Archive for the ‘Let My People Know’ Category

“A mongrel community”

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014
There is little doubt that certain qualities are given at birth, and there is no need for education to do more than restrain them or develop them somewhat.

A person of Israel is said to be born with three such basic qualities: pity, shyness, and kindness. 

And it cannot be explained by comparing greater or lesser individuals or even by pointing to generations of teaching.

It is something that every Jew has, a character structure which belongs to the paradigm of Israel. 

Thus, a person who does not exhibit these qualities is said to be not of the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–even though he may be a proper Jew in the sense that he performs the mitzvot.

There is a story in the Talmud of someone who went to Babylon and asked for help. 

The Jews there did not come to his assistance, either with money or anything else, and the man wrote that these were evidently not Jews, but a mongrel community, because they failed to show kindness. 

He did not inquire whether they prayed or put on tefillin or wore tzitzit. 

The fact that they did not act naturally and spontaneously with kindness was decisive.

It is not that the Jew is a better person or that he may be necessarily characterized as a good person.

It is rather that the qualities of pity and shyness and kindheartedness are an intrinsic part of him.

They may even be considered his weaknesses.

Just as some people have a sensitive, musical ear, others have a "weakness" for other modes of experience.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From The Long Shorter Way by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Personal deeds, like good paintings, must be inspected from a distance”

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

A thief may claim that he intended to merely borrow some items. 

An embezzler may say he only took a loan.

A person who insulted somebody may say he just used rough language, or was simply joking. 

And so, even if I accept the charge of having told a bad joke at a bad time, I will still tend to see the error as much less severe than it actually was. 

Therefore, even when one wants to right internal wrongs (if such a thought ever occurs to a person), one nevertheless tends to be lenient with one's self.

In addition, one's reaction to other people's misdeeds is often characterized by strong emotions: shock, astonishment, disgust, and even profound shame. 

But when the doer is I, the response is quite different.

Firstly, my personal involvement limits and distorts my ability to see properly.

Personal deeds, like good paintings, must be inspected from a distance. 

Secondly, while other people's deeds may arouse disgust, our own hardly ever do. 

This applies not only to physical actions or overt aspects of one's personality, but also to hidden thoughts and feelings. 

A person's private devils may torment him, but they are never as revolting or frightening to him as other people's are.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From "Self-investigations," an essay by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Obstacles to the smooth flow between head and heart”

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

There are serious obstacles to the smooth flow between head and heart. 

One can admit that something is good and beautiful, and yet fail to see that it relates to oneself in any way. 

Desire is a universal, nonpersonal, phenomenon. Hunger and lust are common to all men. 

There has to be a certain differentiation, a particularization and defining before a person can say, "I want this." 

In short, there is a great distance to be traversed before speech expresses thought and takes on meaning. 

It is not a simple, mechanical translation.

There are any number of inner communication factors between the Sefirot, such as those between Chochmah and Binah, that can effect a transmutation. 

For these varied paths, generally unnoticed by consciousness, determine the content and the quality of the inner life and, subsequently, of thought. 

And at every stage, there is a certain addition or processing, an infusion of something new. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From The Long Shorter Way by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The people of Israel grew as a nation on the basis of a unifying idea”

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014
"Attaining freedom by 'accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven' is not a simple or self-evident thing. 

A penetrating question arises, which was probably asked by those who came out of Egypt, and which continues to be asked even today: 

Why can other people, large and small, live their lives without Torah? 

And why must the people of Israel, of all nations, be exceptional in order to exist? 

The answer is connected with the anomaly of the Jewish people–an anomaly that has existed since its inception as a people. 

It is best expressed in the words of the prophet: 'Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? Or shall a nation be born in one moment?' 

Ordinarily, the creation of a people takes many centuries, during which a joint existence slowly binds the individuals into a larger unit, which then assumes its own identity. 

This was not so with the Jewish people—the people of Israel was 'brought forth in one day,' in a one-time process. 

Since the beginning of its existence, its unity and unique national character have not simply stemmed from the fact that 'we are here.' 

The development of the people of Israel is not 'natural.' 

Consequently, our people cannot satisfy itself with mere existence.

The people of Israel grew as a nation on the basis of a unifying idea, and the nation's continued existence is connected with that idea. 

Rav Saadia Gaon said: 'Our nation is a nation only in its Torah,' and this saying retained its significance even in generations when most of the Jewish people did not live by the Torah. 

The Torah has nevertheless remained the foundation of the life of our people, because ties of identity always draw upon a common past, and this common past is imprinted with the unifying seal of the one Torah."

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From "Freedom Without Content" in On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The self-expression of a bookworm”

Thursday, February 13th, 2014
There are people who by nature, physically as well as spiritually, tend toward melancholy. 

A tempestuous life–whether of holiness or of impurity–holds no attraction for them.
Contentment lies in quiet continuity.

If they have an intellectual bent and if matters of the spirit interest them, then the coziest means for self-realization is to sit and study. 

The latter requires no self-sacrifice; it is the self-expression of a bookworm. 

Such an individual devotes every spare moment to Torah study. 

There is no contest between a Godly soul and an animal soul; this is his animal soul. 

We could reasonably expect that, intellectual though he may be, he might have to struggle with his disposition in another plane, namely, sexual desire.
The capacity for sexual pleasure differs from one person to the next.

And a lack of sensuality, an absence of pleasure in eating or drinking, is no indication of spiritual achievement. 

Someone may not pay any attention to what he eats or what he sees. 

So, too, with sexual desire. 

Such an individual can sit in a study hall and be occupied with the performance of the commandments while the world around him presents no temptation. 

He gets dressed every morning, has his breakfast, and goes about his business.
His single-minded focus on Torah study is not from a magnetic attraction to holiness; he is disinclined by nature to do anything else. 

He could be a clerk, a professor, or a rabbi–any of these, with no change in his disposition. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From Learning from the Tanya, Chapter 15, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The empty box”

Monday, February 10th, 2014
Imagine that one has a document that can open the gates of Heaven. 

He takes this document and runs with it to the end of the world. 

When he finds he is unable to reach Heaven in his lifetime, he gives the document to his children. 

And his children go on running with it and keeping it safe, generation after generation. 

But with time, the words – with all the beautiful boxes in which the document is safeguarded – are rubbed away. 

The people who carry the document are no longer able to read it, and the document itself becomes a faded manuscript. 

Later still, it is reduced to a mere piece of paper, and even this piece of paper starts to rot.

Yet each new generation takes this heritage and tries to pass it on. 

Eventually, however, the people who carry the empty box that once contained the precious manuscript will discover that they are running very hard and very fast carrying nothing. 

And so they will stop running. 

In one way or another, this is what is happening to us. 

The inscription has faded from our lives. 

Some of us still speak about our "message," but we no longer know what it is. 

Not only are we ourselves unable to read it; the words have been entirely obliterated. 

We have only an empty shell, and even this shell is no longer intact. 

So we go on, but for how long does it make sense to run with such an empty thing? 

That loss of inner sense is the essence of the problem.
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From a talk, "The Time is Short and the Work is Great" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz , 1993

“The wonderful life of a potato”

Saturday, February 8th, 2014
If I have a child at home, I demand from him much more than what I demand from a dog at home. 

And I demand much more from a dog than what I demand from a potato. 

A potato has a good life. 

It’s happy and cozy.

Nobody scolds it.

It’s the wonderful life of a potato. 

Now some of these potatoes have 3 billion dollars, so they are rich potatoes. 

Some other people will possibly never be potatoes. 

So, they have a harder life. 

They have to strive, they have to work. 

How good is it to be a potato? 

It’s not that good to be a potato. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From an interview with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz by Rabbi Pinchas Allouche, on Jan. 26, 2014, in Scottsdale, AZ

“A rhapsody, a tapestry”

Thursday, February 6th, 2014
When one meditates on a thought for a sustained period of time, beyond the moment in which it arose in one's mind, it becomes tangible and real. 

That passing idea then becomes a meaningful thought that can build a complete structure.
Concentration and memory are like a song repeating its refrain within the words of prayer. 

If a person has a fleeting thought of love or fear of God, and he takes that thought and sings it, repeats it again and again until he makes it a rhapsody, a tapestry, then he has turned an initial spark into a fervent flame. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“A person who is able to study Torah and does something else instead acts out of laziness”

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

For a person who is capable of Torah study, idle chatter is not a permissible mundane act but a prohibition.

The Talmud expresses itself is quite vehemently, interpreting the verse "those who forsake God shall perish" as referring to those who leave the books of Torah and go out.

This is not just an act of omission, a failure to do something, but rather an act of commission, an active abandonment of the Torah.

The assumption is that a person who is able to study Torah and does something else instead acts out of laziness, and the punishment for laziness is the "Gehenna of snow.”

There are two types of Gehenna: one of fire (intense heat) and one of snow (intense cold).

The Gehenna of fire is the punishment for possessing too much ardor, for having wanted too much, having done too much, and having pursued what one should not have pursued,

The Gehenna of snow is the punishment for not possessing enough ardor, for not having desired, not having done, and not having pursued all the mitzvot that one ought to have desired, done, and pursued.

The sin of neglect of Torah is so severe that what a person does instead, whether nonsense or profound intellectual study, does not make any difference.

There is no real difference between discussing the price of shoes and delving into philosophy, if it is in place of the pursuit of Torah.

 —Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Opening the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Without a schedule, a person might seldom think of God”

Monday, February 3rd, 2014
Sometimes a person's heart spontaneously opens, and he finds himself able to stand before God. 

But such moments of inspiration are infrequent, indeed so rare that it was deemed necessary to designate specific times for prayer. 

Without such a schedule, a person might seldom think of God. 

But because we are bound by fixed prayer times, we are obligated to turn to God three times a day, and thus form some sort of daily relationship with the Almighty. 

Although this meeting with God may be under duress, it is at least a point of regular contact that does not depend on one's mood, disposition, or inner preparation. 

It is like setting a date, which depends on finding the time and the place. 

And when it is set up, one comes.  

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“An activity that is endless”

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014
Jewish thought pays little attention to inner tranquility and peace of mind. 

The feeling of "behold, I've arrived" could well undermine the capacity to continue, suggesting as it does that the Infinite can be reached in a finite number of steps. 

In fact, the very concept of the Divine as infinite implies an activity that is endless, of which one must never grow weary. 

At every rung of his ascent, the penitent, like any person who follows the way of God, perceives mainly the remoteness. 

Only in looking back can one obtain some idea of the distance already covered, of the degree of progress. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Transcending the vast distance, and differences, between an infinite God and a finite humanity

Thursday, January 30th, 2014
Building the Mishkan can be compared to constructing a spaceship. 

Space travel requires vehicles that can journey to distant, extraterrestrial places, but these voyages – no matter how long they are – are ultimately circumscribed by finite, physical parameters.

The Mishkan, on the other hand, faced an even greater challenge: transcending the vast distance, and differences, between an infinite God and a finite humanity.

In order to build a spacecraft, one must develop a design, gather raw materials and fashion each component. 

Every part must be checked and double-checked, to assure that it meets the exacting specifications. 

All the pieces are then joined together into a cohesive unit. 

Finally, each part must be rechecked, each subsystem must be tested, and the whole structure must be reassembled. 

The Mishkan, too, was assembled, deconstructed and then constructed anew, to verify that each part perfectly complemented the others.

And after the completion of these exhaustive procedures, both the spacecraft and the Mishkan needed the same critical element in order to realize their potential: human involvement, both inside and out.

The spacecraft is guided – by engineers on the ground and by astronauts on board – as it breaches the atmosphere to join the stars in the heavens. 

From before liftoff, throughout its mission, and until it returns, it is closely watched by the nation and the world – united in wonder when things go well, bound together in grief when they do not.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From an essay, "A Bridge to the Infinite," by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz 

“Every unsocial action, whether specifically forbidden by Torah, is considered a transgression”

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

There is much more to the Torah than a specific definition of the mitzvot and transgressions. 

Not only is there no total retirement from life, there is general insistence on maintaining a certain vigilance about the welfare of the society and working toward a better world. 

Hence, too, the overall prohibition against the destruction of anything that has use and value, and the instruction to be occupied with things that are creative and useful. 

Concerning society as a whole, every unsocial action, whether specifically forbidden by Torah, is considered a transgression. 

A person has to appear far better to others than he appears to himself.

In fact, the other person has to be like the image of God, and any injury to him is like doing an injury to the divine image in oneself.

Following this line of thought, just as physical injury to one's fellow man is forbidden, so also are lying, theft, guile, and the like. 

Offenses like insult, slander, and gossip are in many ways considered far more severe misdeeds than specifically religious or ritual transgressions. 

Not for nothing has it been said that while the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) provides atonement for transgressions committed by man against God, it does not provide atonement for transgressions committed against one's fellow man. 

Because the latter wrongdoing is doubly sinful, involving an evil to man as well as to God, and so long as the transgressor does not make amends to his neighbor, he cannot expect a pardon and atonement from God.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz 

“Man has a connection with God”

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014
Existence in its entirety is expressed in the phrase, "there is no other than He.” 

All meaning–within the creation and being of man–depends on the fact that man has a connection with God Who speaks to him.

Man has a way of connecting to and joining the Oneness of God, Who is "One and Unique."
For indeed "there is no other than He.”

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From Learning from the Tanya, Chapter 20, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz 

“Like the consequences of realizing that one can get away with a lie”

Monday, January 27th, 2014
Evil is not simply a sum of certain drives and impulses but 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. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“A total unity”

Sunday, January 26th, 2014
When the Talmudic sage Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa prayed on someone's behalf, he would know that his prayer had been accepted if his words flowed fluently, for then he felt his soul to be aligned with his prayers. 

But if he felt he was making an effort, as though he were forcing his words against reality, he knew that his prayer had been rejected.

The most complete example of such a prayer is found in the story of Rabbi Chiya and his sons.

When Rabbi Chiya recited the words of prayer, "He causes the wind to blow," the wind blew. 

When he said, "He causes the rain to fall," rain fell. 

When Rabbi Chiya said, "He brings the dead back to life," the entire world shook.

When a person is connected to his prayer to such a profound extent, he has no need to work at aligning himself with the words of prayer, or with an external framework, simply because that framework is no longer external to him.

A total unity exists between his soul, the words that he is reciting, and objective reality. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From The Thirteen Petalled Rose, "Prayer" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The encounters and events of life, its joys and sorrows, are influenced by one’s previous existence”

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Almost every person bears the legacy of previous existences. 

Generally one does not obtain the previous self again, for the soul manifests itself in different circumstances and in different situations. 

What is more, some souls are compounded of more than one single former person and share parts of a number of persons. 

A great soul is most usually reincarnated not in one single body but branches out, participating in a number of people, each of whom have to satisfy different aspects of existence. 

In spite of this incalculable complexity, the soul will be made up of the same constituent elements and will have to complete those uncompleted tasks left over from the previous cycle. 

Therefore the destiny of a person is connected not only with those things he himself creates and does, but also with what happens to the soul in its previous incarnations. 

The encounters and events of life, its joys and sorrows, are influenced by one's previous existence. 

One's existence is a continuity, the sustaining of a certain fundamental essence.

And certain elements may rise to the surface which do not seem to belong to the present, which a person has to complete or fix or correct–a portion of the world it is his task to put right in order for him to raise his soul to its proper level. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Man alone moves independently”

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014
The fact that man is only a very small detail, a dot and less than a dot as against the Infinite, is balanced by the fact that it is precisely he in his smallness who gives each of the parts its significance. 

Since there is an order of causes and influences, and a prime mover of all the worlds, every single person can, in his deeds, thoughts, and aspirations, reach to every one of these points of existence. 

Not only is man free to act on the system, each of his deeds has–in all the worlds, in terms of space and time and of the Supreme or Ultimate Reality–immeasurable significance. 

In contrast to all the automatic patterns of forces functioning in the cosmos, man alone moves independently within the system. 

He alone is important to the manifestations because he can change them, cause them to move from one level to another. 

Furthermore, man–dwelling as he does in two different worlds and undergoing profound inner struggles–is given the chance to rise far beyond the level of our existence and the place in which he spiritually finds himself, and to act on higher worlds without end. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“A simply unbridgeable gap”

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014
The only thing we are permitted to say about the Infinite would involve the negative of all qualities. 

For the Infinite is beyond anything that can be grasped in any terms-either positive or negative. 

Not only is it impossible to say of the Infinite that He is in any way limited or that He is bad, one cannot even say the opposite, that He is vast or He is good. 

Just as He is not matter, He is not spirit, nor can He be said to exist in any dimension meaningful to us. 

The dilemma posed by this meaning of infinity is more than a consequence of the inadequacy of the human mind. 

It represents a simply unbridgeable gap, a gap that cannot be crossed by anything definable. 

There would, therefore, seem to be an abyss stretching between God and the world-and not only the physical world of time, space, and gravity, but also the spiritual worlds, no matter how sublime, confined as each one is within the boundaries of its own definition.

Creation itself becomes a divine paradox. 

To bridge the abyss, the Infinite keeps creating the world, His creation being not the act of forming something out of nothing but the act of revelation. 

Creation is an emanation from the divine light; its secret is not the coming into existence of something new but the transmutation of the divine reality into something defined and limited–into a world.

This transmutation involves a process, or a mystery, of contraction. 

God hides Himself, putting aside His essential infiniteness and withholding His endless light to the extent necessary in order that the world may exist. 

Within the actual divine light nothing can maintain its own existence; the world becomes possible only through the special act of divine withdrawal or contraction. 

Such divine non-being, or concealment, is thus the elementary condition for the existence of that which is finite. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“God is merely hiding”

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014
There is a Chabad tune sung to the words, "Behold, You are a God Who conceals Himself." 
Surprisingly, this is a happy, even a joyful tune. 

The Baal Shem Tov used to say that any hiding of God's countenance that we recognize as such is no longer a concealment. 

Concealment of God's countenance ceases to be meaningful at the moment that we know that God is hiding from us and has not gone away. 

As long as a person thinks that God does not exist, he remains in darkness.

But when he realizes that God is merely hiding, there is no longer darkness but light. 

Moreover, as has been noted, in concealment there is a revelation of God's being that is higher than the revelation of God through the agency of the worlds.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From Learning from the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz