Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Transforming evil into good"

"The righteous person, the Tzaddik, transforms the evil to good within himself, as well as within the context of the world.

The Tzaddik does not feel suffering in the same way as other men.

He does not recognize it as something special to be feared and avoided.

It is, for him, like all else in life, a fact of existence.

One eats, one sleeps, one acts, one suffers.

Everything is translated into good."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Monday, June 29, 2009

"God conceals Himself so that man shall seek and find Him"

"Two things may be said to happen when faith is a personal experience.

There is the joyful factor of the one who feels the wondrous nearness of God.

And there is the triumphal joy of God in the extrication of a person from his darkness and ignorance.

The wholly human concept of God’s remoteness and inaccessibility is really another aspect of God’s desire for man to come to Him.

God puts a distance between Himself and man only in order to have man cross it.

He conceals Himself so that man shall seek and find Him.

Whenever man succeeds in crossing the apparent gap between them, there is a creative joy on the part of both God and man.

In man, the joy corresponds to the degree of his aspiration to bridge the gap.

In God, it corresponds to the expectation that formed a barrier intended to be burst.

Just as when a clever son is questioned by his proud father to ascertain the extent of the child’s learning, he may answer one problem after another.

But the joy of the father and of the child is greatest when the test is truly difficult."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Sunday, June 28, 2009

"The Torah is like a tale within a tale within a tale"

"It is the very letters of the Torah, and not only the sentences, that reveal God’s will.

This is one of the characteristics of the Torah, differentiating it from other sacred works like the Mishnah.

The holiness of the Torah is in the very letters of the text.

This makes for a difference in relation to the study of these books, as tradition has shown.

Every letter and sign in the Torah is pored over as a Divine mystery waiting to be revealed.

The combinations of the letters in words and sentences are the manner in which their meaning is communicated to us.

One may make all sorts of combinations, on a variety of levels, and obtain six hundred thousand possible revelations.

As the Ramban said, all of the Torah spells out the names of God.

It is a list of His names, very little of which has any meaning for us.

It is like a secret code with an infinite number of possible interpretations, a tale within a tale within a tale.

Each one is equally valid and holy."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Friday, June 26, 2009

"God hides Himself"

"The only thing we are permitted to say about the Infinite would involve the negative of all qualities.

For the Infinite is beyond anything that can be grasped in any terms--either positive or negative.

Not only is it impossible to say of the Infinite that He is in any way limited or that He is bad, one cannot even say the opposite, that he is vast or He is good.

Just as He is not matter, He is not spirit, nor can He be said to exist in any dimension meaningful to us.

The dilemma posed by this meaning of infinity is more than a consequence of the inadequacy of the human mind.

It represents a simply unbridgeable gap, a gap that cannot be crossed by anything definable.

There would seem to be an abyss stretching between God and the world--and not only the physical world of time, space, and gravity, but also the spiritual worlds, no matter how sublime, confined as each one is within the boundaries of its own definition.

Creation itself becomes a divine paradox.

To bridge the abyss, the Infinite keeps creating the world.

His creation being not the act of forming something out of nothing but the act of revelation.

Creation is an emanation from the divine light; its secrets not the coming into existence of something new but the transmutation of the divine reality into something defined and limited--into a world.

This transmutation involves a process, or a mystery, of contraction.

God hides Himself, putting aside His essential infiniteness and withholding His endless light to the extent necessary in order that the world may exist.

Within the actual divine light nothing can maintain its own existence; the world becomes possible only through the special act of divine withdrawal or contraction.

Such divine non-being or concealment, is thus the elementary condition for the existence of that which is finite."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "Divine Manifestation" in The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, June 25, 2009

"The Infinite, Blessed be He."

"The Holy One, Blessed be He, has any number of names.

All of these names, however, designate only various aspects of divine manifestation in the world, in particular as these are made known to human beings.

Above and beyond this variety of designations is the divine essence itself, which has not, and cannot have, a name.

We call this essence, or God-in-Himself, by a name that is itself a paradox: 'the Infinite, Blessed be He.'

This term, then, is meant to apply to the divine essence in itself, which cannot be called by any other name since the only name that can be applied to the very essence of God must include both the distant and the near--indeed everything.

Now as we know, in the realms of abstract thought, such as mathematics and philosophy, infinity is that which is beyond measure and beyond grasp, while at the same time the term is limited by its very definition to being a quality of something finite.

Thus, for example, there are many things in the world such as numbers, that may have infinity as one of their attributes and yet also be limited either in function or purpose or in their very nature.

But when we speak of the Infinite, Blessed be He, we mean the utmost of perfection and abstraction, that which encompasses everything and is beyond all possible limits."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "Divine Manifestation," in The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Hatred has become almost fashionable"

"In the past few years, a relatively new phenomenon has arisen: the legitimacy of hatred.

Mutual hatred among Jews is no longer a thing that one is ashamed to express publicly.

On the contrary, it has become almost fashionable.

It cuts through all sectors—a simple, all-inclusive, fundamental hatred, a hatred that does not even need self-justification.

It does not need to say, ‘I am better, and therefore the others are worse.’

Rather, it is a hatred based on the others being, by definition, bad.

There is no longer a need to call each other bad names.

One’s very label is enough of an insult: ‘settler,’ ‘haredi,’ ‘leftist,’—are there dirtier words than these?

So the words themselves become foul, and the people become defiled and loathsome in one another’s eyes.

It is this that I am trying to fight.

Surely not on my own, but also not with much company.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "Is Ephraim a Dear Son to Me?" in A Dear Son to Me by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. Photo of Rabbi Steinsaltz by Michel Milman.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Prayer is an expression of faith"

“Once, while I was in the middle of my prayers, my little daughter tried to talk to me, and when I failed to respond, she was very angry with me.

She said, ‘Why don’t you speak to me?’

Later on, I answered her by saying, ‘I was busy. I was speaking with God.’

She then replied, with great understanding, that she hadn’t noticed that God was answering me.

This second question was very deep.
A four or five-year-old girl was prepared to accept the notion that I speak with God when I pray.

But she wanted this to be a two-way conversation and not just a speech on my part.

The point is that every prayer boils down in the final analysis to a very basic point: I say the words 'Blessed art Thou,’ and especially the Thou, if I feel the presence of the Thou before me.

If I have someone with whom to speak, then I can pray.

If I have no one with whom to speak, then what is the point of all these words, and all the things I say?

What I am saying here is so simple that it should not need to be said, except that it still does need to be said, and stressed:

Prayer is an expression of faith.

It is impossible to pray, except out of faith in the encounter with God, in the standing of the I opposite the Thou.

It is not a simple question of Buberian philosophy.

It is a simple point, so simple that any child can understand it.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Prayer Education” in On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, June 22, 2009

"Violence is like any other symptom"

"What happened at the U.S. Holocaust Museum is an extreme sign of something happening in different parts of American society, albeit in less violent manifestations.

Once hatred becomes--even in a refined, intellectual or masked way--legitimate, it evolves and may migrate from magazine stories and newspaper editorials to the barrel of a gun.

Even when one calls it euphemistically 'anti-Zionism', somehow this hatred spreads to becoming anti-Jewish, perhaps anti-human, in general.

The mad perpetrator is merely the one who does what others say and think.

Violence is like any other symptom - one has to determine the roots instead of only deploring the end results."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From the website "On Faith" June 12, 2009


Sunday, June 21, 2009

"No one is in a position to despise backsliders"

"There are no tricks for ensuring that one will not trip and fall, no matter how righteous one has been or for how long.

The Talmudic sages deal with this problem, but after lengthy analysis and numerous examples they fall back on the generalization that no one is safe from temptation.

Consequently, no one is in a position to despise backsliders.

Over the years one learns one’s own weaknesses and how to overcome or at least circumvent them.

One learns to create for oneself those inward and outward circumstances most conducive to continued progress, without fear of experimentation or others’ contempt.

One who is unfamiliar with such problems or, even more so, one who has never built up for himself a way of life that can serve as a bulwark against them is much more likely to stumble."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Lapses and Crises” in Teshuvah by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.


Friday, June 19, 2009

""Everyone has a special gift"

“Everyone has a special gift in some particular field of endeavor, and in that field is called on to make a special contribution.

The Sages say that in addition to keeping all the commandments, one should choose a single observance in which to be particularly scrupulous and diligent—‘more careful,’ in the words of the Talmud.

In this choice, one can be guided by the prompting of one’s own heart and inclinations.

As the masters of Mussar (moral education) said, one who has a talent for cutting precious stones should not be a lumberjack, for to do so would be to spurn a gift bestowed by the Creator.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “The Relation to the Past,” in Teshuvah by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, June 18, 2009

"The soul of man is a manifestation of God in the world"

"In its profoundest being, the soul of man is part of the Divine and, in this respect, is a manifestation of God in the world.

To be sure, the world as a whole may be viewed as a divine manifestation, but the world remains as something else than God, while the soul of man, in its depths, may be considered to be a part of God.

Indeed, only man, by virtue of his divine soul, has the potential, and some of the actual capacity, of God Himself.

This potential expresses itself as the ability to go beyond the limits of a given existence, to move freely, and choose other paths, enabling man to reach the utmost heights -- or to plumb the deepest hells.

It is, in other words, the power to will and to create."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"The relationship to the Divine is a completely private affair"

"When man reaches certain heights, he learns more about God, the order and arrangement of things, relationships between one action and another, and the power and significance of law.

Nevertheless, in the last resort the relationship to the Divine is individual.

It is a completely private affair, the relationship of the single man in all his uniqueness of self and personality, oblivious of the infinite distance between himself and God, precisely because God in His being infinitely distant, beyond any possible contact, is Himself the One who creates the ways, the means of contact, in which every thought, every tremor of anticipation and desire on the part of man work their way until they reach the Holy One Himself, the Infinite, Blessed be He."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Before man was created he was given the possibility of changing the course of his life"

"Certain sages go so far as to include repentance among the entities created before the world itself.

The implications of this remarkable statement is that repentance is a universal, primordial phenomenon.

In such a context it has two meanings.

One is that it is embedded in the root structure of the world.

The other, that before man was created, he was given the possibility of changing the course of his life.

In this latter sense repentance is the highest expression of man's capacity to choose freely -- it is a manifestation of the divine in man.

Man can extricate himself from the binding web of his life, from the chain of causality that otherwise compels him to follow a path of no return."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "Repentence" in The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, June 15, 2009

"Each soul understands and does things in a way not suitable for anoother soul"

"Divine service in the world is divided up, with each human being, like the primordial Adam, put in charge of a certain portion of God’s garden, to work it and keep it.

It is said that in the Torah there are seventy faces which are the seventy faces of the divine Shekhinah, and that these contain six hundred thousand faces in accordance with the number of primary souls of Israel, so that every individual soul has a certain part in the Torah.

In other words, each soul understands and does things in a way not suitable for another soul.

Everyone can and should learn from others the proper way of doing things, but in the end each person has to follow his own winding path to the goal that is his heart’s desire."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "The Way of Choice" in The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Even the longest journey must begin somewhere"

"Everyone progresses at a different pace.

There are those whose temperament or way of life makes it easier for them to change quickly, while others need much more time to cover the same distance, and they do so with greater inner uncertainty.

It is important to remember that each positive precept fulfilled, each transgression avoided, is in itself an achievement.

The first step is never sufficient, but even the longest journey must begin somewhere."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "Where to Begin?" in Teshuvah by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, June 12, 2009

"The question of the self is not really a philosophical problem"

Blogger's note: It's not too late to join Rabbi Steinsaltz this coming Monday for a few days of Talmud study:



"Even though the question of the self is one that has since the beginning of time been contemplated by many profound minds it is not really a philosophical problem.

Philosophical, psychological, or scientific treatment of it only provides different frameworks and forms of expressions for answers that are in any case continuously being proven inadequate.

Philosophy, psychology, science, all merely isolate the basic problem within an observable small field where it can in turn be broken down into secondary problems, every one of which may, by itself, be important and certainly interesting but, taken together, nevertheless seem far removed from any truly satisfactory response to the question of one’s place in the world.

Such a response can come only from within.

It cannot be supplied within any other frame of reference or merely by ideas or symbols."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "The Serach for Oneself" in The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, June 11, 2009

"One never really extricates oneself from the context of the issue Who am I?"

"Throughout life one asks the same question in many forms.

This question lies at the heart of a search for oneself, a search that begins with the first glimmer of consciousness and continues to the very last breath.

For every human being it varies, and at every stage of his life.

Often the search is conducted without any intellectual comprehension of what one is about.

Sometimes the subtlest philosophical nuances of thought and speculation may be brought into play, and at others the question does not even rise to consciousness.

But one never really extricates oneself from the context of the issue, Who am I?

And from its corollaries:

Where do I come from?

Where am I going?

What for?


--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "The Search for Oneself," in The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"The question of where I am is the other side of the question God asks of man: Where are you?"

"The question about where I am in my world is outwardly one that a person can ask of himself, but inwardly it is the voice of God speaking to man: to man who has lost his way.

And the moment a person reaches this awareness, he can grasp something which, with all the pain of the question, with all the fearful terror and awe of an encounter with God, leads to that which is larger and more glorious.

For the question of where I am--the question of a man who confronts himself alone, even if he is within a family, a community, a nation, and even if he feels at home in the world--this utterly solitary question is fundamentally resolved at the moment when a person realizes that it is the other side of the question God asks of man: Where are you?

This, then is the response to despair, to the unanswered plea of the bereaved and bewildered, to the lost son who cannot find a home.

It is the Other Voice asking the very same question."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "The Search for Oneself" in The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Everything that is not in the right measure tends to be bad"

"In Hebrew good attributes are call “good measures,” which suggests that the excellence of a quality is determined by its proportion, not by its being what it is in itself, but by its properly related use in particular circumstances.

Everything that is not in the right measure, that relates out of proportion to a situation, tends to be bad.

The good is thus that which is contained within proper limits, and the bad, that which breaks out and goes beyond these limits.

It does not matter whether this exceeding of boundaries is positive or negative, restrictive or excessive, whether refusal of affection or even generosity in love.

And, in fact, this need for balance is true of every living organism.

Each cell in the organism has a certain form and a fixed rate of growth.

And whenever its form is distorted or its growth exceeds what it should be, the result is pathology.

The evil in the world is just such a bursting of bounds, that which allows for the existence of parasitic and injurious factors."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "The Way of Choice" from The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, June 8, 2009

"There are no attributes of the soul that are good or bad"

"As a general rule, there are no attributes of the soul that are good or bad.

One cannot determine that a given quality is always and with every person the same.

In certain societies and cultures, love, pity, compassion may be considered good.

And yet there may also be occasions, outside these cultures and even within them, when these qualities could be considered bad, leading one astray into sadness or sin.

Similarly, pride, selfishness, and even hate are not always bad attributes.

As the sages have said, there is no attribute that lacks its injurious aspect, its negation and failure, just as there is no attribute--even if connected with doubt and heresy--that has not, under some circumstances, its holy aspect.

From this point of view, the good and bad qualities are not set opposite one another, with love always on the side of the good and the other qualities always on the side of the bad.

Rather all the attributes, all the emotions, and all the potentialities of the heart and personality are set on the same level and considered good or bad, not according to some judgment of their intrinsic worth, but according to the way they are used."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "The Way of Choice," in The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, June 7, 2009

"A scholar must be endowed with spiritual and humanitarian qualities"

“How can one define a scholar?

The first and most important criterion is that he be capable of studying and understanding the Torah, a condition that calls for the highest possible degree of intellectual ability.

This, however, is only one facet of the fundamental outlook of the scholar.

It is not enough for him to be erudite and perceptive.

He must also be a noble human being endowed with spiritual and humanitarian qualities.

One whose deeds are not compatible with his theories—either because his morals are not beyond reproach or because he does not strictly observe the precepts—cannot be regarded as a true scholar and is therefore worse than an ignoramus.

The sages themselves said, ‘The deliberate errors of the unlearned are regarded as unintentional, while the unintentional mistakes of the scholars are regarded as deliberate.’

It is not enough for a scholar to preach.

He must also practice what he preaches.

And when there is incongruence between theory and practice, a man can no longer be considered a scholar."
--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From The Essential Talmud, p. 291-292, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, June 5, 2009

"The Sabbath is grounded on stillness"

"The Sabbath is essentially the day of rest, of cessation from all labor and creative effort.

And this holds true for the spiritual effort of working on oneself as well as for the spiritual effort of working on the world.

The week is characterized by busyness or activity, while the Sabbath is grounded on stillness, on the nullification of oneself in the downpour of holiness.

And this self-repudiation is expressed by the renunciation of all work, whether it be in the physical sense, as being busy in the world, or in the spiritual sense, as engaging in efforts to correct one’s soul.

In fact, the very power to receive the spiritual essence of the Sabbath comes from one’s readiness and ability to surrender, to give up one’s human and worldly state for the sake of the Supreme Holiness, through which all the worlds are raised to a higher level."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From, “Holiness,” in The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, June 4, 2009

"One has to use every available means to save a life"

Rabbi Steinsaltz was asked: What should be done when parents rely on religion instead of medicine to heal sick children?

"One of our sages spoke on this topic some 3,000 years ago.

He said: We humans plow our fields, plant trees and bake bread - without relying on the "natural" order of existence.

In this same way, we have a right - and sometimes also a duty - to find the best ways to treat the body and to heal it.

Jews consider life one of the supreme values and believe that one has to use every available means to save a life.

Of course, in no era do we know everything; there may be changes in medicine as well as in agriculture.

But we have always to do, and utilize, the means and knowledge that are available to us.

Not to do so is negligence, and sometimes even an unhealthy reliance on superstition."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From the website "On Faith".


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"Prayer is not just an exercise in pronouncing words"

"When I come to a prayer or a blessing, and I don't find any affinity with it, I can still say it.

But to have any emotion or deep involvement, there comes wrestling with it.

I'm trying to see how much do I feel it?

In prayer, one thing is important: the point of personal involvement.

I can study – and that's a matter of intelligence – so I can say I understand a prayer text better.

But when it comes to involvement, it's a matter of personal connection.

Sometimes, my wrestling is not with the meaning of the words but where do I stand vis-à-vis the text.

So, I have to find, inside myself, those things I can have a connection with.

Yesterday, I was basically aligned with a text.

But today, I don't feel it.

People are very changeable.

Every day, we are different.

So, prayer becomes very different on a daily basis or even three times a day.

Because of the changes in me, those things that sometimes, in the morning, make sense or are an expression of what I feel, need to be revived or they may not connect in the afternoon.

That's wrestling with prayer.

If I am not open in the moment I pray, I am just repeating words.

It's the same thing if you have a phone conversation with someone you love and finish by saying 'I love you.'

If it is a girl you are engaged to, the 'I love you' may be a strong emotion.

Twenty years into a relationship, it carries a different impact.

My prayers reflect and express what I feel, if I am aware of what I'm saying.

Sometimes, I may not even be sure I should say the words of the prayer because that's not how I personally feel.

If you are praying, prayer is not just an exercise in pronouncing words.

It's an intellectual and emotional connection.

I'm not living in an ivory tower.

I notice that for many people, who do their daily prayers, they have an obligation, and so they say the words.

I want to tell people these things can be done formally.

But if you identify internally with at least a quarter of what you say in prayer, you will be a different person."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “The Art of Preparation for Prayer,” a conversation with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"The Siddur is not a collection of private prayers but an attempt to create national prayer"

"Public prayer is more formal prayer.

It has a formula in which you express those notions that you have in your heart, not in a spontaneous way, but through a structure.

Informal prayer is essentially private.

It is spontaneous: one wants to say what one thinks, especially in times of war, famine, illness, where one is unprepared to say what one wants to say.

For formal prayer, the Siddur (Jewish prayer book) is the standard and most popular repository for Jewish prayer.

But there are also other sources of prayers such as the Mishnah and Kabbalah.

And new prayers are being written today.

Theoretically, there shouldn't be a big difference between the two forms of prayer.

Let's say you are in love and want to propose.

You can propose in any way you want according to the personal relationship.

Sometimes you are tongue-tied or don't know the right way to express yourself.

So, you learn some formula.

The intention is the same but the structure is something already made.

Basically, public prayer represents praying in a community, as a family.

The Siddur is not a collection of private prayers but an attempt to create national prayer.
It has different details, some of which would be pertinent to me now; and some of which would simply be details.

For example, we have a blessing for full health.

In times of illness, this prayer will be very emotional.

Other times, it won't be something that is bothering you.

But I want to express these prayers in a way that reflects the whole nation in prayer."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "The Art of Preparation for Prayer," a conversation with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, June 1, 2009

"Before there was a universe God was the Place of the world"

“God created the universe in a space vacated, as it were, of His presence.

From this perspective, before the world was created, God existed alone and without limitations.

There was no one outside of Him and nothing beyond His Being.

In terms of that reality, we cannot speak of space as either geographical or situational.

We can refer only to the source from which space—the universe—was afterward created.

In that sense, before there was a universe, God was the Place of the world.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Understanding the Tanya, p. 215, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz