Archive for the ‘Let My People Know’ Category

“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 

“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 

“The color of skin was not a central issue for our forefathers”

Monday, January 20th, 2014

A passage in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) features a story that reads as follows:

Two persons made a bet: Whoever succeeds in making the sage Hillel angry will receive 400 zuz from the other. (Four hundred zuz was a considerable sum of money, the equivalent of a three months' salary for an ordinary worker.) 

At this time, Hillel was the supreme religious authority and was famous for his piety, his wisdom, and his moral character.

He was known to be very humble, and it was common knowledge that nobody had ever succeeded in enraging him.

Then, one of the two went to see Hillel at his home.

It was on the eve of Shabbat, just at the transition between the weekday and Shabbat, a moment when people wish to be alone.

Hillel was washing his hair, again a situation that is certainly not conducive to any kind of discussion.

The man approached, knocked at the door, and shouted, "Is there a Hillel here? Is there a Hillel here?" (a salutation considered offensive in its very formulation).

Hillel immediately wrapped himself and came out. This means that he dressed himself formally in order to greet his visitor properly, without taking into account his identity, rank, or origin.

Hillel said to him, "My son, what do you want?"

He answered, "I have a question to ask."

Hillel replied, "Ask my son, ask!"

"Why are the heads of the Babylonians rounded?" the man asked.

Such a question is, by its very nature, somewhat offensive (Hillel was himself of Babylonian origin); it is, moreover, quite insignificant, and was asked at a most unfitting and troublesome time.

This combination was intended to make the situation as difficult and irritating as possible.

Hillel answered, "My son, you have asked an important question! The answer is: because they do not have wise midwives."

This means that the Babylonian midwives do not shape the heads of newborn babies properly.

The man went away and waited for some time.

Then he returned to Hillel's house and shouted again: "Is there a Hillel here? Is there a Hillel here?"

Hillel again dressed and came out. He said, "My son, what do you want?"

"I have a question to ask," replied the man.

"Ask my son, ask," said Hillel.

"Why are the eyes of the people from Tarmod runny?" asked the man.

"My son, you have asked an important question! The reason is: because they are living in a sandy area."

The man returned a third time and, after the same preliminary dialogue, asked the following question: "Why are the feet of the Africans flat?"

My son," replied Hillel, "you asked an important question! The answer is: because they live in a swampy area."

The point of this story is not simply to show the extreme patience and humility of Hillel, although both attributes are demonstrated in a very striking manner.

The particular three questions asked by the man, it has been suggested, are not just incidental; they also convey a message.

All three cases point out that people are somehow different from each other.

Some have round heads, others have "running" eyes, and so forth.

All three of these questions appear to be of a racist nature.

They aim at stressing the differences between peoples.

Moreover, Hillel himself was of Babylonian origin, and Babylonians—even Babylonian Jews—were not always well accepted in this country.

As we know, such an attitude toward strangers is still present everywhere in modern times.

Therefore these racist questions may have reflected, to a certain extent at least, a racist attitude toward Hillel himself.

But Hillel dealt with these questions in a uniform manner.

To use modern phrasing, he stressed the fact that the differences existing between people are not genetic.

They are acquired traits determined either by the external environment or by midwives.

To be sure, there are distinct ethnic groups, races, families, and other differentiating factors within humanity.

These groups are subject to changes caused by external influences, but the differences between them are only superficial.

It may be added, by the way, that even the "racists" of talmudic times, such as the person who asked the questions, did not manifest any color prejudice.

He says "the Africans," not "the blacks."

Some information is available regarding the colors that were referred to in Mishnaic times in such a context.

There is a talmudic statement that reads: "Jews are not black like Africans, they are not white like Germans, they are brownish like the bark of a tree."

Apparently, the color of skin was not a central issue for our forefathers.

 —Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

 From “Man Was Created One” in On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The color of skin was not a central issue for our forefathers”

Monday, January 20th, 2014

A passage in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) features a story that reads as follows:

Two persons made a bet: Whoever succeeds in making the sage Hillel angry will receive 400 zuz from the other. (Four hundred zuz was a considerable sum of money, the equivalent of a three months' salary for an ordinary worker.) 

At this time, Hillel was the supreme religious authority and was famous for his piety, his wisdom, and his moral character.

He was known to be very humble, and it was common knowledge that nobody had ever succeeded in enraging him.

Then, one of the two went to see Hillel at his home.

It was on the eve of Shabbat, just at the transition between the weekday and Shabbat, a moment when people wish to be alone.

Hillel was washing his hair, again a situation that is certainly not conducive to any kind of discussion.

The man approached, knocked at the door, and shouted, "Is there a Hillel here? Is there a Hillel here?" (a salutation considered offensive in its very formulation).

Hillel immediately wrapped himself and came out. This means that he dressed himself formally in order to greet his visitor properly, without taking into account his identity, rank, or origin.

Hillel said to him, "My son, what do you want?"

He answered, "I have a question to ask."

Hillel replied, "Ask my son, ask!"

"Why are the heads of the Babylonians rounded?" the man asked.

Such a question is, by its very nature, somewhat offensive (Hillel was himself of Babylonian origin); it is, moreover, quite insignificant, and was asked at a most unfitting and troublesome time.

This combination was intended to make the situation as difficult and irritating as possible.

Hillel answered, "My son, you have asked an important question! The answer is: because they do not have wise midwives."

This means that the Babylonian midwives do not shape the heads of newborn babies properly.

The man went away and waited for some time.

Then he returned to Hillel's house and shouted again: "Is there a Hillel here? Is there a Hillel here?"

Hillel again dressed and came out. He said, "My son, what do you want?"

"I have a question to ask," replied the man.

"Ask my son, ask," said Hillel.

"Why are the eyes of the people from Tarmod runny?" asked the man.

"My son, you have asked an important question! The reason is: because they are living in a sandy area."

The man returned a third time and, after the same preliminary dialogue, asked the following question: "Why are the feet of the Africans flat?"

My son," replied Hillel, "you asked an important question! The answer is: because they live in a swampy area."

The point of this story is not simply to show the extreme patience and humility of Hillel, although both attributes are demonstrated in a very striking manner.

The particular three questions asked by the man, it has been suggested, are not just incidental; they also convey a message.

All three cases point out that people are somehow different from each other.

Some have round heads, others have "running" eyes, and so forth.

All three of these questions appear to be of a racist nature.

They aim at stressing the differences between peoples.

Moreover, Hillel himself was of Babylonian origin, and Babylonians—even Babylonian Jews—were not always well accepted in this country.

As we know, such an attitude toward strangers is still present everywhere in modern times.

Therefore these racist questions may have reflected, to a certain extent at least, a racist attitude toward Hillel himself.

But Hillel dealt with these questions in a uniform manner.

To use modern phrasing, he stressed the fact that the differences existing between people are not genetic.

They are acquired traits determined either by the external environment or by midwives.

To be sure, there are distinct ethnic groups, races, families, and other differentiating factors within humanity.

These groups are subject to changes caused by external influences, but the differences between them are only superficial.

It may be added, by the way, that even the "racists" of talmudic times, such as the person who asked the questions, did not manifest any color prejudice.

He says "the Africans," not "the blacks."

Some information is available regarding the colors that were referred to in Mishnaic times in such a context.

There is a talmudic statement that reads: "Jews are not black like Africans, they are not white like Germans, they are brownish like the bark of a tree."

Apparently, the color of skin was not a central issue for our forefathers.

 —Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

 From “Man Was Created One” in On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Great struggles, long-lived, involved, and desperate, characterize man’s history.”

Sunday, January 19th, 2014
 
There are two ways of defeating the evil that is ingrained in the reality of our lives. 

One is by choking its growth, not allowing it nourishment, isolating it from all contact, as in the Garden of Eden. 

The other way is the far more complicated way of struggle after the evil has been released into the Garden. 

Once the evil has spread, then death works its inevitable havoc. 

The spirit of evil is not so easily removed from the earth after man knows sin. 

Great struggles, long-lived, involved, and desperate, characterize man's history. 

An ancient analogy provides a graphic description. 

A garden is surrounded by a fence and the evil beasts are outside. 

Man's job is to watch over the garden and to patrol the fence so the wild beasts do not enter. 

But once the fence is broken and the evil penetrates, his task is to fight the beasts, both those already in the garden and those outside trying to enter. 

Were the man permitted to make his escape, the garden would be abandoned and go to ruin. 
 
Hence man is not so easily allowed to get out of his responsibility. 

He has to stay on earth, continue to care for the garden, and try to get rid of the evil he has himself introduced.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
In "The Inwardness of Evil' from In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“People end up trying to defend sheer nonsense”

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

In most cases, the conflicts that arise from the daily encounters people have between Torah and science are based on misunderstandings. 

Often it is a mistake about Torah, and people end up trying to defend the sheer nonsense that they, for some strange reason, believe is Yiddishkeit. 

These people find they cannot continue with their religion because they think it is ridiculous. 

In fact, their "religion" is indeed ridiculous. 

When I was a young man, I met someone in Israel who was then a very important political personality (interestingly, he was son of a famous rabbi, a member of the Mo'etzel Gedolei HaTorah in Poland). 

We were talking, and he asked me, "Where does God put his legs?" 

For a moment I thought he was joking, but he wasn't. 

When I tried to tell him that, as far as I knew, God has no legs, he told me I did not know what I was talking about, because his father truly believed that God has legs! 

I tried to remonstrate. 

I opened the Siddur and showed him that not only do we not believe that, but we should not: it is forbidden. 

He ended the conversation by telling me that he was very friendly with the rosh yeshivah of Mir, and that he would warn him that there was a person in Jerusalem who should be destroyed.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From as essay "Where Do Science and Torah Clash" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“What seems to be leading up may be going down”

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014
 
Meditation on God as a form of exploration into that which is behind the Shattering and inquiry into that which is reality is a selection process. 

It sorts out the meaningful. 

The world we live in, the world that is the result of the Shattering of the Vessels, is a confused jumble of facts and directions. 

There are very many paths leading in all directions (up, down, North, South, East, West), most of them not going anywhere. 

The task of man is a work of selection, to choose properly the way he shall go. 

It is usually accompanied by a certain amount of error.

What seems to be leading up may be going down.

What gives the impression of being a correct orientation may prove to be an illusion. 

Life is full of steps and pathways that delude us into following them as though they were true. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From The Candle of God by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“God’s name cannot be apprehended”

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
 
The names of God that appear in the Bible and Talmud are not His names as He truly is. 

They are a description, rather, of the divine revelation in a particular manner, in a particular sefirah. 

All that we can say about God's "great name" is that it cannot be revealed or known. 

Like God Himself, His name transcends all being and comprehension. 

Like the infinite Divine light, God's name cannot be apprehended.

All we can perceive is its glory and radiance as they shine upon the heavens and earth.

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

“The more we judge others based on the body and its characteristics, the more unequal society becomes”:

Monday, January 13th, 2014

People are not truly equal but the differences between them are of no account. 

The more we judge others based on the body and its characteristics, the more unequal society becomes. 

When we believe that one person is somehow superior to another, true equality is impossible. 

Under these circumstances, there cannot be real love of others. 

The Hasidim considered distinctions such as youth and old age, poverty and wealth, and scholarship and illiteracy to be of relatively little importance. 

It is not that one ignores the facts; it is a matter of relationship. 

How important are these elements in creating relations between people? 

Among the Kotzker Hasidim, the spirit of equality reached an extreme. 

When Rabbi Leibele Eiger (grandson of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, one of the great masters of Torah) became a Hasid, his family sent someone to Kotzk to determine the extent of the "calamity."

When the traveler came to Kotzk, he asked for Rabbi Leibele by his usual titles, but no one had heard of such a person. 

At last the traveler realized that in Kotzk he was referred to no differently than the simplest of Jews. 

When he at last found Rabbi Leibele, he saw him dressed as a simple Jew and sitting with the Hasidim as an equal among equals. 

At that moment, an ordinary Jew dressed in ragged clothing approached, and the Hasidim rose to meet him.

The visitor asked, "Is that a great Torah scholar?" 

The Hasidim replied, "No, he can barely learn a chapter of Mishnah." 

"Is he from a great family, then?" 

"No, he is the son of a laborer." 

"Is he wealthy, at least?" 

"You yourself can see how he is dressed." 

"So why do you honor him?" 

They responded, "Because he is humble."

When the traveler returned and told this story, Rabbi Leibele's relatives laughed and said, "If he is not learned, from a great family, or wealthy, why shouldn't he be humble!" 

But when that retort made its way back to Kotzk, someone commented, "No—if he is not learned, wealthy, or from a great family, then the fact that he is humble is truly remarkable."

—Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From Understanding the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz=

“When a person is sad for whatever reason, that is the right time to do soul-searching”

Sunday, January 12th, 2014
 
"A person should always excite the good nature against his evil inclination" (Berachot 5a). 

This does not mean that a person must at every moment break his heart and experience a bitterness of soul. 

That is not the way to serve God or attain holiness. 

Rather, a person must do so only at certain times. 

A principled person may grow proud and pleased with himself. 

At times, this may inspire him to progress with a sense of holy joy. 

At other times, however, this feeling brings on smugness that prevents him from seeing his flaws. 

Then he does nothing to improve.

Such a person is rotting within, sinking into the torpor of the dull heart. 

He should excite his good nature against his evil inclination by exploring whatever is broken and damaged–by examining himself. 

As a result, he may awaken with a renewed vitality. 

These are worries that cause one to be sad, such as monetary problems, mourning, anxiety, false accusations, and so forth. 

People go through cycles of emotions and thus may grow sad without reason. 

But whatever the cause, when a person is sad, that is a good opportunity to experience sadness and bitterness in the realm of holiness.

When a person is sad for whatever reason, that is the right time to do soul-searching. 

Introspection may lead to a bitterness of the soul and dejection about his spiritual concerns. 

This can change his mood from a sadness pulling him downward to a bitterness of the soul that can lift him up. 

One can reflect in a number of ways. 

But however one proceeds, one must make sure that it will be elevating and energizing and not the opposite.

Thus, in the realm of this-worldly matters, a person should compare himself to those who are less well-off and to learn how to be satisfied with less. 

In the realm of the spirit, by contrast, he should compare himself to his betters, to realize how imperfect he is and to feel the urge to become more holy.

Unfortunately, many people do the opposite. 

In regard to this-worldly matters, they compare themselves to those who are better off than they are and as a result grow depressed and envious. 

And in the realm of the spirit, they compare themselves to their inferiors, as a result of which they become self-satisfied and dull-hearted. 


—Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From Understanding the Tanya, Chapter 31, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz