Friday, July 31, 2009

"When a person studies Torah he creates an angel"

"When a person studies Torah, he creates an angel and becomes a creature that has connections with a higher order of existence.

Any attempt to picture this spiritual essence has its limitations.

It is of an experiential order.

That is, it is something that happens.

The physical pronunciation of holy words is a reality that transforms and the sanctified essence thus created is connected to the person who created it."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Thursday, July 30, 2009

"The concept of Israel means me"

"In terms of responsibility to God and doing His will through mitzvot, the concept of Israel means, first of all, me.

When one recites in prayer, "Who chooses His people Israel with love," one is not thinking of the chief rabbi, but of oneself.

When one says, 'You alone will we worship with awe and reverence,' one is also not thinking of any official body at the head of the community, but, again, of oneself.

In other words, when one says 'we' in this context, or 'we Jews,' or 'we, the People of Israel,' one means 'I' or, at least, primarily 'I'.

As it was once expressed by a Tzaddik, 'A person should pray in the synagogue as though he were in a forest, with a tree here and a tree there, and feel that he alone is communicating with God in worship.'

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"One fears God because one feels Him"

"Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai told his pupils that he hoped they would experience fear of Heaven in the same way they experienced fear of man.

That is, the experience should be vivid physically, emotionally, and intellectually.

It is not only a deep inner conviction but something that compels appropriate action.

One cannot fear God as a witness, as one who merely looks on.

One fears God because one feels Him, both within oneself and without.

He is 'here' and my life as a whole reacts accordingly."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"There are no words to describe the Transcendent"

To illustrate the concept of a lack of words, let us take a fact from the world of physics.

Light waves have different lengths, and the ultraviolet light waves, for instance, are known to be invisible to us.

There are certain creatures, such as bees, however, that can see at least some of those ultraviolet light waves.

In short, part of that which, for us, is total darkness is, for them, light.

Now the question is what kind of light or darkness is it?

We are in a situation where we have no words, or even concepts, to describe something, a color, that obviously exists.

In like manner, we can say that there are no words to describe the Transcendent.

But since, as we believe, God does wish to have some contact with us, He is prepared to suffer the imprecision of our language.

There is the little story, within another context perhaps, but aptly descriptive, of one of the Tzaddikim who suddenly stopped his prayers at a point where there was no pause.

When asked why he did so, he answered with a parable.

Once a king passed and saw a beggar playing a fiddle, and the tune pleased him so much that he stopped and invited the beggar to the palace to play before him.

Now this beggar had an old fiddle with strings that broke easily, so that people told him that it was not respectful to the king to play on it before him, and it would be better to make alterations and at least fix the strings.

At which the beggar answered, 'If the king wants a tune on a fine instrument, he does not lack better musicians than I. If he asked me to play before him, he took into consideration the poor state of my fiddle as well as my own limitations.'

If God wishes to hear our prayers and our sincere speech with Him, He suffers our anthropomorphisms, that is, our calling on Him by names that are human and in terms that are limited in their expressiveness.

We say, 'If you want us, take us as we are with all our faults and inadequacies. It is the best we have to offer.'

The only thing we can do beyond that is to know that certain things are not exact or true, and to be grateful for the privilege, and the audacity, to say them."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Monday, July 27, 2009

"The decision to follow God"

"The essence of the Exodus is in the initial, faith-motivated decision to leave the ordinary, the routine life, and to follow God.

This is the all-inclusive point of departure.

Prior to that there is nothing.

All the rest is elaboration."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Sunday, July 26, 2009

"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 Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Friday, July 24, 2009

"Living for the sake of Heaven"

"One may not be able to afford the luxuries of food and drink, and yet, in a simple and innocent way, be guilty of gluttony by the mere fact that he is not eating for the sake of Heaven.

Similarly, a person may be clothed in gold and silk and partake of the greatest delicacies, but he may be doing so as a mode of Divine worship, in purity and in holiness."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Thursday, July 23, 2009

"To be free means to have a life goal of one’s own"

"It is a well-known phenomenon that animals born and raised in captivity who escape from their cages often do not know how to live in freedom.

They are not capable of taking care of themselves, nor do they have the motivation.

When in their cages, they look as if they are constantly striving to set themselves free, acting out of a vague instinct.

When they do attain freedom, it usually takes them no more than a few days to return to the comfort of their pen, with its well-known routine and attendant—even if that attendant makes them work.

And if this is true for animals, it is much truer for human beings.

For to be free means to have a personality of one’s own, to have a life goal of one’s own, a goal that is worth striving for despite all difficulties."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Jewish education is so lacking that it almost has no meaning"

"There are many Jews whose only sense of being Jewish is the sense that they are hated, that they are a persecuted minority.

But when Judaism is only defined as a kick in the backside, it’s not worth continuing.

The root of the problem is that Jewish education, almost all over the world, is so lacking that it almost has no meaning.

To use an example from the physical sciences, in flight mechanics there is what is called a critical velocity, under which no plane will fly.

In the same way there is also a critical level of Jewish knowledge under which no effective tie with Judaism will ever be reached.

Below this level, all attempts to teach Judaism are quite useless."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"The sincere worshipper of God has to tighten the tension"

"The problem in a life of steady devotion and sincere worship lies in the fact that habit makes the tension slack.

Piety can become a comfortable state of being, in which one is afraid of change.

When arriving at such a stage, the sincere worshipper of God has to assume an additional burden, to tighten the tension.

Otherwise he will slip into a state of gradual spiritual decline."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Monday, July 20, 2009

"One may forget what was known but the impression cannot be effaced"

"Every day we learn something new and absorb additional information and knowledge.

But it is not as simple as adding something to a storehouse.

It is a complex process of integration.

Knowledge influences the knower.

The knower changes with what he learns.

One may also forget what was known, but the impression made by the knowledge cannot be effaced.

One can forget everything that one has learned, but one cannot wipe out the effect it had on the personality.

Which, incidentally, explains why it is forbidden to put to shame a scholar who has lost his ability to remember.

It is assumed that what he once knew remains as a subtle, ineradicable influence."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Sunday, July 19, 2009

"To what extent am I conscious of God’s presence?"

"The nearness of God is not a matter of any measurable distance, just as approaching Him is not an act that is even approximately physical.

He is always where I am.

The question is whether I am here.

To what extent am I conscious of God’s presence?

For instance, there are a great number of things in us that the mind is not aware of.

We have to learn that they exist.

For example, we begin to notice the heart only if it gives us trouble, and this in spite of the fact that it is quite noisy and physiologically involved with everything we do.

There doesn’t seem to be any relation between the objective reality of anything—its vital necessity or even its nearness—to the fact of our being conscious of it.

On the contrary, there seems to be a curious paradox about it all.

What is close, so intimate as to be inseparable, often requires a greater amount of training and effort in order to get to know it."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdon from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Friday, July 17, 2009

"The animal soul as tempter"

"A pure human soul that is undivided and static does not, and perhaps cannot, exist.

Without anything to struggle against, without any resistance, there is no progress.

As the Chasidim used to say, “If God wanted man to be like that, He would have done better to create a few million more angels.”

The angels are limited.

They are static and each is eternally the same.

The human soul needs to be challenged by the animal soul for the sake of the individual’s growth, and it is not fair to call the animal soul evil because it merely does its duty.

Its duty is to tempt; its deepest hope is that the person is not tempted.

In a famous story in the Zohar, the king hired a courtesan to lure his son into evil ways, wishing she might fail.

The dilemma of the courtesan, the animal soul, is obvious."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Finding out to which family one belongs"

"For some of our people it’s almost like the story of the duckling that was hatched by a hen.

Too often, our ducklings grow up in a different atmosphere.

They are taught to think and act in ways that are entirely alien.

Jews have adopted a lot of other cultures, national identities, and sometimes even religions.

Sometimes there is a very wonderful recognition and return.

Frequently, it comes as a very unpleasant discovery that 'I am somehow different,' that 'my medium is a different medium.'

When a Jew finds water, so to speak, he will swim in it, even though those who raised him and taught him don’t.

Finding out somehow to which family one belongs is a familiar theme in literature, and in life, knowingly or unknowingly, each person begins to discover it.

If the discovery comes soon enough, the person is not only able to acknowledge the fact that he belongs somewhere—at least to be buried in the right graveyard—but also to make his life, in a way, more sensible.

Paradoxically, freedom comes with the acceptance of a definite framework from which one cannot move away."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"There is nothing other than God"

"It is said that God is One in the sense that there is nothing besides Him, both before and after the Creation.

The universe does not make any difference as far as God is concerned.

He remains forever the same without ever changing.

Even though we may be conscious of a world apparently apart from God, this is only the ongoing act of Creation.

The words that made the world are constantly being spoken anew, and nothing can exist unless it is sustained by them.

If they were to cease being spoken, all would revert to emptiness and chaos."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Stensaltz (forthcoming)


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"A God I can put into my pocket is not worth being with"

"There was once a great Rebbe who was asked lots of basic theological questions.

Why does God do this and that?

He answered by saying that a God that every rotten man can understand is not a God I would believe in.

If I want a God that I can put into my little pocket, it is possibly not worth being with.

If I want God to be my measure, to be exactly made to my measure and to feelings that change with every newspaper article, it is possibly not worth having such a God."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Monday, July 13, 2009

"A better wine is far more difficult to appreciate"

"I have not found that accepting Judaism makes a life that is full of happiness and filled with sugar.

It is not like this.

It doesn’t make, by definition, a more enjoyable life.

But it is a better life.

It is like drinking wine.

There are the sweet wines that even children appreciate.

They are very sweet.

They are possibly not wine, but they are sweet.

And red.

But a better wine is far more difficult to appreciate.

It is hard to teach about it.

You have to experience it to understand that it is not as sweet and not as red and not as cheap, but that it is still better.

It is something that one must educate himself about.

Good cooking is not always appreciated.

The better it is, the more you have to learn to appreciate it.

This is possibly true about every form of human achievement.

To appreciate something that is better needs an education.

It needs a certain amount of suffering.

But, when you get there, you understand it."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom fromRabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Sunday, July 12, 2009

"The souls of two people can grow into a genuine unity"

"As long as a person identifies himself with his body and concentrates all his attention on a particular 'I' in time and space, he can never really love another person.

He can only love himself because the 'I' is the focus of his whole being.

By way of contrast, when the soul is seen as the mainspring of one’s being and as the meaning of life, there is no limit to the possibility of love because no two bodies can ever become one.

At best, they can make good use of each other.

Two souls, however, that strive together toward the primal root of things come closer and closer.

And if they continue on an ever higher plane, they can grow into a genuine unity."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisodom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Friday, July 10, 2009

"The world is conceptualized by a system of metaphors based on the human body"

"The Bible and other literary creations of the Jews, such as Aggadah and the Kabbalah, abound with anthropomorphisms of all kinds, not only in relation to the deity but in every sort of description.

This humanization of the world’s reality, both of the objects and creatures lower than man and of those higher, are among the profoundly consistent aspects of the use of the holy tongue.

As one of the sages expressed it: The soul describes everything according to the configuration of its mansions, which is the body.

In other words, the world is conceptualized and its objects described by a system of metaphors based on the human body.

The language thus 'raises the lowly' by images like 'the head [top] of the mountain' and 'the foot of the mountain.'

And it ‘brings down the high' by descriptions such as the 'seat' of the Almighty, the 'hand' of God, the 'eye' of the Lord, and the like.

This use of plastic imagery and symbols is so characteristic of the language that it is hard to find a sentence in the Scriptures that is not constructed on the basis of metaphorical description rather than abstract conceptualization.

Imagery-bound concepts are to be found everywhere, in almost every paragraph of the books of law and jurisprudence as well as in poetry and literature, and serve primarily, and most strikingly, to describe all the pertains to the holy.

Precisely because of this prevalence of metaphorical statement, and the widespread use of figures of speech drawn from the human image, it becomes all the more necessary to emphasize that they are allegorical truths and not actual descriptions of reality.

For there was a certain danger that the word pictures, or imagistic descriptions, of sacred symbols in the Bible--and even more so in the Kabbalah--could lead to a crude material apprehension of the divine essence and of the higher reality."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "The Human Image" in The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, July 9, 2009

"The secret of the positive mitzvot"

"The secret of the positive mitzvot, the commandments to perform certain actions, lies, in a manner of speaking, in the activization of the limbs of the body, in certain movements and certain ways of doing things which are congruous with higher realities and higher relationships in other worlds.

In fact, every movement, every gesture, every habitual pattern and every isolated act that man does with his body has an effect in whole systems of essences in other dimensions with and against one another.

Clearly, an ordinary person does not know anything of this.

At best he is conscious only to a very small degree of the things he does and of their higher significance.

Even among those few who are able to unravel the riddle and know the meaning of these secrets, only select individuals reach that state of being where knowledge is automatically lived out and manifested.

It is a state where every act of a mitzvah or an impulsive movement or a dance, expresses, knowingly and unknowingly, the higher relationships--following on analogous parts of the body, in their separate as well as in their total effects."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "The Human Image"in The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"A recognition of the obvious"

"The fact is that the elemental sense of the Divine is not a matter of mystical realization or any kind of emotional or cerebral experience.

It is the simplest, most fundamental perception granted to all human beings, a certainty that there is a Creator, or some sort of greater reality, responsible for the world.

It is a recognition of the obvious, not an extraordinary vision of the hidden."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

" The development of the world requires darkness"

"It may be said that for God to develop the photographic film of the world, He had to create a dark room.

And one needs a limited source of light, controlled and restricted, in order to function.

Once the desired effect is achieved, the windows can be opened.

The development of the world requires darkness, the hiddenness of space, and the obscuration of God Himself.

Divine revelation would most likely consume all of existence.

Reality as we know it would cease to be.

It is written that the prophet can hear the song of the celestial beings but he cannot see anything.

As it was said to Moses, “For no man shall look upon Me and live.”

There is this limit beyond which all is made meaningless, burned out, and extinguished.

As it is hinted in several sources in the scriptural text, any trespass of the permitted range of sanctity is a matter of utmost peril."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Monday, July 6, 2009

"Why children are often wise"

"One of the reasons why children are often wise is that they have so much natural humility, which is the capacity to absorb things without having to relate to them critically.

This may be considered a requirement for creativity of all kinds, artistic and scientific.

Among modern physicists, the period of youth is usually known to be the time of innovation and creativity, while the later years are devoted to elaboration and teaching of the original inspirations."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Sunday, July 5, 2009

"What a child learns has to be correct"

"One should not educate the child to believe something that is correct only for one’s childhood and has to be changed for more correct beliefs later on.

'He’ll understand when he grows up.'

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

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Friday, July 3, 2009

"In Judaism children were never considered little angels"

"Judaism never looked on children as innocent and pure.

They were never considered little angels.

On the contrary, they were considered liable to sin and act cruelly out of ignorance.

Man is not born human.

He comes into the world as a wild young creature.

As he grows, he may become tame.

His wildness as a child is a result of not grasping the existence of the other.

It is ignorance, a lack of knowledge that makes empathy impossible."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Acting with kindness is decisive"

"There is a story in the Talmud of a man who went to Babylon and had reason to ask for some help with something.

The Jews there did not come to his assistance, either with money or anything else.

The man, in describing them, wrote that these were evidently not Jews, but a mongrel community, because they failed to show kindness.

He did not inquire whether they prayed or put on tefillin or wore tzitzit.

The fact that they did not act naturally and spontaneously with kindness was decisive."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"The connection is beyond choice"

"Judaism as a religion was never very active in proselytizing, just as a family would never go out into the streets to grab people to join the family.

It doesn’t mean that Jews feel superior or inferior.

It’s simply that from the very beginning it had its own rhythm and way of living.

Even when members of such a family are out of the family house, when they are wandering far away, they continue the lifestyle, theologically, sociologically, behavioristically.

Of course, members of the family can be severely chastised and rifts can occur between individuals and groups, but there is really no way of leaving the family.

You can even hate it, but you cannot be separated from it.

After some time, people, younger or older, come to the conclusion that, in fact, they can’t get away from it, and therefore it is far better to try to find the ways in which they are connected—because the connection is beyond choice.

It’s a matter of being born with it.

And since you are stuck with it, it is far better to get to know where you came from and who you are."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)