Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Exile epitomizes the grief of Rachel"

Many years ago Rabbi Steinsaltz delivered two series of lectures on the army channel of Israel Radio.

One series was on men of the Bible and the other was on women of the Bible.

These lectures became the basis of the Rabbi's book Biblical Images: Men and Women of the Book.

The original American edition included illustrations, including the print of Rachel by Gustav Dore shown here.

The following is an excerpt from Rabbi Steinsaltz’s essay on Rachel:

"Rachel is the mother figure of the Jewish people and appears thus not only in the Book of Genesis but also in later scriptures and texts.

She has become the feminine aspect of the Jewish nation—a compelling image of maternal lament:

“Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted.” (Jeremiah 31:15)

Because she is the mother who understands pain and anguish, Rachel’s tomb has become a place of pilgrimage for all those who sorrow and mourn, and it is to her that people come to pour out their hearts…

…As the mother of the nation, which did not, after all, issue entirely from her offspring, Rachel weeping for her sons is suited to be the tragic figure of exile and suffering.

It is exile that, in fact, epitomizes the grief of Rachel:

Whether it is for a homeland won and later snatched away;

or whether it is for long years of waiting for the consummation of a youthful love;

or whether it is death at the moment of fulfillment.

Therefore, for many centuries during the First and Second Temple periods, and certainly after the destruction of the Temple, Rachel came to symbolize the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) in exile."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Excerpted from “Rachel,” in Biblical Images by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"From the perspective of the Creator"

“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.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, p. 212


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"It is a privilege to weep before Him"

"The general mood of the lamentations is interwoven not only with faith in God and in the rightness of His judgment, but also with a deep and even intimate bond between the mourner and God.

Not only is the Lord always present, but it is possible, and even a privilege, to weep before Him.

The relation to God with all the heartache and suffering is not a relation to the “Judge of the whole earth” or to “King of the World,” but to the “Merciful Father.”

The blows that He distributes are not the blows of wickedness; the sufferings that he causes have a good reason.

But the fact that the judgment is just does not eliminate the pain; the fact that the son receives his suffering without striking back does not diminish the suffering.

Yet the son knows that he is allowed to cry; he knows that he can put his head in the father’s lap, the same father who hit at him, and that he can tell him how much he is suffering.

As described in the many dirges, poems, and prayers of the sages, God Himself weeps over the destruction of the Temple; He Himself suffers and feels the agony of those who are stricken.

Indeed many of these are more specific delineations of the mood of the Book of Lamentations.

And much more than the mourner addresses his countrymen, those who are with him and those who will remember these events in the future; he is really addressing God Himself.

It is not a petition, nor even a protest: it is rather an outpouring of the heart, a weeping on the part of one who knows that the chastising father is suffering his pain along with him.

As in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “And I will wait upon the Lord that hides His face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for Him.” (Isaiah 8:17)

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “The Lamentations of Jeremiah,” in On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, July 28, 2008

"How could the order of a whole world be shattered?"

This week, in an effort to continue exploring some of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s teachings related to the Three Weeks leading up to Tisha b’Av, and to Tisha b’Av itself, I will be posting excerpts from an essay written by Rabbi Steinsaltz on The Book of Lamentations, which itself was written, according to tradition, by the prophet Jeremiah and read in the synagogue of the evening of Tisha b’Av.

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

"Three of the chapters in the Book of Lamentations begin with the word How.

And quite justifiably the book as a whole is called Ekhah (How), not only because it is the opening word, but because it is the key word throughout.

There is grief and sorrow in the Book of Lamentations, weeping and moaning—but more than all else there is a series of questions. These questions are genuine queries, even though they sometimes seem like rhetorical questions.

They are queries that cry out for the light of understanding—and thereby beg for some sort of solution.

There is enormous pain in these questions, but they are not vengeful cries of defiance and challenge.

Although they are not given to be answered within the body of the book, the questions provoke a genuine search to know and clarify the reasons for the horrors, to comprehend their significance, and even to find a way to solve the problem, or to get out of the impasse.

Presenting the matter in the form of a question in itself produces a feeling of loss and pain.

Ekhah expresses the essence of the incredulous—“How could the order of a whole world be shattered and a new reality take its place?”

When the sorrow and agony somehow become a part of consciousness, when the facts of a blood curdling reality become tolerable to one’s mind, it means that the greatest shock of the catastrophe has passed.

A horrible knowledge of the worst kind can be borne by man with all its pain, once he is able to react to it in some rational manner.

But there is a stage (whether temporary or lasting) in which the experience and its suffering are not only unbearably painful but are not even capable of being grasped by the mind.

It is a wild nightmare, in which no stated facts can convince one of its existential actuality.

The question, “How can this happen?” does not seek to know the mechanism of the disaster, in terms of its causes and development.

The inquiry does not try to analyze or comprehend it in military or political terms; it is not a request for historic or even moral explanation.

The question is a very much more profound and urgent cry: “How can such a thing be?”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “The Lamentations of Jeremiah” in On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, July 27, 2008

"Self-discipline is an integral part of religious life"

“The Jewish calendar designates days of contemplation, of mourning and of joy.

Though at first sight it may seem to be a paradox, it can be said that only he who has the strength to mourn on Tisha b’Av (the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple and of other disasters in Jewish history) is capable of rejoicing on Simchat Torah.

In spite of the apparent polar differences between the two activities, there is a profound bond between them, for both draw upon the same inner strength.

The ability to rejoice on a preassigned day derives from self-discipline, which is an integral part of religious life, and an essential characteristic of the religious Jew.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “A Time of Joy” in The Strife of the Spirit by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, July 25, 2008

"The expulsion of the Divine Presence"

"We must remember that even with the destruction of the First Temple, and certainly with that of the Second, there was not a massive exile of our people from the land.

However, if in a practical way the situation of the nation changed little with the Destruction, as long as the Temple stood, Jews outside of the land were only a “Diaspora”, a “scattering” of people who happened to live in another country.

The loss of national independence made little change in the situation, as our people had complete national independence in its own land for a relatively short period anyway.

But upon the destruction of the Temple there came that feeling of orphancy which is implied in the concept of exile.

The far-flung communities of Israel, which had possessed a center toward which all life was directed, were suddenly no longer in a state of mere temporary absence (which would eventually be terminated), but, in a deeper sense, in exile, under the yoke of “foreign slavery” in every land, including the land of Israel.

Therefore, the sufferings of Israel are unlike those recorded in the history of any other nation.

The destruction of the Temple was the “expulsion of the Divine Presence” from Israel, and all the subsequent sufferings of Israel are understood as merely a repetition of that same event, a loss continually felt by a people lacking the center of its being."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Tisha B'Av: Destruction and Redemption” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Life is not a vicarious activity"

"Many Jews would say that the State of Israel is the answer to the unsolved problems of the Jews in the Diaspora.

If we just send our children to Israel to be “inoculated” against assimilation, we will not have to worry about Jewish continuity in the U.S.

Israel is important — there is no question — but not everyone is going to Israel.

The Jews did not all return to Jerusalem when the Temple was rebuilt, and they are surely not all returning now.

Depending on Israel to save American (or Russian or European) Jewry is asking a lot — Israel has enough to do to save herself.

We cannot live in the past, and we cannot live through others.

Life is not a vicarious activity.

Just as I cannot eat for someone else or sleep for someone else, I cannot study for someone else.

Life is something each of us must do on our own.

And if this is true of the mundane actions that keep my body alive, it is even more true of the exalted activities that nourish my spirit."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Fom “Galut Bavli - Then and Now” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Syndicated Column July 22, 2004


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"Doing something more difficult than writing a check"

"To all appearances, as individuals, American Jews have done quite well, but as a people, they are yet to create a common, inspiring future.

If American Jewry is to have such a future, many people will have to make a much larger investment.

Iam not talking about money — although money will certainly be necessary — but about doing something more difficult that writing a check.

I am talking about people investing themselves: their time, their energy, their passion, their souls.

This requires a huge commitment, far more than anything that has been done before.

It requires those with knowledge and enthusiasm to reach out to the many fine people who are estranged from everything Jewish.

Together, they can establish the foundation for the renaissance we need.

We cannot re-energize Diaspora Judaism, any more than we can re-build the Temple, without hard work, determination, and hope."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Galut Bavli - Then and Now” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, syndicated column, July 22, 2004


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Redemption is not simply a return to the situation as it previously existed."

"In the course of the generations, all the days of mourning commemorating particular inflictions and sufferings were cancelled and Tisha B'Av became an all-encompassing day of heightened mourning.

Undoubtedly even the days which have been designated in our generation as commemorations of the Holocaust will quickly be forgotten, and the recollection of even this great tragedy joined to the accumulation of national mourning on the Ninth of Av.

The legend that the Messiah was born on Tisha B’Av, at the very time of the Destruction, is a key to understanding one aspect of the problem of the destruction and the notion of redemption.

For redemption to take place, the repair of the various individual destructions alone is insufficient.

Even if the entire people of Israel were to return to its land, this would be insufficient for the redemption of the Destruction.

Furthermore, even the building of the Temple in and of itself could not repair that which had been damaged in the course of the generations.

Only the Messiah – who will bring redemption to the world on a higher plane and in a more complete fashion than ever before possible – can undo the Destruction.

Redemption is not simply a return to the situation as it previously existed.

Restoration is only a small part of the scheme of redemption.

The redemption of the Jewish people must be accompanied by a qualitative change that affects the entire world.

Only a redemption that rises above the sufferings of two thousand years, that brings the Jewish people - and the entire world - to a higher level of existence, this alone is full reparation for the Destruction."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an essay by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz “Tisha B'Av: Destruction and Redemption”


Monday, July 21, 2008

"The destruction of the Temple constitutes a key to all of the troubles of Israel"

Yesterday began “the three weeks,” the annual mourning period that begins on the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, a fast day which marks the day when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans, and ends with the fast of the 9th of Av, the day when we mourn the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem, as well as other tragic events that occurred on this day.

This three week period prompts me to look again at the teachings of Rabbi Steinsaltz that relate specifically to this time on the Jewish calendar.

Rabbi Steinsaltz teaches:

“The gloomiest day in the entire Jewish calendar is Tisha B’Av - the 9th day of the summer month of Av.

A long series of national disasters, from the destruction of the first Temple to the Spanish Expulsion, is historically identified with this date.

Moreover, in every generation this day has been looked upon as the essence of all national mourning, and the lamentation prayers of Tisha B’Av recall not only the events that occurred on that day, but also the story of the sufferings of our people throughout its exile.

Nevertheless, the focus of mourning is the destruction of the Temple, both the beginning and the symbol of all that occurred thereafter.

The destruction of the Temple is not an isolated event (important or even basic as it is) in the chronicles of our sufferings.

The destruction of the Temple constitutes both a key to, and a definition of, all of the troubles of Israel.

It is this destruction which lifts isolated events, persecutions, exiles, and oppressions from the plane of mere historical episodes and gives them a transcendent significance.

For the Jewish people, the Temple was the only place for complete worship.

It was the recognized center for all the Children of Israel, however scattered they were.

Indeed, the Temple was the only holy place recognized by Judaism.

The central importance of the Temple can only be fully appreciated by studying Maimonides’ list of the mitzvot.

Of the 613 listed, less than half of them are applicable (and some of the others only partly so) following the Temple's Destruction.

And the situation is similar in the Oral Law and in all the other areas which make up the life of the nation.

It may be said that much of the structure of Judaism was suddenly cut out from under it with the Destruction, not only in activities directly connected with the Temple and the worship there, but also a large body of mitzvot and customs indirectly bound to it.

This picture of the effect on Jewish law gives us some conception of what really occurred with the destruction of the Temple.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From the essay “Tisha B'Av: Destruction and Redemption” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, July 20, 2008

"What is it that we are so anxious to pass on?"

"There is much concern about continuity in the Jewish world today.

Achieving continuity is not an end in itself, however.

We must be concerned not only with how to assure continuity, but in why?

That is, what is it that we are so anxious to pass on?

Jewish continuity is a centuries-long relay, in which the “baton” is some manifestation of our special relationship with God.

Abraham and Sarah passed the tradition on to Isaac, and he and Rebecca passed it on to Jacob.

And just as the upcoming runner strides in tandem with his predecessor before the latter completely relinquishes the baton, so, too, each of us — ideally — has the opportunity to share our understanding and appreciation of our tradition with our offspring, before entrusting them to continue the journey."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "Galut Bavli - Then and Now" a syndicated column, July 22, 2004


Friday, July 18, 2008

"The Jewish view of world history"

The Jewish view of world history is optimistic, but it is an optimism with substance and meaning:

The realization of the hope that it offers depends on us.

It can be summarized like this:

Humanity is born into the perfect world of the Garden of Eden, and begins to descend into decadence and immorality.

But this downfall is only part of the story.

At the same time, there is another, parallel momentum: a path that leads upward.

Step by step – sometimes revealed, sometimes hidden – this inexorable process leads to redemption.

And when that process is complete, Man and the entire world will ascend to their point of departure and even transcend it.

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Universal Introspection” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Syndicated column, September 2007


Thursday, July 17, 2008

"The joys of the next world"

There is no way of comparing the pleasures of this world--for all their sweetness, intensity, and variety--with the pleasure of the next world.

We have no common denominator.

Just as we cannot compare a color, such as blue, with a number.

We can have more blueness or less, a larger number or a smaller one; we cannot compare them.

All we can say about the joys of the next world is that they are so superior to the joys of this world that it is worth going through the torments of hell in order to attain them.

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Candle of God by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, "Hidden Aspects of Shabbat" p. 22


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Hasidism is a form of applied Kabbalah"

"It is a basic Kabbalistic concept that the human soul is, in a manner of speaking, a spark of Divine revelation within the world and that each human being is a microcosm of the entire universe.

Hasidism shows how the rarified teachings of Kabbalah, which speak to the macro-universe, can be adapted into a structure with ethical and practical meaning for our individual lives.

In this way, Hasidism is a form of applied Kabbalah.

Just as the Revealed Law frames the behavior of our bodies, the internalization of Kabbalistic notions of the Hidden Law can attune us to our soul, educating it to connect with the Divine.

In this model, the power of Kabbalah is harnessed not to serve our own desires but to align them with the wishes of the Almighty.

One of the most important Hasidic books is called Zohar Chai, "the living Zohar."

That is what Hasidism does: It gives the Kabbalah life by translating it into something meaningful in one’s relationships with others and, most important, something that can quell the strife within one’s own soul and calm the struggle of one’s inner being."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "Kabbalah for Today?" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Kosher Spirit Magazine March 1, 2004


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Being chosen is not only a matter of rights"

You may have noticed that I have not posted any blogs during the past few days.

The good news is that I was teaching Talmud (using the Steinsaltz Edition) to a group of about 63 senior adults for the past 6 days at a camp in the Poconos in Pennsylavia.

The bad news is that the entire computer system at the camp was down, resulting in my not being able to post any messages.

It's good to be back....

Rabbi Steinsaltz, in his book We Jews: Who Are We and What Should We Do? writes:

The basic meaning of “a special people” is in fact “a unique people.”

This uniqueness, the placing of a certain group of people in a role, in a place, in some form of commitment, has an effect on this group, as it affects the individual who attains any level of uniqueness.

It implies various aspects of elevation, and even of pride in the special role, in the special status.

But this uniqueness has another facet, no less significant, which is expressed in the sharpest manner by the Prophet Amos (3:2): “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”

The status of being chosen is not only a matter of rights or of a higher standing, but also of duties associated with this special status, which derive from it and perhaps even precede it.

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Excerpted from We Jews: Who Are We and What Should We Do by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (Jossey-Bass, 2005), Chapter IX.


Friday, July 11, 2008

"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


Thursday, July 10, 2008

"It is not enough to sit and study and pray"

“There are two ways of receiving Divine influence.

One is the objectively meaningful occurrence, a higher essence pouring down on one like rain, and getting ‘wet’ irrespective of one’s feelings about it.

The rain, or the down pouring, also has no preference in the matter; all are equally granted the grace of what is bequeathed.

Regardless of whether one is going to the synagogue or to the movies - the rain comes down on each and everyone.

After all, the Higher Wisdom in its broadness and universality is equally available to all; each person can be conscious of its pouring down upon him and then cling as best he may to the spiritual influence.

This clinging to holiness, or to Wisdom, is also a conscious adherence to (participation in) coming and going, thinking, speaking, being one with things.

It is an objective holiness, an essence that accompanies one’s actions, thought, speech.

In the second way of receiving Divine influence, the person enters another essence.

On one side is Torah and Mitzvot and objective holiness; on the other side is the person, the subjectivity.

If the person is not ‘privileged’ to imbibe the elixir of life, if he has a wrong approach to the Divine influence in Torah, it becomes its opposite.

It is not enough to sit and study, to lay Tefilin, to pray.

There is also the subjective choice, the inner approach, leading to the elixir of life or death.

The choice, though scarcely conscious, can make people exalted or secretly resentful.

Because in addition to many obvious things, there are always other factors, buttons to press and valves to turn, which unless done correctly make it possible to receive something very different from what was expected.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From In the Beginning, "Elixir of Life" pp. 194-195


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"The many sides of Torah"

“The sages have been well aware of the many sides of Torah.

Whether it is an elixir of life or an elixir of death depends on whether the person who occupies himself with it is pure in heart and is open to receive what it confers.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, "Elixir of Death" pg. 201


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"A simple-minded innocent desire to shock my old grandmother"

In the current "On Faith" forum Rabbi Steinsaltz responds to the following question:

"According to a new Pew survey, 21% of American atheists believe in God or a universal spirit, 12% believe in heaven and 10% pray at least once a week. What do you make of this?"

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

I find the results of the Pew Survey very astonishing, though perhaps not for the same reasons as those who designed the survey.

I suspect that if the survey respondents had answered with intellectual and emotional honesty about their faith, the actual number of atheists would be significantly smaller.

Unlike being an agnostic or just disinterested in religion, true atheism has two essential components: a rather rigorous intellectual way of thinking, and an element of emotion.

Intellectual atheism includes the clear definitions of what the atheist says or believes. In many cases, when people claim to be atheists, they are not denying the existence of a higher power, but rather they are merely expressing their ideas in a different language or speaking from a different point of view.

One illuminating example is the ancient Roman writers who categorized the Jews as atheists simply because they didn't believe in Jupiter, Minerva or Janus.

It is true that the Jews were (and remain) monotheistic and didn’t believe in the Roman deities, but only through the lens of the Roman pantheistic culture could they be defined as atheists.

To me, the fact that so many people identify as atheists actually means that they deny specific names or expressions of God, or just have a different understanding of the man-God relationship.

To truly be an atheist requires a good amount of intellectual rigor and clarity of mind.

As for the emotional element of atheism – one may observe, rationally, that he doesn’t see or perceive a certain thing, but to deny its existence, at any level of vehemence, goes beyond rational thinking and into the realm of an emotional – sometimes very emotional – anti-belief.

As anti-matter is only matter arranged in a slightly different order, anti-belief is almost the same kind of belief, even though it has minuses instead of pluses.

For a person to be a true atheist, his belief system must have both of these qualities.

I believe that the number of people who meet both of these criteria is extremely small; therefore, I doubt that the results of this survey accurately reflect the real American community of atheists.

That so many people prefer to define themselves as atheists can likely be attributed to a desire to belong to certain social milieus – or to a very simple-minded, innocent desire to shock my old grandmother.

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “On Faith: A Conversation about Religion with Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn”


Monday, July 7, 2008

"Being involved in idolatrous worship of oneself"

“Let us take as an illustration the case of a man studying Torah.

He becomes elated at having found something new and interesting, a ‘chidush’ (innovation).

And indeed the Torah may very well have revealed something marvelous to him and his joy may be a genuine intellectual elation unrelated to his ego.

Or it may be a feeling of exultation at having gotten the better of someone else, of showing himself to be more clever, more successful than others.

That is to say, it can be a joy of spiritual experience or it can be a joy of the shell.

This person can continue to study Torah and keep enjoying the occupation with Holy Scripture while all the time be involved in idolatrous worship of himself.

He can even be immersed in Torah in order to maintain a barrier between himself and people, because he dislikes people.

Perhaps the more he shrinks from the people around him, the more intensely he will bury himself in study.

Hatred of others can hardly be considered a basis for love of God and His Torah.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, "Overcoming the Obstacles to Lower Unity" p. 218


Sunday, July 6, 2008

"The capacity of self-deception is enormous"

“There is a story about a hermit scholar who devoted himself entirely to Torah and prayer in a little room which he never left.

Once he thought he detected the sounds of an audience, of people quietly gathered on the other side of the closed door to listen to his devotions.

He tried to pay no attention to this rustling noise, but he did experience a heightened fervor at the thought that he could awaken others to devotion, and he prayed more vehemently than ever.

Thus he continued for months and years, until he felt himself on such a high plane of spiritual achievement that he could now show himself.

He opened the door and found that the rustling noises he had been hearing were made by a family of cats who had camped there.

For years he had been praying for one litter of kittens after another.

The capacity of self-deception is enormous.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, "Overcoming the Obstacles to Lower Unity" pg. 225


Friday, July 4, 2008

"A fundamental unity"

"Rabbi Nachman of Breslav is said to have declared that if people were really able to hear his teaching, the melody as well as the words, the dance of it, they would be released from the bondage of reality.

In other words, the same idea can be expressed in words, in music, in movement.

There is a basic ground for correspondence of things, a fundamental unity behind the variety of modes of expression or symbols."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, "Elixir of Life" pg. 188


Thursday, July 3, 2008

"The desire for wholeness"

"Adam and Eve had profound attraction to each other as a result of the fact that they were once one.

Two halves who seek to reunite is the essence of life and love; not the desire to know the other but to know one’s self, to make for wholeness.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "Overcoming the Obstacles to Lower Unity" In the Beginning, pg. 223


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"Man is imprisoned by his own folly"

"The inhabitants of Chelm are said to be a hopelessly dull-witted lot, and a Chazan (Cantor) is, more often than not, characterized as a swaggering fool, and among the domestic fowls the turkey is seen as strutting stupidity itself.

We now have the turkey of the Chazan of Chelm before us and we want to cage him in so that he won’t escape.

All we have to do is draw a chalk circle around him. The turkey will be convinced that it is an impassible barrier, and he won’t even try to get out.

He will be imprisoned by his own folly.

Were he ever to cast doubt on its imperviousness, there would be no problem about his freedom.

It is a barrier only so long as he believes it to be real.

For man, the chalk circle is our encirclement by all of our worlds.

This barrier consists of the sense of great distance between the soul and its Divine source."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz , p. 215


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"We are engaged in constant strife"

"We are engaged in constant strife, in a state of struggle, because all that is above is to be found below; whatever there is in holiness is also in the unholy.

To get to the level of holiness, a certain struggle is necessary, a virtual war, like between nations in the womb of Rebecca when she was carrying the twins, Esau and Jacob.

The twins are born with us, they accompany us throughout life, and they continue the struggle.

As it has been written, were it not for God’s help, we would probably not be able to overcome the foe.

Every day the impulses of the lower nature come forth to draw man down to death, and he has to rely on Divine support to maintain himself.

In this persistent war between fairly even sides, only man’s constant choosing the good saves him.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From In the Beginning, "Overcoming the Obstacles to Lower Unity", pp. 220-221