Sunday, May 31, 2009

"In this world only the rare individual succeeds in clinging to God"

“The question to which we always return is why the pure soul came to this world.

Why did it descend from where it had stood before God to a world where the majority of the world is evil?

Several answers to this question are all based on the idea that this world’s physicality, inasmuch as it is low and impervious to sanctity, contains as well the power to stand firm before the divine presence and the ability to then absorb all the holiness that the upper worlds are not able and equipped to accept.

In this world, we must work particularly hard.

We must battle simply to recognize the divine being.

In this world, only the rare individual succeeds in clinging to God, an accomplishment that is the result of unusually intense service.

Yet, in the end, this world will receive a divine revelation higher than that experienced by any other world, literally of an infinite nature.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Understanding the Tanya, p. 223 by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, May 28, 2009

"The breakthrough of the Infinite in the finite"

"If you look at the Ten Commandments, you will see that there is nothing really original in them.

Overall, they are laws that cultures the world over have accepted.

I do not need the Torah to tell me not to murder or not to commit adultery.

What happens is that honoring your mother and father, which in itself is purely a social convention, becomes here the locus of revelation of the Infinite.

What characterizes the events on Sinai is the breakthrough of the Infinite in the finite.

Material reality acquires a new dimension."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Seven Lights, p. 241, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"We tend to forget that there is something beyond reason"

“One of the problems facing this generation is that we have perhaps become too ‘intelligent’ too knowledgeable, or too rationalistic, to be able to experience the total and spontaneous allegiance of our ancestors.

Worse still, we tend to forget that there is something beyond reason.

Jews need to face this question both as individuals and as a nation.

How can we recover this ability to transcend the particular and seize reality in its totality, without performing fancy calculations beforehand, without asking, ‘Do I understand?’ ‘Do I want this?’ “Am I ready?’

This is why the sages say that every day we need to place ourselves at the foot of Mount Sinai.

This can take place on Shavuot or on any day of the year.

The face-to-face encounter at Sinai involves an encounter with Oneness and willingness to accept things that are beyond our faculties of comprehension.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Seven Lights, p. 231-232, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"The essence of the revelation is action"

“In contrast to Western ideas, matter, where things take place, is higher than reason.

A Sage once said that all the higher worlds, all the transcendent and abstract things, have no value compared to the world of action.

The world of action is the most perfect form of the Revelation of God.

It is said, ‘The existence of the material world is the substance of the Divine.’

In other words, the highest values are found within matter, in the material world.

The world of matter is both the lowest world, because it is mute, and the highest, because is the supreme expression of God’s Hokhmah, Wisdom…

…This is what happened on Mount Sinai.

The Israelites say ‘do’ before they speak, and ‘hear’ before they understand, because they immediately grasp that the essence of the revelation is action.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Seven Lights, p. 229, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, May 25, 2009

"Time is needed for any truly revolutionary teaching to be understood"

"Time is needed for any truly revolutionary teaching to be understood, and there are any number of intermediate stages.

In the history of Israel, it may be assumed that only during the time of the Second Temple did the people of Israel as a whole accept the Torah as an obligatory way of life.

From that time until recent generations, there has no longer been any serious division between the Jews and Torah.

They have been one consistent entity.

More than a thousand years elapsed, then, between the giving of the Torah and some sort of total receiving of the Torah.

Of course, it is not simply a matter of the spiritual and intellectual capacities of one generation or another.

So long as men are possessed of free will, the problem of receiving the Torah will be posed anew for every individual in every generation."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an essay, "Eternal Torah" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, May 24, 2009

"The receiving of the Torah is a continuing process in history."

"Shavuot, the day of the giving of the Torah by God, is also called the day of the receiving of the Ten Commandments byIsrael.

And it would seem to be a natural pairing of concepts - the giving and the receiving being the two sides of the same action and apparently interchangeable as descriptions of the event.

Nevertheless, they are not identical.

Each has its own particular meaning.

As the Kabbalah puts it, the giving of the Torah is a movement from above to that which is below, while the receiving is a movement from below reaching upward.

And in the dimension of time, the giving of the Torah is essentially a single act, while the receiving of the Torah is a diversified and continuing process in history."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Frm an essay, "Torah Eternal," by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, May 22, 2009

"Each individual undertands and comprehends in accordance with the level of his or her intellect"

"Ours is a time that is approaching the ultimate redemption—a redemption predicated upon the acceptance of the Torah in its entirety by the whole of the Jewish people.

When the people of Israel first received the Torah, it was given to them as ten commandments enfolding within them the whole of Torah, with its 613 mitzvot and countless laws.

So, too, when we once again receive it and commit ourselves to it, it must again come about in the same way—a receiving of the totality of Torah by the totality of the Jewish people, men, women and children, great and small.

Obviously, each individual understands and comprehends in accordance with the level of his or her intellect, but these differences are only on the surface, only in their relation to Torah's particulars.

In essence, they all receive it equally, for they are receiving its essential totality."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an essay, "A New Epoch in Torah Learning,' by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, May 21, 2009

"On Shavuot we come to understand the reason for the Exodus"

"Passover is a festival without a clear ending.

It receives its spiritual significance from the Torah given seven weeks later, on Shavuot.

The gap of time between these two festivals symbolizes the wandering and the search, the transition from a negative reality of physical labor - and nowadays, of spiritual enslavement - to an essential quest for the meaning of that freedom.

On Shavuot we receive the answer and come to understand the reason for the Exodus.

Only then do these two festivals become one unit at whose core is the Jew searching for his raison d'ĂȘtre.

Such a person cannot be content with the mere negation of his existing reality.

He must strive to learn his true purpose through the answer that was revealed to us at Mount Sinai."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an essay, "Shavuot: Understanding The Purpose of Our Freedom" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"The process of receiving the Torah has no fixed time or place"

"The Torah is given to the Jewish people so that they may channel their freedom into perfecting all aspects of themselves and their lives.

The Rebbe of Kotzk pointed out that Shavuot is the Festival of the Giving of Torah.

Its complement - receiving the Torah - is of equal importance, both personally and nationally.

The process of receiving has no fixed time or place.

It occurs continually, when the Torah truly becomes a Torah of living."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an essay, "The Living Torah," by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"God is the source and essence of my own private soul"

"Some people seek a philosophical closeness with God.

Others are led to it by the events of their lives, by delving into the mysteries of nature, or by examining Jewish history.

Another way of nurturing the desire for closeness with God is by looking into oneself: 'From my flesh shall I see God' (Job19:26).

It is the understanding that God is the source and essence of not only the entire universe, but also of my own private soul."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From the essay "The Significance of the Giving of the Torah," by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, May 18, 2009

"The word 'mitzvot' comes from the word 'tzavta' meaning 'togetherness' "

"The Revelation on Mount Sinai is much more than a set of directives, instructing us what to do and how to behave.

It is God's will, as it is expressed through the Torah and its commandments.

It reveals to us the way to actually unite with God--namely, by fulfilling His commandments.

Indeed, the Hebrew word for "commandments"--Mitzvot--comes from the word tzavta, togetherness--being united with God.

By 'descending,' so to speak, on Mount Sinai, God 'brought down' His unlimited, indefinable essence into the definitions and limitations, fences and constraints of the Torah and the Commandments that He has given to us.

The Torah is the expression of the Divine.

It is God's wisdom and will and is therefore much more than 'a Torah from Heaven.'

It is Heaven itself."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an essay, "The Significance of the Giving of the Torah," by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, May 17, 2009

"We are incapable of reaching God"

"All human efforts to get closer to God are bound to fail.

However high one may ascend, there will always remain an infinite, unbridgeable gap between man and God.

We feel the desire to come closer to God, yet we have no means for fulfilling it.

This is the point of the Giving of the Torah.

We, as humans, are incapable of reaching God.

But God--with His infinite loving kindness and goodness--lowers Himself toward us, so to speak, in order to fulfill the purpose of Creation."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "The Significance of the Giving of the Torah," an essay by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, May 15, 2009

"I cannot study for someone else"

"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

From an essay, "Galut Bavli - Then and Now" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, May 14, 2009

"The Torah makes a person righteous, pious, upright and faithful"

"Scripture (Psalms 101:6) says: 'My eyes are upon the faithful of the land (ne'emnei eretz), that they may dwell with Me.'

What is ne'eman (faithful)?

In Pirkei Avot (6:1) it says that the Torah makes a person 'righteous, pious, upright and faithful' (tzaddik, hassid, yashar ve-ne'eman).

According to the common, everyday usage of these terms, it seems that we have here a list in a descending order.

Closer examination, however, shows that the opposite is true: it is clearly an ascending order.

A righteous person (tzaddik) is not an ordinary human being; he is a person who is on the level of always doing what is right, in the religious as well as all other spheres of life.

'Pious' (hassid) is one level higher: a person who not only follows the Halacha meticulously but also goes beyond the boundaries of what is prescribed by law, both practically and emotionally.

While the first two epithets are usually used in the religious sphere, the next one, 'upright' (or 'honest,' yashar), seems broader.

In this context, however, it has a specific meaning:

It does not designate a person who is not a crook, but rather a person with a straight heart, one whose inner being is not convoluted.

It is the quality of having a pure heart which does not look for nor finds complexities, but always goes directly in the right way.

Indeed, in the Book of Psalms (97:11), the 'upright of heart' (yishrei lev) are placed above the "righteous" (tzaddikim), because it is such a rare quality.

It is not simplicity born of ignorance, but the ability to know and understand problems and complexities - and yet remain simple.

The last epithet, 'faithful' (ne'eman), also has a specific meaning here.

It is not only the sort of a person one can entrust one's money with, but the quality of total faithfulness, complete devotion.

In fact, in the entire Bible there is only one person who is given this title: Moses (see Numbers 12:7)."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From a eulogy in memory of Michael Fox, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"The relation between God and the Assembly of Israel has been likened to that between man and wife"

"In many respects, tradition in Judaism is called Torah.

And this is one of the words that have no exact translation.

The accepted translation, law, is certainly incorrect.

Torah, even in its verbal meaning, includes the Bible as well as the law, philosophy, dream, legend, and everything else that constitutes human life.

The one word, Torah, signifies that which instructs and enlightens.

It is much broader and more dynamic a concept than simply the teaching.

And the subject of Torah, that which carries it, or the medium through which it is manifest, is Knesset Yisrael.

The translated concept is 'the assembly of Israel,' but it is not at all a statistical totality or a numerical sum of a particular group of people.

It is that which one may loosely call the soul of the people.

Most important is its function as the bearer of the Torah.

In many ways its life and actions are themselves among the creative forces of Torah, of tradition.

The Jewish community keeps determining Halakhah, doctrine and custom, at every crossroad.

The decision is made by consulting the Torah and then itself becomes Torah, so that Knesset Yisrael is not the passive bearer of a yoke of Torah and law that has been thrust upon it.

It is an active component of the Torah.

Its entire being is a constant merging of life and Torah and the result is the essence of Jewish tradition.

Not in vain has the relation between God and Knesset Yisrael been likened to that between man and wife.

From this is may be understood that the interaction, besides the love and respect between them, has a great depth of intimacy and potency.

In order for something to be born, for anything to happen, the role of Knesset Yisrael is that of the bearer, the means, or the vehicle.

As such Knesset Yisrael is the many-sided subject and instrument of Torah and Jewish tradition."
--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Parabola Magazine, Vol. 14, # 2


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"A tradition cannot leave things in a state of unchanging status quo"

"There is at least one thing that other traditions can learn from the Jewish experience, and that is that a tradition in itself, even if it is almost hermetically sealed, which is something that doesn't exist any more, cannot continue to exist only by the force of inertia.

A tradition cannot leave things in a state of unchanging status quo.

In the Jewish experience this factor has been very prominent; the group awareness was always alive to whatever threatened it and ready to invest energy to guard the tradition and to maintain it--not necessarily to freeze it.

Whenever the group was unwilling to pit itself against imminent change by investing thought and effort, the change was destructive to the tradition.

The question here is not the value or the resilience of the tradition, but the fact that any social form that does not keep reinvesting energy into its continuation will tend to die out.

The efforts required are always very great.

True, many traditions have survived in conditions of relative isolation.

But today, folk cultures are being destroyed by no more than superficial contact with some outer influence.

And this is because the people involved are without adequate consciousness of themselves or without the will to do anything about it.

They are not prepared to invest the enormous effort required to meet the challenge of the contact with alien forces.

But this has to be learned--and sometimes it comes too late."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Parabola Magazine Vol. 14 #2


Monday, May 11, 2009

The concept of a continuous chain is central to the whole Jewish outlook on tradition"

"In Pirkei Avot, there is a tradition described as a Shalshelet Kabbalah, a chain of reception, a process of handing on, from one generation to the next:

From Moses to Joshua and from Joshua to the elders and from the elders to the prophets, until the last of the sages.

This concept of a continuous chain is central to the whole Jewish outlook on tradition.

And it does not only go back to Revelation.

The very notion of the inspired person or persons who act as a link in the chain throughout the generations is a profound contribution to the Revelations without necessarily changing it.

The original revelations contained all that was eventually relevant to it.

Those men who contributed to knowledge were in reality discoverers; they did not invent new ideas or theories.

They merely uncovered truths that were already there."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Parabola Magazine 14:2, pp. 95-102


Sunday, May 10, 2009

"Jewish tradition is full and complete because it is open to additions"

'The Jewish tradition is full and complete, not because it relies only on an ancient single sources, the Bible, but because it is open to additions.

All the accumulated oral traditions are considered part of the original written Torah.

Even details of the oral Torah, obviously belonging to a much later period, are considered to be continuations of the original revelation.

It is all the same revelation, written or oral, and includes the ancient text and the ever-changing unwritten social form and custom."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Parabola Magazine 14:2, pp. 95-102


Friday, May 8, 2009

"The bright light of revealtion of the Torah at Sinai fused it into a single entity"

"Even though much of the biblical traditions relates to legends and events that occurred before the giving of the Torah, this total Revelation at Mount Sinai stands at the center of the world of Jewish consciousness.

All the other sources that presumably preceded it, like certain stories of the creation of the world, the origins of the laws and customs of ancient society, and so on, did not reach Judaism independently; they passed through the great filtering of Divine Revelation at Sinai.

The influences of the outer world, ancient legends and lore of the nations round about, certainly spread to the Jewish people of the time, but it was all cast into the melting post of the Jewish tradition itself.

The bright light of revelation of the Torah at Sinai fused it into a single entity.

It was a process that was repeated in subsequent generations.

To the extent that external influences did find their way into Judaism, they almost always appeared as subsidiary, not intrinsic to the core.

And indeed there was a certain opposition to them; if they could not be merged, they were ultimately ejected.

When they did melt into the Jewish tradition, they were so thoroughly integrated that it would be almost impossible to identify them as foreign."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Parabola Magazine 14:2, pp. 95-102


Thursday, May 7, 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 halachah (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

From remarks delivered by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltzat the annual Aleph Society dinner in Jerusalem, September 25, 1996


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"To view the Torah as a book of laws of a set religious system is a distortion"

The singular significance of the Torah is often obscured by inaccurate analogies.

To view the Torah as a book of laws of a set religious system is a distortion of the Jewish worldview and a misunderstanding of the essence of Torah.

Defining the Torah as 'Law' puts it in the same category as the 'Law' of Gravity and the like, denying the most fundamental feature of the Torah:

It is unique and self-defined.

The term Torah may be used for one thing only: Torah.

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 ( commandments between the individual and God) and social life ( 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."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an essay, "The Living Torah," by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"The very essence of the Talmud is a paradox"

"The Talmudic Sages were very well anchored in the reality of their times, and reacted immediately to temporal issues and to individual problems.

But at the same time they gave equal attention to major issues a well as to hypothetical questions detached from reality.

In the same spirit in which they discuss basic issues of morals and theology, they also conduct lengthy discussions of tiny details.

The same people who engage in minute discussions on seemingly insignificant monetary issues are also mystics speculating on the Divine Chariot.

In fact, the very essence of this book 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, but also 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, "The Talmud" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, May 4, 2009

"When people behave without compassion, they cease to be human beings"

"When I truly love, what matters is the relationship itself, not the benefit I derive from it.

The most exalted love is entirely other-oriented:

It is the love I have for nature, which I cannot change or own.

And it is Jacob's love for Rachel, which endured through seven years, and longer (whether a few days or another seven years), because it was the fact of the relationship that mattered, not any tangible benefit to him.

If genuine love is so demanding, can we ever fulfill the mitzvah of loving our neighbor as ourselves?

Love may be too difficult, but compassion is not.

To be compassionate--and this is the exact meaning of the word--is to feel the feelings of the Other.

That is something we can do, on a personal level, and even on a wider level.

No one can demand that people should love poor people far away, but compassion is something we can have.

And if we have this feeling of compassion, we may even do something good for them, even if it will not pay off for us immediately, or even at any future time.

Compassion is a lot like love that way, because it is possible that there will be no personal benefit; the difference is that it is easier to achieve.

Genuine love is something that may always be just out of reach, but compassion is in our hands.

If we have no compassion, we become emotionally hardened and unable to have any kind of feeling, because loss of compassion is the loss of a component of the human psyche.

If we do not act on compassion, we become mechanized beings--like robots, but worse, because they do not have our physical weaknesses and limitations.

Having compassion is a matter of keeping our humanity.

It is perhaps something we need for ourselves.

We need it in order to keep living as human beings.

Otherwise, we will destroy everything that is not useful, that is not productive, that does not pay off.

Then we will destroy the whole world, because when people are behaving without compassion, they cease to be human beings, and the world itself has no meaning.

So let us not be so concerned about love.

Let us speak about compassion, about feeling what others feel.

Perhaps that can improve the world."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From a talk by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz given at Columbia University's Center for the Study of Science and Religion, January 30, 2007


Sunday, May 3, 2009

"Kabbalah has been called the soul of the Torah"

“Kabbalah is the inner, mystical dimension of the Torah, corresponding to the level of sod.

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 Opening the Tanya, p. 304, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, May 1, 2009

"You think you are soaring, and in fact you are going to drown"

"One of the big dangers to pilots is that they can’t really sense direction.

They can’t sense whether they are upside down or right-side up.

They don’t really know what is heaven and what is the sea.

And it’s a real danger.

One of the Kennedys was killed just in that way.

He thought that he was rising, and in fact, he was just dumping himself into the sea.

He just didn’t know.

In spirituality it is even easier to do the same thing.

You think that you are soaring, and in fact you are going to drown yourself very deeply.

Faster and faster.

You do all the maneuvers, and everything shows that you are doing the right thing, except that you go very deeply into the sea."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "What is the Right Way to Make a Cake?' by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Parabola, Spring 2006