Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Determining which things are important and which are not is the essence of life"

“Persistence and obstinacy are enormously important and Jews have been known, and are alternately proud and not proud, for being hard-headed and unable to move.

Determining which things are important and which are not is the essence of life.

They may be your family, your environment, your chosen way of life.

The ability to be persistent and to go on and not allow yourself to be diverted is important here.

On the other hand, if a person becomes obstinate about any kind of little thing, then it is basically damaging.

So I have to decide that I will be obstinate only about important things”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From We Jews, p. 78 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"A double standard is practiced in the attitude toward the state of Israel"

“Nations that are considered barbaric, of an inferior level, and degenerate are described or treated favorably whenever they show some progressive trait that others do not expect to find in them.

Among such people, any good action will simply be considered noble, any action that is not completely base will be considered a good deed, and any activity that elsewhere would be normal is considered progressive and viewed as some special advance.

The very opposite is true for those who have any sense of being chosen.

For them, every descent is a double degradation, every defect stands out and is recognizable to all, and no action that is excused in others is forgiven in them.

This double standard is practiced, of course, in the attitude toward the state of Israel.

This state is criticized and accused for every deed that is normally condoned in other states”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From We Jews, p. 173 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.


Monday, December 29, 2008

"The idea is to bring light"

"There is a scriptural correspondence to every mitzvah.

And yet the connection between Torah and mitzvot is not at all that simple.

The question asked by the ancients, for example, was: Which precedes?

Is the Torah the instruction and means of the mitzvot or are the mitzvot instruments enabling us to reveal the Torah?

The idea, of course, is to bring light; it is not only a theoretical question of principle and practice.

What, after all, is the role of theory; what is its importance against the actuality of practice?

To illustrate: There are instruments that perform complex operations; sometimes the operations are so complicated that they can make conclusions in the realm of theory.

In fact, laboratory equipment exists not for its own sake, but to help gain conclusive evidence for the theory at the basis of knowledge.

Some cyclotrons of research are not only huge and very expensive toys intended to provide information about the tiniest of particles; they also help to create theoretical conclusions about the nature of matter.

Similarly, one could say that there is a great mitzvah with lots of details, such as Shabbat.

The tractate Shabbat (theory) is thus the principal instrument to gain knowledge of the mitzvah (practice).

It is only theory -- the mitzvah is what counts.

The Torah is only an accompaniment, that which comes to surround and explain the mitzvah.

Or else, one could say that the mitzvah is the essence, and the Torah is that which flows from it, giving it a certain form."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Candle of God, p.331-332, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, December 28, 2008

"The seven branches of the menorah--these are the seven shepherds"

"All of Israel is of one mold, and each individual receives inspiration from the seven branches of the menorah.

These are the seven shepherds (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, David) and mark the availability of different pathways to the Divine.

There is a division of essence.

There are people who are more inclined to the soul of Abraham and others who favor of the line of Isaac.

Each receives a certain quality from a source that determines the structure of his personality.

The greater the receptivity, the more one is able to get from any one branch of the menorah."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Candle of God, “Implications of the Menorah,” p.329-330, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, December 26, 2008

"Israel has to be a wholeness"

"The original menorah was cast in one piece of gold.
The idea is that Israel has to be a wholeness.

Each member is responsible and liable for the others in a singleness of essence.

Concerning this concept of mutual responsibility, there is no denying the obvious fact that Jews do tend to be contentious and argumentative with one another.

Antagonisms and conflicts within the community have always been all too prevalent.

Nevertheless, the sense of spiritual unity has usually been present, the knowledge that there is a basic connection.

Each Jew is a part of an organic whole, like a limb or an eye of a single human body, and even if there is a lack of harmony or an illness in the body, the organic unity remains.

The whole is a molten menorah, all of gold.

Thus, there is a certain basic understanding among the people, each type nourishing the other.

To be sure the golden mold of the menorah may be covered with dust, and the dirt may accumulate into such a considerable layer that the goal will be completely invisible.

The task, then, of the teacher is not necessarily to devise some new system of thought or to provide the people with a new head and a new heart -- which cannot be done in any case -- but to dig strenuously into the covering layer of dirt to reveal the gold beneath."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Candle of God, “Implications of the Menorah,” p.328-330, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, December 25, 2008

"The oil of the Torah needs a wick to hold the flame of light"

“The oil of the Torah needs a wick to hold the flame of light.

It cannot burn of itself.

Something has to transfer the oil in small, controllable quantities.

Otherwise, there is a conflagration.

And it is the body of man that constitutes such a wick.

The ignited flame is the mitzvah, giving off a spiritual light.

The body functions as a useful device.

It helps to manipulate the immense things of the world so that there can be ‘light’ without an explosion.

Of course, the body also causes a lot of trouble for the soul.

But it does provide the means for the soul's achievements.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Candle of God, “Implications of the Menorah,” p..350 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"A soul can kindle a thousand others"

"The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, devotes a great deal of commentary to the fact that oil as a vehicle of fire has enormous advantages over grain and wine, in that it can transmit without losing its substance.

The more I share my grain and wine, the less I have.

In contrast, a flame that can be used to light a thousand other flames, and a soul can kindle a thousand others."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Seven Lights by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, p. 348


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Light does not belong to this world"

“Light is the Genesis-creation of the world.

The primary utterance of creation is "Let there be light," and the first act of creation is the distillation of light, its separation from darkness.

The Midrash asks:

Where was light created from?

And the answer is whispered:

‘God cloaked Himself in a white shawl, and the light of its splendor shone from one end of the world to the other’ (Genesis Rabbah 3:4).

In other words, light, fundamentally, does not belong to this world.

It is, rather, an emanation of a different essence, from the other side of reality.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From On Being Free, “The Motif of Light in the Jewish Tradition,” p. 181, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, December 22, 2008

"Man is an array of lights"

"In a famous book of Kabbalistic commentary, Sefer Hasidim ("The Book of the Devout"), the 613 limbs and organs of the human body are associated with the 613 commandments of the Torah.

Each commandment corresponds to a specific part of the body.

Man is an array of lights, and each mitzvah gives off its own small light.

Our lives consist of lighting one light here, one light there.

All these lights together make up a human being, the ideal image of the person, as though man were merely a brace, or a stand, for the 613 lights."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Seven Lights by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, p. 340-341


Sunday, December 21, 2008

"We do not see things; we see their light"

"Everything is born of light, and it would be more accurate to say that everything we see is only a category of light.

In other words, we do not see things; we see their light.

This is also true for the foremost symbol of light in Jewish mysticism: the Infinite Light, Ohr Ein Sof.

We cannot know the Infinite, but only what emanates from it--its light, which is both the principle and the essence of all reality.

Just as we can perceive only the light of the physical world, we cannot know the Infinite God, only His emanation."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Seven Lights, p. 332 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, December 19, 2008

"Whether a microbe or a galaxy, all are of the same proportion to Him"

“On one hand, we feel God to be very near; on the other, as we see, He is very distant.

We call Him Father.

We also call Him ‘Ein Sof’ (Infinite).

Actually, I need both of these, especially when I am concerned with the question of Divine Providence.

For whenever I move something -- even to the slightest degree -- it has a reason and a result.

As the Tzadik said, lifting up a handful of sand and letting it run out through his fingers:

‘He who does not believe that every one of these particles returns exactly to the place that God wishes, is a heretic.’

Another image, attributed to the Baal Shem Tov, says that sometimes a great storm comes, hurls everything about, and causes the trees to shake violently so that the leaves fall.

One such leaf may drop close to a worm, and it was for this the whole world was in a furor -- that a worm may eat of a certain leaf.

This then, is the aspect of personal Providence.

God's word activates and changes the world all the time.

At every moment there is a totally new state of affairs.

Whether a microbe or a galaxy, all are equally part of this and are in the same proportion to Him.

This means that God is close to us without ceasing.

Nothing can occur without Him.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Sustaining Utterance, p.28 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Repentence must come from the depths of the heart, not out of shallowness"

"There are actually two levels of repentance.

One is that related to those sins committed in error, which includes sins for which the individual is held responsible, just as though they had been committed deliberately.

As the Baal Shem Tov said, when a person repents he places himself on another level of consciousness: "What I know now I was previously unconscious of."

One rises to a higher level, in which sins are seen as mistakes.

That which was previously considered an action performed in full awareness is now viewed as having been performed in ignorance.

As it has been said, "A person does not sin unless the spirit of folly enters into him."

With the passing of folly comes the recognition of error.

That is one level of repentance, the one in which a person extricates himself from a certain way of life and saves himself from his past in order to reach another level of being.

The second level of repentance is the one in which deliberate sins are transmuted into virtues, when every transgression one has committed is reckoned as though it were a mitzvah.

To reach this very high level of repentance, the individual must reach a point in his life equivalent to "the end of days," the end of time and world.

He must change the very essence of himself so drastically that all the facts of his existence, all thoughts or actions, assume an entirely different meaning.

He shifts into another field of being.

The incalculable difficulty of such a shift may be illustrated with a simple example from the physical world.

Let us take the laws of symmetry.

While it is mathematically possible to find the correspondence for almost anything in terms of geometrical perspective, it is practically impossible to transform something with a right-hand symmetry to a left-hand symmetry, like a glove for instance.

The whole system of coordinates has to be revolutionized or transcended.

To transform one's sins into virtues, requires the same sort of total upheaval as changing a left glove to a right glove.

Incidentally, one of the expressions used to depict this sort of repentance is "to turn inside out like a seal," the seal consisting today, as in ancient times, of an embossed emblem whose negative face is inscribed when pressed.

The negative-positive relationship of the faces of a seal is the same as the left right relationship of the hands.

This extreme transformation requires the most drastic action that the individual can undertake: repentance which is done out of love and not out of fear.

This repentance must come, therefore, from the depths of the heart, not out of its shallowness.

In practical terms, one must relate back to that which he truly desires.

For the individual has many desires and the question must therefore be:

Which one is the true desire?

A man may insist that he really wants to grow in spirit and to carry out the commandments.

Does he really want this with all his being, from the depths of his heart?

Were he given complete freedom, what would he do?"

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Long Shorter Way, p. 38, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Kabbalah has been called the soul of the Torah"

"Kabbalah is the inner, mystical dimension of the Torah.

As indicated by its name, which means "what has been received" or "tradition," Kabbalah is based on traditions received from one's teachers, who received them, in turn, from their teachers.

Kabbalah is not a separate area of Torah knowledge but rather the hidden, spiritual dimension of the revealed aspects of the Torah.

Whereas the revealed aspects of the Torah, such as halakhah, speak primarily about visible, physical things, Kabbalah speaks directly about spiritual entities.

It speaks of the system of Worlds and sefirot through which God creates, sustains, and directs the universe.

And it discusses the interaction between those spiritual entities and the performance of mitzvot in the physical world.

Hence, Kabbalah has been called the soul of the Torah.

All Torah study is based on the acceptance of tradition and on the principle that because the Torah is a divine gift, a person must make himself into a proper vessel in order to receive it.

In the study of Kabbalah, however, these approaches are even more important.

Because Kabbalah is the inner spiritual dimension of the Torah, the individual must study it in a way that engages his inner, spiritual dimension.

A person who wishes to study Kabbalah should already have an inner understanding of the ideas, and he must pursue the study of Kabbalah in a spirit of purity and holiness, in order to become a suitable vessel.”
--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Understanding of the Tanya, p. 304, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"An essential element of the inner truth of Judaism"

“God as father, close and intimate, and God as exalted and majestic Being—which seemed to be at opposing poles of religious experience, are united in the world of Judaism.

Indeed, the combined presence is in itself a fundamental principle in the Jewish worldview.

As the poet says, ‘Further than any distance and nearer than any nearness,’ or, ‘Where ever I find You, You are concealed in evanescence, and where ever I do not find You, Your glory fills the earth.’

This dual conception, known in philosophy as the combination of the transcendental and the imminent view of the Divine, and referred to in the Kabbalah as the tension between the aspects of God as ‘surrounding all worlds’ and ‘permeating all worlds,’ is an essential element of the inner truth of Judaism, and constitutes a central issue in every work of Jewish thought.

Any examination of Jewish faith relates to this issue either directly or indirectly.

The kabbalistic appellation of God—‘the Infinite, Blessed be He’—in itself reflects this double aspect of the Divine, combining an abstract, distancing term alongside one of nearness and human concern”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From A Guide to Jewish Prayer, p. 12, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.


Monday, December 15, 2008

"A total and all-inclusive revelation"

"The Revelation at Mount Sinai is the core of Judaism.

And this not only because it is the beginning but because it is apprehended as a total and all-inclusive revelation.

That is, this revelation is considered the opening point, the transition point, between the higher essence and the lower essence – between God and man.

After this revelation there is actually no need for a new revelation because besides being the first or original of its kind, the Revelation is a one-time event that includes all the other revelatory events.

It has been compared to the primordial act of the creation of the world, which was also a first and single act and included all that was and will be in the world.

So, too, the Revelation at Mount Sinai is such a unique event containing in it all that afterward will ever be made known about the connection between God and man."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Parabola , 14:2


Sunday, December 14, 2008

"God tests the pots that are whole"

“God knows the person whom He is testing and is confident that the outcome will be for the good.

As a certain Midrash teaches: just as the potter knocks on the newly completed vessel to ascertain if it is sound, so does God knock on a man.

A potter will refrain from knocking on an obviously cracked vessel, it would only break.

He tests the pots that are whole”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Candle of God, p. 204 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, December 12, 2008

"When a person's mind grasps a concept of Torah"

“When a person’s mind grasps and enclothes a concept of Torah, his mind is simultaneously enclothed within the concept.

His mind envelops the divine wisdom, and the divine wisdom envelops his mind.

The divine wisdom becomes part of him, and he becomes part of it”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Opening the Tanya, p. 148, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, December 11, 2008

"The qualities that create the inward character of the Jew are received as an inheritance"

“Generally speaking, the qualities that create the inward character of the Jew are not the choice of the individual.

Each person receives these qualities as an inheritance from his ancestors, generation after generation, from all those fathers and mothers who have survived, and who have been selected as capable of carrying the work of Judaism.

However, what the individual receives is only the whole body of primary qualities, and he has the choice as to how they should be used.

He has to define their value and essential nature, what they aim at and in what way they can reach perfection."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From We Jews by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, p. 76-77


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"The person performing the commandment is in the action stage, but the person studying Torah is in the planning stage"

"When a person performs a commandment, he is like a worker constructing the building.

But when a person studies Torah, he is involved with the building plans themselves.

He is, so to speak, considering the instructions anew together with the Architect himself.

The person performing the commandment is in the action stage, but the person studying Torah is in the planning stage.

And at the planning stage, the connection with the planner, with the one who has the will, is deeper and more intimate than it is at the action stage."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Learning from the Tanya, p. 199


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Faith is one of the attributes of the human character"

"Like the Jewish way as a whole, faith is a long, unending process of growth and change.

Such a growth process entails accompanying pains, new additions that must be consolidated at each stage, and gaps that must be carefully filled in.

As long as the process continues, special care must be taken at certain points, space for recuperation allowed at others.

Faith is one of the attributes of the human character.

Its scope and power are a function of both inheritance and cultivation.

With rare exceptions, people who are musically gifted, to use an analogy, do not achieve full expression of their gifts unaided or all at once but require nurture and training.

The same is true of faith:

A single ‘revelation’ that solves everything is difficult to come by, and even one who has a deep religious experience must then expand on it and implant it firmly in his soul if it is not to remain merely an isolated incident."
--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Problems of Faith” p. 42, in Teshuvah by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, December 8, 2008

"Why did God create rodents and other crawling creatures?"

Commenting on the statement by Hillel the Elder in the Talmud, "Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving the creatures and drawing them near to the Torah" Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

“Hillel the Elder is not observing that we must love the righteous, but ‘creatures.’

‘Creatures’ is a general term that refers to all beings, even the very lowest, of whom we can say nothing more positive than that they were created.

In this regard, the prophet Elijah was once asked why God created rodents and other crawling creatures.

He replied that when God looks at His world and sees the evil of human beings and wishes to destroy them, He considers those rodents as well and decides that -- just as He allows them to exist -- so will he allow such people to exist.

There are people whose only saving grace is that there are other creatures even lower than they.

It is of such people that Hillel the Elder tells us that it is a mitzvah to love them and bring them close to Torah."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Understanding the Tanya, p.132, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, December 7, 2008

"He sees not what he lacks but what he has"

"The ‘righteous person who experiences good’ (in the Talmud's phrase) is a person who is immune to evil.

He sees things differently than we generally do.

He sees not what he lacks but what he has.

This is a different spiritual construct, a different way of living, a state of being in which it is impossible to suffer.

This is not to say that, in an objective sense, such a person does not experience troubles and ills but that he does not suffer.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, certainly not a naïve man, contracted tuberculosis at the end of his life.

He never complained about having contracted this disease, but expressed great pleasure if, between coughing and spitting up blood, he was able to say a few words.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Opening the Tanya, p. 285 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, December 5, 2008

"We strive to not only instruct, but also to educate"

An interview with Rabbi Steinsaltz was published in the French magazine, Le Petit Hebdo shortly after the publication of a French edition of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s book, Teshuvah: A Guide for the Newly Observant Jew.

Grateful thanks to my friend, Rabbi Pinchas Allouche, Spiritual Leader of The Sephardic Cultural Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, who was kind enough to translate the interview for the benefit of readers of this blog. Rabbi Allouche’s father, Michael Allouche, is the translator of several of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s books into French, including Teshuvah.

An Encounter with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

by Avraham Azoulay

Le P’tit Hebdo : You have written many books on Judaism. What is the goal of your book Teshuvah, which has recentely been translated to French?

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz : The preface of the book indicates the goal of the book clearly. It is not a book that aims to preach in favor of Teshuvah. Rather, it was written to help all Jews, close or distant, who strive to return to Judaism, by asking: “What shall I do today to succeed in returning home?” My basic assumption is that the reader of this book has already developed a minimum level of interest in Judaism. But for those who have absolutely no interest in any attribute of Judaism, I have other books to suggest.

L.P.H. : Your books are translated to many languages including Chinese and Japanese! How can you ensure the authenticity and accuracy of the translation?

Rabbi Steinsaltz: Obviously, I do not master all languages. All I do is simply try to find a good translator. Initially, Teshuvah was written in Hebrew, and shortly after it was translated to English. I know the author of the French translation, Michael Allouche, very well. He has already translated some of my additional books. The subject of the book also interests him personally, and he expresses himself nicely. I think that the French translation is very good, probably even better than the translations in other languages.

L.P.H. : Is this indeed a book where you aim to “open new doors”?

Rabbi Steinsaltz: Certainly. This book does not strive to replace the Code of Jewish Law, which is indispensable to the Jewish home, although it is also very hard to understand for a newcomer who lacks a permanent guide or a teacher. This resembles a classical French Restaurant where the new customer cannot comprehend the complicated names of the various dishes which are offered on the menu. In this book, I simply tried to explain the names and content of the many dishes that Jewish life offers. I have tackled questions, such as: where to begin, what should one study, what constitutes “Kashrut”, Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays. For it is often difficult for Rabbis, or Jews who were raised observant, to perceive the level of ignorance that exists in a Jew who was distant, and to understand the elementary questions that he may face.

L.P.H. : Did you focus on the practical aspects of Judaism?

Rabbi Steinsaltz: In truth, that is an understatement. This book starts by reviewing the essence of teshuvah, and its particularity in the modern world. Besides the practical aspects, which I also wrote about, I have also tackled the “psychology of teshuvah”; the natural and personal struggles that rise deep within a person’s being. Every baal teshuvah undergoes several crisis, which I describe in the book : problems of faith, the relation to his past, or the sometimes disappointing encounter with the religious community. The baal teshuvah, who is determined to change his life whilst continuing to live in this very world, must learn how to relate to his own family, his social and professional environmnent .These are the domains that I dwell on in this book, hoping to furnish a precious guide to those who are willing to make this step.

L.P.H. : In addition to your occupation as an author, you are also the dean of educational institutions, that incorporate a unique approach. Your school in Jerusalem, Mekor Chaim, is extremely successful, notably among the ‘olim’ from France. Is it hard to meet and satisfy all of the demands of the school?

Rabbi Steinsaltz: Each year, we receive 150 applications for a class that can only contain 30 students. The selection of students is thus harder than the selection of students in universities! I hope to, one day, expand my establishments, but the political promises currently remain in the realm of nice words. We favor the “olim chadashim” in the selection process. If the motto of France is “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, ours uses words that are slightly different: “Quality, Religiosity, Identity.” We strive to not only instruct, but also to educate our students. Hence, the cooperation of parents is crucial, and for many, Mekor Chaim seems like a large and beautiful family.

L.P.H. : Are you optimistic about the current situation in Israel?

Rabbi Steinsaltz: If you were trying to make me state that the situation in Israel is “good”, I will of course, state that it is far from good. Nevertheless, I am an optimistic Jew, yet with a Jewish definition of optimism. In the 18th Century, there was a great dispute between Leibnitz and Voltaire concerning the type of world that we live in. Leibniz claims that “we live in the best possible world” Voltaire, in Candide, reached an opposite conclusion: “We live in the worst possible world”. In my opinion, the Jewish response to this dispute is as follows: “We live in the worse of possible worlds, in which there is still hope.”

L.P.H. : Is this statement based on mystical sources?

Rabbi Steinsaltz: Yes indeed. This quote stems from the teachings of Chaim Vital, the disciple of the Arizal, in his book Etz Chaim. Evil, he teaches, is the ruler of our world, as it is the world of “Kelipa”, a term that is used to describe the concealed presence of God, thus forcing the good to exist as a minority. Yet man has the power to repair the world and transform it into a world of holiness (“Kedusha”). It is thus not surprising that this book also depicts the Messianic era as the culmination of our work to transform this world into a world of holiness. Without a doubt, this is the calling of the Jewish condition: Having complete faith in God, while, at the very same time, working tirelessly to bring about the revelation of God and the ultimate redemption.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

"The question that must be asked is not 'Must I do all or nothing?'"

"The decisive point in the turn to Judaism is not the initial awakening, which can be seen merely as a response to a call.

It is, rather, the inward affirmation of ‘we shall do and we shall obey’ (Exodus 24:7)—the decision to address one’s life to the realization of this commitment—that makes the turn real.

Rather than waiting for an opportune time to make the change all at once—something that may never come along—it is better to change one’s life gradually, by stages, according to one’s inner capacity and outward circumstances.

But this does not lessen the importance of making a firm decision at the outset.

There is a crucial moment in which one ‘receives the Torah,’ with all its contents, both general and specific.

It is then that one sets out on the path, toward the realization of one’s resolve.

Some are able to achieve this relatively easily, passing as if by magic from one world to the other, and encountering few obstacles or difficulties.

But for most it is a complex, long drawn-out process, fraught with tribulations.

The question that must be asked is not, ‘Must I do all or nothing?’ but rather, ‘What beginning can I make that will facilitate eventually reaching the goal of doing it all?’"

--Rabbi Adin Sterinsaltz

From “All or Nothing: The False Dilemma” p. 21, in Teshuvah by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"I was such a non-believer that I didn't even believe in heresy"

"Over 20 years ago, I recorded and transcribed a meeting between Rabbi Steinsaltz and a group of journalists in New York. One of the journalists asked Rabbi Steinsaltz, “Why did you become religious?”

Rabbi Steinsaltz responded:

”To even ask such a question is impertinent.

And I've been asked this so many times that it's become tedious.

It's also enervating.

I won't say anything very specific for the same reason that I don't undress in public.

I know that in some places it is done, but not by me.

But, generally speaking, I would say that my turning to religion came about because of two reasons that may not be considered religious enough.

One was that, I am, by nature, an unbeliever, which means that I couldn't take lots of things for granted that other people could.

I discovered when I was very young that people do believe in lots of things.

People were ardently religious because they were taken in by things that other people say, things that people assume to be true.

Now, being an unbeliever almost by nature, I couldn't believe them, so I began to ask questions--but not questions just to annoy people.

My first name, Adin, means gentle.

Someone with this name is almost fated to be very rude.

I was always a delicate boy, so people used to come and pat my head, and say, 'It's such a nice name. It suits you so well.'

So, of course, when you hear this so many times, you become coarser and coarser and more and more rude.

I didn't want to annoy people.

But I began asking questions, many questions about things that were accepted in Israel and in other places.

I was perhaps a greater non-believer than the rest of my countrymen.

They were such great non-believers that they didn't even believe in Judaism.

I was such a non-believer that I didn't even believe in heresy.

So this was the turning, a very important one.

I discovered that one has to believe in many heresies in order to be a heretic.

But in order to accept heresy, one has to be a believer.

And if you have to be a believer, it becomes a matter of choice in what to believe.

That was one point.

The other point was that, as a boy, and certainly as a young man, I was full of desires.

Big ones.

And the world didn't seem big enough.

I wanted more and more and still more.

In a certain way, this was a turn into a fourth dimension, or a fifth dimension, or whatever dimension.

My turning towards religious thinking or thinking about something like God came because the world was too small.

Because of this, because I felt that unless a person becomes attached to the Infinite, the world becomes far too restrictive to live in.

My turnabout was a very slow one, a very painful one.

I'm still trying to become better.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Doing God such a big favor"

"I dislike certain traits in many religious people and one trait is smugness.

I think it is dangerous for a person to go to shul and to think that he does God such a big favor that he will be forgiven for everything.

He is so self-satisfied and feels he is doing God such a favor by visiting His place from time to time."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From a talk by Rabbi Steinsaltz in New York City


Monday, December 1, 2008

"Jewish mysticism is very non-mystical"

"One of the differences between mysticism in general and Jewish mysticism in particular is that contrary to all other forms Jewish mysticism is very non-mystical, very bound to the law.

Kabbalah is a kind of a commentary on the mitzvot, on the meaning of the mitzvot.

The feeling, the enjoyment, and the result are not entirely connected.

For example, sometimes the sexual act, creating life, is enjoyable; sometimes it is less enjoyable.

The enjoyment has no real connection with either the fruitfulness or with the meaning of the process.

Some mystical things that are practiced are a kind of a spiritual masturbation.

That is one side.

On the other hand, any kind of mitzvah is basically a communion, a binding of oneself with God.

Sometimes I enjoy this act of being bound.

Sometimes I don't enjoy it.

My enjoyment or lack of enjoyment doesn't change the fact very much.

Sometimes I have a feeling for it and sometimes I have to learn about it.

Sometimes I don't get it right.

But again, it doesn't matter so very much.

My enjoyment is a kind of enticing force of doing things, but this is just a small part of the real deed, which is the creation of some kind of connection between man and God, and this is the meaning of a mitzvah."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From a lecture by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in New York City.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

"So many people who are selling spirituality are doing all kinds of tricks to take your mind off of what is really important"

A few years ago, I asked Rabbi Steinsaltz to offer some advice for people looking for a Teacher. One of his suggestions was this:

"Whenever I see something very showy, very flamboyant, colorful, and impressive, I am always trying to find out, to search what is really lying beneath it.

And in so many cases--in my case--in other people's--they find out that beneath those showy garments sometimes we have nothing.

I’ve had my own experience with zoology and I remember once seeing something that made a big impression on me.

It was a plucked peacock.

When you see a plucked peacock, which looks like a rather ugly, emaciated hen, you get so very disappointed because when you see the peacock in all its glory, and it's clearly a glorious bird.

But, again, if you want to eat it or have more contact, or just look at it, then you find out what it is in truth.

So when I see peacock feathers, which are wonderful to look at, I'm always beginning to think about that plucked hen beneath those feathers.

In the same way, when someone comes and makes a big show, a very impressive show, this is the time to make a check to wonder whether you are not taken by external effects.

You know this because you are doing these things when you perform as a magician.

The secret of magic tricks is that you make people look at the wrong things.

So many of these people who are selling spirituality are really doing all kinds of tricks to take your mind off of what is really important.

I would suggest trying to look carefully at these people who are claiming or are serving as teachers."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From a conversation in New York City


Friday, November 28, 2008

"The battle against evil requires an enormous commitment on our part"

“Educating people on how to cope with evil is one element that is sorely missing in our pedagogy system.

So many refuse to even admit to the existence of the dark side.

Knowledge and awareness of the existence of evil should be a required element of both public and private education, from pre-school to adulthood.

While we all may yearn for nothing but sweetness and light in our lives, we will always find one bully trying to beat others down – or, on a broader scale, a dictator willing to kill others to attain his own goals, or a terrorist who believes that the road to heaven is paved with corpses.

Raising awareness of evil is not education for pessimism or for the notion of all-present evil.

Human beings and societies, generally, have many positive aspects as well, and they must not be ignored.

It is a simple fact of life that most people have more good in them than evil.

Even on the national and international level, there are many good intentions for solving the very real needs and problems of the world.

The best way to combat evil is to promote good.

This, too, cannot be accomplished by ignoring evil.

The battle requires an enormous commitment on our part.

We cannot simply sit and wait for a good angel to intervene.

There is nothing wrong with believing that guardian angels keep an eye on us, but we must remember that ultimately we are responsible for most of the work – and from time to time, we can accept a little assistance from the angels.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From the essay “Good vs. Evil” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, November 27, 2008

"We thank You for inspiring us to thank You"

"It feels easier and more natural to give thanks when everything seems to be going well, when we have peace and security, health and bounty.

But when we are in a situation of war and fear, of sickness and poverty, when our inclination is to cry and curse, it is much more difficult — but it is still possible and necessary.

When he was poor and starving, the famous Reb Zusha is said to have thanked God for giving him such a good appetite!

It is no coincidence that Reb Zusha's profound capacity for gratitude was matched by a deep relationship with God.

The structure of giving thanks on a regular basis, even in hard times, encourages us to focus on the positive side of life.

It does not mean that we forget the dark side, just that we keep a true perspective, giving the positive side its due.

Sorrow and anxiety should not extinguish our ability to say 'thank you' for our blessings, even when they are obscured by pain.

Harder times can shake us from complacency and may enhance in us the ability to perceive the good as a gift to be appreciated and acknowledged — in good times and in bad.

Feeling and expressing gratitude is good for us.

The Almighty does not 'need' our thanksgiving.

It is we who benefit from feeling and expressing it.

Our Jewish liturgy contains a seldom-noticed prayer, hidden within a prayer, which acknowledges this.

The phrase appears at a high point in the service, yet it is said to oneself:

'We thank You for inspiring us to thank You.'

This goes well beyond being thankful for our objective gifts.

It is a recognition that even the ability to know that we should be grateful is a gift from God and worthy of thanks."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "Thankful for Thanksgiving,' an essay by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"A symptom of the spiritual malady we are suffering from"

"When the general knowledge of the Jewish intellectual is on a university level, and his Jewish knowledge is on the grade-school level, his Jewish knowledge cannot compete and it will always cause some kind of a rift and some degree of self-contempt.

Because you cannot live with an abnormal rift like this; you cannot work with it.

It is not only a matter of learning Jewish studies, but also of trying to see things Jewishly -- in a thousand different ways.

When we speak about 'Jewish myth' for example, and we discuss whether it is a good or a bad thing, this in itself shows that we accept the outlook of the world around us.

Indeed, we don't look at our history and life from our own point of view, but from without, like strangers -- and this is a symptom of the spiritual malady we are suffering from."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From On Being Free, p.47, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Too often the wrong tools are used to illumine certain concepts"

"The reality of the world is nowadays apprehended in terms of electromagnetic fields.

But when I look at the world I do not see electromagnetic fields, nor do I perceive any diagrammatic representation of a mathematical formula.

What I see is, again, table, chair, arm, and leg.

Which is to say that my organs of perception do not see.

And it is known that our vision is limited to a narrow range of light-waves of a certain size.

From which we may conclude that we have to use our understanding to see that which our vision cannot ascertain.

In the same way, since the eyes of the body cannot hope ever to see the Holy One, Blessed be He, the problem is one of using the right means of explanation.

All too often the wrong tools are used to describe or illumine certain concepts, as for instance, to say that an intelligence is so complex that it cannot be touched.

It becomes absurd because intelligence is not touchable.

The two essences do not belong together."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Sustaining Utterance, p.32, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, November 24, 2008

"How do I prepare to receive the unique message God's Torah has for me?"

"The Torah is not a textbook.

If a textbook is objectively good, I may study from it, but how I relate to it is irrelevant.

I cannot argue with the mathematics it presents.

I cannot argue with the rules of grammar it lays out.

Certainly, I can learn from it, but it is not important to me, because it is utterly independent of me.

It says what it says.

With the Torah, on the other hand, I have to find my message.

I have to figure out our relationship.

Therefore, I have to care.

I cannot glide over the text.

I have to engage it.

But how do I prepare myself to receive the unique message God’s Torah has for me?

How do I get ready to convene with God?

According to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the 18th century mystic and Talmudist , the pre-condition for this meeting is what he calls “self-nullification.”

As developed in the Tanya, his quietly revolutionary work, self-nullification requires one to separate from his ego, his smugness, and his importance.

This is not to denigrate the ego.

We need our egos in order to grow, in order to fulfill the Biblical charge to master the world, in order to affect tikkun olam.

But, just as we suspend our physical creativity, the tangible expression of our ego, on Shabbat and Yom Tov, we must also subordinate our egos, on the deepest level, during those activities in which we seek to join our will to God’s."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, November 23, 2008

"Imagine a person does not know that he has a head and that he discovered it accidentally"

"I grew up in a family where neither my mother nor my father went to synagogue.

Not even on Yom Kippur.

My father said that he did not go because he has too much respect for the place.

He said -- and I completely agree with him -- that the synagogue is not a theater. Either you are a participant or you don't go there.

Because he could not be a participant, he would not go to watch.

My father was not particular about eating kosher when he was in Israel.

But whenever he was abroad he always ate kosher just for everyone to see.

He was proud of being a Jew and of Jewish knowledge.

When I was 10 years old my father hired a tutor to teach me Talmud.

My father said, "I don't mind if you're an athiest, but I don't want any member of my family to be an ignoramus."

It is a shame for a Jew to be an ignoramus.

Perhaps it is the lowest of the low that a Jew can reach.

It means he lacks some essential knowledge about himself.

Imagine that a person does not know that he has a head until he is 65 and that he discovered it accidentally.

That is the kind of feeling that results from a Jew being ignorant."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From a talk given in New York City


Friday, November 21, 2008

"God is still uttering the Ten Commandments"

"The event at Mount Sinai is an ongoing Revelation which repeats itself whenever one studies Torah.

One may not be aware of standing before the Holy Mountain, but God is still uttering the Ten Commandments.

Even if one does not hear them, the standing itself, in awe and terror, is enough to establish the correct relationship to Torah.

The realization of this is, in turn, something acquired by study."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Long Shorter Way, p. 52, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, November 20, 2008

"The more we judge others based on the body and its characteristics the more unequal society becomes"

"Children make friends, based on their particular preference, a certain set of criteria.

As they grow older, those criteria become less important.

We evaluate others according to our own set of values, not according to their own.

There are always particulars that we do not take into consideration, since we don't consider them to be as important.

For example, to one person the shape of someone's nose may be very key, while to someone else it is completely irrelevant.

One can construct a set of values in which all physical attributes are as unimportant as the size of a person's nose.

In such a framework, it is possible to relate to others solely in terms of their souls -- those traits that divide us, such as jealousy and hatred, become completely inconsequential.

This is not because people are truly equal but because the differences between them are of no account.

The more we judge others based on the body and its characteristics, the more unequal society becomes.

When we believe that one person is somehow superior to another, true equality is impossible.

Under these circumstances, there cannot be real love of others."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Understanding the Tanya ,p. 122, by Rabnbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Paradoxes and logical contradictions"

"One can ask questions--all kinds of questions-- without those questions undermining one's faith.

I was once a student of mathematics.

I know about so many unanswered problems and so many paradoxes and so many logical contradictions.

Do these things undermine my belief or understanding of mathematics?

Not at all."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From a lecture by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz delivered in New York City


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"The secret that God exists"

"Our forefathers' legacy to us is the secret that in essence God exists here.

From generation to generation, they whispered into the ears of those who would follow them:

'Within your house, within the house of all humanity, there is a hidden treasure, a knowledge that is the secret of the true unity of God, a treasure more precious than those of all earthly kings -- the awareness that God exists despite all the concealment.'

And we offer thanks for this inheritance:

'How goodly is our portion ... and how beautiful our heritage!'

For compared to it, everything else is dwarfed and of no value."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Understanding the Tanya, p. 152, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, November 17, 2008

"The struggle with the evil inclination"

"It makes no difference whether the struggle with the evil inclination, the yetzer hara, is over something great or something small -- whether one struggles to withstand sinning or one struggles to use one's time wisely.

In either case, the battle is of equal intensity and importance.

For instance, a person who has learned Torah for nine or ten hours may feel unable to continue.

At that moment, the effort to go on is a battle no less demanding than the war against the evil inclination's most fiery desires.

In the final analysis, there is no qualitative difference between a person who sins because he gave in to the distractions of the street and a scholar who does not increase his study schedule or pray with kavvanah.

Neither is prepared to struggle, and neither steps beyond his limitations."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Understanding the Tanya, p. 84, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, November 16, 2008

"What a child learns has to be correct"

"One should not educate a child to believe something that is correct only for one's childhood and that has to be changed for more correct beliefs later on, erroneously assuming that 'he will understand when he grows up.'

On the contrary, a child has to be helped to understand in accordance with his capacities, but what he learns has to be correct, so that even when he grows up he won't find any discrepancies and it will still be correct."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Sustaining Utterance, p.1, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, November 14, 2008

"When a digit is placed before a few zeros, a number of great value can result"

"Intention is like zeros added to a basic number.

The Seer of Lublin is said to have interpreted the verse "The Lord shall count in the register of the nations" (Psalms 87:6) in this spirit.

Whereas the digit zero appears in the number systems of other nations, no Hebrew letter corresponds to the zero.

If a person prays, learns Torah, or performs a mitzvah without intent, he is recorded "in the register of nations" -- with a zero.

But when he prays, learns Torah, or performs a mitzvah with intent, a number is placed before all of the zeros he has amassed.

The zero in itself has no numerical value -- however, when another digit is placed before a few zeros, a number of great value can result."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Undertanding the Tanya p. 248 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, November 13, 2008

"No one is great enough to reach the heavens"

"Once, two great people were speaking.

One said, "I have reached the seventh heaven!"

The other replied, "I am so small that the seventh heaven comes down to me."

No one is great enough to reach the heavens.

Indeed, the greater a person is the more he prevents the heavens from descending to him.

However, when a person is small, the heavens can reach him."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Understanding the Tanya, p. 11 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"The Torah was given to the entire Jewish People--men and women""

Here is a slightly edited version of yesterday’s Talmud commentary drawn from the Hebrew edition of the Steinsaltz Talmud.

If you want to subscribe to receive this daily commentary from Rabbi Steinsaltz on the day’s “Page of Talmud”, click here and follow the link from the Aleph Society:

Kiddushin 34a-b
November 11, 2008

The Mishnah (29b) taught that women are not obligated to perform positive commandments that are dependent on time (“mitzvot aseh she-hazman geramah”).

Our Gemara asks for a source that frees women from these commandments, and presents tefillin as the archetype:

Just as women are not obligated to lay tefillin, similarly all mitzvot “positive commandments that are dependent on time” are not obligatory for women.

The Shittah Mekubetzet (Rabbi Betzalel of Tzfat, c.1520-1591) questions why the Gemara asks for a source freeing women from “positive commandments that are dependent on time” rather than asking how we know that women are obligated to perform any positive mitzvot at all.

Anyone who studies theTorah knows that it is written in the masculine, and appears to be directing its commands to men.

Furthermore, the Gemara later on (35b) feels obligated to prove that women are obligated to refrain from negative commandments (mitzvot lo ta'aseh).

The Shittah Mekubetzet answers that we know that the Gemara has sources indicating that women are obligated in certain positive commandments that are dependent on time (e.g. the commandment to eat matzah on Pesach), thus it is only natural that the Gemara would seek a source for the fact that women are not obligated in other mitzvot.

He also points out that the entire question is predicated on a misunderstanding of the foundation of the Torah, since it is well known that the Torah was given to the entire Jewish People - men and women - based on the passage (Exodus 19:3) “This is what you must say to the family of Jacob and tell the Israelites”, which is understood by the Sages to mean that Moshe was obligated to teach the Torah to the women (referred to as Bet Yaakov) as well as the men (referred to as Bnei Yisrael).

It is interesting to note that the 20th century movement of formal Torah schooling for women that was the brainchild of Sarah Schenirer, who recognized that in the modern age in order to ensure that women kept mitzvot it was essential that girls join their brothers in the study of Torah, was called Bet Yakov based on this midrash.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"The unending cycle of creation and recreation--in which there is no death at all"

"Death is terrible, but it is terrible only from our own personal, limited viewpoint, which is attached to certain forms.

Let us, then, distance ourselves from our preference for certain forms that are close to our hearts, and try to see things from a place where everything is equally close to us, equally loved by us.

Or, in more precise words, let us try to see things from the perspective of the Creator, with Godly eyes.

If we look at things in this way, we can also try to see the world from the point of view of the microbes, of the worms and flies living in the dunghill, of the growing green grass and the animal that eats it.

Then when a body dies, it is now the property of microbes, worms, and other creatures. Now the form of the dead person, who was so close to our hearts, changes into another, very different, form of life.

The microbes and worms, too, die in their turn and in their death they nourish the growing grass.

And the animal who eats the grass also gets eaten in due course, and becomes a new form of life in an endless life cycle.

Is this really cruelty and horror?

If only we detach ourselves from our habitual viewpoint we shall see that death, the cruelty of the struggle for survival, is merely one point in the cycle of life, the unending cycle of creation and recreation, of shifting from one form of life to another -- in which there is no death at all.

This is how our ancient sages interpreted the verse 'He shall be our guide even unto death' (Psalm 48:15): He will guide us up and above death, in eternal life.

The strong may overpower the weak, but here there are no strong ones, no weak ones.

The tiger devours the doe, but the worms who eat up the tiger are not strong, nor is the grass that is nourished by worms.

And the doe eats that grass.

There are no weak or strong here, only a long cycle of life, n
o cruelty, but rather a transformation of familiar forms into new forms, new lives."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “And His Tender Mercies Extend over All His Works” p. 212-213 in On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, November 10, 2008

"Israel is in a stage of adolescence, asking: Who am I?"

TIME Magazine, in a feature called, "Israel in 2068 Envisioning Israel's Future” asked twelve prominent writers, statesmen, and thinkers the following:

Israel has existed for sixty years so far…how do you feel it will respond to the challenges and opportunities of the next sixty?

Rabbi Steinsaltz, who was one of the twelve participants, responded:

“The continuation of the State of Israel depends on the ability of the state, or better still its people, to solve the problem of its identity.

As an entity, the state is in the stage of adolescence, asking: Who am I?

From its inception, it has had two very different answers:

Israel is a Jewish state, or Israel is a state of Jews.

This reflects the basic ambivalence of Zionism, which is, on the one hand, the desire for complete assimilation, to become a normal nation to the point of annihilation.

But at the same time, Zionism was a Messianic movement (even when not always religious), craving for definition and difference.

This problem is expressed in every facet of life — law and education, economy and defense.

So far the answers are mixed and confused, erratic like any adolescent.

As a general collection of Jews (by any definition), Israel may continue to exist by inertia, although the constant outside pressure, internal friction and the ability to immigrate and disappear will eventually disrupt the state.

The only way to ensure the state is, strangely enough, spiritual — by deciding that Israel is a Jewish State that has to find its strength in reconnecting to its past, to a feeling of a mission.

Army and economy may help but the state can exist only when it is built on a dream.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, November 9, 2008

"The greatest legal authorities were immersed in Kabbalah"

"The Shulhan Arukh, the great work that has become the fundamental halakhic text for all of Jewry, was written by Rabbi Joseph Caro, a sage whose authority rested not only on his very broad learning but also on his many-sidedness and mystic insight.

He wrote other books of halakhic procedure and law, exegesis on Torah and the like, and in addition he wrote a treatise called Maggid M'esharim, which was certainly a kabbalistic work and showed him to be a man who had mystical experiences and visions.

Those of his generation who heard about his revelations were inclined to say that it was the voice of the Mishnah speaking from his mouth.

To this day, the inspired orders of prayers we follow on the all-night tikkun of Shavout are those of Rabbi Joseph Caro.

And one of his closest disciples wrote the famous Shabbat song 'Lechah Dodi,' now accepted in all circles of Jewish worship, which is obviously a kabbalistic poem.

So we see that the greatest of the halakhic legal authorities was very much immersed in the mystical world of Kabbalah."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From On Being Free, p. 190, by Rabbi Adin Steinssaltz


Friday, November 7, 2008

"Our greatest test is making the permissible holy"

"Nachmanides explains that the mitzvah of 'Ye shall be holy' means that a person must sanctify himself with those things permitted to him so that he will not be 'a degenerate with the Torah's sanction.'

Each of us must make moral choices as to how we will conduct ourselves.

The Torah permits marital relations, yet a person can, while acting wholly within the framework of the law, indulge a greedy lust born of unrestrained desire.

The Torah allows the consumption of meat and wine, yet a person may, while eating only kosher foods (even simple food, as he exercises proper table manners), become obsessed with gratifying his palate.

Or someone may be honest, yet immersed in the pursuit of money with such utter self-abandon that it becomes his personal idol.

In this sense, the Kotzker Rebbe states that a person can commit adultery with his own wife.

Our greatest test, therefore, is making the permissible holy."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Understanding the Tanya, p.87, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Covering one's head expresses one's awe and reverence of God"

"A Jewish person covers his head not only in a holy place (such as a synagogue) or when engaged in holy matters (such as learning Torah or performing a mitzvah) but wherever he may be and all the time--the reason being that the Divine Presence, the Shekhinah exists everywhere and always rests on his head.

Covering oneself (and in particular one's head) expresses one's awe and reverence of God and His glory.

For that reason, the sages wrapped themselves in their robes when they sat to administer justice or speak words of Torah.

Similarly, in most congregations, the men cover their heads with their prayer shawls when reciting the Shmoneh Esrei.

Wrapping oneself in one's garment is a sign of accepting authority.

Contrarily, an uncovered head is an expression of throwing off a yoke, of liberty.

The Aramaic phrase reish gali, 'an uncovered head,' expresses that point exactly.

Thus, the Aramaic translation of the verse 'The children of Israel went out with a high hand' (Exodus 14:8) is 'The children of Israel went forth with an uncovered head.'

A person removes articles of clothing when he feels at ease, and he covers himself when he believes that he is being judged from above.

Therefore, covering one's head is an expression of the sense that the Shekhinah is to be found everywhere and that one is always subject to the immediacy of the omnipresent Divinity."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Understanding the Tanya, p.191, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Where is God?"

"The Rabbi of Kotzk once asked one of his disciplines, 'Where is God?'

The disciple answered, 'Why, of course, he is everywhere!'

The Rabbi of Kotzk shook his head and said, 'Not so. He is only where He is allowed to enter.'

It may be concluded that the person who permits God to come into him is the one who is close to God.

There is no need to draw and pull God to oneself or to climb and struggle to Him.

One has only to allow Him to be present, or at least one's actions have to be such that God can participate in them."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Long Shorter Way, p. 225, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

""Be satisfied with less...and become more holy"

"In the realm of this-worldly matters, a person should compare himself to those who are less well-off and to learn how to be satisfied with less.

In the realm of the spirit, by contrast, he should compare himself to his betters, to realize how imperfect he is and to feel the urge to become more holy.

Unfortunately, many people do the opposite.

In regard to this-worldly matters, they compare themselves to those who are better off than they are and as a result grow depressed and envious.

And in the realm of the spirit, they compare themselves to their inferiors, as a result of which they become self-satisfied and dull-hearted."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Understanding the Tanya, p. 103 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, November 3, 2008

"One knows one's faults and sins better than one knows those of others"

"How is it possible to carry out the mitzvah "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" if the other person is an evildoer and a sinner?

How can one bring oneself to love anyone with whom there is no natural affinity?

The answer given is connected with the words 'as thyself.'

Just as one knows one's own faults and sins better than one knows those of others, one does not hate oneself; so it is necessary to relate to another.

Even when a person hates himself, he continues to love himself also.

As it is written: "Love will cover all your transgressions."

Of course, love does not really do more to the transgressions than put some sort of veil over them to keep them from being seen.

They cannot usually be made to disappear.

Nevertheless, one's evaluation of the same facts can be altered.

Just as one tends to gloss over one's own transgressions, so one should try to confute the negative reaction to someone else's transgressions, thereby seeing the other as one sees oneself.

The double-mindedness here is not a matter of hypocritically closing one's eyes to sin, but rather, seeing it from a different angle -- as though it were I who did it and not someone else."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Long Shorter Way, p215, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz