Archive for the ‘Let My People Know’ Category

“Thankful for Thanksgiving”

Thursday, November 28th, 2013
The Almighty does not "need" our thanksgiving. 

It is we who benefit from feeling and expressing it. 

Our Jewish liturgy contains a seldom-noticed prayer, hidden within a prayer, which acknowledges this. 

The phrase appears at a high point in the service, yet it is said to oneself: "We thank You for inspiring us to thank You." 

This goes well beyond being thankful for our objective gifts. 

It is a recognition that even the ability to know that we should be grateful is a gift from God and worthy of thanks. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz 
From an essay, "Thankful for Thanksgiving," Nov, 2002, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Very few people can do without prayer”

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013
Belief is not a simple mental procedure for anyone, and certainly not for the genuinely religious individual. 

A certain tzadik (righteous person) used to say that the opening words of the Thirteen Articles of Faith, "I believe with complete faith," are not a declaration but a prayer, the prayer for the attainment of complete faith. 

If a person can really shake off the mountains of dust of accumulated opinions and actions, and truly examine himself inwardly, he will find there the spark of faith that was never really extinguished.

Among those who say they have never prayed at all in their lives, there are not a few who regularly speak words of prayer at all sorts of occasions, not necessarily in the synagogue or at the set times for prayer. 

There is prayer of thanksgiving for the good and the beautiful.

And prayer of supplication in an hour of distress and great need.

There are those who pronounce the words of prayer with their lips.

And those who think them in their hearts. 

Only very few people can do without prayer at all. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From "Modern Man and His Prayer" in The Strife of the Spirit by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“God restricts His infinite light”

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013
In the process by which God creates and sustains the entire system of the worlds, God restricts His infinite light through a graduated series of limitations and concealments that are known as tzimtzumim ("contractions"). 

The result is a graduated series of worlds, or levels of reality and perception, in which each lower world is characterized by a greater concealment of Godliness. 

The term for this process is derived from the word shalshelet ("chain"), suggesting that the worlds are connected like the links of a chain. 

The interconnection of the worlds is comparable, in the individual, to the interconnection between the realms of intellect, emotion, thought, speech, and action. 

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

“The desire for elevation”

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013
In the Tabernacle in the desert, and later in the Temple in Jerusalem, the golden lamp stand was destined, according to the biblical phrase, to "burn from evening to morning before the Lord.”(Exodus 27:20.) 

Fire and light have always symbolized the desire for elevation and a return to the supreme source that in Jewish thought is inscribed, and sometimes buried, in the world and in the individual. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Seven Lights by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Everything revolves around light and darkness”

Monday, November 25th, 2013
Hanukkah is above all a religious war.

There have been others since then. but this one was the first. 

Everything revolves around light and darkness. 

The little cruse of holy oil that was used to rekindle the lamp stand of the Temple was 
hidden and hard to find. 

The challenge our ancestors faced was to reveal the light. 

We relive this need and this lesson every year on Hanukkah, by lighting an additional light each evening for the eight days of the holiday. 

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

“Similar to the work of a psychoanalyst”

Sunday, November 24th, 2013
Fire consumes things, but with the purpose of transforming them. 

By transforming them, it elevates them. 

In fact, the transformation of the physical world through the love of God, through His instrument the mitzvah, is on the order of reconstitution or restitution rather than change. 

To elevate things is to bring them back to their true nature and to reinstate their true identity. 

To fulfill a mitzvah, to transform oil into light, is to accomplish for the world something similar to the work of a psychoanalyst. 

You take a man or a thing and tell them: "You have forgotten who you are and where you come from." 

Our true vocation as men is to free the world of its complex by creating change, and to upset the laws of a static world by transforming things through the fire of the mitzvah. 

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

“Everything we see is only a category of light”

Friday, November 22nd, 2013
Everything is born of light, and it would be more accurate to say that everything we see is only a category of light. 

In other words, we do not see things; we see their light. 

This is also true for the foremost symbol of light in Jewish mysticism: the Infinite Light, Or En Sof. 

We cannot know the En Sof, the Infinite, but only what emanates from it, its light, Or En Sof, which is both the principle and the essence of all reality. 

Just as we can perceive only the light of the physical world, we cannot know the Infinite God, only His emanation. 

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

“Man’s duty is to make light”

Thursday, November 21st, 2013
The war of the Maccabees against the Greeks was, first and foremost, a war between light and darkness. 

The little cruse of holy oil, that was hidden away in the Temple and was so hard to find, symbolizes the challenge our ancestors faced: to reveal the light. 

We relive this need and this lesson every year on Hanukkah, by lighting an additional light on each of the eight days of the holiday.

But what is light? 

Light is one of the first phenomena of which a human being is aware. 

It is the first thing a newborn baby discovers. 

Light straddles two universes: it is both real and symbolic at the same time. 

It lies midway between the material and the spiritual, and forms the most basic and natural tie that binds them.

In modern science, light plays this same fundamental role: in a cosmos governed by relativity, the speed of light is the sole constant, the universal yardstick. 

Moreover, everything we see is only a category of light, since it is not the objects themselves that we see, but only their light. 

This is true also of the Almighty, the Infinite Light, Ohr Ein Sof: we cannot know the infinite, but only what it emanates, its light.

In the book of Proverbs there are two verses that mention light: "The mitzvah is a flame and the Torah, light" (6:23), and "The soul of man is the lamp of God" (20:27). 

The Torah reflects the infinite light, whereas the mitzvah sheds light on a specific individual in a specific situation. 

But the mitzvah is also a flame – namely, a small fire connected to the consuming fire of God. Light enables us to see, while fire acts upon things and transforms them. 

The mitzvah does both things: it changes the world by illuminating it. 

In a book called Sefer Hasidim ("The Book of the Devout"), the 613 limbs and organs of the human body are associated with the 613 commandments of the Torah, each commandment corresponding to a specific part of the body. 

Since each mitzvah gives off its own small light, man, then, is an array of lights. 

Our lives consist of lighting one light here, one light there. 

All these lights together make up the ideal image of the person, as though man were merely a brace, or a stand, for the 613 lights.

Man's duty is to make light. 

Divine light illuminates the world through the flame of the mitzvot, while life on earth enables the soul to develop and go through a process of maturation. 

We can now see why mitzvah and soul are equated: 

Just as the oil of the mitzvah is transformed into light, so man's soul becomes the light of God.  
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From an essay by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“It is a veritable war that is initiated by the act of knowing”

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
A passage in the Tanya speaks of the paradoxical way in which a person who grasps something with his understanding encompasses, and is encompassed by, the material he is studying. 

Merely by dealing with any subject, one is in it and out of it at the same time. 

To know is therefore a many-faceted experience, being, as it is, of the inner aspect. 

Man thus cannot separate himself from what he knows, and though he distinguishes the good well enough, what he has imbibed causes conflict. 

Indeed, it is a veritable war that is initiated by the act of knowing, like the strife of the twins in the womb of Rebecca, wife of the Patriarch Isaac: "And the children struggled together within her" (Genesis 25:22). 

When the struggle against evil is no longer a battle against the outside, when it becomes an internal one, the nature of it changes to civil war. 

In such a situation, there is an obfuscation of frontiers between good and evil, even if there is no dimming of the clear distinction between the two, and so it becomes difficult to maintain contact with what is right. 

Indeed, the true Tzadik is the only one who can so completely cut himself off from the evil that there is no possibility of temptation, great or small. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Man is the lever and the hoist of all of creation”

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013
Man had to be formed from the dust, the most inferior of substances. 

When we want to lift something heavy with a hoist or a pulley, we have to anchor our leverage firmly on the ground. 

When we build a wall for a house, we make sure of solid foundations. 

Similarly, the Divine soul of man had to be fastened to something firm and steady like the earth. 

From this base the plantlike growth force in man could take root and the rest of his animal powers could issue. 

For man is also the lever and the hoist of all of creation, the factor that can raise the essentially inert parts of the world. 

Only with man's interference can the rest of creation rise out of itself. 

But man has to begin from where he himself issued, the dust of the earth, the most primordial and amorphous form of matter. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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

Monday, November 18th, 2013
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. 

Thus, the way to participate is to get more involved personally, to try as much as possible to become part of things, and to ask every day, as once young people were asked in the cheder, "What new thing did you find out today?" 

That is what is called Chidush-Torah, the renewal of Torah.

I would say, therefore, that the function of a rabbi should be to call to his community and to ask each of them, what new thing did you find out about being Jewish. 

This is what we have to do in order to avoid being bored. 

We cannot be bored when we are participating, when we are part of the creative.

Then we are a part of the Torah. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
In an Interview with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz by Rabbi William Berkowitz

“Almost everything fascinates me”

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

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 earnest 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
From an interview with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz with Rabbi WIlliam Berkowitz in 2006

“The most studied books in Jewish life, like the Talmud, are books that have very little practical use”

Friday, November 15th, 2013
Jews are obligated to be involved in studying Torah simply to study Torah. 

As a religious activity, this is unusual. 

Most religions have expectations about belief and about doing the right things, but they don't obligate you to study. 

Jews, however, study Torah as an independent activity that is not directly connected with belief or action. 

In fact, the most studied books in Jewish life, like the Talmud, are books that have very little practical use. 

So why are people studying the laws of things that happened in remote times – and were rare even then – or things that the Talmud says never happened and never will happen? 

We devote time to it because what we are doing is going after knowledge for itself, not as something that is to be used. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From as essay, "Curious Jews" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Where has my life gone?”

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

What is the purpose of celebrating a birthday?

Perhaps the answer is found in the verse that speaks about the one-year-old sheep that were brought as sacrifices to the Temple.

“One yearling sheep for a burnt offering” (Numbers 7:75).

In order to qualify as sacrifices, the priests would have to count the 365 days that elapsed from their birth to determine their exact age.

The priests would also evaluate their health, their weight etc.
This is the purpose of a birthday: to look back and count each and every day of the past year, to evaluate where one stands in life.

At times we may find that our ‘sheep’ is completely worthless.

Other times, we may find that our ‘sheep’ is quite valuable.

But the evaluation is obligatory.

When I evaluate my ‘sheep’, I am oftentimes discontented. 

Where has my life gone?

Where are all the plans that I had for these seventy-five years? 

What did I do with all these years?

I am dissatisfied.

This contemplation reminds me of the Mishna in the Ethics of Our Fathers:

“The day is short, the work is great, the workers are lazy, and the Master of the House presses.” (Chapter 2:20).

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From a talk on the occasion of  Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz's birthday a few years ago.

“The world is more like a hologram”

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
The world has to be constantly recreated in order to exist, even though it seems to be the same all the time. 

Like the television screen on which the picture constantly changes, the world is only a means of transmitting forms or information; the source of reality lies elsewhere. 

As for what reality consists of, just as creation is supposed to be a process of making something from nothing, we may ask, do the letters or pictures on the screen exist? 

It is perhaps a matter of what is defined as real. 

If one defines reality as that which can be grasped, then the pictures on the screen, like the meaning of the words on the page, are questionable. 

They are open to constant recreation; forms are forever changing. 

The world is more like a hologram; everything depends on the direction of the light and, of course, on the very fact of light, without which there is nothing. 

The constant recreation of the world demands that we focus attention on the Creator. 

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

“To pass through the twilight zone between holiness and profanity”

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Jewish history has many examples of great figures of dubious ancestry. 

The Mishnaic sage Rabbi Meir seems to have been a descendant of Roman royalty (a quite decadent lineage, from the perspective of holiness).

His was said to be the soul of Esau the son of Isaac–a great soul (Jacob's twin!) that had fallen to the depths of kelipah and could be reclaimed by holiness only by a Roman convert to Judaism. 

Rabbi Akiva stemmed of coarse and simple stock and had non-Jewish ancestors.

It was said that such a great soul, which shared many features with the soul of Moses, could only be born out of such circumstances. 

The birth of Moses himself has a certain profane element to it.

Moses was born from the marriage of Amram with his aunt, Yocheved.

Although this was a permissible union at the time, following the giving of the Torah, it is counted among the most severe of incestuous relationships. 

But the most markedly dubious ancestry is that of the Messiah. 

His is an ancestry that includes the unions of Judah and Tamar, Boaz and Ruth, David and Bathsheba, Solomon and Naamah the Amonite. 

The soul of David, which is the fourth leg of the "divine chariot," and the soul of the Messiah, which is "lofty, exalted, and exceedingly high,” are the loftiest of souls but are imprisoned in the depths of kelipah and have to pass through the twilight zone between holiness and profanity to be extracted from captivity. 

They are like pearls that lie buried in refuse heaps. 

Tzaddikim do not frequent refuse heaps, not even in the search for pearls; that's not their line. 

It is people who seek filth and wallow in filth who dig there, and, for the most part, they come away with filth. 

But if a pearl is there, they might come up with a pearl. 

The parents, then, do not create the soul; they only provide it with a garment. 

In the words of the Talmud, "There are three partners to [the creation of] a person….is father germinates the white element….His mother germinates the red element….And God places within him a spirit and soul." 

God provides the soul, and He does not always ask the other partners which soul they want. 

Some parents might be just as unsatisfied with a lofty soul as other parents might be with a lowly one, as in the famous parable of the hen who hatches the eggs of a goose. 

Some parents may be unhappy with a holy son, just as others may be rendered miserable by an unholy one–but, as we said, the question of which soul should enter which body does not depend on them. 

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

“The awareness of two opposing forces clashing in our consciousness is no major cause for concern”

Monday, November 11th, 2013

The struggle between Jacob and Esau that began in their mother's womb symbolizes the contest between the twin realities within each of us. 

This is a never-ending struggle, in which "one nation" attempts to "prevail over the other" and in which a greater exertion on the part of one meets a corresponding effort by its adversary. 

Even when one side overpowers the other, that can never produce a fundamental change, a banishment from one's soul. 

It is the conflict between Edom and Israel, two opposite realities, that will conclude only at the end of days.

Hasidim tell a story that, behind the humor, offers an important lesson. 

The Midrash relates that Rebecca felt a wrestling match taking place in her womb when she was pregnant. 

Whenever she passed the entrance to the study hall, Jacob tried to come out; when she passed the doorway of a place of idolatry, Esau pushed hard to exit. 

Rebecca sought counsel from God; she feared that the one attempting to go to the study hall was the same one rushing to idolatry. 

When God answered her, "Two nations are in your womb,” she sighed in relief. 

The awareness of two opposing forces clashing in our consciousness is no major cause for concern. 

True, it would unhinge us if we thought that the internal strife that we feel springs from a single source, a single soul.

One's spirits would fall whenever the evil inclination exposed itself. 

While you are in the middle of prayer surrounded by an aura of holiness, a dozen of the worst thoughts imaginable arise. 

You are performing a commandment, and immediately afterward you fall into a devastating mood from which escape seems impossible.

If a person believes that he has only one soul (the soul that prays in holiness is the same one contemplating destructive thoughts), he will lose all hope. 

Am I even human? he might well ask himself. 

Will I ever be human?

But when he knows that "Two nations are in your womb,” that not one but two souls are struggling inside and that "one nation shall prevail over the other,” when he realizes that he stands in the middle of a struggle that by definition cannot reach a resolution, then the ups and downs take on a different significance in this inner battle. 

Then he understands that he has the capacity to perceive the holy, while being utterly unaware of the other side's existence.

And still he must be cognizant that the other side is alive and well. 

He must know, in addition, that evil can manifest itself within him to such an extent that he forgets the experience of holiness. 

Nevertheless, he must keep in mind that holiness is there, inside, and that he need merely uncover it. 

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

“A perception that pierced the veil of the present”

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Rebekah was a woman of great understanding. 

When she felt it to be necessary, she was capable of moving anyone who stood in her way: family, parents, relatives. 

Yet there is nothing domineering or destructive in this decisiveness: she did what she felt she had to do and then retired to her place backstage. 

The sages viewed the matriarchs as having prophetic powers, superior to those of the patriarchs. 

And Rebekah did indeed act as prophet, in response to a perception that pierced the veil of the present. 

Hers was a condition not of constant prescience but of flashes of exalted clarity, consistent with Maimonides' description of prophecy as a stroke of lightning revealing the route to be taken. 

In this sense, at all the crucial moments of her life, Rebekah had a clarity of vision greater than that of those around her. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From Biblical Images by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Everything depends on how it is used”

Friday, November 8th, 2013
In contrast to the precise lists of Christian virtues and vices, the Jewish tradition does not define attributes as being one thing or another. 

Even the attribute of Chesed, for example, which is the source of love, has to be adjudged as to whether it comes from the holy or the unholy. 

The same thing is true of fear of God, Gevurah. 

Everything depends on how it is used. 

There is an old saying, attributed to Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshische, to the effect that a Jew should be good, God-fearing, and wise.

But since a merely good man is liable to be lustful, a merely God-fearing man becomes a priest, and he who is only wise is open to heresy, a Jew has to be all of them together.

This way of seeing things as a whole is important in many ways, in the inner as well as the external life. 

That which can be very admirable at first may end up by becoming its opposite. 

Out of Abraham came Ishmael, out of Isaac came Esau. 

Jacob's descendants seem to have managed to end up on the side of the holy, but this was so precisely because Abraham and Isaac personified extremes in terms of the Sefirot-Chesed and Gevurah-whereas Jacob personified the merging of the two in the Sefirah of Tiferet, an Attribute of harmony and beauty, free of the evils of extremism. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“To get to the level of holiness, a certain struggle is necessary, a virtual war”

Thursday, November 7th, 2013
We are engaged in constant strife, in a state of struggle, because all that is above is to be found below; whatever there is in holiness is also in the unholy. 

To get to the level of holiness, a certain struggle is necessary, a virtual war, like between nations in the womb of Rebecca when she was carrying the twins, Esau and Jacob. 

The twins are born with us, they accompany us throughout life, and they continue the struggle. 

As it has been written, were it not for God's help, we would probably not be able to overcome the foe. 

Every day the impulses of the lower nature come forth to draw man down to death, and he has to rely on Divine support to maintain himself. 

In this persistent war between fairly even sides, only man's constant choosing the good saves him. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz