Archive for the ‘Let My People Know’ Category

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Any person who follows the way of God perceives mainly the remoteness”

Sunday, April 15th, 2018


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz:

” Jewish thought pays little attention to inner tranquillity 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.”


From The Thirteen Petalled Rose, “Repentance”

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “We do not believe in astrology, however…”

Friday, April 13th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

“The saying “Life, sons, and livelihood, these do not depend on a man’s worth, but on the stars” appears not only to be remote from our experience, but also simply not correct.

It seems to be based on the assumption, which we reject, that the arrangement of the stars at a man’s birth determines the course of his life.

Since we do not believe in astrology, the saying is apparently lacking in significance for us.

In fact, however, it is a special case, an imagery concept that possesses far more content than is apparent in its literal meaning.

In terms of contemporary culture, this particular saying would probably be expressed thus:

“Sons, life, and livelihood [or, in more abstract terms, the ups and downs of life] are not contingent on a man’s worth or virtue, but are dependent on the laws of nature [or on the same general causality that operates throughout the world].”

Thus, when the abstract content of the imagery concept is extracted, it is revealed as neither strange nor remote, but familiar and pertinent. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in “The Imagery Concept” in The Strife of the Spirit

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “In the dimension of time”

Thursday, April 12th, 2018


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

“The day celebrated as Shavuot, the day of the giving of the Torah by God, is sometimes also called the day of the receiving of the Ten Commandments by Israel.

And it would seem to be a natural pairing of concepts—the giving and the receiving being the two sides of the same action and apparently interchangeable as descriptions of the event. 

Nevertheless, they are not identical.

Each has its own particular meaning, in terms of ideas as well as in historic actuality.

As the Kabbalah puts it, the giving of the Torah is a movement from the above to that which is below, while the receiving is a movement from below reaching upward.

And in the dimension of time, the giving of the Torah is essentially a single act, while the receiving of the Torah is a diversified and continuing process in history. 

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

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “The appearance and creation of angels are not “supernatural” phenomena”

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz:

The fact that a man can create an angel, which is instantaneously transposed to another world, is not, in itself, a supernatural event.

It is a part of a day-to-day way of life that can on occasion seem ordinary and commonplace—the life of mitzvot.

When we perform an action that results in the creation of an angel, we are generally aware of no more than that we are acting on, and within, the physical world.

Similarly, the appearance of an angel does not necessarily involve a deviation from the normal laws of physical nature.

Man is thus in close contact with the upper worlds, and though the actual route, the nature of the link, is hidden, the fact of the relationship is as axiomatic as the duality of his body and soul, of matter and spirit.

Man does not pause to wonder every time he moves from the physical to the spiritual part of the World of Action, and takes for granted the occasional penetration of higher worlds into our world.

When we use the word “natural” in its widest possible meaning, that is, comprehending everything that we experience and know, the appearance and creation of angels are not “supernatural” phenomena. 

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in The Strife of the Spirit, “Worlds, Angels, and Men”

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “Judaism anticipated somewhat the theory of relativity.”

Monday, April 9th, 2018

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

Western culture places so much value on culture that  it calls it “spiritual life.”

Why should an individual’s brain be more sacred  than his body?

Spirit and matter are two forms of life, two  different modes of the same reality. 

I would say that Judaism anticipated somewhat the  theory of relativity.

Before Einstein, matter and energy were  thought to be two entirely different entities.

We know today  that they are basically the same and are simply two facets of  the same reality.

Similarly, there is a conventional distinction  between mind and matter.

Judaism has always refused to accept this division.

Mind and matter are only two phases of  the same reality.

One cannot be associated with good and the  other with evil. 

In Judaism, the real opposition is not between mind  and body, or body and soul, but between the sacred and  the profane.

And it is clear that many facets of “spiritual” life  are unrelated to the sacred.

Only the sacred and the profane  are two different worlds.

In contrast, the differences between  the various facets of existence, both material and spiritual,  are only quantitative.

This is why we can be totally absorbed  in the “spiritual” life of the mind-for example, devoting our life to philosophy or music-and nevertheless live completely  in a nonsacred world.

Hasidism emphasizes the close connections  between thought and matter.

Thought is the outcome  of the functioning of a physical organ, the brain.

This is why thought is one thing, and the soul, another.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Only you.”

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018


Rbbi Steinsaltz writes:

A parable relates the story of a man of the people, who came to one of the Tzadikim, crying bitterly: “I have such awful pains, headaches, and worries.

I can neither pray nor study.

What will be the end of me?”

The Tzadik answered:

“You are greatly mistaken.

You think that God needs your prayers and your studies?

If He had any such need He would place a few thousand angels to pray and study for Him.

God needs your particular pains and your headache and your worries.

For this He cannot get angelic or human help.

Only you can supply it.” 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Only when a person realizes the full pain and terror of his life can he make a place for God in himself.”

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

The light that comes from the darkness has a certain excellence, like the wisdom that results from folly.

To feel true happiness, it is perhaps necessary to go through the darkness of pain and the pit of anguish.

In order to truly know happiness, one must make a place for it in oneself, and this can best be done by great pain which thrusts all else aside.

For example, the greatest happiness of all, the pleasure of being alive, is hardly ever experienced in ordinary circumstances.

And only when life is threatened, in passing through the danger of death, does one know it fully.

In other words, only when a person realizes the full pain and terror of his life can he make a place for God in himself.

But of course, this applies to the times in history or in personal life when a person can allow himself the luxury of experiencing sadness at fixed times, when one is not the victim or the object of suffering.

Sadness is well and good if it can be taken out and put away at will.

As the instructions in certain old prayer books directed: “Here one is to weep …. ”

The fact is that life was perhaps harder in the old days, and in order to overcome the immense sadness of it, Jews had to put aside certain times for grief and weeping.

It used to be a wry joke among Jews to say to someone full of complaints against fate, “Save it for the proper occasion in the course of prayer.” 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “self-complacency is a more serious obstacle than depression or stupidity”

Monday, April 2nd, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Sadness is a great obstacle to the worship of God, and man must struggle against it as much as he can.

Even though there is a passage in the Bible that states: “In all sadness, there would be profit …. ” (Proverbs 14:23), which may appear to be a contradiction.

Of course, the meaning is not that sadness in itself can ever be profitable, but that there is a joy that often follows on sadness, which, thus, may be good.

For there is also the matter of catharsis or purification, as well as the fact that there is a time for everything.

Sadness can, therefore, be a vehicle for attaining something else, a bitter remedy for a worse ailment.

On the other hand, life furnishes enough genuine reasons for being downcast.

Thus in order to prevent sadness from being a dominant factor in life, we appoint special times for it–such as fast days or days of penitential prayer–and banish it from the rest of our lives.

Nevertheless, there is sometimes a real need for a contrite heart.

Because the greatest hindrance to spiritual awakening is a certain smugness, a dullness of the heart and mind.

In this case, all the books and all the messages of spiritual love will not avail.

Indeed, self-complacency is a more serious obstacle than depression or stupidity.

To overcome it, to smash through the barrier of “fatness” of soul, it is often necessary to pass through some sort of crisis or tragic experience.

And this is often brought about by heavenly intervention, against one’s own wishes and designs.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “It will become evident that we are asleep and dreaming.”

Friday, March 30th, 2018


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

We note that the Jewish people has contributed a relatively large number of its best youth to the various revolutionary movements of the last century.

In a way, this is an expression of Shechinah in exile.

The relation to the Shechinah, or the Divine spark of freedom (or as someone jokingly said, the “Messiah complex of the Jew”), not finding an outlet in the worship of God, was manifested in an opposite direction, in indifference or even in antagonism to God.

Driven by sincere love for humanity and a purity of purpose that was not far from holiness, there was an ironic likeness between these revolutionaries and their old-fashioned fathers who lived exclusively according to the Torah.

It was simply that with them the Divine spark, the Shechinah, operated in an alien environment, in Exile. 

At the same time, there remains a certain aspect of the soul that does not go into exile.

It continues to exist unimpaired, without submitting to an alien element.

It may be said to be that which is asleep when the rest of the soul is alienating itself.

As it is written, “I sleep, but my heart waketh” (Song of Songs 5:2). 

This interpretation of the Exile views the situation as a dream state.

And when God effects the restoration of Zion to its land, then it will become evident that we are asleep and dreaming.

For in sleep, life continues.

The spark of holiness is present even though it is unable to rise to conscious expression.

Thus, a person can feel that he is still a Jew in spite of the fact that all his words and actions are anti-Jewish.

Sometimes, out of an excessive zeal for holiness, of whatever sort, a person commits horrendous crimes.

And this can be in a state of absence of the Shechinah in which the Divine spark is asleep. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “A constant challenge to continue the work of creation.”

Thursday, March 29th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

From the strictly historical point of view, the Talmud was never completed, never officially declared finished, without need for additional material.

The Bible, by comparison, underwent various stages of compilation and redaction, but was eventually completed, and it was categorically stated that no additions could be introduced.

The same was true of the Mishnah in its day.

But although a certain edition of the Talmud was regarded as definitive, this fact was not heralded by an official and public declaration that the work had reached its end and a new era had commenced. 

The final edition of the Talmud may be compared to the stages of maturity of a living organism.

Like a tree, it has reached a certain form that is not likely to change substantially, although it continues to live, grow, and proliferate.

Although the organism has taken on this final form, it still produces new shoots that draw sustenance from the roots and continue to grow.

This fact is more important to our approach to the Talmud than it is to history.

The principle that the Talmud is unfinished holds out a constant challenge to continue the work of creation.

It is incumbent on every scholar to add to the Talmud and to contribute to the work, although it can never be finally completed. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “The definition of Jewish leadership”

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

The Midrash says that on Mount Sinai, God appeared to each person according to his or her individual understanding.

The Jewish definition of leadership is the ability to react to each person in a different way.

Perhaps it is a Divine gift to be able to appear different to each person, according to his or her need. 

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “A fair amount of philanthropy comes from competition and envy.”

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

Competitiveness exists among animals;

“King of the Hill” is a game that even little kittens know, and it is not the hill that matters, but who is on top.

Even the natural forces themselves—fire and water, heaven and earth—can be depicted as being in envious competition with each other.

From what we know about angels, it seems that even among them there exists some rivalry and jealousy. 

Envy cannot and ought not to be ignored; It can be utilized for good.

Our sages say that all envy is bad, except the envy of scholars, Kinat Soferim. 

This kind of envy can inspire a person to attain a higher level.

The same sort of competitiveness that can be seen in sports, or in the desire to obtain material possessions, can also apply to nonmaterial possessions such as wisdom, knowledge, even saintliness. 

As odd as it may seem, a person’s envy of spiritual superiority, and the desire not just to imitate, but to outdo, can become a creative, growth-inducing power.

Universities, think tanks, and symposia that bring scholars together use this inner mechanism to generate intellectual growth.

A fair amount of philanthropy, too, comes from competition and envy.

Competition of this sort may create a certain amount of greatness.

There is, of course, a touch—sometimes more than a touch—of ego here, but altogether, the outcome is positive. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Sexual desire is possibly the most powerful human desire”

Sunday, March 25th, 2018


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

Jewish tradition does not see sex, per se, as sinful.

In fact, in the right context, and when engaged in with conscious purpose, sex is seen as a positive commandment, a force of connection—because, in contrast to food and money, sexual pleasure in itself is not connected with ownership.

It is a pleasure that is derived from giving and being connected with another—both in the body and beyond the physical plane.

It can become a most meaningful expression of love, of charity and benevolence.

Sexual desire, possibly the most powerful human desire, can become an expression of holiness. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Education tends to describe the material world as the only real world”

Friday, March 23rd, 2018

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

The ways in which desire expresses itself is the result of education, which begins at the moment a child is aware of himself.

Our problem is in these initial stages.

Education tends to describe the material world as the only real world, and realities that cannot be visualized are discounted as insignificant and are therefore not desired.

Because our initial perception of reality is that only the material is “material,” material things automatically become the things that the person wants and desires. 

Someone who lives by his desires has difficulty distinguishing between the desire itself and the desired object.

However, we all observe in others desires that do not pertain to ourselves, and we can view these objectively, analyze them, and demonstrate the difference between desire as desire and desire’s selfish garments.

For instance, when a football team wins an “important” match, one can observe people mourning or celebrating something that has no true effect on their individual lives.

People dance and rejoice over something that requires a great degree of abstraction to relate to oneself.

Why should it matter to Joe the taxi driver which way the ball went?

Some say that people are self-centered and only want what they can enjoy and what supplies their own needs, but here we have an example that shows that the situation is not all that simple.

This is not to say that this silliness has any virtue, but it can serve us as a model to demonstrate that, with the proper conditioning, people can derive a great deal of satisfaction from something that they never saw and that does not supply them with any material benefit.

There is no reason why people should not get equally excited over matters of holiness, if their environment and education impressed them with a different set of priorities.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Steinsaltz: ” A person who is able to study Torah and does something else”

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

Rabbi Steinsaltz  writes:

 A person who is capable of Torah study, idle chatter is not a permissible mundane act but a prohibition.

The Talmud expresses itself is quite vehemently, interpreting the verse “those who forsake God shall perish”  as referring to those who leave the books of Torah and go out.

This is not just an act of omission, a failure to do something, but rather an act of commission, an active abandonment of the Torah 

But severe penalties are meted out for neglect of the Torah in particular, apart from the general retribution for the neglect of a positive commandment through indolence, namely, in the “Gehenna of snow,” as is explained elsewhere.

The assumption is that a person who is able to study Torah and does something else instead acts out of laziness, and the punishment for laziness is the “Gehenna of snow.”

There are two types of Gehenna (Hell): one of fire (intense heat) and one of snow (intense cold).

The Gehenna of fire is the punishment for possessing too much ardor, for having wanted too much, having done too much, and having pursued what one should not have pursued.

The Gehenna of snow is the punishment for not possessing enough ardor, for not having desired, not having done, and not having pursued all the mitzvot that one ought to have desired, done, and pursued. 

Likewise, one who occupies himself with the sciences of the nations of the world, this is considered as “idle chatter” insofar as the sin of neglecting the Torah is concerned, 

The sin of neglect of Torah is so severe that what a person does instead, whether nonsense or profound intellectual study, does not make any difference.

There is no real difference between discussing the price of shoes and delving into philosophy, if it is in place of the pursuit of Torah. 

–Rabi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Steinsaltz: “A person can degenerate spiritually merely by doing things that are permitted”

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

By way of analogy, exposure to radiation above a certain intensity can prove fatal.

But also a lesser dose is destructive in the long term. 

Although the person is not immediately killed, a steady process of deterioration begins, from the time of the exposure and onward.

Or, to cite another example, some poisons, such as lead, ingested even in the smallest of quantities, can never be removed.

Any immediate damage can usually be overcome, but the cumulative effect over time, as more and more of that material enters the body, can be extremely dangerous. 

In the same way, every non-holy act, even if permitted, even if rectified and elevated to holiness, leaves a mark of profanity.

Thus, a person can degenerate spiritually merely by doing things that are permitted by The Code of Jewish Law.

The steady accumulation of mundane actions is liable to draw him out of the realm of holiness. 

A decent person who never deliberately commits a sin, who merely allows himself a so-called normal life, can, in the half-hour or afternoon he devoted to activities devoid of holiness, create a mark of profanity in his body that cannot be removed.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Envisioning the greatness of God.”

Monday, March 19th, 2018


Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

When a person meditates upon God’s greatness and achieves a profound comprehension of it, this inevitably triggers an emotional response.

To “deeply contemplate and immerse itself exceedingly” is no easy task.

But when a person does achieve a true understanding of God’s greatness, he can be assured that his middot, his capacity for love and awe, will follow suit.

The same is true regarding negative contemplations: if a person is constantly confronted with corporeal temptations, this inevitably stimulates desire and transgression.

For such is human nature: when there is a persistent awareness and contemplation, emotional responses arise automatically.

The problem is that, in practice, envisioning the temptations of this world is far easier than envisioning the greatness of God. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Being drawn into the body of the King”

Sunday, March 18th, 2018


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

Hasidic teaching has a concept called d’veikut (“attachment”).

D’veikut is the process by which a person retraces the phases of his own creation until he reaches the point at which he ceases to be a separate entity.

This is the state that the Zohar refers to as “being drawn into the body of the King”, to be “sucked in” and nullified within the divine essence.

This is comparable, if such a thing would be possible, to a child retracing the phases of his conception and reverting to be once again a mere thought in the mind of his father. 

We said that the Godly soul derives from the “thought and wisdom” of God.

The Alter Rebbe qualifies this by quoting the Zohar, which states that “He is wise, but not by any knowable wisdom”;.

Although we refer to God as “wise” and possessing wisdom, this is not a wisdom of the sort that we are capable of understanding or relating to in any way.

His is a wisdom of an entirely different sort, the most basic distinction being that “He and his wisdom are one.”

A human being’s wisdom–his knowledge and understanding–is something additional to his self.

He knows and understands things that are, for the most part, outside of himself. 

Therefore, his wisdom is also something distinct from him.

He relates to it; he is deeply influenced and even transformed by it.

But he and it always remain two distinct entities: himself and the wisdom he possesses. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “A tall person who says that he is short is not being humble”

Friday, March 16th, 2018

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

Humility is not falsehood or self-deception.

A tall person who says that he is short is not being humble; he is not telling the truth.

By the same token, a righteous man who says that he is a sinner is just as untruthful as is a sinner who proclaims himself righteous.

The humble person might underestimate himself but only regarding matters that are subjective and nebulous, not empirical facts.

True humility is a person’s acknowledgment of his insufficiency before God or his insufficiency before his own potential.

Such humility can be found only among the truly great-those who are aware of the loftiness of their own soul, who know the true extent of their capacity, and who understand how distant is the actual from the potential.

Such subjective self-judgment is the source of true humility.

Humility has no place, however, regarding things that are measurable by objective criteria.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Rabbi Steinsaltz: ” There is nothing separate from Him.”

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz:

God’s speech is not independent of Him, because nothing can conceivably be separate from Him- “there is no place devoid of Him.”

Because there is nothing separate from Him, divine speech, too, must necessarily be connected to Him.

Differentiation between the “I” and the external is relevant only for a human being and has no meaning when applied to God. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz