Friday, October 30, 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."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Every mitzvah creates an angel"

"It is said that with every mitzvah, every good deed that he per­forms, a man creates an angel.

In order to understand this, it is necessary to envisage each such act, or prayer, as being an operation on two levels.

The first level is behavioral; it is the initiating or bringing about or completing of a transformation—no matter how small—in the physical world.

The other level is spiritual and involves the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and mystical meditations that should accompany the performance of the external act.

These spiritual actions coalesce and form a discrete spiritual entity, which possesses objective reality, and which, in turn, creates an angel in the World of Formation.

Thus, by means of the mitzvot he performs, man extends the realm in which his activity is effective from the lower to the upper worlds.

He creates angels, which are, in a manner of speaking, his messengers in the higher worlds."
--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "Worlds, Angels and Men" in
The Strife of the Spirit by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"A Jewish community could carry on its whole spiritual and religious life without the services of a rabbi"

"The role of a rabbi is not essentially a sacramental, purely religious one.

Unlike the Catholic priest, who serves by virtue of holy orders (and actually holds in his hand the sole authority to perform the sacraments), the Jewish rabbi has no essential function that can­not be performed by someone else.

In theory at least, a Jewish com­munity could carry on its whole spiritual and religious life without the services of a rabbi, who, being learned in the Torah and Jewish law, has merely to help the members of the community when a religious problem arises."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

The Strife of the Spirit by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"To break away from the past"

"It has been said that a man's path of spiritual development, whether he has sinned or not, is in a certain sense a path of repentance.

It is an endeavor to break away from the past and reach a higher level."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, October 26, 2009

"Mankind can best be defined as 'the speaking species' "

Mankind can best be defined as "the speaking species."

Nature traditionally has been divided into four classes: the inanimate world; the flora, or plant world; the fauna, or an­imal world; and mankind, called "the speaker."

Man the speaker is a separate class.

The scientific definition of man as Homo sapiens is not the best title for humanity; many an­imals—dolphins, for example—also have high levels of in­telligence, perhaps not too inferior to that of humans.

In addition, man's attempts at wisdom have not always been successful.

However, the fact that we are speakers is basic, so very primal that it differentiates us from the rest of cre­ation.

The right name for us should be, perhaps, Homo gar­rulus.

This title is not facetious; it defines not only man's distinction, but also his superiority.

It is not just that we can communicate; everything can communicate.

The birds and the bees, and even plants, can transmit some signals to each other, by voice, by sight, or by scent, but ours is a very different form of com­munication.

As far as we know, animals can only transmit emotions, or status reports.

They can signal statements such as, "Here I am," "I am about to attack you," or "I am going to court you"—depending on the situation.

Hu­mans can create words, which are transmittable symbols.

We can create symbols for everything in the world: ob­jects, space, and time, concrete notions and abstract ones, ideas and emotions.

We can talk about almost everything in the world, and give it a name

The Book of Genesis tells us about the creation of Man.

The Midrash, in Genesis Rabbah, a fourth-century homi­letic exegesis on the Bible, says that God consulted the an­gels about the creation of Man, and the angels did not like the idea at all.'

To them, connecting a Divine soul with an earthly body seemed a strange and unlikely combination, bound to fail.

The Midrash then goes on to tell that after Man was created, God showed the new world and all its creatures to the angels, and asked, "Can you give names to all these things around you?"

The angels said they could not.

Then God showed off His new creature, Man, to prove his special qualities; all the animals passed before Adam, and Adam gave names to each one (Genesis 2:19)—includ­ing himself,' his wife (Genesis 2:23), and the Almighty!

That was the beginning of Man as a distinctive creation, different indeed from all other creatures, superior to ani­mals and even to angels—not merely because he can talk, but because of the ability to create words.

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Does each and every living being matter to God?"

"The questions posed by the Holocaust are not different, in principle, from those raised by the heartbreaking experience of visiting a children's cancer ward.

Whether it is Jews, children, or little mice, the question is basically the same: does each and every living being matter to God?

Many times the Bible describes the concept of redemp­tion as a birth.

Redemption will also come with pain, blood, and a fair amount of screaming.

We are allowed to scream; we are allowed to say, "You may be right, but I want to know why!"

Someday we will all pass on to an­other, clearer world and have a different view of the Almighty.

Then we will either be able to complain prop­erly, or we will no longer have any need to complain.

In the realm of theology, the philosopher and the be­liever ask basically the same question, but from two very different angles, which are like a circle and its center.

The philosopher says, "The world exists, so how can there be a God?"

He is trying to find a way from the circumference to the center.

The believer, on the other hand, says, "God exists; how, then, can there be a world?"

He tries to find a path connecting the center to the circumference.

Some­times, both the philosopher and the believer are success­ful; they find good answers, and they meet.

When they fail, however, each of them is left with the question.

If one could choose, I think that rather than being left with the question "I am in the world; how can God exist?" it is far better to be left with "I am with God, I just do not under­stand how this world can exist."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, October 23, 2009

"Human beings are amphibians"

"We human beings are amphibians.

We are not like frogs, but we are amphibious.

We live in two worlds: the mater­ial and the spiritual, and sometimes on the borderline be­tween them.

We are aware of the differences, just as the difference between dry land and water is clear even to the smallest frog.

However, although we jump continuously from one existence to the other, we are often unaware of the jump.

Although we live in two worlds, one of them seems to be the real world, the real existence, while the other seems much more hazy, not quite as real.

The material world is obvious.

We have material bod­ies, and we go about living our lives within the world of matter.

With all our senses, we can perceive directly only aspects of that material world. We tend to feel that the material life we live is the "real" existence—True Reality.

We smell scents and hear sounds, and our sense of sight is our main way of understanding the world, but the ulti­mate way in which we verify the existence of things is by touching them.

We equate real with tangible.

Things that we cannot grasp in our hands are less real to us.

Although we know—either from books or from direct experience—that most things, even in the physical-material world, cannot be perceived through our senses (from radioactive rays to microscopic germs), still, this does not change our strong, primitive notion that reality is that which we can sense.

Because we can touch it, the material world is real.

In a different way, we are also participants in another, nonmaterial world.

This abstract, nontangible world is certainly not in the same category of reality, yet it is no less real."

Just as we inhabit the material world, we also exist in a spiritual world.

Unfortunately, the word "spiritual" has acquired mystical and supernatural connotations, and is used too frequently by all kinds of unreliable people, from bleary-eyed old ladies speaking about spirituality to quacks selling spiritual medicines and spiritual workshops that will make us wise, beautiful, successful, and thin.

Since such "spirituality" seems to range from wishy-washy to clinically crazy, it is not at all astonishing that some peo­ple keep a safe distance.

The spiritual world we live in is very close and real. It is not the realm of ghosts and disembodied beings, where powers and vibrations (whatever they are) roam.

The spir­itual world is, first and foremost, all the things we relate to through our minds.

This includes our thoughts and emotions, love, hate, and envy, the ability to read, to en­joy music, or to solve equations, to know that we exist, and to relate to others.

All these are intangible—they can­not be touched or weighed.

However, they are common­place, direct experiences, and they are as real as anything can be.

All these together make up our second world, the spiritual one."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Hollywood has created a great and very successful religion"

is not just a place—it is a world in itself.

Hollywood has done something remarkable: it has created a great and very successful religion.

Through its success ful missionaries—the films produced in Hollywood—it has spread all around the globe, gaining adherents faster than any other religion in the world.

If it has not attained the stature of a full-fledged religion, at least it is a very strong cult.

Hollywood films are, of course, also a business, an amusement, and a highly efficient means for whiling away—even killing—as much time as anyone might want to kill.

However, in this regard, it is not very different from other businesses or other parts of the amusement industry.

Hollywood does much more than kill time, though. Hollywood has a formative influence on people's lives.

Holly wood influences people's thinking, their values, their goals, the way they plan their lives, and their behavior.

That is why boys will imitate the stance and language of a star, and girls will spend their last dollars just to have a Hollywood-style wedding.

Beyond that, Hollywood creates images of this world and of the next world; it creates desire and it creates dreams.

Whether these dreams are far-fetched and unat tainable, or very close to reality, they become the dreams of the people; they are the wishes of the people.

People copy the manners, the behavior, the images, and the fig ures that Hollywood creates. In that sense, it is as power ful and as meaningful as any religion.

Like most religions and cults, it 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, pro ducers, and directors.

Even so, the lack of high-sounding titles and fancy dress does 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

Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"God is Infinite"

People who picture the "Master of the Universe" as the "Biggest Boss" of all believe that they are expressing pro­found respect for God.

They think that they are not like those picayune people who believe that God has nothing better to do than check the petty details of every individ­ual's life.

For even as a parent, how much do I know and care about every little thing that my children do?

There are so many small details about which I am completely ig­norant.

I care about the big things. I may think that I have a broader view; I see the vastness of the universe, and therefore I infer that God cannot possibly have time for details.

But when I say that God does not deal with detail, I am in fact cutting God down to my own measure.

No matter how much I enlarge it, it is still my own picture, extended: God is very important, a very important per­son, and therefore God is like the big boss, a big ruler, a big president--only more so.

However big I may make it, it still remains basically an enlargement of a small human picture.

The reason a human boss does not know or care about what happens to the paper clips in the office is that he has a limited mind.

Only certain things can fit into a limited storage house; the rest has to be discarded.

The boss must therefore decide what is important to him and what is not; he cannot afford to clutter his mind with minute, ir­relevant details, or his functioning will be hampered.

The bigger the boss, the greater the number of details, and therefore the more generalized the items with which he can deal.

If we say that God does not care about this or that, it actually means that we cast God in the big boss image.

Unlike the biggest of bosses, though, God is infinite.

Infinity is a difficult concept, even in mathematics.

In re­lation to God, it is more difficult yet.

Something infinite has no boundaries; there is no limit to the number of de­tails it can contain.

Moreover, it is a basic mathematical fact that compared to infinity, every other number is zero, and every other size is equal.

One million, or two thou­sand quadrillion, when compared to infinity, are both ex­actly zero.

Theologically, saying that God is infinite means that all the details become equally insignificant, regardless of their size.

In that sense, a galaxy, with all the gigantic stars it contains, is exactly equal to the small­est particles of an atom.

Therefore, if it makes any sense for God to care about what happens to a galaxy, it makes exactly the same amount of sense for God to care about what happens to a blade of grass.

Compared to God, they are of exactly the same magnitude.

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"If the tweet is written with tears, it has a better chance of being recieved"

Rabbi Steinsaltz was asked:

Are social media tools a blessing or a curse for people of faith? Should we use digital technology to commune with the divine? Does God tweet?

Rabbi Steinsaltz responded:

"Twitter is not important in itself.

Does God write little notes in response to the letters that He receives in great numbers?

God also rarely responds verbally to the many spoken prayers addressed to Him.

The importance is not in the media, but in the sender of the message.

When there is a prayer or a question that has very little meaning to the person who asks it, then the vehicle by which insignificant prayers move from place to place is also unimportant.

One has to remember that in the holiest of places, God is not closer to the people; sometimes, people become closer to God in such places.

Pilgrimage is important because crossing the distance and taking the trouble may somehow change the pilgrim.

Going to the house of worship next door usually doesn't have the same effect.

In the same way, if the tweet is written with tears, it has a better chance of being received."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From the "On Faith" website


Monday, October 19, 2009

"We are always living in more than one world"

"Every human being lives in more than one world.

We are living in the world of emotion, the world of thought, and so on.

In some ways we are always living in more than one world, almost by definition.

More than that, some of us at least have a grasp, to a greater or lesser extent, of some existence that is beyond the purely mental plane of existence, and occasionally find a way to a world or worlds above us.

But usually for most people, existence is just the "am­phibian" state between the purely material and the mental-emotional.

There are people who can achieve a state beyond this more perfectly, but it is perhaps only once in a generation that someone like this may appear.

It is as though he doesn't really belong to this existence—not that he doesn't have a physical body, but his physical body is just what it should be: only a small part of his whole being.

As it is, it's as though I inherited a skyscraper and I'm living only on the first story, or sometimes even below, in the basement.

I think each of us inherited the whole building.

Most people stay in the basement, some people climb to the first story, some go higher still.

We know that even climbing a mountain in a quite ordinary way requires a great deal of hard work.

And in relation to the climb we are speaking of, even though the potential is inborn, it needs a huge amount of training.

In another kind of example, human beings seem to have the inborn ability to learn to read and write—a very abstract and complicated ability, but every human being possesses it to some degree.

Still, there is a necessary period of turning this poten­tial into practical ability, even though there is the capability inherent that makes it possible."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

The Strife of the Spirit by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, October 18, 2009

"There are many ways of meditation in Judaism"

There are many ways of meditation in Judaism.

Some of them are really esoteric because the systems that supported these ways have not survived to our times.

It is very clear, for exam­ple, that the prophets had schools.

There were schools for prophets, and they had their own ways of meditation.

For one thing, their medita­tion seemed always to be accompanied by music, which is a way that has almost entirely disappeared today, though it still exists in some forms.

In the Chasidic section from which my ancestors come, the rabbi would sing with others for a while and there would then follow a long period of silent meditation.

There were times when my ancestors would do this for six hours; this combination of music and medita­tion was one way.

But many of the forms really disappeared.

We know, for exam­ple, that there were certain postures people took while meditating—in order not to fall asleep as well as for other reasons!

The Hitbodedut type of meditation was developed among the Bratzlaver Chasidim and is an attempt for a personal feeling of communion and conversation with God.

Chabad meditation is entirely different.

This is a form in which one takes a certain idea and thinks about it during a certain time of prayer; sometimes for as long as six or seven hours.

There are still some people who practice this way, silently meditating on a pre­set problem, a very fine point in Kabbalah or in a book.

The Kotzk meditation is the one perhaps nearest to Zen medita­tion.

The point of this form is to discard external images, to get rid of empty words, and to reach a point where you are able to say exact­ly what you mean.

After a very long period of silent meditation, one tries to be absolutely true to the words he says. It is a terribly tiring process.

You find that this or that is not what you mean and so you have to go further on.

And so it goes, on and on for hours until a person has a feeling that he can say something properly.

There is a very famous story about one of the great rabbis who spent his last years in Israel.

He said, "When I was young I used to pray to have the grace to say one prayer properly. Now I have come to Israel, and it is said that the air of Israel makes one wiser. I now pray to be able to say one word properly."

There are other mystical forms of meditation that are practiced but not aired very much—and there are many reasons for this.

One of the reasons is that at one time, people were not interested in it serious­ly and those who did it were terribly concerned about the practice being true and proper.

When it becomes a plaything, when it becomes a fad, there is something wrong about it.

One of the ideas of the sacred is that it is not a plaything.

There is a feeling of distance, and one should not play with it.

And if one cannot, one should perhaps stay out.

This is one of the reasons why for years these forms were not publicized.

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

The Strife of the Spirit by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, October 16, 2009

"Jewish theology is an integration of the Kabbalah of the Ari and the Joseph Caro's Code of Jewish Law"

"There was never a sepa­ration of any real consequence between the daily obliga­tions and open practice of Judaism and the esoteric or mystical aspects of the tradition.

They have always been connected.

They are simply different aspects of the same thing.

In the Middle Ages many scholars leaned almost entirely on the writings of Maimonides and pointed to his Thirteen Articles of Faith as the supreme theological au­thority.

But even in those times there was more than one approach to theology.

For example, we also have the more mystical approach of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (the Ramban).

But since there was no central authority to define a consensus of opinion, the differences—which, as intimated, were never as polarized as modern thinkers believe—were allowed to flourish.

It is only since the sixteenth century that there has been a consensus accepted by almost every Jew.

If there is a normative Jewish theology, it is the inte­gration of the two (never really separate) approaches—the Kabbalah of the Ari and the Shulhan Arukh of Rabbi Joseph Caro."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

"From "Mysticism in the Jewish Tradition" in
On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

(illustration of the Ramban)


Thursday, October 15, 2009

"The importance of comrades and close friends"

"Everyone, no matter how far along in spir­itual development, is likely at times to experience weariness, an 'inability to carry on,' and meaninglessness.

Even one who has followed the path of Torah and mitzvot wholeheartedly all his life can be overtaken by such fatigue and indifference.

The root of the problem probably lies in a prior experience, somewhere along the way, of backsliding and "falling."

Even the most pious and scholarly are not immune.

The only cure for fatigue of this kind is spiritual renewal, and this, in turn, must come from outside. 'A prisoner cannot effect his own release.'

Herein lies the importance of comrades and close friends, with whom one can share one's concerns and from whom one can gain encouragement in times of crisis.

Dark feelings often result from a sense that one has exhausted his own inner re­sources and cannot break out of the closed circle of his life.

Talking the matter out, even indirectly, and examining it in the broader perspective of the fundamental sources of illumination can restore the soul to life.

Even one not so afflicted is well advised to seek out renewal in contact with others, whenever the opportunity presents itself.

To be sure, there is a danger here too of overdoing social contact, and rousing discussions do not always yield results.

But it is important to make the effort and look for such reinforcement.

If one has a rabbi or teacher who can serve one as a source of enlightenment, one should meet with him regularly.

Lacking such a mentor, one should turn to friends, or even strangers, to help him sustain his inner life.

In the final analysis, the secret of fellowship is to be found in this verse:

'For should they fall, one can raise the other; but woe betide him who is alone and falls with no companion to raise him!' (Ecclesiastes 4:10).

Just as ups and downs are a part of life in general, so crises and misgivings are part of the life of faith.

Weakness does not afflict everyone at the same time, so that when one is afflicted there are others around to help him up.

'Two are better off than one, in that they have greater reward for their labor.' (Ecclesiastes 9:9)."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "Lapses and Crises" in
Teshuvah by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Making man an angel is creating a dry, petty, and partial being"

Many generations have wanted to make an angel of man.

These experiments, although they did not succeed (there being no satisfac­tory way of doing so), were successful in pretending that man is by nature an angel.

Such an opinion, held in reverence by generations, is worth some thought: Man is really comprised of beast and angel, and the angelic part is the more important one.

But must this belief lead to the conclusion that man has to be changed into an angel?

The essence of man's being is in just this combining of angel and beast.

When this combination is destroyed, man ceases to be human; he becomes some other sort of humanoid—but surely not man!

Converting man into an angel does not mean any exaltation for him.

If God had wanted man to become an angel and to do everything as such, He would simply have created more angels.

But His wish was to create man.

"We shall make man in our form and image," and not, "make an angel in our form."

Of course, a man must not stay forever in the same meaningless state of angel-beast; man must try to become better.

But whatever the manner of his exaltation, it must not be by forcing man to the angelic.

Because man's way—that in which he has to go—is a special way for him alone.

Forcing man into a life of mere learning and doing good deeds cannot create an angel; it can, at best, only move him toward being what he has to be.

The religious man of today is not a perfect religious man.

Orthodox religion pretends that man is only made for prayer and devotion, and therefore a religious man who has another attitude cannot identify himself with his religion.

He feels that his religion is manifested only in that part of him that is concerned with learning and praying.

The man who is praying is not a whole man, but only part of a man.

Perhaps this part is the better part, but it is not man.

A man cannot enter into such a closed circle of angelic religion.

A perfect man has within himself a whole world—heaven and earth, the highest and the lowest—and is not compressed in the little space of such doubtful religion.

Such a man cannot pray wholeheartedly, because the synagogue is too narrow for containing all his inner world.

Making man an angel is creating a dry, petty, and partial being.

A good example of this dryness and constraint can be found in many books on morals written during certain periods.

However, these books, which are masterpieces in themselves, lack the elements of true humanism.

The greatness of these books is lost because the average man, full of every human feeling, cannot relate such books to his life; they often do not even hint at certain moral questions.

You could study a classic book on morals and not find anything about love, social relations, work, physical life, et cetera.

True, these books are good books, but they are good only for that part of man engaged in religious issues.

These books are textbooks for angels; they cannot teach people.

It was this contraction of religion into purely religious problems that caused the freezing of every human emotion and led to conservatism and, to some extent, self-deception and hypocrisy, for, if all religious subjects were so detached from everyday life, they would become merely frozen conservative forms that did not have any true meaning for anyone.

It is told that once the Rabbi of Kotzk asked one of his pupils to tell him what he thinks of while praying.

The man began to tell the Rabbi about his thoughts during prayers—a very learned lecture about the unity of God in the higher world and in our world.

The Rabbi, who was a volcano of God-seeking and truth-seeking, and one of the greatest teachers in those subjects, could not suppress his anger any longer and cried:

"And where is your stomach?"—meaning: "Where is your own prosaic self in all this high philosophy? Where are you in this strange, cold, distant and impersonal exaltation?"

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "Soul Searching" in
The Strife of the Spirit by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Only he who has the strength to mourn on Tisha B'Av is capable of rejoicing on Simchat Torah"

"The festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles) is referred to by a number of names in the Jewish sources, but no epithet seems to reflect its essence as much as that given in the prayerbook: "The time of our rejoicing."

Such a definition, however, raises some fundamental questions:

How can a specific date in the calendar be set aside for rejoicing?

How can one obey an injunction to rejoice on a certain day, irrespective of one's mood or condition?

The fact that this is possible is abundantly clear in the way that Simchat Torah, the final culminating day of the eight-day festival, is celebrated.

Not only do believers rejoice, but they frequently manage to draw others into their dancing and gaiety.

It is difficult to distinguish between this obligatory happiness and purely spontaneous manifesta­tions of individual and communal joy.

The commandment to rejoice on Sukkot is in fact just one of a number of such obligations that concern one's mood.

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

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

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

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "A Time for Joy" in
The Strife of the Spirit by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, October 12, 2009

"The study of Torah is weighed against all the commandments"

"It is possible for all men to study Torah and practice the mitzvot.

The mitzvot are practical actions that can be carried out in a definite time and place.

And this, in turn, fills all that is lacking in a person.

One can cultivate the well-tried habit of using all of one’s free time to study Torah.

As it is written, Talmud Torah, the study of Torah, is weighed against all the other commandments in that it fills all the empty and unoccupied places, and it does not allow a person to be in a vacuum.

For there is no neutral territory.

Either one is in the domain of the holy or one is abandoned to the other side.

Even when one is idle, walking in the field or whatever, the mind and heart are occupied with something or other.

This can be connected with Torah and things of the spirit, or it can be a surrender to temptation."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, October 9, 2009

"A person must be aware"

“If an unlettered person purposely commits a sin or neglects to perform a mitzvah, his sin is considered unintentional and minor, for it lacks the basic elements of complete willfulness:

Rebellion, denial of a supreme Master, a conscious turning away from God's will.

This person does not truly understand the meaning of holiness and views God and His mitzvot as unclear concepts.

He is thus considered to be acting unwittingly, like a child who breaks an expensive item whose value he cannot appreciate.

Even when such a person acts knowingly, his knowledge does not extend to a full understanding.

To be willful, a person must be aware.

When his consciousness is on a low-level, when he does not adequately understand the meaning of sin andmitzvot, he cannot be judged on the same scale as someone who does know and comprehend.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Understanding the Tanya, p. 89-90, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, October 8, 2009

"What is the purpose of life?"

“The book of Ecclesiastes is a key to a more inward-directed Judaism, posing as it does the great question:

What is life?

What is it all for?

These are the basic questions of every thinking person.

And in the course of the book, all the substantial, rational, and usual solutions to this question are demolished, again and again.

What is the purpose of life?

Certainly not any one of the possibilities that Ecclesiastes raises, telling us of his own experience and eventual despair.

The essential conclusion of the book, in terms of the answer to the fundamental question, is:

There is no way of finding the purpose of life within the framework of physical life itself.

And if we pursue this line of thought we reach a conclusion:

If there is a purpose to life, it has to be beyond life.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "Ecclesiastes," p.151-152 in
On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"The Seven Shepherds are present among us"

"The Seven Shepherds--Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David--are seven eminent figures in our history.

Of course, they are also much more than that.

They are personalities who continue to lead the Children of Israel, even in our times, in an invisible fashion.

We invite them to our sukkah because we really feel that they are present among us and are not figments of the past.

Men fall into two categories.

The first is composed of men who act at one point in history.

They belong to the past and their actions have come to a close.

The Seven Shepherds, however, belong to the second category of men: those who have a permanent impact on the Jewish soul, an impact that has lasted up to this very day.

These Shepherds are more than archetypal figures.

A more fitting description is that we, as their descendents, have undergone their influence and have integrated part of their personalities.

The Seven Shepherds are not figures or role models, but rather seven facets, or seven fundamental features of our identity.

These Shepherds do not roam the fields; they roam our souls.

They are our spiritual fathers, and we 'carry' their genes.

They are the building blocks of our heritage and our spiritual genetic background."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "The Three Pilgrim Festivals" p. 271-272, in
The Seven Lights by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"We are protected under the shelter of God's wings"

"The festival of Sukkot does not commemorate any specific event, but is a reminder, as it says in the Torah, 'that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.' (Lev.23:43).

Our sages differ about whether this refers to the protective Clouds of Glory that covered the Israelites in the desert or to the actual exodus from Egypt and their wanderings in the wilderness, protected by God against all harm.

In any case, according to the deeper interpretation of this question, the festival of Sukkot is not merely a reminder of the past.

Sitting in the Sukkah serves to emphasize, once again, that we are protected under the shelter of God's wings."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

A Guide to Jewish Prayer, p. 169, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, October 5, 2009

"A time of reconciliation and joy"

"The festival of Sukkot, which comes after the Days of Awe, is a time of reconciliation and joy.

The Midrash (Leviticus Rabbah 30:2) likens holding the Lulav to a triumphal parade, in which we proclaim our certainty that we have been vindicated before God."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

A Guide to Jewish Prayer, p. 169, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, October 2, 2009

"The Seven Shepherds we invite to the sukkah are in fact none other than ourselves"

Why are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David called Shepherds?

Some were indeed shepherds, and this was, at times, the primary reason they were chosen to lead.

This is particularly true of Moses.

The Midrash tells us that just before God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Moses was chasing a lost sheep, and God said to him: "You will lead Israel because you have mercy over a flock." (Midrash, Exodus Rabbah 2).

In the Song of Songs, the Shepherd (God) says to the shepherdess (Israel): "My sister, my friend, my dove, my innocent one." (Song of Songs 5:2). "My friend" should be translated as "my shepherdess, my source of nourishment."

These examples from the Midrash confirm the saying that Israel feeds God.

A definition of food helps to make this statement less anthropomorphic.

Taking nourishment unites body and soul.

By nourishing the human body, I enabled the soul to reside there.

Assuming, as we do, that God is the soul of the universe, then behaving in such a way that God will be present in the world is metaphorical "nourishment."

Individuals who conduct their lives in such a way that God will remain in the world, and not disengage Himself from it, can thus be called the shepherds of God, His nourishers.

The relationship is reciprocal.

The Psalms often refer to God as the Shepherd of Israel, as in "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."

There is no better way to say that God ensures us sustenance and life.

And we ensure His Presence on earth by "nourishing” Him.

This is why He calls us "my friends."

A friend is one who nourishes.

The Sages draw on this concept to make a somewhat audacious interpretation of the verse in Isaiah, "So you are my witnesses, declares that Lord, and I am God," (Isaiah 43:10) which they reformulate as "If you are my witnesses, I am God." (Talmud, Hagigah.16b)

The idea is that God is saying, "As long as you are my witnesses, I am God. If not, I am no longer God."

Without us, without our efforts, if we do not serve Him, God certainly exists, but He is not present or visible in the world.

This is the true definition of a witness.

A witness is not only someone who is present at an event.

It is also someone who can provide an account of it.

This is one of the functions of Sukkot.

In the sukkah we live in the shadow of God, in the palm of His hand, embraced by His arm, as it is said "And I sheltered you with My hand." (Isaiah 51:16)

The Seven Shepherds we invite to the sukkah are in fact none other than ourselves.

We become the Shepherds of God; we discover our own ideal selves in the Patriarchs.

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "The Three Pilgrim Festivals" p. 272-277, in
The Seven Lights by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Belief is not a simple mental procedure"

"Belief is not a simple mental procedure for anyone, and certainly not for the genuinely religious individual.

A certain righteous person used to say the opening words of Maimonides' Thirteen Articles of Faith, "I believe with complete faith," are not a declaration but a prayer, a prayer for the attainment of complete faith.

If the person can really shake off the mountains of dust of accumulated opinions and actions, and truly examine himself inwardly, he will find there the spark of faith that was never really extinguished."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "Modern Men and His Prayer" p.91 in
On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz