Archive for the ‘Let My People Know’ Category

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Trying to cure an illness by chanting the chemical formula of the remedy.”

Thursday, May 31st, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Kabbalah’s mystifying formulas become nothing more than intoxicating mantras to those who mindlessly repeat them.

This is like trying to cure an illness by chanting the chemical formula of the remedy.

This is not to say that Kabbalah should not be studied and learned.

In fact, it is incumbent upon Jewish scholars to understand the whole map of Torah from beginning to end, the Hidden Law no less than the Revealed Law.

Throughout history, there have been those who, very quietly, achieved extensive knowledge of the Hidden Law.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From an essay, “Kabbalah for Today”

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “Small ignoramuses vs. bigger ignoramuses”

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

Few people – teachers included – have real knowledge. 

In terms of knowledge, most teachers are not qualitatively different from their students, only quantitatively different – small ignoramuses vs. bigger ignoramuses.  

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From “On Character Education” in A Dear Son to Me

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “The smile or the groan”

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

In mathematics, one can speak of an absolute number.

Besides this, one can determine the power or size of a specific number by adding zeroes or by giving the specific number a root or power sign.

So too, in the moral life, one can relate to each action by itself–either it is a transgression or a mitzvah.

And its power or significance is something that is measured by what one gives to it in terms of intention, inner effort, joy, or participation.

In performing an act of charity, for example, it is a matter of what it has cost one to obtain the money, the quality of the spiritual accompaniment to the act, and so forth.

The differences between the levels of charity are far more than in the value of the money.

The coin remains the same.

It is a matter of the smile or the groan with which it is given.

Thus, there is a meaningful distinction between body and soul, between intention and act.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Long Shorter Way, “Intention.”

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “Man’s task is to stand up to the trial.”

Monday, May 28th, 2018


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

There is a story in the Zohar of the king who wished to test the virtue of his son and thus sent a whore to tempt him.

Her task is rather ambiguous, if not actually frustrating, for her success might be, in reality, failure for all concerned.

And yet the test has to be a real trial; it cannot be make- believe.

Therefore, she hires another whore who, not understanding the meaning of the test, tempts him wholeheartedly.

From which, it may be gathered, the actual essence of evil is complex–the lower levels of evil do not even know that their function is only to serve as a temptation.

They enter the contest in all enthusiasm, even though their whole function will collapse as soon as man succeeds in standing up to the test.

It is as though God says to evil: “Very well, it is all over; the tempter may go home.”

Man, however, cannot do this.

It is God’s task.

Man’s task is to stand up to the trial.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Long Shorter Way, Chapter 29

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “Talmud study should be seen as a spiral that continues to rise and develop from time to time.”

Sunday, May 27th, 2018

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

The Talmud is not a schematic textbook, but essentially a slice of life.

As such, it commences for no man at the beginning.

When a man begins to study Talmud, he always finds himself right in the middle of things, no matter where he starts.

Only through study and the combination of facts can he arrive at the ability to understand, and, in general, the more he studies the better he understands what he has already studied.

His comprehension grows constantly deeper as he peruses the material over and over again.

A pair of scholars who studied a certain complicated tractate a generation ago perused it forty times and stated that only the forty-first time did they feel that they were beginning to understand it.

This conviction is not a reflection of excessive humility, nor is it related to the complexity of the issue, but is based on the belief that every time a subject is studied it takes on new dimensions for the student.

After the first few perusals of the material, the student will have solved most of the central problems, but new problems will always emerge.

Generally speaking, talmudic study is not restricted to one aspect of a subject, nor is it a closed circle.

Rather, it should be seen as a spiral that continues to rise and develop from time to time.

Each time the same point is passed and a slightly higher point is reached.

–Rabi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Essential Talmud

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “Even people who are not forgiving—by religion or by temperament—are ready to forgive themselves, and forget almost everything.”

Friday, May 25th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

It seems that there does not have to be any real connection between the emotion of love and the object of love.

Consider the most common kind of love: self-love.

Of course, this love is usually quite different from falling in love with another person.

Except for pathological cases (extreme narcissism), it does not include any fiery emotion.

Still, it has all the elements of love: the attachment, the involvement, the desire to grant the beloved (oneself, that is) every whim, and so on.

Because we are born with it, there is no strong emotional display, very much like love within the family; yet it is a very stable and enduring love.

Self-love provides powerful evidence of two important, broadly applicable aspects of love.

First, love is blind—or, better yet, hallucinatory.

Most people love themselves even though they know more derogatory things about themselves than anybody else could ever find out.

In most cases, self-love is a full-fledged, everlasting love affair, and, although it sometimes grows and sometimes diminishes, it exists independently of any special attributes.

The second aspect of love epitomized by self-love is forgiveness.

Even people who are not forgiving—by religion or by temperament—are ready to forgive themselves, and forget almost everything.

Forgiveness does not mean that people ignore all their own flaws, but they are able to go on loving themselves, even with all the faults and all the guilt.

How does this happen?

At a certain point, when people begin to develop a sense of self, they fall in love with this self, and they cease to demand anything of it; its mere existence is enough for them.

Love rarely distorts facts; it covers up faults by changing our estimation of them.

Facts somehow do not sound the same, or matter quite as much, when they are about me.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in Simple Words

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “What others know from within themselves, the tzaddik has to be taught.”

Thursday, May 24th, 2018


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

Rabbi Yechiel Michal from Zlotchov, one of the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, was known as a complete tzaddik who possessed ruach hakodesh (“the holy spirit,” a level of divine perception akin to prophecy), which reputedly had been in his family for ten generations.

A wagon driver in his town once committed a violation of the Shabbat, regretted his sin, and approached the local rabbi to see what amends he could make.

The rabbi saw that the man’s penitence was sincere and told him that he should donate a pound of candles to the synagogue and his sin would be forgiven.

When Rabbi Michal heard of this, he did not approve: How could a pound of candles compensate for a breach of the Shabbat?

That Friday afternoon, when the wagon driver came and placed his candles in the appropriate place, a big dog came into the synagogue, snatched the candles, and ate them before they could be used.

Seeing what had happened, the wagon driver was brokenhearted.

He went back to the rabbi and told him that God has not accepted his atonement.

The rabbi assured that it was just an unfortunate coincidence; if he would again bring candles to the synagogue the following week, his sin would be forgiven.

On the following week, another mishap occurred, and again the week following, until the rabbi, too, conceded that something was amiss.

He sent the penitent to the Baal Shem Tov, who realized that Rabbi Michal had a hand in it, and sent for him.

The Baal Shem Tov’s home in Medzibezh was only a few hours’ journey away, but the horses pulling Reb Michal’s wagon turned off the road and got lost in the forest; then an axle broke.

And one trouble followed another, so that when Rabbi Michal entered Medzibezh, it was late Friday afternoon, and the sun was setting, and the tzaddik feared that he had violated the Shabbat by traveling on the holy day.

When he came to the Baal Shem Tov, crushed and broken in spirit and beside himself, his rebbe called to him, “Come here, sinner! Until now you did not know how a Jew who has sinned feels, how brokenhearted he is. Now, you will realize that a pound of candles is sufficient!”

Rabbi Michal, who had ascended all the rungs in the ladder of holiness, could not comprehend how anyone could sin, how one could possibly rebel against God.

What others know from within themselves, the tzaddik has to be taught.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in Opening the Tanya

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: ” Textbooks for angels cannot teach people.”

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Many Jewish books on morals written during certain periods are masterpieces in themselves but lack the elements of true humanism.

The greatness of these books is lost because the average man, full of every human feeling, cannot relate such books to his life; they often do not even hint at certain moral questions.

You could study a classic book on morals and not find anything about love, social relations, work, physical life, et cetera.

True, these books are good books, but they are good only for that part of man engaged in religious issues.

These books are textbooks for angels; they cannot teach people.

It was this contraction of religion into purely religious problems that caused the freezing of every human emotion and led to conservatism and, to some extent, self-deception and hypocrisy.

For if all religious subjects were so detached from everyday life, they would become merely frozen conservative forms that did not have any true meaning for anyone. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Human Holiness” in The Strife of the Spirit


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “This problem cannot be solved by human reason alone.”

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

As an academic and philosophic question, man’s freedom in the face of environmental determinants belongs to those problems classed by Kant as the antinomies:

Fundamental issues that logically compel us to accept two contradictory solutions.

Kant then constructed a magnificent system of thought to deal with this problem in rational terms.

Long before, Moses Maimonides had grappled with the question in a searching discussion of basic Jewish laws in his compilation Mishneh Torah.

Dealing with the supposedly inevitable contradiction between divine omniscience and free will, he asserts that this problem cannot be solved by human reason alone but is among those things that can only be understood by a recognition of that same divine omniscience and omnipotence. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Fate, Destiny and Free Will” in The Strife of the Spirit

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Our lives consist of lighting one light here, one light there.”

Monday, May 21st, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz said:

In a famous work of kabbalistic commentary, the Sefer Hasidim, “The Book of the Devout,” each organ and limb is associated with the 613 commandments of the Torah.

Each commandment thus corresponds to a specific part of the body. 

Man is an array of lights, and each mitzvah gives off its own small light.

Our lives consist of lighting one light here, one light there, and all these lights together make up a human being, the ideal image of the person, as though man were merely a brace, or a stand, for the 613 lights. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Seven Lights

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The greatest of all miracles”

Sunday, May 20th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz said:

Generally speaking, the Alter Rebbe always stressed what  he calls “the permanent miracle of life.”

He constantly marvels over all these small miracles that make up reality rather than the miracles that change the law.

God truly reveals Himself in these daily miracles.

The greatest of all miracles, and the greatest source of wonder, is when men realize that daily life is a miracle.

Creating the cherubs or the angels was easy for God, but creating a world that does not know it was created was prodigious.

The real miracle is that the world lives only because God gives life to it, but God is the only One that the world does not see.

This is a law of nature, as it is the law of history. 

What do men know and what do they remember?

We remember great events in history and famous people who played a role in shaping them.

We have completely forgotten the most important things in life and whom we have to thank for them.

We do not remember the name of the person who invented the wheel.

It is amazing.

We do not know who invented the things that completely changed the history of humanity.

This is why the most important, and the most amazing, thing created by God is nature.

Just like all great inventions, we do not see it. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Seven Lights

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Mutual agreement concerning the rhythm and form of sexual relations is one of the few standard elements in the literature”

Friday, May 18th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Modesty is not the result of shame concerning sex, but of great respect toward something extremely personal, intimate, and deserving of the greatest sensitivity.

Jewish writings throughout the ages have included general guidance and recommended ways of experiencing sex, but very little in terms of absolute prescriptions that could be considered obligatory.

Mutual agreement concerning the rhythm and form of sexual relations is one of the few standard elements in the literature, as is the need to be considerate of the needs and desires of the woman, even more so than the man.

In these areas, which are not usually dealt with in any frank and detailed manner, ba’alei teshuvah should be careful not to undertake too high a standard and try to do more than they can.

Such efforts, when people are not sufficiently prepared for them, can cause unnecessary difficulties and crises.

Domestic peace is so important that a person may be allowed to act with great flexibility in order to maintain it, renouncing his own wishes and welcoming the desires of the spouse.

This domain of family life, so concealed and so complex, demands much more than any other aspect of marriage.

One must remember that the two people (even if there is great intimacy between them) are still two different and separate entities, each with his or her own qualities, desires, and weaknesses, each with his or her rhythm and orientation. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Marital Relations” in Teshuvah

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The teacher’s role”

Thursday, May 17th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

“Making for oneself a master” is finding a person who can help one solve problems and ease doubts and difficulties.

This does not mean that one should unload all of one’s problems on someone else or give up thinking or making painful decisions.

No person may—indeed, can—simply give over his mind and heart to another, making himself into a dumb instrument of the other’s will.

 Even those who take counsel with and accept the authority of the greatest sages of Israel still have problems, questions, and misgivings.

It is the teacher’s role, rather, to serve as an objective yardstick, utterly devoid of self-interest, close to his disciple, supportive of him, and seeking only to help him in his struggle to reach sound conclusions. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Social Relations” in Teshuvah

Rabbi Adin Steisnaltz: ” Every positive decision, however small, is important.”

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

It is important to remember that resolutions are not always carried out.

Great obstacles lie hidden along the way.

Routine and habit, which often create a person’s predicament to begin with, do not disappear simply because that person has made up his mind to change.

Even though it may not immediately be carried out, the decision is in itself an essential step.

As long as it is not mere talk or self-deception (one can deceive oneself as readily as one can others), every positive decision, however small, is important.

Indeed, in some cases a person’s great turn may appear to be made suddenly, at a sharp angle and at high speed.

But usually such a turn is preceded by many less dramatic, less mature steps, small decisions that do not bear fruit, wishes never carried out.

When the time comes, all these small moves coalesce into a single movement. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Mean Meaning of Teshuvah” in Teshuvah

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Nature is like a gigantic book.”

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

The Talmud states, “Even if we were not given the Law, we could learn how to behave from the animals.” 

We would learn family life from the doves—they seem to be devoted to each other, they form permanent couples, and there are fewer divorces among them than among humans. 

They sometimes fight, they do not always behave like doves, but at least they do form permanent couples. 

We can learn sanitary behavior from the cats. 

They behave so very nicely—they cover everything neatly. 

However, even the models of the dove and the cat do not have labels saying that they are the right way for humans to behave. 

Maybe we should behave sexually like cats, and sanitarily like doves. 

That would be a different picture, but it would also be imitating nature. 

Nature, then, is like a gigantic book. 

In that book there are many pages, each with different pictures, some of which are contradictory. 

We can always quote examples to prove whatever point we want to make, as people do from anthologies or books of quotations. 

Our freedom of choice gives us the ability to do everything, and our bond to nature compels us to use nature as a guideline, but also to make constant adaptations. 

When we read the pages of the book of nature, we need a commentary, because without one we get mixed up, we get lost in all the information that can be found there.

—Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Nature” in Simple Words

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Relatives in previous incarnations”

Monday, May 14th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Souls that were close to one another in a previous incarnation will also be attracted to one another in the new incarnation.

This is why those who were relatives in previous incarnations will feel a special connection to each other in other incarnations as well

—even though at present there are no family ties between them or any other overt connection.” 

– Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “In truth, Kabbalah was never literally hidden”

Sunday, May 13th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Kabbalah literally means “receiving”.

In Israel today, the receipt you get when making a purchase is called a kabbalah.

The Bible, or Written Law, is given by God and is available to anyone who can read it.

The Oral Law-which includes the Kabbalah-is received, passed directly from teacher to pupil.

Most of Torah is considered Torah haniglet—revealed Torah, to be studied by all Jews.

Kabbalah, however, was designated chochmah nisteret—hidden wisdom.

In truth, Kabbalah was never literally hidden, but was not widely, or even publicly, studied.

The reason for restricting the study of Kabbalah relates to its subject matter.

Kabbalah encompasses two general themes: ma’aseh bereishit—the theory or description of creation, and ma’aseh merkavah—Ezekiel’s description of the Heavenly Chariot, which teaches us about the relationship between humans and the Almighty. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Kabbalah for Today?”

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “We are the sum total of nature, containing the macrocosm in our own microcosm.”

Friday, May 11th, 2018


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

When God created man, God said (Genesis 1:26), “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”

Traditionally, it is understood that God was speaking to the angels.

If so, the plan was not very successful; we are not like angels.

According to another interpretation, God was speaking to the whole of creation, to all of nature.

In that case, “Let us make man in our image” means, “Let each of you contribute something.”

The fox and the dove, the tiger and the sheep, the spider and the bee each contributed a small part—as did the angels and the devils. 

We humans contain all the parts.

Some of us are foxier than others, or more sheepish than others, but altogether, we contain all the traits found in nature.

In that way, we are the sum total of nature, containing the macrocosm in our own microcosm. 

Somehow, we have to learn from all our partners, and perhaps pray that the extra part—that “Divine spark” contributed by God—will help us make the right choices. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Nature” in Simple Words

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “Everything in the tradition was somehow incorporated into the kabbalistic framework”

Thursday, May 10th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Unlike most mystical schools in the world, which somehow stressed their freedom from the constraints of formal religion (even when they continued to remain within it), Kabbalah mysticism did the opposite.

It always stressed the vital significance of the smallest details of the law and the ritual.

The kabbalists even added weight and meaning to the formal practices in a thousand ways.

And when it came to such issues of theoretical theology as the Thirteen Articles of Faith, they simply put different emphasis on the same words.

To be sure, they had their disagreements with some of Maimonides’ ideas.

Nevertheless, they did not let disagreement develop into friction and antagonism.

Everything in the tradition was somehow incorporated into the kabbalistic framework with a certain broad spiritual comprehensiveness.

What is astonishing, at least to the rational thinking of the Western world, is that there were no great contradictions, that the two modes of religiosity worked together as well as they did. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “How can one speak about the unspeakable?”

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

Many books have been written about holiness and about the sense of holiness and they all face one fundamental dilemma – how can one speak about the unspeakable?

This is the quandary of mystics, sometimes of philosophers and even of artists.

One definition that carries with it a large measure of truth is that holiness is that which is found beyond all boundaries, that which reaches absolute infinity and absolute transcendence.

And actually, our perception of holiness can be expressed by the term (used but not coined by Freud) an “oceanic feeling,” that attempts to explain or touch upon the comprehension of holiness. 

A person facing the ocean for the first time, or at any other moment of heightened sensitivity, faces something grand and immeasurable, something infinite.

The feeling of “me against infinity” is, I would imagine, the basic sensation of one who stands against the holiness.

This definition is imperfect; the “oceanic feeling,” like the ocean itself, is finite.

Although it is very big, it is still limited.

Our perception of infinity is, in many ways, an attempt to grasp the unlimited, the un-perceivable, that which cannot be understood, that which is, in essence, the unattainable, by its very definition.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The Boundaries of Holiness” in A Dear Son to Me