Let My People Know

"If Torah study is not for the sake of Heaven, it is no more than playing"

Over the past two weeks this blog has featured several excerpts from one particular book by Rabbi Steinsaltz titled In The Beginning.

The complete title of the book would include its subtitle, “Discourses on Chasidic Thought.”

It is actually just one of four books that its translators, the late Yehuda Hanegbi, saw as an ongoing series. Four volumes were published.

The series began with The Long Shorter Way: Discourses on Chasidic Thought.

In The Long Shorter Way, Yehuda Hanegbi transcribed and edited Rabbi Steinsaltz’s teachings, with each of the chapters of the Tanya as Rabbi Steinsaltz’s point of departure for the dazzling, profound ideas that fill the book.

This book was followed by Rabbi Steinsaltz’s The Sustaining Utterances: Discourses on Chasidic Thought, based on additional writings of the author of the Tanya.

The third book by Rabbi Steinsaltz is The Candle of God: Discourses on Chasidic Thought. (I admit that it is my favorite of the four).

And finally In the Beginning: Discourses on Chasidic Thought. It is from this book that the excerpts these past few weeks have come.

These four books have allowed me to “attend” Rabbi Steinsaltz’s Jerusalem classes on Chasidic and Kabbalistic thought through the skilled ears and eyes, and translating gifts of Yehuda Hanegbi.

The unusually high volume of feedback on these excerpts from readers and subscriber of this blog has been notable.

Here’s one last excerpt for now to end the week and greet Shabbat:

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

“When a person makes something of himself and does not nullify himself before the Torah, his learning is of little consequence.

If Torah study is not for the sake of Heaven, it is no more than playing. Like those who claim that Torah sharpens the mind – might they not better play chess or use something else to whet the brain?

That which does not repudiate itself before holiness cannot receive anything from it.

The effect of sanctity is to go out of oneself toward the other; I no longer want anything for myself. The self is relinquished and abandoned.

The result is a spontaneous giving; the holy is always dealing out and bestowing gifts because it is not considering itself.
In contrast is an act of charity that is done, even if with the best of intentions, only because it makes one feel good.

The shell is easily capable of identifying with an image of righteousness that enhances the self.

To be sure, there are many degrees of such egotism, from the self-absorbed student to one who snatches what he can, or just opens his mouth to be fed while presenting a show of clean hands.”

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From In the Beginning: Discourses on Chasidic Thought by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, “Elixir of Death”, pp.. 204-205