Archive for the ‘Let My People Know’ Category

Rabbi Steinsaltz: ” God does not love or hate anyone.”

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

 

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

We do speak of the anger of God or of the fact that He is made joyful by something that happens in the world of men.

Or as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said about some unlucky person: “He acts thus and is hated by God, and I do not like him.”

This is the sort of statement that hints at more than it states.

That which is not known definitely, but guessed at as a result of circumstances, is that a certain person is “hated” by God— and this is meant in the same way, the same anthropomorphic image, as saying, for instance, that nature hates a vacuum.

It is an image, and the meaning of it is simply that I don’t like someone.

It does not intend to convey a Divine sentiment. Nature, or God, does not love or hate anyone.

When I say that God likes or dislikes a person, I am really describing the way this person relates to things of the world. 

The anthropomorphic image, however, has its own necessity, its own emotional logic.

When God is described as being furious with someone and binding the heavens with His wrath, the same forceful expressiveness cannot be achieved by an abstract statement to the effect that a Jew who falls into idolatry is opposing the inner, spiritual system of the universe and inviting disaster.

Therefore, because of the limitations of the human soul and the human imagination, the writings of Scripture have to use anthropomorphic imagery.

The distortion arises when modern man fails to respond even to this emotionally direct expression.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Steinsaltz: ” A certain Tzadik once said that it was easier for him to study a tractate of Talmud than to eat his dinner properly”

Monday, May 7th, 2018

 

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

It is reported to have been said by Rabbi Aharon of Karlin, as well as by other Chasidic masters, that joy is something that is not a mitzvah in the Torah, and yet it is greater than all the other mitzvot.

Sadness is not a transgression; yet it is worse than all the transgressions because it dulls the heart and closes the mind.

In jesting too, just as in eating and drinking, a person has to be aware of himself and know what he is doing.

There is a whole code and a vast amount of technique involved.

A certain Tzadik once said that it was easier for him to study a tractate of Talmud than to eat his dinner properly.

He could handle the complexities of the Talmud well enough.

The difficulties of his evening meal were more complicated for him, and he really preferred to fast. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Long Shorter Way, Chapter 6

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “The Torah is just as inaccessible as God Himself”

Sunday, May 6th, 2018

 

Rabbi Adin Steinsaktz writes:

The Torah itself is higher than the soul, and a person can thus use the Torah as a bridge to God–although, to be sure, the Torah is not only an instrument.

It is the Divine Wisdom and at certain levels is itself Divine, so that it is the perfect vessel of communication between man and God.

The problem is that at the level of Divine Wisdom the Torah is just as inaccessible as God Himself. 

Consequently, Torah has to descend, level by level, so that it can be grasped by ordinary mortals-that is to say, the Torah contains practical actions and specific instructions about life.

Comparatively little is left to speculation of a higher level. 

The Torah bows down to earth in order to enable all men to make contact with it.

As an illustration, let us consider the computer, composed as it is of a large number of levels.

At the highest levels, the theory and the details are so intricate only the most expert minds can deal with it.

At lower levels, the people with normal education and intelligence can be taught to ask questions of the computer and receive answers.

The way in which all this works is again out of the range of those who operate it.

Similarly, were the Torah to remain in the world at the level of the Higher Angels, it would be utterly incomprehensible.

Whereas if it says that on Purim one should give presents to the poor, the Torah becomes available to all men.

Even the whole realm of the abstract Halachah (Code of Law) relating Torah and action–why to give presents to the poor, and what this should consist of, and what if one is poor himself–all this is something an ordinary person need not concern himself with.

The one thing required is something that every man can do.

Such a genuine contact is the start and basis.

Thereafter, the opportunity is given to all who care to enter the Torah to rise level by level to the infinite without ever losing this real contact.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

from The Long Shorter Way, Chapter 5 “The Way of Understanding”

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “Many a sage merely sees the truth”

Friday, May 4th, 2018

 

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

 

We tend to distinguish between the wise person and the person with understanding as though the latter, the understanding one, was the humanly preferable, being able to distinguish one thing from another, being more discriminating and more subtle than the wise who are able only to grasp the totality of things or to shed light on the obscure and the complex.

From this one might deduce that the wise man is essentially passive and that it is the understanding man who possesses the double capacity of the active mind to grasp and to create.

Indeed, we may observe that many a sage merely sees the truth, absorbs it, and gives it a certain abstract reality, whereas the understanding person is able to deal with the reality, to give it a variety of forms and to create new, practical realities as a result.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

 

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “Many sages to this day have been against formulating principles of faith of any kind.”

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

 

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

Most of the heretic sects or those who deviated from Halachah ended up outside the Jewish people.

As a result, Judaism remained an essentially monolithic unit with ways of life determined by Halachah, and an intellectual and emotional content created by a specific cultural heritage. 

It must therefore be stressed that, both in terms of understanding Jewish history and in terms of its effect on the Jewish present, “Judaism” is a well-defined, unified concept. 

From its very beginning, halachah has been connected with differences of opinion, some of which created divisions between Sages and even between groups of Jews.

However, despite all the disputes, and although dispute is a recognized component of Halachah, there has always been a considerable amount of unity within Jewish law, and the same applies to principles of faith.

The principles of Jewish faith were formulated in a relatively late period though many sages to this day have been against formulating principles of faith of any kind.

The most widely accepted formulation was by Maimonides at the end of the 12th century CE. 

It is equally true that these principles of faith never had the binding authority of a “credo”. 

In fact, it is even unclear who wrote the 13 Maimonidean principles of faith printed in most prayer books. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“What Is A Jew,” Malad Journal, 1970 

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “The bad luck of the ant”

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

 

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

The bad luck of the ant is not that it works so hard, but that it hasn’t the time or the intelligence to appreciate its work.

Man has the advantage of being able to give himself a day off or a week or even a month – not because doing nothing is important, but because he needs to stop and look around in order to understand where he is in the big picture and where he should be.  

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

from “Rest for the Weary Laborer” Aug. 16, 2006

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Let ourselves experience a feeling of regret.”

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

 

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

The awareness of the need for change may come upon us suddenly, as if someone shined a bright light into our eyes in the middle of the night and wrenched us out of a deep sleep.

Or it may develop over time, like a sunrise that wakes us gradually, so that we cannot pinpoint exactly what time it was when our surroundings became clearly visible.

It may emerge as a pervasive feeling of sinfulness, or it may reflect a more nagging sense that we are just not living up to what we expect of ourselves. 

How do we deal with this feeling?

We can try to ignore it, as we might ignore a splinter that causes us sharp pain, but only now and then.

Or we can decide to look at it carefully and remove it, knowing that it will hurt more right now, but it will not cause us pain in the future. 

If we want to remove this feeling of disquiet, we must look into our hearts and ask hard questions:

What have we done wrong?

What have we neglected to do?

I am not talking about criminal acts; we do not have to look too hard to find them.

I am talking about everyday transgressions:

Have we misled our customers?

Spread rumors about our neighbors?

Showed disrespect to our parents?

Spoken too harshly to our children?

Whatever we have done, we must be willing to look at it and let ourselves experience a feeling of regret. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Exile is…surrender and abdication”

Monday, April 30th, 2018

 

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Those who are forced from their land but continue to conduct their lives in accordance with their own principles cannot be considered as being in exile.

They are merely sojourning in a foreign land.

Exile, like slavery, requires the suppression of self-expression and self-determination.

A person who denies and distorts his essential qualities – and replaces them with the characteristics of his environment – is in exile.

This exile is partly a physical condition, like slavery, but its essential quality is spiritual.

It is surrender and abdication.

It is the acceptance of a set of values, attitudes, and mores antagonistic to the essence of the authentic, distinctive self.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Among those gates to inner life and to religion there is also a Jewish gate”

Friday, April 27th, 2018

 

Rabbi Steinsatz said:

Our young people are looking to things spiritual, to things meaningful.

Some of them, sometimes, almost by mistake, look toward Judaism.

I think that most of them don’t know that among those gates to inner life and to religion there is also a Jewish gate.

For so many of our people, this gate, I suppose from the bar mitzvah on, is closed, because they think that the bar mitzvah is the occasion on which a person formally announces that he is no longer interested in being Jewish.

Therefore, they make it into such a big happening.

For many children this is a sign that Judaism is not interesting, that Judaism doesn’t have anything to offer.

Luckily, there are some who find their way to Judaism. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “Easy to see, easy to discuss, easy to solve”

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

 

Rabbi Steinsaltz said:

Kosher-centered Judaism is a Judaism that tries to fashion two worlds – one of which is a small world in which you can feel Jewish through those things that are somehow obligations.

They have to be of a material nature -z – things that you can easily work at.

You can work at being kosher.

You can buy another pair of tefillin.

I think this is an unhealthy sign – being kosher is only a part of being Jewish, as anybody who has any interest in Judaism knows.

It becomes some kind of routine, and people deal with this aspect because they are not interested in anything really important about Judaism.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The way out of boredom is to participate”

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

I don’t have the opportunity in Israel, but I listen here in America to numbers of sermons delivered by rabbis, and I find that there is a lot that is boring, at least about Judaism.

However, I am not speaking only about religion.

There are a lot of things that are boring.

Doing things because they have “always” been done “that way” is boring.

Listening and not participating is boring.

And this is the danger for religion, especially in America, where people are becoming only listeners and passive participants.

The way out of boredom is to participate.

Participation doesn’t mean being a member of a group that holds brunches on Sunday mornings.

Participation means being a part of what I would call the adventure of study, the adventure of prayer, the adventure of fulfilling any mitzvah. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “Whatever we say is going to be both right and wrong”

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

 

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

How can one characterize God?

Whatever we say is going to be both right and wrong.

All the good, beautiful and sweet things in this world are actually His attributes and every day, nay, every moment, we see Him differently.

What is the color of a bubble of water?

That depends upon the angle from which I look at it.

And when I gaze at it long enough, I shall see in it all the colors and hues:

Great, Mighty, Compassionate, Gracious, Awesome, Un-understandable–

– but extremely close to me, forever. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Lineage is not just a matter of empty self-congratulation”

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

 

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

The search for roots, even in the simplest genealogical sense, is likely to be a meaningful experience on both the personal and religious levels.

But it is important to pursue it even if the meaning is elusive.

Lineage is not just a matter of empty self-congratulation.

All lineage, and not just that of nobility, carries with it a certain responsibility.

A great person discovered among one’s ancestors is not just a cause for bragging but something that must be related to and learned from.

The sense of kinship with such a figure can be a source of strength and encouragement to one suffering spiritual distress or self-doubt.

It need not be a famous or distinguished figure; even a person—remembered or reconstructed—who was at one with himself and with the world can serve as an anchor point and source of commitment.

Such connections represent, in a sense, a broadening of the commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother,” a commandment described through the ages in terms of the obligation of the “branch” toward the “root” from which it sprang and that nourished it.

Honor of parents and of earlier generations of forebears is connected, in turn, with kibbud hamakom, honoring the source of all human life.

Strengthening one’s ties with one’s own past is part of renewing one’s connectedness with the sources of Jewish life in general. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Family and Heritage” in Teshuva

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The scholar is not only a man who has studied but also the personification of Torah itself.”

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

 

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

There is no better description of the qualities of the scholar than you can find in Pirke Avot:  

Torah is greater than priesthood or monarchy, since monarchy calls for thirty qualities and priesthood for twenty-four, while Torah demands forty-eight attributes:

Audible study,

distinct pronunciation,

understanding and discernment of the heart,

awe,

reverence,

meekness,

cheerfulness,

ministering to the sages,

attaching oneself to colleagues,

discussion with disciples,

sedateness,

knowledge of the Bible and of Mishnah,

moderation in business,

moderation in intercourse with the world,

moderation in pleasure,

in sleep,

in conversation,

in laughter,

by forbearance,

by a good heart,

by faith in the wise,

by acceptance of chastisement,

by recognizing one’s place,

by rejoicing in one’s portion,

by putting a fence to one’s words,

by claiming no merit for oneself,

by being beloved,

by loving the Almighty,

by loving mankind,

by loving justice,

rectitude and reproof,

by avoiding honor,

by not boasting of one’s learning,

by not delighting in giving decisions,

by bearing the yoke with others,

by judging one’s fellow favorably,

by showing him the truth,

by leading him to peace,

by being composed in one’s study,

by asking,

answering,

hearing and adding thereto,

by learning with the object of teaching,

by learning with the object of practicing,

by making one’s master wiser,

fixing attention upon his discourse,

by quoting things in the name of their author. 

This list clearly demonstrates that the scholar must be a well-rounded personality. 

When we understand the stringent demands made of the scholar we can also comprehend the qualities attributed by scholars themselves to those of their rank.

The scholar is not only a man who has studied but also the personification of Torah itself.

To honor him is to honor the Torah.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “To find people who are not believers is quite rare”

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz said:

Faith is sometimes a form of stupidity.

There are people who are stupid, or they are naïve.

And you can tell them anything.

They don’t have enough critical faculties, so they believe in a great number of things, some of them true, some of them patently untrue, and some of them sheer nonsense.

When you tell them that you saw a three-headed devil jumping on their bed, they will believe you. 

Now there are other people who don’t trust the person who told the story.

They think that the story doesn’t make sense.

Yet go to your most unbelieving friends and ask them what they accept as truth, in every field.

And then you’ll see that these critical people believe in a huge number of things that are not proven, are unprovable, are not a part of current-day experience.

But they are believers.

To find people who are not believers is quite rare. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “A Jew doesn’t need a rabbi. “

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz said:

We cannot be imitators in everything that is real.

We cannot be just followers.

We are demanded, and especially our people are commanded, to be a Kingdom of Priests.

The point is that a priest doesn’t need another priest to officiate for him.

A Jew doesn’t need a rabbi. 

A Jew needs a personal connection with the “Boss,” with the Lord Himself.

As a person I am demanded, and as a Jew I am demanded, to have such a connection.

So I have one, and for me it’s a very personal one.

I have to have some kind of meeting with the essence of my being a Jew.

So I think that every one of us has at one point in his life to find out what is his or her basic connection.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Almost everything fascinates me”

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

 

Rabbi Steinsaltz says:

My first hobby is the Talmud because by profession I am, or I have to describe myself, as a defrocked mathematician.

I began as a teacher of mathematics and physics.

I was caught by the Talmud and I really did not want to be a Talmudist.

I wanted to deal with it as a hobby, but the hobby grew.

I’m still in love with that hobby of mine.

At the same time, I’m interested in almost everything – from detective stories to science fiction to mathematics to animals.

I am also interested in people – sometimes I even like them.

I am interested in good literature, even though I do not read enough of it.

I prefer children’s stories to most literature.

I am interested in science for many reasons, and sometimes in politics.

Sometimes I’m also interested in football, if I have time to watch it; if not, I at least read about it in the newspapers.

So I’m interested in what people are interested in, and not because I have some reason, but because I am curious.

I am still trying to learn, and almost everything fascinates me.

So as long as there is something to learn, I like to learn more and to know more about everything. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

 

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “There are many forms of Jewish meditation”

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Rabbi Steinsaltz says:

“There are many forms of Jewish meditation.

Some of them are really esoteric because the systems that supported these ways have not survived to our times.

It is very clear, for example, that the prophets had schools.

There were schools for prophets, and they had their own ways of meditation.

For one thing, their meditation seemed always to be accompanied by music, which is a way that has almost entirely disappeared today, though it still exists in some forms.

In the Chasidic section from which my ancestors come, the rabbi would sing with others for a while and there would then follow a long period of silent meditation.

There were times when my ancestors would do this for six hours; this combination of music and meditation was one way. 

But many of the forms really disappeared.

We know, for example, that there were certain postures people took while meditating—in order not to fall asleep as well as for other reasons!

The Hitbodedut type of meditation was developed among the Bratzlaver Chasidim and is an attempt for a personal feeling of communion and conversation with God.

Chabad meditation is entirely different.

This is a form in which one takes a certain idea and thinks about it during a certain time of prayer; sometimes for as long as six or seven hours.

There are still some people who practice this way, silently meditating on a preset problem, a very fine point in Kabbalah or in a book. 

The Kotzk meditation is the one perhaps nearest to Zen meditation. 

The point of this form is to discard external images, to get rid of empty words, and to reach a point where you are able to say exactly what you mean.

After a very long period of silent meditation, one tries to be absolutely true to the words he says.

It is a terribly tiring process. You find that this or that is not what you mean and so you have to go further on.

And so it goes, on and on for hours until a person has a feeling that he can say something properly.

There is a very famous story about one of the great rabbis who spent his last years in Israel.

He said, “When I was young I used to pray to have the grace to say one prayer properly.

Now I have come to Israel, and it is said that the air of Israel makes one wiser. I now pray to be able to say one word properly.” 

There are other mystical forms of meditation that are practiced but not aired very much—and there are many reasons for this.

One of the reasons is that at one time, people were not interested in it seriously and those who did it were terribly concerned about the practice being true and proper.

When it becomes a plaything, when it becomes a fad, there is something wrong about it.

One of the ideas of the sacred is that it is not a plaything.

There is a feeling of distance, and one should not play with it.

And if one cannot, one should perhaps stay out.

This is one of the reasons why for years these forms were not publicized. “

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The transmigration of the soul”

Monday, April 16th, 2018

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz:

We believe that the Law has at least 600,000 different paths within it for individuals to enter.

There is what is called the “private gate” for each of us.

And we each have to find our own gate.

The search for my own particular gate can be a very arduous one.

A man may search for years and find only doorways that are not his.

He may go on through all his life without really finding it.

That is the basis of the transmigration of the soul, which is, contrary to what so many nice people wrote, a part of Judaism.

It is a part that is not publicized very much—intentionally.

In the beginning of the sixteenth century one of the books of the Responsa dealt with this problem and concluded, “We believe in it—we don’t publicize it.” 

In The Strife of the Spirit, “The Private Gate”

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “In reality the Talmud is as old as the Mishnah itself.”

Sunday, April 15th, 2018

 

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

At first glance the Talmud appears to be an expanded commentary to the Mishnah.

The sages of the Talmud are referred to as amoraim, a term literally meaning “translators.”

Indeed, a considerable portion of the Talmud does consist of textual and other exegeses of the Mishnah.

In reality, however, the Talmud is as old as the Mishnah itself, constituting the theoretical framework underlying the final rulings formulated in the Mishnah.

Moreover, unlike the Mishnah, which is primarily a code of law whose primary purpose is to instruct the individual or the Jewish community how to act, the talmudic discussions are essentially theoretical and are directed toward clarifying the basic principles of the law and the different schools of thought therein.

Practical inferences are considered essentially derivative, secondary conclusions drawn, for the most part, from the abstract discussion. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (from “Talmud” in The Strife of the Spirit)