul’s communion with God.

He may experience a certain mental and moral exhilaration, and he may even have recited a prayer before his Torah study.

But while immersed in the effort to grasp the meaning of a particular text, he is liable to be far from the experience of mystical union.

His attention is absorbed in the external aspects of wisdom.

What is more, while engaged in Torah study, other factors may enter, such as feelings of self-esteem or a pleasant awareness of one’s prowess in grasping the meaning of the text.

And clearly, such self-satisfaction and pride tend to lead in the opposite direction to the essential purpose of Torah.


The Way of the Soul and Torah: Essence and Structure in The Candle of God

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The higher supernal temple of God.”

Sunday, July 29th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Jewish tradition claims that while studying Torah, the soul can be in union with God.

This suggests that mind is a central factor in any genuine connection with the Divine.

When a person does not understand or feel anything at all, and the conscious mind is not involved in the connection, the nature of the union becomes a matter for doubt.

In this regard, the Torah can be considered the higher supernal temple of God.


The Way of the Soul and Torah: Essence and Structure in The Candle of God

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Self-importance”

Friday, July 27th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

There is a rather odd story about a Polish nobleman who went to church, prayed before a crucifix, and finished his plea with a defiant threat:

“And besides, remember that you’re only a (wretched) Jid and I am a Polish shlachtchtis (aristocrat).”

But of course, even those who are not Polish noblemen often pray with a rather exaggerated picture of themselves.

“Don’t you realize that you’re being addressed by the distinguished Rabbi of the largest congregation in town?”

This self-importance, alas, is not just an anecdote.

How much does our prayer or study involve an inflated consciousness of the “me” as performer? 

From The Candle of God

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The fear of God (which is an acceptance of the unknown with trust) gives meaning to all of life.”

Thursday, July 26th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

In the Talmud, there is a passage in which certain Sages say that, after death, the human soul is “questioned” in the next world.

After being interrogated about his social and religious conduct, the person is asked about his fear of God.

For everything else is inconsequential if there is no Divine fear.

All virtues and righteousness are as nothing without fear of God. 

Indeed, Divine “awe” or fear is not just another part of one’s attitude and behavior.

It supplies everything else in life with significance and value.

Like salt that gives flavor, preserves meat, and has ritual meaning in sacrifice, this relation of the student to the Giver of the Law is crucial.

Not in vain has salt been considered a symbol of the covenant.

It does not become corrupted with time, and it is a vital ingredient in the preparation, enjoyment, and preservation of food.

The fear of God (which is an acceptance of the unknown with trust) gives meaning to all of life in a profoundly inward soul connection.

There is a stable power here upon which all the other parts of Torah and human behavior can be said to rest. 

From “The Way of the Soul and Torah” in The Candle of God

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “A pattern of higher reality”

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

In the rules of kashrut, or ritual purity of edible food, if an inner organ of a slaughtered animal is damaged, the flesh is considered unclean, unfit for eating; whereas only a very serious injury to the outer organs of an animal makes it impure.


Uncleanness in ritual terms defines something that undermines life; whereas an outer injury, even the severance of a limb, does not render an animal non-Kosher, or impure.

The inner organs, therefore, are those that have more influence on the sustenance of life itself.

Ritual precedence is determined by this principle of the spiritual reality beyond the physical.

The Divine has no body or image. And the Torah always harks back to the idea that man was made in God’s image.

That is, the human structure is modeled on some Divine structure. 

Thus, even though the Divine structure cannot be determined from below from the human form, we are able to learn something of the relation of the parts; the relation, for instance, of the upper and lower organs to each other.

We then take the core of this principle as a pattern of higher reality. 

From “Sanctity and Restrain” in The Candle of God