Let My People Know

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Everything that a person builds externally is a delusion.”

Anthropologists distinguish between cultures of shame and cultures of guilt.

In cultures of shame, the essence of a person’s life lies in his ability to look others in the face.

In such a culture, a person who commits an indecent act known to others will commit suicide.

In Near and Far Eastern cultures, people are capable of feeling slight remorse, but they cannot bear losing face and are even willing to die to restore their dignity.

By contrast, in cultures of guilt, the emphasis is placed not on what is more dignified, but rather on how the person himself feels about what happened.

In Jewish culture, although what others say is also important, the essence must spring from one’s inner being.

Everything that a person builds externally is a delusion.

The Talmud asks: Who “acts charitably at all times”?

This refers to someone who supports his sons and daughters while they are minors.

Since a father is not legally liable for the maintenance of his minor children, the support he provides for them is regarded as tzedaka, charity, and since children are constantly in need of financial support, a father who supports his children fulfills the mitzva of tzedaka at all times.

But the sages add a caveat, for we are told, “he shall not come at all times into the holy place.”

In other words, this type of “acting charitably at all times” will not enable one to enter the holy place.

One may indeed fulfill his minimum obligation to act charitably, but in order to enter the holy place, one must do more.

To be sure, one who fulfills his obligations not only does no harm but is considered a decent person, which in itself is often a great credit.

But to enter the holy place, it is not sufficient that one makes no trouble.

There are other requirements, requirements that cannot be constructed from without; for if they come from without, they will be forgotten.

The routine overwhelms everything except what a person, in his inner being, works to attain.

Only what one works on through his inner life endures for long.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz