Archive for the ‘Let My People Know’ Category

November 17, 2013 — The Global Day of Jewish Learning

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013


Dear Friends,

You love reading Rabbi Steinsaltz's books and articles. You wish you

could learn more from the Rabbi, but straight from his mouth instead

of off the written page.

        But how?

The Global Day of Jewish Learning has the answer:

Bring Rabbi Steinsaltz into your living room!×24



With the Global Day's unprecedented initiative, 24×24, you can do just that.


Simply tune in on Sunday, November 17, 2013 at: 


1:00 PM EST (18:00 GMT / 20:00 IDT).

Rabbi Steinsaltz will be presenting a LIVE talk on this year's Global Day theme – Creating Together: Jewish Approaches to Creativity and Collaboration.


The Rabbi heads an exciting list of speakers, including a novelist, a rock band, a professor, a multimedia artist – and more. Broadcasts begin at 7 pm EST, Nov. 16 (00:00 GMT, Nov. 17) and continue for 24 hours.×24







“There are people for whom restrictions are not necessary; they have to be free to expand in all directions”

Thursday, October 31st, 2013
The genuine alternative to the Chesed of Abraham is Gevurah, the aspect of Isaac. 

Rather than being outgoing and joyous, a matter largely of the heart, the aspect of Isaac, or Gevurah, is withdrawal inward, a concentration of strength and a sense of awe.

It is connected with control and restriction, with the setting of specific limits and clear definitions. With Abraham, in contrast, there are hardly any limitations.

All is open, free, and inviting, in relation to things, to people, and to God.

Isaac, while establishing frontiers and feeling confident enough to judge the world, at the same time has the great-heartedness and the need for the expression of love. 

This expression, however, takes the form of another kind of nullification, a kind of retirement, if not actual seclusion, a fear of wrong action, a dread of doing something that may cause harm to someone else.

These two Attributes exist in varying degrees in people, and they cannot be contrasted as good and evil. 

For example: A pupil was asked why he prayed so fast. 

He answered that the prayer was so pleasant and sweet to him that he grabbed as much as he could. 

The rabbi said: Do you think that for me prayer is not pleasant? (The rabbi was known to spend more time in prayer than was usual.) 

The pupil replied that the rabbi's prayer is like burning coals, and such are not to be swallowed speedily. 

In other words, the matter can be viewed from different angles. 

There are people for whom restrictions are not necessary; they have to be free to expand in all directions. 

But there are also those who require clearly defined controls. 

As the Rabbi of Kuritz, a great exponent of truth, once said: 

The difference between that fellow and myself is that he so much loves the truth that he speaks it constantly and sometimes a trifling untruth enters, whereas I so dread a lie that I hardly speak at all in order to avoid letting an untruth be uttered.

A similar relation may be said to prevail between Gevurah and Chesed. 

The attitude of fear of evil in the former restrains one's expression, makes one practice control and seek perfection in word and deed. 

The attitude of benevolence and fullness in the latter may induce spontaneity and joy.
They are not contradictory; they are different aspects of Divine plenty and belong to different kinds of personality. 

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

“Man is able to lift himself upward”

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013
Man can be viewed as God's plaything. 

The fact that he can turn to God is so amusing and even wonderful that God keeps him close–is mindful of him. 

And because man is able to lift himself upward, against his own nature, in contrast to all the other creatures of the universe, he may be considered as participating in spiritual process. 

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

“The stages of growth of the soul”

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013
The Kabbalah is full of stories about the birth of souls, with keen insights into the period of the fetus and of suckling, the need for a proper weaning and eventual growth into independence of thought and will. 

There is a first growth and a second growth, with definite stages. 

Most of the stages of growth of the physical organs are accomplished in concealment (before the development of consciousness), while the stages of growth of the soul, in its larger scope, are accomplished as adults. 

That is, the soul in the adult must go through its own stages of embryonic growth and suckling, then by mental development.
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“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