“The holy person may be an exalted figure or someone simple—possibly your grocer”

Monday, May 19th, 2014
 
Life as we see it is not all there is. 

There s more to existence than our physical and material concerns. 

When we reach above the mundane and seek to connect with a Transcendent Being—that is an act of holiness. 

Some of us are more holy than others, to be sure. 

The holy person may be an exalted figure or someone simple—possibly your grocer—but you may feel that he is connected with something “other,” that he is constantly thinking , feeling and experiencing a connection to something beyond our ordinary comprehension.

—Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
Please consider reading my article about My Rebbe, the new book by Rabbi Steinsaltz. If you click "Like" for that article, the book's publisher will be grateful.
 
 
 
From My Rebbe by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz

“When comprehension is complete, the idea is totally enclosed by the mind”

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

In the process of apprehending a concept, the mind first "grasps the concept,” then "encloses it with its intellect,” and finally "enclothes" it. 

The grasping of the concept is the initial contact between the mind and the concept it conceives, the "point of chokhmah".  

The mind's enclosing of the concept–as opposed to merely "touching" the idea on one side–occurs in the stage of binah ("comprehension"), in which the object of the mind's interest can be said to exist within the mind and be encompassed by it. 

Binah is not a point but a process.

At first, the mind only touches the concept tangentially.

And as the comprehension progresses, the mind covers more sides of the concept, until it completely encloses it and relates to its every facet.

When comprehension is complete, so that the idea is totally enclosed by the mind, the idea can now go on to be applied to other ideas. 

This marks the point at which the idea is "enclothed" by the mind. 

A garment is the medium by which a thing relates to realities outside of itself. 

Thus, when we say that the mind enclothes the concept, this means that the concept can now be further extended, that the mind can now serve as the garment by which it is related to other concepts. 

This is the basis of the assumption that the inability to explain something well shows a deficiency in understanding. 

There are other factors, not connected with understanding, that interfere with the ability to pass things on, such as difficulty in communicating. 

But a true and full explanation is not possible without a full understanding, whereas a person who "truly and fully" understands, something will inevitably find a way to pass it on. 

At the very same time that the mind en clothes the concept and encloses it within itself, an opposite process also takes place, in which the mind is itself enclothed within the concept. 

Just as the mind is serving as a garment for the concept (that is, as its medium of expression and relation, as well as the screen that obscures its essence and allows only a certain expression of it to be manifested), so, too, is the concept serving as the garment of the mind. 

For when a mind is involved and absorbed in a certain subject, it expresses itself at that time through that concept.

One can thus say that the mind is enclothed in the concept it is contemplating, for it is now manifesting itself through this particular garment, and the garment is obscuring its quintessential qualities. 

In other words, the mind is now not a mind per se but a mind as expressed through the particulars of the concept within which it has invested itself. 

The mind is not only thinking the idea, it is also being "thought" by it, in the sense that the mind is now perceived exclusively in the context of the particular idea.

This is true of every mind and every concept at any level, from the simplest to the most advanced and complicated. 

The process of thought is always a process in which the mind and the object of its contemplation enclose and are enclosed by each other.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz 
 
From Opening the Tanya, Chapter 5, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Sometimes a person who becomes so fastidious about certain minor details neglects responsibilities of much greater importance”

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

There are two kinds of embellishment in the performance of mitzvot, over and above the minimal requirements of halakhah. 

In one, the concern is with the intrinsic quality of the artifacts acquired for the purpose of a particular mitzvah. 

This is called hiddur mitzvah ("the glorification of the mitzvah").

The extra measure of quality may or not be visible to the casual observer. 

An especially fine pair of tefillin, for example, is not necessarily distinguished by its beauty but rather by the extra care taken in writing the scrolls, the high quality of the parchment, or other far-from-obvious details. 

Some scribes are not only more exacting than others in fulfilling the basic legal requirements, but are also known for their high degree of kavannah (religious concentration, purposiveness); this too enhances the desirability of their work. 

But the more desirable, the more expensive (and sometimes, the harder to obtain). 

An added measure of care may be shown not only in the choice of appurtenances but also in the manner in which one performs a mitzvah, the degree of exactitude beyond the minimum requirements of the law. 

Hiddur mitzvah entails knowing the finer points of the execution of ritual articles, in order to be able to distinguish real differences in quality from mere local variations or superficial peculiarities. 

All too often, people make the mistake of fussing over details that are not at all essential to the performance of a given mitzvah, or even of insisting on features that make a given item less rather than more desirable.

The notion of hiddur mitzvah applies not only to ritual articles but also to such things as food. 

For example, meat that fulfills the normal requirements of kashrut may be refused in favor of glatt ("smooth") kosher meat, where the animal was in such perfect condition that there was no need for Rabbinic ruling as to whether or not it was kosher.

Or hiddur may entail insisting on an extra measure of care in the supervision of kashrut, different degrees of scrupulousness being possible. 

The Sages have ruled that up to one third more may be spent on hiddur mitzvah, over and above the usual cost. 

Some go beyond this, while others do not go this far.

Surely one should be willing to spend at least as much for extra quality in religious acquisitions as one is accustomed to doing in other kinds of purchases. 

Still, certain precautions should be taken. 

First, one should avoid undertaking a particular hiddur mitzvah that is disproportionate to the overall level of observance one has attained. 

This is even more important concerning the overscrupulous performance of mitzvot than the overzealous acquisition of ritual objects, which is, after all, relatively harmless. 

Second, one should not spend so much as to lead to friction or hardship in one's family. 

In that case, the added merit of hiddur mitzvah is far outweighed by the transgression of causing unhappiness, anger, and dissension. 

Third, one should consider whether extreme zeal in the performance of a certain mitzvah is something that can be sustained over time and whether it is proportional to the importance of that mitzvah vis-a-vis all the others. 

Sometimes a person who becomes so fastidious about certain minor details neglects responsibilities of much greater importance. 

Such disproportion is worse than ridiculous; it can be a serious distortion of one's spiritual life.

Another way of embellishing the performance of mitzvot involves the outward, esthetic dimension, seeing to it that the ritual articles and appurtenances one uses are as beautiful as possible in their design and construction. 

This is called noi mitzvah

It too provides a way of expressing religious devotion, but in accordance with personal taste. 

The normal desire to make one's home and its contents attractive is here applied to sacred purposes, highlighting the religious element in the home and the awareness of its inhabitants. 

Noi mitzvah applies also to clothing worn on holy days.

It is not as important as hiddur mitzvah, and outward appearance should not be emphasized at the expense of inner quality, either in terms of material outlay or of attention.

Certain very beautiful and expensive ritual objects may not, in fact, even be kosher. 

For example, there are Hannukah menorahs that may be very beautiful but are not kosher or suitable for use because their branches go around in a circle, or do not rise up to an even height. 

In the same way, a wonderfully decorated tallit may be disqualified because it is not big enough. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From "Money" in Teshuvah by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Pleasure has the power of transforming the particularity of a thing into something limitless”

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

The essence of life and the joy or pleasure of life are the two sides of the same thing; they are not separate entities.

The essence of life is in pleasure and the primal, basic pleasure is life itself. 

For this does man toil and labor. 

He does so to live or, rather, to enjoy life. 

Just as a person engages in bargaining in order to make a profit, so does man engage in struggle for the sake of the pleasure that life affords. 

What is paramount here is the fact that joyfulness and the recognition of what constitutes pleasure are not the same for everyone. 

The person whose chief delight lies in wealth lives in order to make money but, in point of fact, his aim is pleasure and not money. 

The money is only the means. 

Similarly, for one who strives to obtain wisdom, the aim is really the inner joy that comes from knowledge and a measure of sagacity. 

The difference between the two is not a difference in the basic aim.

It lies in the mode of feeling about the way to obtain it, in actions that are more preferable, in simple human terms of like and dislike. 

A person chooses to invest his energies in that which ultimately is most pleasurable to him. 

The higher the level of pleasure the more superior the aim of one's life. 

The extent of one's capacity for joy is the chief instrument for achievement at all levels, higher or lower, and may even be considered the primary root of all action. 

This is the vertical line of joy, its height and depth, whereas the breadth and horizontal expanse of joy may be seen as the many-sidedness and broad range of the possibilities of pleasure, in the senses, the feelings, the mind, and the spirit. 

A whole world of opportunities for pleasure lie in food and drink alone, and not only in taste and smell and in the many social aspects of the table, but also in all that is offered as variety. 

Taste itself is a pleasure that exceeds very many gastronomical possibilities. 

One can enjoy such an enormous range of beverages, wines, and drinks, it staggers the imagination. 

Even in the more subtle sense of smell, the pleasure derived from a vast range of odors and scents is different for each one.

Similarly, there is the delight in speech–in communication, articulation or study of language, logic, grammar, eloquence, and the like. 

It is not necessarily an intellectual pleasure connected with the meaning of what is said; it can be an esthetic delight in the beauty of speech. 

In certain countries, it often does not matter what a person is saying but how well he says it. 

For a rather special pleasure is to be found in the purity of a verbal communication, in the exactitude of grammatical forms or the precision of a sentence. 

Another sort of pleasure comes from the telling of a joke. 

And then there is the simple satisfaction in talking–simple conversation or sharing thoughts and feelings, expressing worry and getting rid of a burden on the soul. 

There may not be a solution to the problem, but the speaking is a release and a pleasure of sorts.

Seeing and hearing are the more obvious and constant sources of delight. 

Besides the harmony of music or visual beauty, the unimaginable extent of the things enjoyed by the eyes and ears of man cannot be expressed. 

Besides all this, which we may see as the mechanism of pleasure, we are aware of an inner world of intellectual and spiritual content behind all sensation. 

These higher delights of the mind appear first as accompaniments to emotion or thought. 

Thereafter, the nature of mind is such that it expands the pleasure derived from the senses, enhances the delights of the emotion and intellect and as we have said, provides height, depth, and breadth to the pleasurable, transforming it from something tangible and carrying it to another dimension, to that of infinitude. 

That is to say, every object in the world can be enjoyed and it makes no difference what it is; pleasure can penetrate anything. 

And beyond the sensual, pleasure has the power of transforming the particularity of a thing into something limitless. 

Enjoyment, therefore, can proceed beyond the personal which is its essential root and become a general or universal factor taking one out of the specific into the unbounded. 

What is implied here is that delight, in all its forms, is more than a particular quality; it belongs to life itself, capable of adhering to anything in the world. 

It is also far more than anyone kind of action or anyone aspect of life; it is at the core of all aspiration, purpose, and human direction. 

The difference between the courses of behavior people choose lies in the pleasure they get (or hope to get) out of their choices.

Moreover, pleasures of whatever variety also serve to educate and nurture pleasures of the same kind. 

Indeed, all training is based on this principle: listening develops the pleasure of hearing music, observation enhances the powers of vision, and so on. 

And there are many things that have to be learned in order to be enjoyed, whether in art or technology. 

To be sure, technical learning does not, in itself, harbor pleasure for everyone.

One often misses out on an essential delight by failing to "educate" the capacity to appreciate the enjoyable in something.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz 
 
Freom "Hidden Aspects of Shabbat" in The Candle of God by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“True soul-searching”

Friday, March 7th, 2014

There is a well-known fable about the animals who decided to repent because their sins had brought disaster on them. 

The tiger and the wolf confess that they prey on other creatures, and are vindicated. 

After all, it is in their nature as predators to hunt and kill. 

So all the animals in turn confess their sins and, for one reason or another, all are exonerated. 

Finally, the sheep admits that she once ate the straw lining from her master's boots; here at last is obviously the true cause of their misfortune. 

All fall on the evil sheep and slaughter it, and everything is in order again.

This fable is usually taken to point out the hypocrisy of the animals, who ignore the sins of the strong and attack those of the weak. 

The basic issue, however, is something rather more profound: This is an example of the kind of soul-searching that merely confirms the status quo. 

The wolf may hunt and the tiger may savage because it is in their nature to do so. 

As long as soul-searching does not address itself to such basic and fundamental issues, as long as it does not question even the most obvious assumptions, then the sin singled out for correction will be trivial and no overall change will be forthcoming.

True soul-searching is based on quite a different premise, one that assumes that those matters we take for granted, the status quo, the general consensus, are all the very things that require review and revision. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From "Soul-searching," an essay by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in The Strife of the Spirit

“What is it that creates the link between us and the Almighty?”

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

The most central concept of Judaism is the concept of mitzvah, commandment. 

The word mitzvah means, literally, an order, a command. 

What is it that creates the link between us and the Almighty? 

Is it not our overflowing love for Him? 

Rather the fact that we fulfill His commandments. 

The mitzvah, this relationship between the Giver of the command and the one who fulfills it, is the only thing that can bridge this gap, this infinite abyss that separates our world from God. 

This abyss can be surpassed not with love, not even with understanding, but only with deeds. 

We cannot speak with dogs, and therefore cannot create any instructive dialogue with them. 

We can give them orders. 

When a dog fulfills his owner's command, it also knows that it has thereby created a true relationship with him. 

Similarly, we fulfill the commandments not because we understand them, but because this is the only way to create a relationship with the King. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From "To Be a Soldier," an essay by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Many men do not really know true happiness, because they have never experienced the release from sadness”

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

A Kabbalistic insight claims: "It is Jacob who redeems Abraham." 

Abraham is Chesed, or love, and Jacob is Tiferet (mercy and beauty). 

One may discover in life that grace is absent and that one cannot awaken love in one's heart. 

Upon such discovery, one falls back on pity, and this stimulates the love and the grace which had been absent. 

This stirring of compassion in the heart awakens great love, even the love of God. 

Here too, the essential confrontation is with Truth, the truth of oneself, and the need to break down the partition or veil that separates one from the Divine.

The Psalmist expressed it: "A broken and contrite heart, O. God, thou wilt not despise" (Psalms 51:19). 

Just as a ladder cannot be useful unless it has something to lean against, so too, is there nothing more whole than a broken heart. 

Even though, to be sure, God prefers vessels that are without blemishes or cracks, and it is written in the Zohar that the Shechinah does not lodge itself anywhere except in a whole vessel. 

Nevertheless, this does not include a broken heart.

As Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi mentions elsewhere: If one does not have a broken and contrite heart, one cannot be said to have a heart at all.

The central factor here is the demolition of sadness, the explosion which releases the joy. 

And many men do not really know true happiness, because they have never experienced the release from sadness. 

It is not a matter of contrasts, of course; it is a matter of getting to the truth of experience, of breaking out of the self-delusion, entertained by many, that they are alive–something that only a genuine shock can bring about. 

For a great number of civilized human beings live comfortably with the notion that they would like to know God; and this is as much of a search for meaning they can indulge in.
 
They do not get beyond the daily obligations of ethics and religion. 

Their search is, at best, the search for an earthly fortune, a matter of putting effort into something and getting a more or less just compensation. 

However, using the same logic, the story of the rich man who asked the rabbi: "What will I get out of the next life?" 

The rabbi answered: "At least as much as you invest in it." 

If you put a lot of money and effort into an earthly endeavor, you are likely to earn even more; if you put a lot of thought and energy into your spiritual endeavors, you're liable to gain more in the heavenly hereafter. 

The trouble is that men are much more troubled about the loss of a ten-pound note on earth than about losing a spiritual opportunity to perform a kindness.

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

“Everything has a soul”

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014
 
Someone once spoke to a rabbi about the Jewish law about hunting. 

The rabbi was shocked. 

He said, "How can a Jew do something like this? Kill animals for joy?" 

That is, engage in hunting as a sport. 

There were Jewish trappers and Jewish hunters, but they needed food, so they trapped, and they fished, but to hunt for sport was considered beyond the realm.

How can you do it? 
 
On the other hand, a friend told me that he was traveling with a group of friends in the Caucasus and they were hunters. 

They were hunting what were called white sheep. 

And the fellow shot the sheep, but then stood nearby. 

He is a simple person. He asked forgiveness, and blessed the animal to have a good rest. 

He hunted, but he still had respect. 

The idea is that everything has a certain kind of right. 

There is a Talmudic story:

There was a famous great man, and he was walking in a place, and in that place there was a little calf that was being taken to slaughter. 

In the story, the calf comes to him to beg for his life. 

The man says to the calf, "Go, that is your way of the world. You go to be slaughtered." 

As a result the man fell ill for seven years, because he was not sensitive. 

How was he healed? 

One of the servants in his home was cleaning the house and found some little mice. 

She wanted to kill them, but he said to please keep them alive. 

Then he was healed, because he was caring.

The calf and the mice are living creatures. 

But then there is a table, or a piece of stone. 

Jewish mysticism says that everything has a soul, including inanimate beings. 

A stone, a pebble, whatever it may be. 

The difference lies with what level of a soul the being has. 

A stone has a very simple soul. 

The soul is the power of life that keeps it as being a stone.

Now the leaf of a tree has more life in it than a stone, an animal has even more, and a human being has more still. 

But any thing has a soul, every being has a soul. 

Holiness is a quality which is the quality of having a soul. 

And if something doesn't have a soul, then you can't speak about the holiness in it. 

The whole world is filled with divinity. 

The divine is really the living power, the existence of everything. 

The existence of everything is what we call the divine rule. 

The divine rule of creation, "Let there be Light." 

So light is living because it has the divine word in it. 

And the stone is living because it has the divine word in it. 

And this is connected with the notion of not spoiling anything.

Man is a becoming a viceroy to God's royalty. 

So he is given the rule, the mastership, and the duty to change things for the better. 

It is his duty not to spoil things. 

He doesn't have any mandate for that. 

He doesn't have a right to spoil things. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From an essay, "The Whole World Is Filled With Divinity" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz 

“The key to Torah that is yours, your way, that speaks to you”

Thursday, February 27th, 2014
When, in the Talmud, Rav Yosef asks the son of Raba: "What commandment was your father most particular about?" he is inquiring not only which commandment he kept most meticulously, but also which was most important to him.

In another book, the word meaning observant, careful, particular also means to shine. 

So that the Talmud question reads: In which mitzvah did your father feel most of the light? 

Sometimes there is something that passes before one like a flash of lightning or a resplendent illumination that lights up one's way. 

It is that key to Torah that is yours, your way, that speaks to you. 

Some people find this key in the realm of intellectual content. 

Others, in the doing of certain actions, the performance of mitzvot, and this has as much meaning for them as the complex idea of the intellectual or mystical experiences of the kabbalist. 

All lead to the inner chambers of the Divine presence. 

The point is that for each seeker such a key is the hidden secret of one's destiny; beyond rational explanation, it remains beautiful and personally meaningful for a significant period of time if not for all of one's life. 

The other side of the same truth is that each one is expressing the same thing, the same melody in six hundred thousand voices. 

For every person has his own unique voice, even when the song is the same. 

If a person is unsure of himself, and wishes to know whether his way is appropriate to him, one of the tests of validity would be to examine its flexibility—whether it can be translated into different levels of the hidden or the manifest, as the case may be. 

It should lend itself with ease to a variety of expressions. 

If this cannot be done, if his key cannot open the whole of Torah, it may be necessary to reexamine that key and see if it is not perhaps a delusion. 

There should be more than one way of getting to any problem of truth. 

A problem, whether it concerns mathematics or science or spiritual reality, can usually be solved in more than one way. 

What is essential is that all the approaches should lead to the same correct solution. 

Some go through the air, some by sea, others over land. 

All should lead to an equivalent answer, even if couched in different words, even if they sound oddly at variance.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "Mysticism in the Jewish Tradition," an essay by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“No other reality counts”

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014
 
"Hear O Israel" – is Moses' call to the entire Jewish people, and to every individual Jew, to hear these things. 

This "hearing" is not merely with the ears, but rather it means listening, and beyond that – understanding and acceptance. 

These words assume an additional meaning when shema is being recited, for then they serve as a declaration: Let the entire people of Israel hear the things which I, who utter them, proclaim and make known to all. 

And for a person who recites shema by himself it is as if he were calling upon himself, saying: "Hear and listen, you who are a member of the people of Israel." 

The next two words, "Hashem Elokaynu" – "the Lord our God" – are the essence of the "acceptance of the yoke of Heaven" by declaring that the Lord is our God, that we accept Him and are willing to take His rule upon us. 

And in the last two words, "Hashem Echad" – "the Lord is One" – we state the main principles of the faith in God: His unity and His uniqueness. 

In the words "The Lord is One" there are all the meanings of the term "One." 

"One" does not only stand as against dualism (or trinity, or any other kind of plurality of gods).

It also includes God's one-and-only-ness (in the sense of "there is none else besides Him" – Deut. 4:35), and the sense that, compared with the "truth of His existence," no other reality counts. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From an essay "The Portion of "Shema" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The possibility of being master of one’s heart”

Monday, February 24th, 2014
 
The mind cannot order the heart to stop desiring those things that the mind considers inappropriate, but it can prevent the heart from developing those desires. 

Man's innate controls allow him to avoid the development of feelings and urges that run counter to his awareness. 

There are limits, however, to this mental sovereignty.

And if a person allows himself to cultivate such feelings beyond a certain limit, the mind will lose control. 

The monster that he himself creates and nurtures will accept little authority. 

Yet as long as one is levelheaded, he has the possibility of being master of his heart, mouth, and actions. 

Mouths cannot speak of their own accord-only from the, desire to speak.

Nor can other limbs act automatically, without a person's conscious will and awareness. 

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

“A mongrel community”

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014
There is little doubt that certain qualities are given at birth, and there is no need for education to do more than restrain them or develop them somewhat.

A person of Israel is said to be born with three such basic qualities: pity, shyness, and kindness. 

And it cannot be explained by comparing greater or lesser individuals or even by pointing to generations of teaching.

It is something that every Jew has, a character structure which belongs to the paradigm of Israel. 

Thus, a person who does not exhibit these qualities is said to be not of the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–even though he may be a proper Jew in the sense that he performs the mitzvot.

There is a story in the Talmud of someone who went to Babylon and asked for help. 

The Jews there did not come to his assistance, either with money or anything else, and the man wrote that these were evidently not Jews, but a mongrel community, because they failed to show kindness. 

He did not inquire whether they prayed or put on tefillin or wore tzitzit. 

The fact that they did not act naturally and spontaneously with kindness was decisive.

It is not that the Jew is a better person or that he may be necessarily characterized as a good person.

It is rather that the qualities of pity and shyness and kindheartedness are an intrinsic part of him.

They may even be considered his weaknesses.

Just as some people have a sensitive, musical ear, others have a "weakness" for other modes of experience.

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

“Personal deeds, like good paintings, must be inspected from a distance”

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

A thief may claim that he intended to merely borrow some items. 

An embezzler may say he only took a loan.

A person who insulted somebody may say he just used rough language, or was simply joking. 

And so, even if I accept the charge of having told a bad joke at a bad time, I will still tend to see the error as much less severe than it actually was. 

Therefore, even when one wants to right internal wrongs (if such a thought ever occurs to a person), one nevertheless tends to be lenient with one's self.

In addition, one's reaction to other people's misdeeds is often characterized by strong emotions: shock, astonishment, disgust, and even profound shame. 

But when the doer is I, the response is quite different.

Firstly, my personal involvement limits and distorts my ability to see properly.

Personal deeds, like good paintings, must be inspected from a distance. 

Secondly, while other people's deeds may arouse disgust, our own hardly ever do. 

This applies not only to physical actions or overt aspects of one's personality, but also to hidden thoughts and feelings. 

A person's private devils may torment him, but they are never as revolting or frightening to him as other people's are.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From "Self-investigations," an essay by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“Obstacles to the smooth flow between head and heart”

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

There are serious obstacles to the smooth flow between head and heart. 

One can admit that something is good and beautiful, and yet fail to see that it relates to oneself in any way. 

Desire is a universal, nonpersonal, phenomenon. Hunger and lust are common to all men. 

There has to be a certain differentiation, a particularization and defining before a person can say, "I want this." 

In short, there is a great distance to be traversed before speech expresses thought and takes on meaning. 

It is not a simple, mechanical translation.

There are any number of inner communication factors between the Sefirot, such as those between Chochmah and Binah, that can effect a transmutation. 

For these varied paths, generally unnoticed by consciousness, determine the content and the quality of the inner life and, subsequently, of thought. 

And at every stage, there is a certain addition or processing, an infusion of something new. 

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

“The people of Israel grew as a nation on the basis of a unifying idea”

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014
"Attaining freedom by 'accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven' is not a simple or self-evident thing. 

A penetrating question arises, which was probably asked by those who came out of Egypt, and which continues to be asked even today: 

Why can other people, large and small, live their lives without Torah? 

And why must the people of Israel, of all nations, be exceptional in order to exist? 

The answer is connected with the anomaly of the Jewish people–an anomaly that has existed since its inception as a people. 

It is best expressed in the words of the prophet: 'Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? Or shall a nation be born in one moment?' 

Ordinarily, the creation of a people takes many centuries, during which a joint existence slowly binds the individuals into a larger unit, which then assumes its own identity. 

This was not so with the Jewish people—the people of Israel was 'brought forth in one day,' in a one-time process. 

Since the beginning of its existence, its unity and unique national character have not simply stemmed from the fact that 'we are here.' 

The development of the people of Israel is not 'natural.' 

Consequently, our people cannot satisfy itself with mere existence.

The people of Israel grew as a nation on the basis of a unifying idea, and the nation's continued existence is connected with that idea. 

Rav Saadia Gaon said: 'Our nation is a nation only in its Torah,' and this saying retained its significance even in generations when most of the Jewish people did not live by the Torah. 

The Torah has nevertheless remained the foundation of the life of our people, because ties of identity always draw upon a common past, and this common past is imprinted with the unifying seal of the one Torah."

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From "Freedom Without Content" in On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The self-expression of a bookworm”

Thursday, February 13th, 2014
There are people who by nature, physically as well as spiritually, tend toward melancholy. 

A tempestuous life–whether of holiness or of impurity–holds no attraction for them.
 
Contentment lies in quiet continuity.

If they have an intellectual bent and if matters of the spirit interest them, then the coziest means for self-realization is to sit and study. 

The latter requires no self-sacrifice; it is the self-expression of a bookworm. 

Such an individual devotes every spare moment to Torah study. 

There is no contest between a Godly soul and an animal soul; this is his animal soul. 

We could reasonably expect that, intellectual though he may be, he might have to struggle with his disposition in another plane, namely, sexual desire.
  
The capacity for sexual pleasure differs from one person to the next.

And a lack of sensuality, an absence of pleasure in eating or drinking, is no indication of spiritual achievement. 

Someone may not pay any attention to what he eats or what he sees. 

So, too, with sexual desire. 

Such an individual can sit in a study hall and be occupied with the performance of the commandments while the world around him presents no temptation. 

He gets dressed every morning, has his breakfast, and goes about his business.
 
His single-minded focus on Torah study is not from a magnetic attraction to holiness; he is disinclined by nature to do anything else. 

He could be a clerk, a professor, or a rabbi–any of these, with no change in his disposition. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From Learning from the Tanya, Chapter 15, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“The empty box”

Monday, February 10th, 2014
 
Imagine that one has a document that can open the gates of Heaven. 

He takes this document and runs with it to the end of the world. 

When he finds he is unable to reach Heaven in his lifetime, he gives the document to his children. 

And his children go on running with it and keeping it safe, generation after generation. 

But with time, the words – with all the beautiful boxes in which the document is safeguarded – are rubbed away. 

The people who carry the document are no longer able to read it, and the document itself becomes a faded manuscript. 

Later still, it is reduced to a mere piece of paper, and even this piece of paper starts to rot.

Yet each new generation takes this heritage and tries to pass it on. 

Eventually, however, the people who carry the empty box that once contained the precious manuscript will discover that they are running very hard and very fast carrying nothing. 

And so they will stop running. 

In one way or another, this is what is happening to us. 

The inscription has faded from our lives. 

Some of us still speak about our "message," but we no longer know what it is. 

Not only are we ourselves unable to read it; the words have been entirely obliterated. 

We have only an empty shell, and even this shell is no longer intact. 

So we go on, but for how long does it make sense to run with such an empty thing? 

That loss of inner sense is the essence of the problem.
 
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From a talk, "The Time is Short and the Work is Great" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz , 1993

“The wonderful life of a potato”

Saturday, February 8th, 2014
 
If I have a child at home, I demand from him much more than what I demand from a dog at home. 

And I demand much more from a dog than what I demand from a potato. 

A potato has a good life. 

It’s happy and cozy.

Nobody scolds it.

It’s the wonderful life of a potato. 

Now some of these potatoes have 3 billion dollars, so they are rich potatoes. 

Some other people will possibly never be potatoes. 

So, they have a harder life. 

They have to strive, they have to work. 

How good is it to be a potato? 

It’s not that good to be a potato. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From an interview with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz by Rabbi Pinchas Allouche, on Jan. 26, 2014, in Scottsdale, AZ

“A rhapsody, a tapestry”

Thursday, February 6th, 2014
 
When one meditates on a thought for a sustained period of time, beyond the moment in which it arose in one's mind, it becomes tangible and real. 

That passing idea then becomes a meaningful thought that can build a complete structure.
 
Concentration and memory are like a song repeating its refrain within the words of prayer. 

If a person has a fleeting thought of love or fear of God, and he takes that thought and sings it, repeats it again and again until he makes it a rhapsody, a tapestry, then he has turned an initial spark into a fervent flame. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
 
From The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

“A person who is able to study Torah and does something else instead acts out of laziness”

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

For 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.

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: 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.

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.

 —Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Opening the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz