Archive for the ‘Let My People Know’ Category

“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 

“The constancy of a struggle to overcome the contradiction”

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013
The essence of spirituality cannot be localized in either the wisdom of the intellect or the simplicity of the heart, being beyond all these.

It can, however, be reached by the constancy of a struggle to overcome the contradiction. 

Indeed, the contradiction itself offers a passage from one world to another. 

As one transfers attention from the inwardness of prayer and yearning for the Divine to the outwardness of reason, study, and correct action, one becomes aware of the divine order of things, that everything has its proper place, measure, and time. 

Indeed, the Jewish scriptures are full of this contradiction–as sharply emphasizing of the most minute detail as they are sublimely aware of the highest and most all-embracing truths; as ready to question everything as to accept without question. 

The Holy One is discovered to be beyond all this.

He is immanent and flows within life, in the passage from one world to another, from one way of doing things to another, from one right measure of existence to the whole world of forms. 

Thus the possibilities of relating and responding to God are countless in number. 

There is no above or below in approaching Him, no preference between mind or feeling. 

On the contrary, in moving up and back from one such realm of experience to the other, its apparent opposite in life, one reaches a rhythm of being which is the life of holiness. 

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

“The excellence of a quality is determined by its proportion”

Monday, December 16th, 2013
In Hebrew good attributes are called "good measures," which suggests that the excellence of a quality is determined by its proportion, not by its being what it is in itself, but by its properly related use in particular circumstances. 

Everything that is not in the right measure, that relates out of proportion to a situation, tends to be bad.

The good is thus that which is contained within proper limits, and the bad, that which breaks out and goes beyond these limits.

And it does not matter whether this exceeding of boundaries is positive or negative, restrictive or excessive, whether refusal of affection or even generosity in love. 

And, in fact, this need for balance is true of every living organism.

Each cell in the organism has a certain form and a fixed rate of growth.

And whenever its form is distorted or its growth exceeds what it should be, the result is pathology. 

The evil in the world is just such a bursting of bounds, that which allows for the existence of parasitic and injurious factors. 

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

“Torah does not really limit the activities of an individual in any field of endeavor”

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Since the Torah is the blueprint of the world, it regulates the whole and cannot be confined to any particular part. 

True, its directives are not all on the same level of practicality; nevertheless, its instructions and guidelines and modes of relating are valid for all situations in life. 
The more one becomes identified with the Torah, the more does its significance expand beyond particular circumstance. 

Rather than constituting itself an ideal for the monastic life, say, or a guide or for any other sort of separation from the reality of the world, Torah works in precisely the opposite fashion, introducing more content and meaning into the trivial details of the life of the world. 

One finds the Torah significant in every aspect of community, commerce, agriculture, and industry, in the life of feeling and love, in relations between the sexes–down to the most minute aspects of living, like buttoning one's shoes or lying down to sleep. 

What is surprising is that with the great quantity and range of its laws, what to do and what not to do, Torah still does not really limit the activities of an individual in any field of endeavor. 

That is to say, there is no field of action or thought which, in principle, the Torah repudiates. 

The Law, in general and in detail, theoretically and practically, mostly adds detail to action, qualifies modes of behavior, imposes new modes, directs the conduct of one's daily business from waking to sleeping-the supposition being that if all these actions are properly defined and prepared, then the guidance of the Law need not and does not change their essence, but adds a quality to them. 

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

“The secret of Creation”

Friday, December 13th, 2013
The material world is not inferior, matter in itself is not lower or worse, and in a sense the physical world may even be considered the height of Creation. 

It is the marvel of Creation for the paradoxical reason that the very existence of matter is a condition that seems to obscure the Divine, and thus could only be the result of a special intention on the part of the Infinite. 

Matter is a sort of standing wave between the manifestation of God and the hiddenness of God; it is defined by its limitations. 

To retain its separate and independent existence, infinite force has to be exerted on every particle. 

Hence, every human action that disposes matter in the direction of holiness has a qualitative significance far beyond anything like it in the world of spirituality. 

What is more, since the world of matter constitutes the focal point of all the other worlds, every movement, every slightest budge of things in the rigid realm of matter has an effect beyond any similar motion in the realm of the spirit and even in realms above the spirit. 

And thus the mitzvah, the law of the Torah which deals so much with matter–with the effort to exert influence on the physical world, to change it, to divert it toward holiness, even though matter itself seems to be so limited and restricted–is intended to release vast forces in all the worlds and to create waves of movement rising from our world to higher worlds without end. 

Which is why it may be said that a genuine holy action of any kind performed in the domain of matter, the raw material of substance, has far greater possible meaning than anything performed only in an intermediate domain of thought or emotion. 

For the Torah and the mitzvot concerned with the physical world relate to this world as though it were the secret of Creation, the essence of the fulfillment of the divine idea. 

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

“A witness is one upon whose testimony we can rely”

Thursday, December 12th, 2013
Most of what men "know" is not necessarily personally attained knowledge.

It is built on the testimony of others, on authorities, books, and the like. 

As in a court of law when a person has to give testimony and is asked to tell only what he, himself, has witnessed, it often turns out that he really knows very little, that most of his knowledge is supposition or hearsay or just guesswork based on fragmentary information. 

Thus, when speaking of real knowledge, it is important to recognize that it is a gradually growing thing, a combination of direct personal experience and of that which comes from critical reading and study as well as hearsay and the word of authority. 

A witness is one upon whose testimony we can rely.

He has knowledge that combines the certainty of direct experience with substantiated learning.

As an example of such witnessing, let us take a simple phenomenon in nature familiar to all, the ordinary iron magnet. 

We may be totally unable to grasp the meaning of it, and to hear about it second hand–of one thing pulling another by some mysterious unseen cord or psychic influence–may lead to odd distortion of images. 

But once the little magnet is seen for what it is, and we observe the way it attracts or repels, the mystery is resolved. 

We may not understand more, but we can bear witness that such a thing exists. 

So, too, is it maintained that Israel bears witness. 

The Jews can enter into Jerusalem below and know its many-sided beauty. 

And although no one can go to the Jerusalem above and report back on its glory, the tribes of Israel are said to be reliable witnesses, for they have knowledge from their direct experience of the lower Jerusalem.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz 
From "Sanctity and Restraint" in The Candle of God by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The need for friction and conflict”

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013
At the olive press, the hard and bitter olives are partially crushed in order to extract the oil and to sweeten the fruit. 

So, too, it is written, the body of man has to undergo a certain amount of pressure and adversity to enable the inner self to emerge. 

But where is this self? 

In the description of the menorah in scriptural texts, there are two olives, little hollow bulbs, one to the right and the other to the left of the stem, and these provide the oil for the lamps. 

The right and the left, grace and severity, the two aspects of man, struggle against each other.

They represent the need for friction and conflict as a part of the purification process. 
It represents the refinement of the self that comes from adversity, when man cries out "Have mercy on me, Thou who art all merciful."

The man who is satisfied with himself and seeks no Divine help is perhaps more comfortable, but he will, in all likelihood, be unable to comprehend the contradictory synthesis of love and fear of God. 

It is this knowledge of love and fear that humbles the heart and makes the soul a vessel for the holy oil that lights the lamp. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From "Implications of the Menorah" in The Candle of God by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Like a living organism”

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

There are certainly many reasons for the lasting existence of the Jewish religion. 

In a certain sense, it is one of the riddles, or permanent secrets, of the reality of things. 

As the philosopher Kant is believed to have said: 

There are two proofs of the existence of God. One is the stars in the sky; the other is the existence of the Jewish people. 

One may discern that there is a secret here, a hint of the dialectic interrelation between tradition and historic reality, because when tradition is all-embracing, beyond the influence of time and place, it becomes that in which reality is contained. 

If and when a collision does occur between tradition and unanticipated aspects of changing realities, the individual person will reach out to find in his tradition those elements of coherence and certainty that are relevant to the new situation, whether it be a material or spiritual challenge. 

And the Jew has known a great number of such challenging confrontations: exile, servitude, harsh decrees, antagonistic opposing philosophies, and oppressive circumstances. 

His return to tradition has taken many forms; it was never the mechanical restoration of a fixed structure. 

The tradition itself adjusted to the new situation. 

New responses were elicited. 

This is because the Jewish tradition is not an inert inheritance. It is like a living organism able to react and respond to a variety of changing circumstances. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From a conversation published in Parabola.

“Since the sixteenth century there has been a consensus”

Monday, December 9th, 2013
There was never a separation of any real consequence between the daily obligations and open practice of Judaism and the esoteric or mystical aspects of the tradition. 

They have always been connected. 

They are simply different aspects of the same thing. 

In the Middle Ages many scholars leaned almost entirely on the writings of Maimonides and pointed to his Thirteen Articles of Faith as the supreme theological authority. 

But even in those times there was more than one approach to theology. 

For example, we also have the more mystical approach of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (the Ramban). 

But since there was no central authority to define a consensus of opinion, the differences—which, as intimated, were never as polarized as modern thinkers believe—were allowed to flourish. 

It is only since the sixteenth century that there has been a consensus accepted by almost every Jew. 

If there is a normative Jewish theology, it is the integration of the two (never really separate) approaches—the Kabbalah of the Ari and the Shulhan Arukh of Rabbi Joseph Caro. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From The Strife of the Spirit by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The common view about mysticism and Kabbalah being a different world from the Talmud is a misconception”

Sunday, December 8th, 2013
Customarily, we speak of the different ways of dealing with Torah, from the explicit to the implicit, from peshat (literal meaning) to derash (exegesis), to remez (hint), to sod (secret or esoteric truth). 

All these simply address the same words of Scripture in four different languages, all of which have the same meaning. 

One of the methods of study is to gain an understanding of the way these languages change from one form of expression to another, how they change from saying something in poetic terms to those of a story, a commandment, and a kabbalistic idea. 

Consequently, the common view about mysticism and Kabbalah being a different world from the Talmud is a misconception of the organic unity of the whole. 

The Kabbalah and the Talmud are different forms of expression, each following its own point of departure.  

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "Mysticism in the Jewish Tradition" in On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The same single purpose of all our actions”

Friday, December 6th, 2013
All the parts of the Torah are essential. 

They are not just complementary or supportive of each other.

They also use different means, different languages, to say the same thing, whether it is Halakhah or Kabbalah, Mishnah or Zohar

For example, the prayer book has this formula for performing a mitzvah: "To unite the Holy One, blessed be He, and the Shekhinah." 

This is a kabbalistic formula. 

And it signifies that this union of Divine manifestation is the same single purpose of all our actions, no matter which of the mitzvot are involved. 

The scope of the Torah is always beyond any of its parts. 

It is always the same and it is possible to approach it, to view it, from many different angles. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From "Mysticism in the Jewish Tradition" in On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“It is possible to rewrite all of history”

Thursday, December 5th, 2013
The concept of repentance is a recognition of the possibility of crossing the frontier, eluding the rigid consequences, and moving to a domain beyond that of cause and effect, sin and consequences. 

The deeper the sin, the more powerful the repentance needed to correct it. 

In this world beyond, it is possible to rewrite all of history. 

The act of repentance is the rewriting of one's past life. 

He who fully repents judges his past deeds and even transforms his iniquities into virtues. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From "The Inwardness of Evil" in In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz