Let My People Know

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Angel and beast.”

Many generations have wanted to make an angel of man.

These experiments, although they did not succeed (there being no satisfac­tory way of doing so), were successful in pretending that man is by nature an angel.

Such an opinion, held in reverence by generations, is worth some thought: Man is really comprised of beast and angel, and the angelic part is the more important one.

But must this belief lead to the conclusion that man has to be changed into an angel?

The essence of man’s being is in just this combining of angel and beast.

When this combination is destroyed, man ceases to be human; he becomes some other sort of humanoid—but surely not man!

Converting man into an angel does not mean any exaltation for him.

If God had wanted man to become an angel and to do everything as such, He would simply have created more angels.

But His wish was to create man.

“We shall make man in our form and image,” and not, “make an angel in our form.”

Of course, a man must not stay forever in the same meaningless state of angel-beast; man must try to become better.

But whatever the manner of his exaltation, it must not be by forcing man to the angelic.

Because man’s way—that in which he has to go—is a special way for him alone.

Forcing man into a life of mere learning and doing good deeds cannot create an angel; it can, at best, only move him toward being what he has to be.

The religious man of today is not a perfect religious man.

Orthodox religion pretends that man is only made for prayer and devotion, and therefore a religious man who has another attitude cannot identify himself with his religion.

He feels that his religion is manifested only in that part of him that is concerned with learning and praying.

The man who is praying is not a whole man, but only part of a man.

Perhaps this part is the better part, but it is not man.

A man cannot enter into such a closed circle of angelic religion.

A perfect man has within himself a whole world—heaven and earth, the highest and the lowest—and is not compressed in the little space of such doubtful religion.

Such a man cannot pray wholeheartedly, because the synagogue is too narrow for containing all his inner world.

Making man an angel is creating a dry, petty, and partial being.

A good example of this dryness and constraint can be found in many books on morals written during certain periods.

However, these books, which are masterpieces in themselves, lack the elements of true humanism.

The greatness of these books is lost because the average man, full of every human feeling, cannot relate such books to his life; they often do not even hint at certain moral questions.

You could study a classic book on morals and not find anything about love, social relations, work, physical life, et cetera.

True, these books are good books, but they are good only for that part of man engaged in religious issues.

These books are textbooks for angels; they cannot teach people.

It was this contraction of religion into purely religious problems that caused the freezing of every human emotion and led to conservatism and, to some extent, self-deception and hypocrisy, for, if all religious subjects were so detached from everyday life, they would become merely frozen conservative forms that did not have any true meaning for anyone.

It is told that once the Rabbi of Kotzk asked one of his pupils to tell him what he thinks of while praying.

The man began to tell the Rabbi about his thoughts during prayers—a very learned lecture about the unity of God in the higher world and in our world.

The Rabbi, who was a volcano of God-seeking and truth-seeking, and one of the greatest teachers in those subjects, could not suppress his anger any longer and cried:

“And where is your stomach?”—meaning: “Where is your own prosaic self in all this high philosophy? Where are you in this strange, cold, distant and impersonal exaltation?”

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Soul Searching” in The Strife of the Spirit by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz