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

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

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

Our problem is in these initial stages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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