Let My People Know

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Different ways of judgment.”

Jewish tradition is made of people who keep the tradition, that is to say, adhering to the law from generation to generation, from year to year, with greater or lesser understanding.

Tradition, by definition, basically means to follow, to create a chain.

As in any chain, some of the rings are made of pure gold, and others of mere corrugated iron.

But tradition is basically kept by those people who go on, trying to keep whatever they can.

A different issue is: Who is to be considered a better person, or closer to the Almighty?

As Maimonides points out, luckily it is not us who are the judges in such matters; and His way of judgment may be very different, in every way, from ours.

In some ways there is an advantage in the mere keeping of tradition, because it has the possibility of growing and evolving internally and turning, with time, into something more important and significant.

In fact, so many of the things that we do as a part of our daily routine are things that, in the outset, we appreciate only partially, and we grow to understand and appreciate more fully later on.

On the other hand, when dealing with the soul, with the quality of the soul, it is said in so many places—from the Torah to the prophets, from the prophets to the Talmud, and further on—there are lots of advantages to those people who act out of inner understanding and conviction, even if they do not perform everything completely.

Thus, there may be different ways of judgment.

One is the judgment of a people, a nation, a crowd, in which merely keeping the tradition has an advantage.

The other is an attempt to assess individuals, and in this case, people who perform less may be worth more than others who perform more.

But, as said, we are really not the judges in these cases.

What we can do is work in the best way we can, trying to do what is within our capacity.

And hope that eventually those who lack understanding will gain it, while those whose performance is impaired will come to perform more, and thus both ends will meet.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz