Archive for the ‘Let My People Know’ Category

“Separation is suffering”

Monday, October 28th, 2013
 
Genesis introduces the image of the creation of a firmament to divide the waters above and the waters below and become a barrier between them. 

It is said that the lower waters, wishing to be before the King of the Universe, weep and complain: Why do we have to remain below and not above? 

Separation is suffering. 

One of the presumed answers of God to this separation is the salt of the sacrifice at the Holy Temple. 

Salt on the offerings on the alter represents the lower waters that want to rise up.
 
There is a description of this in the answer to a Talmudic question: When are the days of joy greatest? 

When water is poured on the altar on the last day of Succot to bring the winter rains. 
 
The lower waters are offered up to fulfill themselves in joyful rising. 

When not offered up, the lower waters are considered weeping waters. 

The universal process is the essential relation between the one who receives influence and the one who influences.

An identical principle is evident in the interaction between direct Light (symbolized by Abraham) and returning or reflected Light (Isaac). 

They both serve the purpose of raising the lower, feminine waters. 

Another allegoric symbol is the emission of a woman's seed in order for the sperm to fertilize it. 

Still another image is the saying: On that day will living waters come forth from Jerusalem.

Isaac digs the wells through which the waters are brought up from the depths. 

His whole being is a movement from below upwards. 

His nature is to overturn the order of the world, for the world functions by virtue of forces flowing from above downward. 

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

“Gevurah, which is now severity, will some day rise up and become greater even than Chesed”

Sunday, October 27th, 2013
 
Isaac's name in Hebrew is Yitzchak, "he who will laugh." 

Since he is never reported to have laughed, his name seems to be a contradiction to his personality. 

But his name is directed to the future. 

It says that Gevurah, which is now severity, will some day rise up and become greater even than Chesed. 

Chesed is easy–for one who is all grace and love it is easy to be gracious and loving.

But for Gevurah, who is awe and control and critical judgment, it is much more difficult, and so when it does happen, there will be laughter on earth as well as in heaven. 

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

“The converts of Abraham and Sarah have disappeared into history”

Friday, October 25th, 2013
 
Abram and Sarah had lived together for many years during which time they worked as a team, as partners, as equals, as leaders realizing an ideal to which they were committed. 

When the turning point came, a new relationship was formed between them. 

They underwent a name change, becoming Abraham and Sarah, as an indication of rebirth. 

Abraham was circumcised; Sarah entered the female cycle once again. 

This transformation provides the symbolic meaning of the story of the patriarchs, 

In earlier generations, to the extent that it existed at all, spiritual influence passed from teacher to pupil. 

Here, this spiritual tie received a new dimension and was reinforced by the biological tie, by the birth of the child who would transmit the ideal throughout the generations of his descendants. 

For this reason, Abraham and Sarah were not only the spiritual forebears of the Jewish people. 

The meaning of the name "Children of Israel" could be made tangible only when the relationship between them underwent another level of change and became a blood tie, a biological link. 

It thus became the relationship that bore Isaac, in order that he, and only he, could continue the line arising from the union of Abraham and Sarah to form the nation of Israel, the Jewish people. 

This biological-spiritual relationship has withstood the test of time, throughout the generations that followed. 

The converts of Abraham and Sarah have disappeared into history, and what has remained is the product of the strength and validity of that double bond: the Jewish nation. 

The dual parenthood of Abraham and Sarah remained, but only when Sarah gave birth to a child from her own womb -"Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed" (Genesis17:19) -could they become the eternal parents of Israel in the fullest sense. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From Biblical Images by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Parents of a nation”

Thursday, October 24th, 2013
 
Sarah was willing to give up her love for, and her life with, Abraham, to be separated from him forever–but only when that separation was merely physical. 

What she was not willing, or able, to countenance, was spiritual separation. 

This is where the special essence of the Abraham-Sarah relationship is revealed, and this is why the nation of Israel has two parents: Abraham and Sarah together. 

It is no accident that this relationship echoes that between Adam and Eve. 

Abraham and Sarah are the historical-ideological-spiritual fathers of the nation, just as Adam and Eve are its biological progenitors, the two fundamental elements of the human species. 

This is why Abraham and Sarah saw themselves (and are thus seen by future generations) not as a couple raising a family, but as people building a society, realizing an ideal: parents of a nation. 

To this day, converts to the Jewish faith are called "sons of Abraham," and the women among them "daughters of Sarah," because conceptually–and, indeed, halachically–Abraham and Sarah are ideological ancestors of the Jewish nation, and all who join that nation are their children. 

Abraham and Sarah see themselves as leaders, forging a new road, a new worship of the Lord; as guides of a nation, diverse and yet united. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Biblical Images by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Sarah status”

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013
 
An important indication of Sarah's status and position as well as of her own forceful character is the fact that, although she was Abraham's wife and worked alongside him, she acted independently of him when circumstances required. 

We do not have here a man, the focal personality, around whom the action revolved, and the acquiescent or passive woman caught up in his orbit. 

More than this, it is obvious that, on several occasions, Abraham not only respected Sarah as his wife but also felt the need to turn to her for counsel and guidance or admitted an obligation to obtain her agreement before making a decision. 

We also see that from time to time Abraham acted not on his own initiative but upon instructions from Sarah, sometimes of his own volition, and–in one specific, unique instance–at the express command of God: "In all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice" (Genesis 21:12). 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From Biblical Images by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The ‘good guys’ of the Scriptures are not plaster saints”

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013
 
The great men and women in the Scriptures who serve as examples and models for all generations are not described only in terms of glowing admiration. 

Their failings, failures, and difficulties are described with the same objectivity as are those of the sinful.

And the contrary is also true: the good points of those generally considered to be negative personalities are also shown. 

The "good guys" of the Scriptures are not plaster saints, all "sweetness and light.”

Nor are the "bad guys" monsters, but human beings shown in all their many (and sometimes contradictory) aspects. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From Biblical Images nby Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“An integration of both Abraham and Isaac”

Monday, October 21st, 2013
 
When Jacob put on the hairy garments of Esau, he was not dressing himself up as another.

He was really showing his father his own dual nature.

Jacob was not a copy of Isaac, nor was he a throwback to Abraham.

He was a synthesis, an integration of both Abraham and Isaac. 

As such, Jacob was also the one who made it possible for something new to take place. 

He was the keeper of tradition who was also an innovator. 

Jacob was the hidden one.

What was visible of him was only an image, a rather pale figure of what could become meaningful. 

It was only later, when he revealed himself as the one capable of acting and taking responsibility for the action of others, when he strove with men and angels–only then was he worthy of the blessing. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From Biblical Images by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The ground for a new reality”

Sunday, October 20th, 2013
 
Whereas Abraham was primarily a wanderer, a herdsman of sheep and camels and the like, Isaac tried to remain more or less in one place. 

His passivity, the "fear" of Isaac, which began at the time of his being bound for the sacrifice, was the mood of his life. 

It was the sign of his instrumentality.

He was the trial. 

Isaac had to remain bound forever on the altar, the one to whom things were done because that was the entire field of his creativity. 

He was the background for a nation, the ground for a new reality. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Biblical Images by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“True understanding is a gradual process of learning”

Friday, October 18th, 2013
 
Even though that which is beyond time and space cannot possibly be conceived, we are required to meditate on it, trying to understand as much as the mind can grasp. 

To be sure, this may be said to be true of anything man endeavors to comprehend: true understanding is a gradual process of learning. 

Schoolchildren are not required to understand all the information they absorb and repeat. 

Meditation, as it is used here, refers to a certain mulling over and contemplation, a process of thinking about and absorption until understanding comes. 

This does not mean that as a result of meditation, the subject is fully grasped. 

It simply expands the field of cognition, so that everything thought about, including one's ability to understand, becomes clear. 

The object under scrutiny passes the stage of words to the stage of contemplation. 

It has been said that no two people ever contemplate the same thing from the same plane of inquiry. 

Yet each person can, with his own faculties and within his own limitations, reach a certain clarity of understanding.

For instance, a child being taught mathematics can grasp addition and subtraction clearly enough so that he can be quite adept at it. 

A theoretical mathematician will study the inner laws and processes of numbers and eventually attain a higher degree of comprehension. 

Obviously, the understanding of each is of a different order, but the clarity is the same. 

It is the lucidity of perception that makes it possible to work creatively with the knowledge attained. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“A click”

Thursday, October 17th, 2013
 
How does one recognize the truth? 

According to the Sages, there are several ways of doing so, and sometimes they have to be used in combination. 

For example, there is the test of harmony; truth has to fit in harmoniously with reality. 

Another test is that of eternity, the fact that a truth lasts and does not change. 

Still another, far less philosophic, mark of truth is that it creates in one a click, an immediate responsiveness. 

This "unthinking" recognition is not incompatible with the test of harmony. 

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

“Great struggles, long-lived, involved, and desperate, characterize man’s history”

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Let us say that there are two ways of defeating the evil that is ingrained in the reality of our lives. 

One is by choking its growth, not allowing it nourishment, isolating it from all contact, as in the Garden of Eden. 

The other way is the far more complicated way of struggle after the evil has been released into the Garden. 

Once the evil has spread, then death works its inevitable havoc. 

The spirit of evil is not so easily removed from the earth after man knows sin. 

Great struggles, long-lived, involved, and desperate, characterize man's history. 

An ancient analogy provides a graphic description. 

A garden is surrounded by a fence and the evil beasts are outside. 

Man's job is to watch over the garden and to patrol the fence so the wild beasts do not enter. 

But once the fence is broken and the evil penetrates, his task is to fight the beasts, both those already in the garden and those outside trying to enter. 

Were the man permitted to make his escape, the garden would be abandoned and go to ruin.

Hence man is not so easily allowed to get out of his responsibility. 

He has to stay on earth, continue to care for the garden, and try to get rid of the evil he has himself introduced. 

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

“Evil can be just like a house-lizard in a king’s palace”

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
 
Man cannot know evil without becoming contaminated by it. 

Because his knowledge is of the aspect of the inner Light, it becomes part of his essence, what he learns becomes part of his very self. 

Who can say with utmost sincerity that he has met something that leaves absolutely no impression on him? 

Whatever a person gets to know changes him. 

Unlike a computer, which can contain lots of information and erase it entirely from memory and from itself, as though nothing had ever been there, a person whose consciousness absorbs something, no matter how trifling a sight or a sound, can never obliterate it as though it had never happened. 

This is in contrast to the reaction in the king's palace to the entry of a house-lizard. 
 
Odious as the creature may be, it cannot be totally kept out but it has no effect whatsoever on the palace. 

In the aspect of the encompassing knowledge, evil can be just like a house-lizard in a king's palace. 

It is a knowledge of something outside one's actual existence. 

And there is no interaction with it. 

Thus, after committing what has been called the sin of eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, man is no longer the same. 

He has to go off on another way, one of struggle and suffering and death. 

The innocence cannot be recovered and "meaning" has to be given to life. 

The angel has no such obligation imposed on him; he can know good and evil and remain an angel. 

When man gets to know good and evil, he can only with difficulty remain a man. 

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

“The superior prophetic powers of the matriarchs”

Monday, October 14th, 2013
 
The sages have made the interesting observation that the patriarchs were to some extent dependent on the superior prophetic powers of the matriarchs. 

In many biblical texts, it is clear that the women determined their family's fate, at least in relation to children and the family succession. 

Here the patriarchs were subordinate: it was not they who made the decisions, and it was not they who determined the shape of the great future. 

In every one of these cases, whether the decisions were made openly, as with Sarah, or deviously, as with Rebekah, the matriarchs acted not only as "help meet" (Genesis 2:18) but as independent personalities. 

At such times, it was the matriarchs who dominated, and it was their vision, their foresight, that determined family continuity and the continuity of control over the family. 

Sarah is even more outstanding in this respect because of her decisiveness and her articulateness.

The passage in the Bible where Abram was called by his new name, Abraham (Genesis 17:5), is both revealing and significant: Sarai, too, underwent a parallel name change and became Sarah (17:15). 

While we find in the Bible other name changes-as when Jacob became Israel; or Hosea ben Nun, Joshua-only one woman was granted this privilege-and that woman was Sarah. 

This change of name hints at a change in the whole essence of Abraham and Sarah's being, in their whole way of life. 

It is a profound transformation which involved them both equally, which had a double dimension, Abraham and Sarah together. 

One striking indication of this duality is the recurrent mention of the two as one unit–"Abraham and Sarah"–which is not found elsewhere in the Bible, not even in the accounts of the other patriarchs. 

They are depicted as a team, as a couple, and invariably as equals–as, for instance, where the Bible speaks of Abraham and Sarah as "old and well-stricken in age" (Genesis 18:11). 

The Midrashim, too, have caught the significance of this relationship. 

Thus, when Abraham and Sarah (as Abram and Sarai) left their place of origin, Ur of the Chaldees, passing through Haran, they came with all "the souls that they had gotten in Haran" (12:5). 

This passage is interpreted in terms not of slaves but rather of those they had converted, who had acquired their faith–Abraham converting the men, and Sarah the women. 

Once again, we find this image of Abraham and Sarah as partners, working together for the same goals, walking together along the same path, united in thought, word, and deed. 

This is the kind of relationship that was common only in a much later age, perhaps only in modern times, and that was certainly extremely rare in ancient times. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From Biblical Images by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The restoration of the ancient system of right relations”

Sunday, October 13th, 2013
 
Abraham was not really an innovator or someone proclaiming an entirely new concept of religious belief. 

He was simply the first person in a long time to relate seriously to an old religious outlook which was primary and genuine. 

He was a great man in his own terms–a leader of a tribe, a successful man of the world, a conqueror in battle, a fulfilled man in private life, and a thinker who was not subdued by adverse public opinion. 

In other words, he was a great leader who fulfilled the same function as in later generations would be attributed to a messiah-the restoration of the ancient system of right relations between man and the Divine. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From Biblical Images by Rbbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Grasping things in their smallest detail, but being unable to see much beyond them”

Friday, October 11th, 2013
 
One person may have enormous intellectual powers and be able to manipulate great ideas with ease, and yet be unclear about what good and evil are in his life, while another person may be limited in his conceptual grasp, and yet be very precise and sure in his ability to discriminate between good and evil, right and wrong. 

Altogether our world is indeed like some backward pupil-grasping things in their smallest detail, but being unable to see much beyond them. 

Even the relations between good and evil, holy and unholy, are very problematic for most men. 

True, this is also the result of the Divine hiddenness. 

However, since the Torah teaches us through the vehicle of this world, as it were, cloaked and masked, liberation is attained only by intensifying the relationship between man, his soul, and the mitzvah. 

Where this relationship is lacking, or where it is a negative relationship, the Torah remains just another book which, even if it is considered holy, does not necessarily belong to higher worlds. 

It has no "wings."
 
Without any means of taking off from the earth, for as long as the thought of the Torah remains human, the Torah does not have any more effect on one than anything else does in the world – whether book, object, or idea. 

In short, the spiritual consciousness, or the holy intention, is decisive. 

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

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

Thursday, October 10th, 2013
 
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
 
From The Long Shorter Way by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The essence of every wrong action”

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013
 
Every transgression brings into being certain creatures, these so-called "extraneous forces." 

Just as every good deed creates an angel, the essence of every wrong action causes a similar essence to come into existence. 

These evil products of sin, the many unnatural offspring of man, cry out to be recognized and supported as legitimate sons. 

They follow the person relentlessly, out of a sense of kinship and belonging, nurturing his remorse and exacting his punishment, unto death. 

Ordinarily a person cannot obliterate them. 

They exist in the worlds above and below ours, these angelic and demonic products of our deeds, and only repentance out of love can change the essence of the evil into good, the dark into light. 

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

“It is as though God pushes Himself aside in order to make room for man to exist”

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013
 
Placed at the end of the series of contractions, together with gross matter and the evil impulse, man is also the purpose of it all. 

Having been granted a Divine Soul in a material body, man stands between light and darkness, between good and evil.

And in choosing the light and the good, he raises himself to holiness. 

By doing so he justifies the emanation of all the worlds.

He gives the creative process a meaning. 

Because in themselves, the higher worlds are, to a large degree, totally dependent on God.

They are built and are made to function, according to set laws of Divine unfolding. 

Only man has the freedom to choose and to change the otherwise fixed course of events. 
 
It is in this respect, then, that we can be guided by the saying, "As water mirrors the reflection of a face." 

We surmise that God has put aside His infinite light and concealed it, so to speak, in the three great contractions that brought forth the, knowable worlds.

And He did this out of a love for man and in order to bring man to a knowledge of God. 

Thus, all the contractions and withdrawals were meant to provide a place for man in this world, and he is, therefore, the purpose of it all. 

For the existence of man is possible only if the Divine light is hidden, because His love transcends all flesh, and we could not survive in its effulgence. 

It is as though God pushes Himself aside in order to make room for man to exist. 

So does man, in response, have to go toward God and even to abandon all else in order to cleave to Him -"as water mirrors the reflection of a face."

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

“Hold fast to whatever one knows of Divine reality”

Monday, October 7th, 2013
 
In response to God's unremitting graciousness to man, His reduction of Himself to enable man to grow freely, man should abandon all else and hold fast to whatever he knows of Divine reality. 

Nothing should prevent him from devoting himself to God. 

Neither body nor soul, neither inner nor outer forces should interfere with his acts of gratitude to God. 

Even one's spouse and children, money and honor should be regarded as having no value in themselves, compared to that which is God. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From "Man as the Purpose of Creation" in The Long Shorter Way by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The enormous contraction of light and energy in order to come into contact with us”

Sunday, October 6th, 2013
 
Let us suppose that I am talking to a young child. 

I understand what I am saying just as he presumably understands what I am saying.

We understand one another on the level of certain words that are uttered. 

Beyond that he cannot go. 

But within the range of what is spoken between us, there is something of my being, a part of me, that he grasps. 

But only a part. 

One may even say that the child is, in most respects, cut off from the essence of me, the speaker; and, thus, much of me is left to his imagination. 

If the speaker happens to be an exceptional person, a wise man, the difference is all the greater. 

In that case, the speaker has had to descend even further, going to considerable lengths to make himself understood. 

So too, God may be said to have made the immeasurable descent, the enormous contraction of light and energy in order to come into contact with us. 

If we do perceive something, no matter how little, it becomes the great achievement of our being. 

Because we recognize the incalculable and unbridgeable distance between the Divine speaker and the human listener.

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