Friday, February 27, 2009

"What significance is there to the study of Talmud?"

The indirect influence of the Talmud on the world, through many religious and secular channels in every area, is great.

But its direct influence on the Jewish people goes far from law or religion.

This difficult book is both a textbook which children began to learn at school age, and a book which the greatest scholars continued to study and develop throughout their lives.

This collective work reflects about a thousand years of creativity (from approx. 500 BCE until 500 CE).

It is, on the one hand, the reflection of the Jewish spirit.

And on the other it is, perhaps, the most decisive formative force in Jewish culture and of the Jewish people, forming life-style and character traits...

...What significance is there to the study of Talmud – a book which is not as poetic as a book of verse, not as gripping as a detective novel, and which does not contain facts like an encyclopedia?

It should be perceived as engaging in creating a complex system of thought and art, a super computer program that tries to depict the whole world, the engagement in which is never passive learning but rather active participation, in which every learner is, to an extent, an independent creator who continues the book in his own way.

The Talmud, our Sages say, has never been sealed.

It continues to be written in every generation by every single person who learns it.

To enter into it is to participate in a spiritual adventure in which the Jew travels through the collective soul of his people, and in which he discovers some of the inner plans of reality.

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Excerpted from an essay titled "The Talmud" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, February 26, 2009

"Why does God want us to study?"

"Observant Jews are obligated to be involved in studying Torah simply to study Torah.

As a religious activity, this is unusual.

Most religions have expectations about belief and about doing the right things, but they don’t obligate you to study.

Jews, however, study Torah as an independent activity that is not directly connected with belief or action.

In fact, the most studied books in Jewish life, like the Talmud, are books that have very little practical use.

So why are people studying the laws of things that happened in remote times – and were rare even then – or things that the Talmud says never happened and never will happen?

We devote time to it because what we are doing is going after knowledge for itself, not as something that is to be used.

Not everyone has the same level of active curiosity, but study is encouraged and done as an obligation.

The number of classes and lectures available in an observant Jewish community cannot be compared to anything that happens in any other place.

Why does God want us to study?

Theologically, it is a way to commune with Him.

The ability to study for the sake of study is what I call one of the very true human traits in which we are, in a certain way, higher than angels.

The angels don’t seem to have any curiosity; they know everything.

And animals learn only what they need to live.

So the only beings who are curious about anything are people."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From the essay "Curious Jews" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"God, how shall I know that you are speaking to me?"

"The Divine problem is to call.

The human problem is to know who is calling.

You find it throughout the Bible and later, the constant question:

Whose voice is it?

Some people think that the mere fact of having a supernatural parapsychological experience is meaningful.

But such an experience is just that: a parapsychological experience, and that’s the end of it.

Merely hearing voices does not mean that one has heard the voice of God, and that is always the big temptation and the downfall of quite a number of people.

There are some who are cheats, meaning people who never had an experience, and are just imitating.

But there are many people who really heard something, and their very big mistake was that they didn’t identify the voice.

There is another biblical quotation:

When Gideon has his experience, he hears a voice and he says, “God, how shall I know that you are speaking to me?”

This is in many ways the most pertinent question.

“Give me a sign that it is You who are speaking to me” (Judges 6:17)."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an interview in Parabola called "The Command to Hear"


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Very few teachers have real knowledge"

"In Jerusalem, there is a teachers’ seminary that, in its first years, used to be a very good school.

The teachers in that seminary were some of the greatest scholars of Jerusalem at the time, and Jerusalem is a town with a fair amount of scholars.

Years later, I asked a number of the graduates of that school who was the person that made the greatest impact on them.

Interestingly enough, many of them said that it was the char lady – a little Yemenite woman with no formal education.

Whenever they had a real problem, they didn’t go to any of the teachers, nor to the principal: they went to this woman to get her advice.

Very few teachers have real knowledge.

In terms of knowledge, most teachers are not qualitatively different from their students, only quantitatively: small ignoramuses vs. bigger ignoramuses.

It is people like that char lady who are most needed in schools, because it is that kind of people who really matter.

You forget all the rest."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an essay, "Character Education" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, February 23, 2009

"Where is the truth?"

"Some 150 years ago — this is a true story — a certain German prince wanted to know what the Talmud is.

He asked a certain rabbi to invite him to a yeshiva and teach him one page of Gemara.

Thus, for a few days this prince sat and studied the first page of Bava Kamma.

He found it very interesting and thought-provoking, but there was one thing that he could not understand.

At the very end of the page, it says that the problem they were dealing with throughout has no practical meaning whatsoever, that it is merely theoretical.

What is the point of such a book?

He asked, Who needs it?

I do not know what the rabbi’s reply to that prince was.

But if I were there, I would tell him that the main question of the Talmud is not “What do I need to do next?”

For that, there are other books.

When I want to know what steps I should take in order to cook a certain dish, I refer to the cookbook.

And in order to know what my next action should be, I open a book of halacha or any other sort of practical book.

But in the Talmud we have something that will not necessarily be of any tangible benefit to me today, tomorrow, or ever.

It is a value in its own right, something that gives me no respite.

For in the very final analysis, what I want to know is — Where is the truth?

And indeed, the central, all-encompassing question in the entire Talmud is, Where is the truth — as far as any human being can attain it."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an lecture at a girl's school in Kiev by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Lamenting our past wrongdoings will not serve us"

"The urge to repent grows out of the realization that it is necessary to change.

Lamenting our past wrongdoing will not serve us, for contact with evil is inescapable.

We must avoid, too, pondering the past and reliving it as it happened — complete with faults and mistakes.

Rather, we should meditate on it, as it ought to have been.

The main thrust of teshuva is not only to redeem, but to rebuild, the past."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an essay title "Teshuva" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, February 20, 2009

"The Talmud is a human book"

In “the sea of the Talmud” (as it is called by some) all can be found:

Farfetched and very abstract legal forms of thought, lively, fanciful fables, advice about commerce and agriculture, medical treatments, popular proverbs.

There is not — even in the most legal or circumlocutionary pages — a dry or “nonhuman” paragraph in the Talmud.

The personalities there are always human, people of whose lives we know the most intimate and prosaic details.

We know about their quarrels and sins as we know about their great qualities, and they are so close to us because they were fully men, because the Talmud is a human book.

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From the essay "Human Holiness" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, February 19, 2009

"The best way to combat evil is to promote good"

"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 Adzin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Rigorous mental work is considered a holy occupation"

"The very essence of the Talmud is a paradox.

There is no more intellectual a book than the Talmud, in which all questions are permitted and even desirable, a book which contains dozens of different terms for various kinds of questions.

Any proof given must be almost mathematical, and the slightest flaw may lead to the rejection of a beautifully reasonable chain of thought.

On the other hand, it is not just a sacred book in itself.

This everlasting, rigorous mental work is considered a holy occupation, the very study of which is a form of worship.

One definition of it is – Sacred Intellectualism, communion by reason."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an essay titled “The Talmud” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Depending on Israel to save American Jewry is asking a lot"

"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."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From the essay “Galut Bavli—Then and Now” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, February 16, 2009

"The animal and Divine parts of man are in intrinsic disagreement with one another"

"Man is basically a creature of zoology, but he is also created from a Divine mold.

These two sides of humanity are clashing constantly over the question of identity:

Who am I, and how can I be defined?

The Tanya (by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi) seeks to clarify for its readers the distinction between the animal and Divine parts of man and to explain why they are in intrinsic – and unending – disagreement with one another.

In this book, the animal soul does not have the base definition that often comes to mind.

TheTanya does not view the animal as the domain of the so-called carnal desires or physical needs.

Rather, it speaks about the self – that level of man that views itself as the beginning of everything.

No creature of zoology can really think about anything without using itself as a starting point:

I exist, I am the center of everything, I am the purpose of everything, and from here I go on.

