Archive for the ‘Let My People Know’ Category

“Moral choices”

Friday, January 10th, 2014
Each of us must make moral choices as to how we will conduct ourselves. 

The Torah permits marital relations, yet a person can, while acting wholly within the framework of the law, indulge a greedy lust born of unrestrained desire. 

The Torah allows the consumption of meat and wine, yet a person may, while eating only kosher foods (even simple food, and as he exercises proper table manners), become obsessed with gratifying his palate. 

Or someone may be honest, yet immersed in the pursuit of money with such utter self-abandon that it becomes his personal idol.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From Understanding the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz 

“There is no difference in weight or gravity between anyone part and another”

Thursday, January 9th, 2014
Precisely because the Divine is apprehended as an infinite, not a finite, force, everything in the cosmos, whether small or large, is only a small part of the pattern, so that there is no difference in weight or gravity between anyone part and another. 

The movement of a man's finger is as important or unimportant as the most terrible catastrophe, for as against the Infinite both are of the same dimension. 

Just as the Infinite can be defined as unlimited in the sense of being beyond everything, so He can be defined as being close to and touching everything.  

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

“Repairing the soul”

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
Sometimes a person can exhibit all the outward manifestations of well-being. 

But when you scratch the surface, the picture changes entirely. 

Repairing the soul involves going to its very depths. 

We need to reach this inner depth in order to achieve what the Alter Rebbe calls the "ultimate and supreme repair": the repair of the soul. 

For each of us, this involves thinking globally about our place in the world, to pierce our existence, to reach the depth of the depths: the inner depths. 

This form of knowledge calls for understanding rather than contrition. 

This is because the soul itself can never sin. 

It has nothing to repair. 

Sin can affect the other levels of our lives. 

Our self, our nefesh, can sin.

Our spirit, ruah; can be impure.

But the soul is always pure. 

—Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From The Seven Lights by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Financial laws are just as binding as kashrut laws”

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014
I have been asked a few times whether one can trust the kashrut of this or that rabbi.  
Truthfully speaking, though, financial laws are just as binding as kashrut laws.

The prohibition on eating pork is not necessarily more stringent than "thou shalt not steal."  

However, only very seldom have I been asked whether certain monies are kosher, whether it is okay to use them.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From a recent lecture in Jerusalem

“Mouths cannot speak of their own accord”

Monday, January 6th, 2014
The mind cannot order the heart to stop desiring those things that the mind considers inappropriate, but it can prevent the heart from developing those desires. 

Man's innate controls allow him to avoid the development of feelings and urges that run counter to his awareness. 

There are limits, however, to this mental sovereignty.

And if a person allows himself to cultivate such feelings beyond a certain limit, the mind will lose control. 

The monster that he himself creates and nurtures will accept little authority. 

Yet as long as one is levelheaded, he has the possibility of being master of his heart, mouth, and actions. 

Mouths cannot speak of their own accord-only from the, desire to speak.

Nor can other limbs act automatically, without a person's conscious will and awareness. 

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

“Profound study and continuous, repeated consideration”

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

Deep contemplation consists of thinking about a topic until it grows as clear as possible. 

Contemplation of the divine unity is part of the daily prayer service, as we proclaim, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One," a thought that goes beyond stating that He is numerically one. 

This idea must be held for a length of time, steadily and continuously, so that we visualize and understand the nature of that oneness, which is that there is no other than He. 

Not only is there no one like Him, as great or as strong, but there is no existence but His.

This is not a realization that one can reach in an instant – God exists; God is One; very nice – and go on dealing with one's business. 

It demands profound study and continuous, repeated consideration, as one repeatedly considers the forms and postulates, the questions and conclusions that pertain to this concept.

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

“A man’s relation to God is not set apart on a higher plane”

Friday, January 3rd, 2014
A basic idea underlying Jewish life is that there are no special frameworks for holiness. 

A man's relation to God is not set apart on a higher plane; not relegated to some special corner of time and place with all the rest of life taking place somewhere else. 

The Jewish attitude is that life in all its aspects, in its totality, must somehow or other be bound up with holiness. 

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

“It is only too easy for the mind to make pictures and diagrams”

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

All creatures, earthly and Heavenly, can bear only so much of Divinity and no more.

To be sure, the Divine light given to higher beings is so far beyond our capacity to conceive it that we tend to think of it as measureless.

Nevertheless, like all else that exists, it is limited and finite.

This is the necessary conclusion from the Kabbalistic interpretation of Creation as a Divine contraction, a process whereby God deliberately hides Himself, retracts His infinite radiance to allow finite worlds of all sorts to come into existence.

The essence of this contraction is that the transition between prime cause and that which is brought into being, between giver and receiver of plenty, is not direct.

There is no direct transmission.

The receiver does not get more than he is able to absorb, and, of course, this is very little, infinitesimally little, no matter what the size or the nature of the created being.

The point is that the transition from infinite light to finite existence is accomplished by contraction, by a Divine withdrawal.

In order for a created thing to have meaning, it has to be separated from the origin of creation.

Just as in our capacity to imagine quantities, the number one can have a value in relation to a thousand or a million.

It gets obscured as one proceeds into hundreds of millions or trillions, and it has no meaning at all when related to infinity.

Indeed, any number divided by infinity equals zero.

Infinite light is thus beyond reality because it is not revealed in reality.

That is, reality draws its existence from a limited or contracted light, and there can be no relation at all between this light – which is the essence of all worlds and things — and God, because the Infinite nullifies anything that is particular, no matter how big or marvelous it may be, and it is impossible to make any connection with it.

Nevertheless, we do relate to it.

The infinite light that surrounds and contains all reality is known as that which "encompasses all worlds."

To be sure, this term should not be taken literally as something that spatially circumscribes all reality.

It is simply the opposite of that which "pervades all worlds," a term that indicates that God is within reality in all its minutest detail, while the transcendental essence of God, being beyond reality as we know it, is called that which "encompasses all worlds."

For it is only too easy for the mind to make pictures and diagrams of anything that is close.

And only something explicitly outside – far beyond the idea of some Divine being in the heavens at such and such a removal from the earth – can be expected to check this impulse.

 —Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Long Shorter Way by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Involving consciousness in the holy”

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014
In a very general way, consciousness is itself neutral.

It does not belong to any special realm. 

Thus, by involving consciousness in the holy, in studying Torah, the mind and the objects of the mind are united. 

This experience does not necessarily evaporate when one ceases to study.

It remains in the memory at least–if not as a lingering substance in wakefulness. 

Therefore, when one learns a single chapter of Scripture–"In the beginning…”–at that instance, his soul is no longer a part of a known objective reality, but becomes a part of the spiritual reality of what is being made known to him "in the beginning.

And this knowledge, becoming part of his soul, has something of holiness in it. 

It is possible that the same person may be a great sinner, but no matter how hard he tries he cannot erase from his being this fragment of holiness absorbed into himself by the study of Torah, the knowledge that "in the beginning …." 

Another reason for the study of Torah lies in the fact that the positive mitzvot can be seen to be like the 248 “organs" of the Divine.

Thus, when one performs a commandment, one is making it possible for something that was a part of the world to become a part of God.

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

“Prayer is not like any other act or speech said before somebody”

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013
Every request contains within it the expectations of a miracle and the assumption that a miracle can, in fact, occur. 

When a man requests, "Master of the Universe, heal the sick of your people Israel," he requests something specific. 

That is, he asks that something happen, a certain change in the world, be it large or small. 

But, in essence, it is a request that something occur, and that something occur that would not have occurred had he not prayed. 

True, I am putting this in the simplest manner, in the form that is understood and felt even by the smallest children, but it is also the case for adults who would put it in more sophisticated, precise, and elegant form. 

There is no other way to understand all of the blessings and prayers, except as a request for a transnatural occurrence, within nature or above nature, but always involving a certain departure from ordinary laws. 

That is to say, before one enters into discussion of the details of the external components of prayer, whether large or small, one must remember that prayer is not like any other act, or speech said before somebody, and therefore education for prayer is not simply education for a certain defined area of action or a specific mitzvah. 

Education for prayer is of necessity far broader: it is a necessary and essential part of a far more general way of education, of educational striving for faith. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The greatest of all miracles”

Monday, December 30th, 2013

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 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Anyone can focus his thinking wherever he chooses”

Friday, December 27th, 2013

We have no control over our feelings. 

To command oneself to love or to hate, to desire or not to desire, is beyond human capability. 

Yet a person's mind is under his jurisdiction.

Through willpower, he can resolve to think about particular matters and not to think of others. 

His decision, of course, is liable to be undermined by thoughts originating elsewhere, but he is always free to redirect his thoughts as he wishes. 

Humans are capable of compelling themselves to meditate on God's greatness, no less than on anything else. 

In the course of a day, many people go to work and occupy themselves (and their thoughts, as well) on subjects that do not always interest them.

Yet they willfully direct their minds to them. 

So, too, anyone can focus his thinking wherever he chooses. 

And when he intentionally contemplates subjects that arouse one's love of God, that love will automatically take form in the mind. 

Love in one's mind is not the same as love in one's heart; the former is an awareness that loving Him is fitting. 

This is not yet an emotional experience but rather an intellectual recognition that this is an appropriate way to feel. 

Although this is not an emotional tempest that sweeps one off his feet, yet it can lead to the same practical conclusions regarding Torah and commandments. 

And like any person, once he realizes that something is beneficial to him and worth doing, he will act accordingly.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz 
From Learning fro the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steisnaltz

“Each individual’s perceptions are specific to him”

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

There are all levels of minds. 

Some grasp the most sublime abstractions.

Others appreciate only the most basic forms. 

But the feelings, each individual's personal experience, will in each instance be of equivalent intensity. 

Each individual's perceptions are specific to him. 

One person's scope may be vast and abstract; another's, concrete. 

Yet experientially, where perception integrates with the essence of the soul, there is no fundamental difference between them. 

It does not matter whether a person's perceptions are concrete or abstract as long as his emotions match his perceptions, whether concrete or abstract. 

He will be equally successful in achieving the same kind of emotional results. 

There is no need for him to try to achieve emotional levels that are not appropriate for him.

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

“A laborer hired to chop wood who spends most of the day sharpening his axe receives a full day’s wages”

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013
It is not by chance that the Hasidic world devotes so much time to preparations. 

In Kotzk Hasidism, which so fiercely demanded truth, the prayers themselves were said quickly. 

Yet often the morning prayers began after the sun had already set. 

Preparing one's soul to articulate truth often took the whole day.
Rabbi Akiva Eiger's grandson became a Kotzker Hasid and once asked the Kotzker Rebbe. 

"What shall I tell my grandfather when he questions me about our customs of prayer?" 

The Rebbe replied: "Tell him the explicit halakhah: a laborer hired to chop wood who spends most of the day sharpening his axe receives a full day's wages." 

That was Kotzk: most of the day was preparation, fine-tuning the axe blade. 

Once it was sharp, when the lips were lips of truth, the prayers were not time-consuming. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From Opening the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“We don’t have any proof, at night, that there will be another sunrise”

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013
One of the bigger questions has been, “Who is the Messiah?” 

It’s a kind of personality question. 

Among the Jews we have a long list, many dozens of people who claimed that they were the Messiah, before Jesus, and after Jesus. 

Now some of them are completely forgotten, some of them may have left marks, some of them were basically good people, and some of them were vicious.

It is not in the Qur’an, but the idea is now part of the Muslim religion, both for the Sunnis and the Shiites. 

For the Shiites the idea of the Redeemer is very important. 

The idea of the Hidden Imam. That he is supposed to come at any time. 

And in some form, the secular redemption movements like Communism had the same idea, the same hope, and for some strange reason they had to grow their own messiah. 

Even those who were trained in Marxism, who didn’t believe in any heroes because everything is a process. 

They created gods, or demigods: Mao, Stalin. 

They created messianic figures. So it seems that this is a common belief. 

It’s a belief. 

We don’t have any proof, at night, that there will be another sunrise. 

But we have a strong hope for it. 

It would be very hard if we thought that possibly the sun wouldn’t shine. 

So I believe that the sun will shine. 

But I have no guarantee. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From an interview in Parabola Magazine

“The name of Christ was systematically removed, even when the reference was not negative”

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

The censored Basel edition of the Talmud was the archetype of such editions, as the censor erased or amended all those parts of the text he regarded as insulting to Christianity or various peoples, or as reflections of superstitious views. 

The Basel censor, Father Marco Marino, first erased the forbidden word Talmud, replacing it by other terms, such as Gemarah or Shas, initials of Hebrew words for Six Orders. 

Wherever the text used the word min (heretic, originally applied to Gnostic sects and only rarely to Christians), he changed it to read Sadducee or Epicurean. 

All mention of Rome, even where reference was undoubtedly to the pagan Roman kingdom, was altered to read Aram (Mesopotamia) or Paras (Persia). 

The words meshumad or mumar (convert) were also forbidden and amended. 

A grave problem for all the censors was the word goy (gentile), which they always changed (sometimes puzzling scholars, who were unaware that the censor was responsible). 

For a time the word goy was changed to akum (initials of "worshippers of stars"), but a convert informed the authorities that this term too constituted an affront to Christianity, since akum also denoted the initials of "worshipper of Christ and Mary." 

It was therefore necessary to find substitutes, and the most common was the insertion of the word kuti (Samaritan) for goy. 

In the Basel edition the censor ordered that the word kushi (African, Kushite) be inserted in place of goy. 

Wherever the Talmud makes derogatory reference to Jesus or to Christianity in general, the comment was completely erased, and the name of Christ was systematically removed, even when the reference was not negative. 

The Basel censor also decided to erase what he considered examples of personification of the Deity, as well as enigmatic legends. 

In certain cases he added his own comments in the margin. 

For example, where the text states that man comes into the world without sin, he added "According to the Christian belief, all men are born tainted with the sin of the first man." 

Sections which he regarded as offending modesty were also eradicated, and other changes were made as well, as in the talmudic saying: "A man who has no wife cannot be called a man," which offended his sensibilities as a celibate monk. 

He changed it to read "A Jew who has no wife…." 

The Avodah Zarah tractate was not printed at all, since it deals with the holy days of non-Jews and relations with them.

Although the omissions and erasures were partially restored in other editions, there were always new censors in other countries who introduced new distortions and changes. 

The Russian authorities, for example, decided that Greece could not be mentioned in the Talmud, since Russian culture was supposedly inspired by that of Greece, and the word was therefore altered wherever it appeared. 

Some Russian censors declared that the phrase "Greek language" was offensive and changed it to read "language of akum." 

The ignorance of many censors led to the misspelling of names, and many of the errors were perpetuated from edition to edition. 

Some changes resulted from short-lived political calculations, such as the instruction of the Russian censor at the time of the Russo-Turkish War that the word goy be re-placed by Ishmael, a change which engendered a whole series of absurd errors. 

The Talmud was not the sole work affected by the heavy hand of the censor, but because of its scope and range and the thousands of changes introduced over the centuries, it was impossible to correct all the mutilations even in editions published in countries free of censorship. 

Offset printing perpetuated many of the mistakes and omissions, and only in the most recent editions have attempts been made to restore the original format of the text. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Essential Talmud by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“An instrument in the hands of the Supreme Will”

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013
Theoretically, the perfect man can reach an identification with Torah from within himself. 

When a man purifies himself of all the illusions and distortions of his self-centered desires, when he opens up to the divine plenty, he can be like an instrument in the hands of the Supreme Will.

And so the way he does anything will be Torah. 

Except that this way of reaching Torah, which derives from the power to achieve human perfection, is extremely rare, requiring a magnitude of contact with the Divine far beyond the level possible for ordinary man. 

Only the rarest individuals-like the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-can be said to have achieved it.

And even they reached the level of Torah as a way of life only with respect to their own lives and each on his own level. 

So it must appear to us that God's gift to the world in the divine revelation of Torah is a gift in which He bestows not only a guide to the proper life of man and not only a plan for the very existence of the world, but also Himself. 

Or, to put it another way, He gives what we might call His dream of the superior man who could participate with Him on all levels, whether on the level of actual human life or on the level of worlds only vaguely perceived or altogether beyond the senses. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“A simply unbridgeable gap”

Friday, December 20th, 2013

As we know, in the realms of abstract thought, such as mathematics and philosophy, infinity is that which is beyond measure and beyond grasp, while at the same time the term is limited by its very definition to being a quality of something finite. 

Thus, for example, there are many things in the world, such as numbers, that may have infinity as one of their attributes and yet also be limited either in function or purpose or in their very nature. 

But when we speak of the Infinite, Blessed be He, we mean the utmost of perfection and abstraction, that which encompasses everything and is beyond all possible limits. 

The only thing we are permitted to say about the Infinite then, 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. 

—-Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From  The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz 

“A permanent possibility, a constant process of going toward”

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

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. 

Repentance does not bring a sense of serenity or of completion but stimulates a reaching out in further effort. 

Indeed, the power and the potential of repentance lie in increased incentive and enhanced capacity to follow the path even farther. 

The response is often no more than an assurance that one is in fact capable of repenting, and its efficacy lies in the growing awareness, with time, that one is indeed progressing on the right path. 

In this manner the conditions are created in which repentance is no longer an isolated act but has become a permanent possibility, a constant process of going toward. 

—-Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From  The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz 

“What one sees as world is a product of incorrect seeing”

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
Regarding the problem of being and non-being, it is not said that the world does not exist, but rather that the being of the world does not have existence. 

To grasp the distinction, it is necessary to comprehend a basic concept of Chabad Chasidism, that of the "nullification of existence." 

This does not mean a repudiation of one's reality, which, even on a much higher level, is unacceptable. 

The nullification of reality or of existence relates to the way one sees oneself, to the repudiation of oneself as an independent entity not dependent on God. 

In fact, the whole problem of being and nonbeing should not be viewed in terms of existence or reality.

There is no leveling out or repudiation of that which is, but rather a repudiation of the being or nonbeing of desire. 

The world, in other words, is not "Maya" or an illusion in the Oriental sense. 

It is simply that what one sees as world is a product of incorrect seeing.

Were one able to perceive it differently, not through the physical senses, an entirely different world would be grasped, a world on a higher level, as Divine speech. 

Because the relations between things in the world are the relations between the letters of the utterance in all their derivative forms and images. 

It is in this sense that the world can be considered as nothing and of no substance. 

What, then, is "nothing and of no substance"? 

Actually, it is a material image that the mind of man considers as fundamental. 

We start with the basis that things are or are not. 

And even if something is in the category of not being, it is seen as an accretion to the fundamental reality of material being. 

Because perception is of the eyes of the flesh and sees material objects. 

—Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From “The Nullification of Reality” in The Sustaining Utterance by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz