Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The entire Torah can be seen as a set of explanations for the mitzvot”

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

The more seriously one takes the mitzvot and the greater the weight one gives to their inward dimension, the more one will raise questions of how and why, questions of essence.

In a sense, the entire Torah can be seen as a set of explanations for the mitzvot, from the elucidation of how they are to be carried out to the study of their manifold meanings on a variety of planes.

The great principle of “we shall do and we shall hear” refers not only to the need to obey and the willingness to do so without hesitation. 

The “we shall do” aspect of a given mitzvah is essentially quite simple and easily attainable, whereas the “we shall hear” part is almost infinite, just as the Torah itself is “broader than the earth” and inexhaustible. 


From “Actions and Intentions” in Teshuvah

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “No Jew, even the greatest leader, saint, or prophet, has ever been free of religious problems, failings, heartaches, and doubts.”

Monday, July 16th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

The ba’al teshuvah often suffers from a certain idealization of the “perfect Jew,” based either on living models glimpsed from a distance or archetypes out of the past.

Such a person is imagined to be completely at one with himself and his chosen path, knowing no failure in its pursuit.

Comparing himself to this ideal figure, the stumbling ba’al teshuvah experiences radical self-doubt. 

The truth is that such ideal types, people who know no backsliding, have never existed except as figments of the imagination and of literary invention.

No Jew, even the greatest leader, saint, or prophet, has ever been free of religious problems, failings, heartaches, and doubts.

This is an established principle: everyone who takes the religious life seriously and who is thus ever striving onward experiences setbacks along the way.

It is not merely that “there is no one so righteous that he does only good and never sins,” but more than this: temptation, doubt, pain, and transgression are the inevitable lot of those who would ascend higher.

To be sure, all seekers are not on the same level, and their failings are thus not equally grave.

A great person who falls back may still be on a much higher plane than others.

In both the material and the spiritual realms, “the righteous man may fall down seven times and yet arise.”

Though he falls again and again, he continues to grope his way upward. Indeed, this is the strength of the righteous: their ability to endure crisis, to bounce back, and to turn failure into a source of strength.

“The [thoroughly] wicked man,” on the other hand, “falls once and for all”; once down, he cannot get up.

His way is blocked, and there is no way for him to renew his ascent. 

From Teshuvah: A Guide for the Newly Observant Jew

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “A piece of bread always seems more real than divine holiness.”

Sunday, July 15th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Because the self has a direct and intimate relationship with the body and its senses, a piece of bread always seems more real than divine holiness.

The ability to relate to a nonphysical reality requires effort and a dramatic change in our perception of the world.

It is not because he is bad that a person first finds it easy to sin.

Generally speaking, it is because sins take a tangible form, while the realization of holiness requires education, refinement, and elevation. 

From The Long Shorter Way, Ch. 31

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The transcendental and the immanent are one.”

Friday, July 13th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

The commandment to believe in God is not a commandment to believe in His existence because that is something we can see on our own.

Faith is what we cannot see on our own.

The concept of “faith,” more precisely understood, relates to believing something about the divine nature, the fact that “the Lord is God” — that is to say, that the transcendental and the immanent are one.

From The Long Shorter Way, Chapter 29

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The world’s illusions”

Thursday, July 12th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

There are two aspects to serving God.

The first is to do His will.

The second is to make oneself able to see the divine as fully as one is able to see with one’s eyes.

A person achieves this by overcoming the images created by the complex of the body and animal soul’s sensory organs.

He must conquer and cast down the animal soul, breaking down and removing the sensory images that prevent him from seeing the divine light.

When a person successfully overcomes this structure of falsehood, of the world’s illusions and its material nature, his divine soul can perceive the divine light with a vital and genuine feeling, existent and active within him at every moment of existence. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

In The Long Shorter Way

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “God exists beyond any characterization”

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Let us take a man who appears sometimes as a father, sometimes as a craftsman, sometimes as a soldier.

While he identifies with each function, his self cannot be totally identified with anyone role.

In each realm of function, he is whole and separate from the others, but at no point can we separate the man from what he is doing.

The man exists as himself, beyond any role or function, as a complete oneness.

In this sense, God exists beyond any characterization; all categories are ways of His manifestation to us.

A person does not dress up to play the role of father or soldier; it is a real aspect of his existence.

At the same time, the man is not the same as father or soldier.

He remains the self beneath the outer garments, beyond the role or function. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


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

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Utmost devotion is thus seen as an intrinsic quality of the soul.”

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

It was said of Rabbi Elimelech that he would deliberately take out his watch during prayer in order to break the headlong rush of the soul to God-to return to the reality of time.

Utmost devotion is thus seen as an intrinsic quality of the soul.

And when the scriptural text demands the love of a man “with all thy soul,” the intention is total offering of the being, not only the externals of thought, speech, and action.

Indeed, there are two meanings to the command “with all thy soul.”

One refers to all the different parts of the soul.

The second requires the whole of oneself, without reserve.

The first is a deliberate subservience of the various modes of one’s existence to God.

The second is complete devotion expressed as an unthinking offering of one’s soul. 

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

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The point of study is to reveal the Infinite light of God.”

Monday, July 9th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

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. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Candle of God by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The best way to get rid of darkness is simply to add light.”

Sunday, July 8th, 2018


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes::

The original and preferable way to overcome evil was not to fight it but to provide a source of light.

Instead of man’s engaging in the painstaking process of sorting out the inimical, the holy sparks were drawn to the great fire and absorbed in it and what was left could not survive on its own. 

As in daily life, there are two ways of sorting:

One is to find and throw away the waste, the other is to select and aggrandize the edible.

These are different processes halachically as well as in terms of their essence.

The point is that the best way to get rid of darkness is simply to add light.

The shadows vanish of themselves, and light can be shed on any subject, in any situation, by means of love.

There is no need for struggle, contention, or confrontation.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Man cannot feel a sense of belonging, of proprietorship, of stability, and tranquility until he returns to the soil.”

Friday, July 6th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

The Sages speak of the double value of working the land.

On one hand, as everyone who has ever done real farming knows, one has to become subjugated to the soil in order to be able to eat from it.

It is said in the Talmud that there is no more menial labor than that of the land; it is a total subordination, an enslavement.

On the other hand, man cannot feel a sense of belonging, of proprietorship, of stability, and tranquility until he returns to the soil.

His connection to the earth is an essential feature of life.

In addition to its being the place of his origin and his ultimate return, it is where he arranges and cleans out, where he selects and cultivates the good and struggles against the bad.

The earth is man’s battlefield against evil. 

From “Banishment from Evil” in In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The corrupting effect of “‘knowing.’”

Thursday, July 5th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Evil is not simply a sum of certain drives and impulses.

It is the result of man’s inability to separate himself from the corrupting effect of “knowing.”

It is like the consequences of realizing that one can get away with a lie.

So long as—like in nature—it is inconceivable for a wrong action to succeed, there is no danger in multiplying knowledge.

But once man learns the power of untruth, that it is possible to satisfy his desire with a lie, this knowledge can be disastrous. 

Evil in itself is therefore not dangerous.

It is the knowledge, the interiorizing of evil, that makes for corruption.


From “The Inwardness of Evil in The Long Shorter Way by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Jeremiah was not a rabbi, nor a TV reporter”

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Jeremiah spoke after the great Downfall.

He went through it all.

He knew all there was to know about Israel, and he was not a rabbi, nor a TV reporter.

He was a prophet.

And with this authority of a prophet, he says very harsh things, chastises people, and makes prophesies.

Yet there is one thing that neither he, nor any other prophet, ever does.

He does not, for a single moment, give up on the existence of the Jewish people – including those parts of the nation that he opposes, that he preaches to, that he admonishes.

He can call them “a band of drunkards, adulterers, and liars” (e.g., Jeremiah 9:1); but he never, never, gives up on them. 

From “Is Ephraim a Dear Son to Me?” in A Dear Son to Me by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Every mitzvah is a part of a whole”

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

The mitzvot may be likened to the vertebrae of the spine.

Even if only one is slightly damaged or shifted out of place, it may cause enormous disruption and trouble.

But when each functions properly, each as a link in the unity, they constitute a working harmony.

Every mitzvah is a part of a whole.

And I, as a man, merely join them together, as one joins water pipes or electric wire to allow the passage of whatever it is that flows.

I myself do not create the current; I merely make it possible for it to flow, with greater or lesser freedom.

At one end, there is the Infinite light and, at the other, the speck of soul, which is both myself and a spark of the Divine.

As it is written in Ecclesiastes 12:2, “Until the silver cord be cut.”

This silver cord has been mystically likened to the spine, and every mitzvah to a link in it, through which the Divine light flows.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Awe and Fear of God” in The Long Shorter Way

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “There is no moaning about our past wrongdoings”

Monday, July 2nd, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

To feel the need to repent means to realize that a change is imperative.

There is no moaning about our past wrongdoings: in contact with evil, you always get dirty, as surely as you get dirty in contact with dirt, even when you intend to remove it.

What is less common, some of us, more or less prone to masochism, might well take pleasure in arousing old memories of this kind.

When we say that we must avoid pondering over the past, we mean that we should not rethink and relive our past as it happened, with its faults and mistakes.

What we should ponder is our past as it ought to have been.

The main thrust of teshuvah is indeed to show the definite intention of changing the scheme of things.

Someone who repents, someone who, as we would say, does teshuvah, is someone who feels the need not only to redeem but to rebuild his past, in the literal sense of the term.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Teshuvah” in The Strife of the Spirit

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “When a man dies”

Sunday, July 1st, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

When a man dies, his soul is separated from his body and relates only to the ethereal beings, which he created and with which he was associated in his lifetime.

The soul finds its level.

In the case of a great sinner, this will be in the company of the destructive angels he created, who will punish him for bringing them into existence, until the full measure of remorse is exhausted.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Worlds, Angels, and Men” in The Strife of the Spirit

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “A descent for the sake of ascension.”

Friday, June 29th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

The process of the soul’s connection with the body-called the “descent of the soul into matter”-is, from a certain perspective, the soul’s profound tragedy.

But the soul undertakes this terrible risk as a part of the need to descend in order to make the desired ascent to hitherto unknown heights.

It is a risk and a danger, because the soul’s connection with the body and its contact with the material world where it is the only factor that is free–unbounded by the determinism of physical law and able to choose and move freely–make it possible for the soul to fall and, in falling, to destroy the world.

Indeed, Creation itself, and the creation of man, is precisely such a risk, a descent for the sake of ascension. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Thirteen Petalled Rose, “The Soul of Man”

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Tikkun–putting the world in order, even the correcting of one’s own soul, or healing its wounds-is not for the Sabbath.”

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

The Halakhah, the formal structure defining the order of mitzvot, prescribes in great detail the many things one is forbidden to do on the Sabbath.

All of them, however, are derived from the same basic idea: that the Sabbath is the day when one ceases to be a creator in the domain of the outer world and turns inward toward holiness.

This dual quality of the day, in which one is not only to refrain from creativity but also to complete creativity in spiritual terms, follows of course from this idea.

So that Tikkun--putting the world in order, even the correcting of one’s own soul, or healing its wounds-is not for the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is to be made available for a summation of the things acquired during the week, in an attempt to raise them spiritually, and knowingly or unknowingly to bring the week to a greater harmony, to a higher level of perfection.

Thus the Sabbath is the completion, or the crowning, of the week, when all that was done of a material and spiritual nature during the previous six days is summed up and enjoyed.

That is to say, it is brought to a higher level of consecration in order that again in the following week there will be another rise in the same cycle of days. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From ThenThirteen Petalled Rose, “Mitzvot”

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Judaism recognizes different forms and levels of prophecy, magic, and mystical power.”

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

In Judaism there is nothing extraordinary or unacceptable about extrasensory experience.

It is quite natural for people to have the capacity to rise above the usual human level of functioning and to reach a higher spiritual consciousness.

Judaism even recognizes different forms and levels of this capacity, such as prophecy, magic, and mystical power. 

The attitude toward each of these various forms, however, is very different.

Prophecy in Judaism is a basic source of religious knowledge, and the prophet is a person on the highest level of being.

On the other hand, magic is strictly forbidden, on pain of death.

What interests us here is the attitude Judaism takes toward the superhuman capacity for the mystical experience—that which is still very individual and fairly common and which does not properly belong to either prophecy or magic. 

A story in the Talmud aptly illustrates this.

Once, Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa went to study Torah with Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai.

Rabbi Yochanan’s son fell ill and Rabbi Chanina asked for mercy for him, and he lived.

Rabbi Yochanan said, “If Yochanan had beaten his head and held his legs all day long, he would not have been noticed.”

His wife then asked him, “And is Chanina greater than you?”

To this he replied, “No, except that he is like a slave before the King and I am like a prince before the King” (Berachot 34b).

From this it can be seen that in the encounter between the two types—Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, the great sage, the superior personality, and Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, gifted with the supernatural faculty for healing and for other extraordinary things—Rabbi Yochanan is by no means able to do what Rabbi Chanina does so easily.

This does not mean that Rabbi Chanina is greater than Rabbi Yochanan.

He is merely gifted with a certain talent or capacity to make contact with God, which makes it possible for him to perform these miracles.

It does not make him “a prince before the King”; he remains “a slave before the King” (which may even be the nature of his extraordinary power).

In other words, there is an evaluation here of the essence of the mysterious power to exceed the limits of nature.

Admitting that it is truly a marvelous power, it is not considered one that necessarily makes the bearer of it superior to ordinary mortals. 

–Rabbi Asdin Steinsaltz

From”Religion and Mystical Powers in The Strife of the Spirit

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The basic inclinations of man—good and evil—are identical.”

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

As one of its first principles, Chasidism emphasized its strenuous opposition to both the theory and practice of asceticism and denounced this experience of self-renunciation and the “contempt” for the sensual, which the earlier ascetics developed.

It strove to exalt and not destroy all things, including the material world, asserting that the reason for asceticism’s failure to attain its goal was that the attempt to suppress drives does not result in their cessation, but leads to their taking root in deeper levels of the soul. 

Chasidism followed a different course—the path of sublimation—by assuming (and this is a cardinal principle in its ethics) that the difference between good and evil is not a qualitative one, but a difference of object.

The basic inclinations of man—good and evil—are identical.

But man can change the direction of his inclinations, and by reorienting them toward the good, attain to saintliness.

Since the difference between good and evil lies in direction it is quite obvious that Chasidism should conclude that the more profoundly an individual experiences his various desires, the greater his opportunity (after redirecting these drives) of becoming a saintly individual. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Chasidism and Psychoanalysis” in The Strife of the Spirit

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The question is always being asked of one: ‘What are you doing at this moment?’”

Monday, June 25th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

The world is being created at every moment.

This makes it possible for man to create himself, because that which existed two minutes ago is a different world.

Now a new world has been formed and there are new people and new situations, and one can create one’s own world anew. 

This optimistic spirit is parallel to another statement to the effect that no man struggles all his life between good and evil.

He struggles for only one moment at each conjuncture, at each choice.

The decision is always now, at the moment itself.

And there can be no other moment of struggle and choice that is exactly like this present one, in which I create a world.

Every moment is unique. And once the world thus created is manifested, it becomes a part of the infinite reality of multiple worlds.

In one such world, I can be a Tzadik; in another, a moment later, I can be something else entirely. 

In short, the question is always being asked of one: “What are you doing at this moment?”

It is in this sense that God creates the world and the only one who can answer is man.

The other creatures of the world are part of the Divine speech; man can also respond.

God can say: “Let there be light!” and man can say: “I don’t want it,” or he can say: “Hear O Israel.”

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Sustaining Utterance