The essence of man’s purpose is this struggle to get out of the self, to break free of his animalistic confines in order to connect with the Divine."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From the essay “Man of War” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in Kosher Spirit, March 2006


Sunday, February 15, 2009

"The Torah is an inheritance for the entire Jewish people"

"Our Sages (Tractate Sanhedrin 91b) say:

“Rav Yehudah said in Rav’s name:

If one withholds a teaching from his pupil, it is as though he has robbed him of his ancestral heritage, as it is written:

‘Moses gave us the Torah, the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.’”

This is a very powerful statement indeed.

It does not deal with the question of whether or not we should teach Torah.

Rather, it says that the Torah is an inheritance for the entire Jewish people.

It is the legacy of all of Israel.

We must not detain it from its proprietors, and whoever does so, even partially, commits a grave transgression."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Remarks delivered at the annual Aleph Society dinner in Jerusalem, September 25, 1996


Friday, February 13, 2009

"Now we are cultured and cultivated and we care for nothing"

"I know of many homes where respect is given even to a loaf of bread.

Bread is not thrown out.

I have seen people who, when a loaf of bread falls to the ground, they kiss it.

Because bread is something special, and you treat it with respect.

Bread is human livelihood, and so it should be treated with more than just respect.

In Israel, for example, if any bread remains, they won't throw it into the garbage.

Throwing it in the garbage would be to show disrespect.

Some countries create a huge amount of garbage, and part of the reason why is that they don’t care for things.

When you look at most so-called primitive cultures, they see everything as a living entity and they have respect for everything.

But now we are cultured and cultivated, and we care for nothing.

It is the peak of being sophisticated."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "The Whole World is Filled with Divinity", an interview with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in Parabola, August 2007


Thursday, February 12, 2009

"Hollywood has both idols and worshippers"

"Like most religions and cults, Hollywood has both idols and worshippers, and a hierarchy not unlike that of a church.

Its leaders do not have glorious titles such as Archbishop or Grand Lama, settling instead on being executives, producers, and directors.

Even so, the lack of high-sounding titles and fancy dress do not hamper them from being rulers—sometimes absolute rulers—of their world.

Like a church, Hollywood has active and passive members; some people make the rules, and others comply with them.

There are the acolytes and the priests of the cult, and the multitude of worshippers."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From the essay "Hollwood" in Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"In a sense watching TV is like being fed intravenously"

"In Alice in Wonderland (which some of you may have read, and others have seen on TV), Alice sees a glass table on which there is a small bottle with an inscription: “Drink me!”

Alice, as many TV watchers would, could have just taken the bottle, looked at it, and put it back in its place.

And then there would have been no story.

For it is only when you actually take the bottle and drink it that things begin to happen to you.

Any kind of learning requires participation.

Otherwise, it is like playing tennis with your hands folded: if you do not return the ball, you are not playing.

The word "Talmud" means “learning.”

Any description of what the Talmud is would take a lot of time, and would not give any real understanding of it, because the main point about the Talmud is that it is totally impossible to read it without interacting with it - by asking questions, answering, finding out, reacting inwardly.

In a sense, the Talmud is a book that has an inscription on it: “Study me!” which means, “Work with me, live with me.”

The process of learning, of interaction, that is what the Talmud is all about.

The cultural gap between the world of the Talmud and the world of TV culture is not just the difference of contents or of language (English vs. Hebrew-Aramaic).

It is a profound cultural difference.

In fact, rather than two different forms of culture, what we have here is one form of culture and one form of destroying culture.

The Talmud is a book that poses more questions than answers, and that brings up so many perplexing issues, that one simply must delve into it further and further.

Far beyond mere identification, the Talmud becomes a part of your existence, a part that is always alive, always asking, always questing.

For 2000 years and more, our people’s culture has been centered around a book, whose first and foremost demand was: Work! Do something with me!

The culture of TV is the culture of passivity.

Not the passivity of sitting, but the passivity of allowing the mind to die.

In a sense, watching TV is like being fed intravenously.

It may be far more efficient, but I doubt whether anyone would really prefer that over eating and drinking.

So I am speaking here in praise not only of the Talmud, but also of another peak of the development of humanity: the ability to go beyond reading and interact with the read material."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From a speech given by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz at the Miami Book Fair "On Reading, TV and the Talmud"


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Torah means 'to teach,' 'to point to,' 'to show the way' "

"Religion is an ideological and practical framework designed to regulate a certain part of life: that which pertains to God’s worship.

Judaism, as expressed in the Torah, cannot and must not be restricted in this way.

The Torah views life as a unified system that embraces the entire lifestyle of Jews and of the Jewish people, down to its smallest details, within a distinctive format.

The Torah, therefore, contains not only laws that govern religious ritual (bein adam la’Makom – commandments between the individual and God) and social life (bein adam la’chavero – commandments between individuals), but also history and poetry, guidance and prophecy, assertions and wonderments.

In this sense, the Torah, like life itself, is not made up of separate compartments, each with its own features.

Human life is always a mixture of everything, of the entire world and all its parts.

Of course, we do create artificial partitions within our own being; we do define categories and set boundaries.

But in reality, every part of the human being is nourished to some degree by all the other parts of the human being.

These components are not separate parts that are somehow joined together; they are one indivisible entity.

One can see this clearly in Leviticus 19–20, which many commentators see as a repetition of the Ten Commandments.

The text here moves effortlessly from the commandment to respect one’s parents to the laws of sacrifices, from commandments regarding gifts to the poor to the command to love your neighbor as yourself, from the prohibition of vengeance to the ban on wearing sha’atnez (a mixture of wool and linen).

This is precisely the reason why the Torah is, uniquely, the Torah:

From the linguistic root that means “to teach”, “to point to”, or “to show the way,” it lays out and paves a way of life for a people.

The totality of life is found within the Torah and is directed by it.

Judaism, then, is the fusion of the Torah and the people who live it.

To limit the Torah to the framework of religion — whether it is done by those who believe in it or by those who deny it — is to destroy it.

To confine its purview is to eviscerate it.

What the Torah does demand is that a Jew be a Jew, building the entirety of his or her life according to a special approach whereby everything is Torah."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an essay, “The Living Torah” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, February 9, 2009

"Almost every major prayer mentions the Land of Israel more than once"

(Photo of Albert Einstein planting a tree in the Holy Land)

The point of Tu BiShvat is to make a connection between the "new year of the trees" and the core essence of the Jew.

This inner connection between man and tree is expressed in eating fruits; but it is also the connection between the Jews and the Land of Israel.

The entire cycle of the Jewish year is connected with the Land of Israel, as is reflected in the Jewish prayer book:

Almost every major prayer mentions the Land of Israel more than once.

But the prayer-book Land of Israel is an abstraction.

For many generations, and for so very many Jews, it was an imaginary entity, a dream land.

Even in the poetry of Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi the Land of Israel is not a reality: it is a spiritual being.

On Tu BiShvat we try to make contact with the physical, actual Land of Israel – the one that Rabbi Nachman of Braslav described after his visit there: that soil, the small stone houses, and the fruits that one can chew and taste their sweetness.

The Midrash describes how Moses pleads God to enter the Land of Israel.

Why did he want that so badly?

Some scholars say that it was because he wanted to fulfill the commandments that apply only in the Land of Israel.

But a literal reading of the text implies otherwise.

Moses, who wishes to see "that goodly hill-country and Lebanon" (Deut. 3:25), wants to enter the Land even as a small animal or bird – because it is "a pleasant land," a land which, above and beyond all reckoning, is a sweet home.

On Tu BiShvat, when we eat the fruits of the Land of Israel, we celebrate the "pleasant" land aspect of the Land of Israel (see Zech. 7:14).

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From the essay "TuBishevat" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, February 8, 2009

"What am I supposed to do now"

"In the Wisdom of Our Fathers (5:22) it says:

"A five-year-old begins Scripture;

a ten-year-old begins Mishnah;

a thirteen-year-old becomes obliged to observe the commandments;

a fifteen-year-old begins the study of Gemara..."

and so on, until the ages of ninety and a hundred.

This Mishnah reflects a similar world-view:

Each age has its own tasks, its own unique possibilities.

So instead of saying to oneself: "Now I'm fifteen; what shall I do when I'm eighteen?" one thinks: "I'm fifteen; what am I supposed to do now?"

This is precisely how righteous persons throughout the generations have been acting.

The focal point of our thinking is not life for the sake of the morrow – not even the morrow of the world to come – but rather life today; "this day – to do them" (Deut. 7:11; see also Eruvin 22a).

What will tomorrow bring?

That's not so important.

What matters now is what is now.

The son of a famous tzaddik was once asked:

What was the most important thing your father ever did?

And he replied:

Whatever he was engaged in at the moment."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From the essay "Tu BiShevat" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, February 6, 2009

"We build our lives around a false premise"

"One of the problems of human beings almost everywhere in the world, and most especially in Western culture, is how we relate to our age.

Biologically speaking, human beings have a much longer childhood than any other animal, because we are complex creatures that need training in many areas that no other animal needs.

To this, Western culture adds many more years of preparation for life, years that are a kind of prologue to life:

Kindergarten, elementary school, etc., etc. - up until college.

And then, so many people go for their Masters degree in preparation for their Ph.D., which is supposed to lead them to professorship, which is but a stage prior to retirement.

On the other hand, humans also have an extended old age.

Whichever way we may define it, it is considered a time in which a person's capabilities only go downhill.

In between these two periods there is the time in which people consider themselves living beings who can realize their potential to the fullest extent.

There is an Arab parable about a lion who wants to teach his cub about the world:

He tells the cub: "We lions are afraid of no creature – except for human beings; they are dangerous.

I want to show you what they look like, so that you will know how to watch out."

They see a child, and the cub asks: "Is this a man?"

"Not yet," says the lion.

Then they see an old man, and the cub asks: "Is this a man?" and the lion replies: "Not any longer!"

Thus, until I reach the stage in which I consider myself "grown up" I do not live yet:
I am in preparations; and from a certain point on, I begin to reminisce, either with pleasure or out of regret.

This view of life, then, encompasses only a small section of our lives.

Furthermore, this notion that there is a "before" and an "after" to our lives actually makes "life" itself segmented, chopped up.

I devote so much time to these "before" and "after," that I no longer have time to experience the thing itself.

When I am in the "before" stage, I think about what will be; in the "after" stage, I think about how things were.

Either way, there is nothing to make me hold on to the present.

And so it happens that people prepare and prepare, and when the time comes – either to practice a profession, or to get married, or do whatever else they had in mind – nothing much is left.

For example: in the academic world in general, and in Israel in particular, it takes many years to get a Ph.D.

When a person finally receives this longed-for title, he often finds that all the young years in which he could do things, in which he could innovate, were spent writing a doctoral thesis which, more often than not, becomes less and less important with time.

Then he gets a chair at a university, and spends the rest of his time re-reading excerpts from that thesis.

The same applies to married life: so many romantic thoughts, grandiose plans and love songs, both written and unwritten, are done before the wedding, that by the time a person gets married, there is no longer any energy left for romance or song.

This kind of a life, with long preambles and an extended old age, are like a bell-shaped curve with very wide margins and a rather low peak.

It is a life full of frustration, disappointment and stress.

Indeed, the high level of stress in our lives today is largely the result of the fact that we build our lives around this false premise.

A famous poem by Abraham Ibn Ezra says:

"The past is gone / the future – not here yet;

The present – is like a blink of an eye;

Whence, then, our worries?"

This poem can, perhaps, be twisted as follows:

If "the past is gone, the future is not here yet,

and the present is like a blink of an eye"

– "whence, then, our life?"

This is not a trivial question:

It is a life question, the question of our life."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From the essay "Tu BiShevat" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, February 5, 2009

"He only altered his perception of reality in this world"

"Over the course of life, every human body inevitably changes and gradually deprives one of certain pleasures.

Physical changes occur along with the spiritual ones: while the person loses interest in certain subjects, he shifts his attention to others.

In this context, the story of John D. Rockefeller is very interesting. 

Rockefeller, the first billionaire, is often regarded as the richest person in history.

During the last years of his life, he suffered from an intestinal disease, and could not digest regular food.

Although he could afford the most expensive cuisine, because of the disease, just one dollar a day covered the cost of his meals.

Rockefeller was not the most righteous man on earth, but his situation made him wonder – not about the spiritual aspects of his situation, but about more earthy things.

He thought: “I have in my possession an unlimited amount of money, and despite this fact, my body is limiting me in what I can do.”

Such thoughts lead to the following question: which deeds and actions of a person are meaningful, besides his pleasures?

Rockefeller resolved this question by allocating a significant part of his assets to the creation of a huge charitable foundation.

Note that Rockefeller did not necessarily go through any spiritual transformation, to reach moral purity.

He only altered his perception of reality in this world.

Rockefeller searched for the things that might give him a sense of satisfaction, even though his physical abilities were limited."

 --Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From the essay “Shrouds have no pockets" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz



Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"The only things that last are what we give to others"

"At some point in life, people start to think about the things they really own, what is significant and meaningful in their lives. 

If we try to evaluate our assets, we will see that the only things that last are what we give to others. 

A person who gives to others can be sure that he owns everything he gave away. 

As we think about what we own, we may find that our assets change us – instead of the other way around. 

However, what was given to others is still somehow credited to us.

Immortality is a common human aspiration, and a common motivation for philanthropy, even though there is no real way of knowing whether the outcomes of our actions will in fact remain after we are gone. 

This approach to charitable giving is selfish to some extent and has nothing to do with the concept of reward in the world to come. 

Rather it is about ensuring the giver’s emotional wellbeing in the present. 

One can establish a phenomenal building, but as times goes by the name engraved outside will be forgotten or ignored.

But if a person took an action that made a difference - his deed will remain alive, even when his personal aspirations are gone. 

One who gave a slice of bread to a hungry man owns this deed. 

And such an ownership right is much more sustainable than any other kind.

A person can lose his political influence, lose his money -- but no one can take his actions and deeds away. 

These deeds truly belong to him."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an essay, "Shrouds have no pockets," by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"Torah scripture is itself heaven"

“As someone aptly summed it up:

Other religions have a concept of scripture as deriving from Heaven, but only Judaism seems to be based on the idea that Torah Scripture is itself Heaven”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Thirteen Petalled Rose, p. 87, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, February 2, 2009

"The human difficulty of creating a relationship with an abstraction"

“The evil inclination of idolatry is thus the outcome of a conflict between the deep need for religion, faith, and serving God, and the human difficulty of creating a relationship with an abstraction.

This conflict, this tension, is what creates the temptation to satisfy the longing for the divine with something perverse—that is, by means of idolatry, cultic ritual, and devotion to something simpler and easier for human beings.

It is thus that the urge towards faith takes the form of idolatry”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From We Jews, p. 136, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, February 1, 2009

"A rider who is in control and guides his steed can go much farther"

“The relation between body and soul, and altogether between the spirit of things and their corporeality, may be expressed by the example of a rider on horseback.

A rider who is in control and guides his steed can go much farther than he can go on foot.

How aptly then does the image of the Messiah as a poor man riding on a donkey describe the human predicament:

The divine spark borne and guiding, the physical donkey bearing up and waiting for guidance and power”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Thirteen Petalled Rose, p. 62 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz