Monday, November 30, 2009

"Walking through life is like wandering in a labyrinth"

"The questions which bring most people to Faith are, in the very simplest words, "What is the meaning of all this? What is the pur­pose?"

These are questions that, basically, do not have an­swers—unless one makes the leap of faith.

Each of us asks our own question in our own way, at our own time.

Some­times, questions are asked in a moment of crisis, but of­ten, in the midst of ordinary life, a person will say to himself:

"I have a busy life; I do things, I run from place to place, I live, I eat, I go through the motions, but where am I running to? What is the meaning and purpose of all this?"

Then the search for an answer begins.

Walking through life is like wandering in a labyrinth, constantly probing and searching for the opening, the an­swer to that riddle.

It is depressing enough when we feel that we are not getting anywhere, but the deepest despair is when one knows that the labyrinth has no way out, that one will wander aimlessly from corridor to corridor until death.

We do not always think about meaning and pur­pose, but when this question does come to awareness, it becomes a haunting, gnawing pain.

We want a response to our deep existential questions, and we want a nontrivial answer.

We have trivial, temporary answers—too many of them. "I am here to make money" and "I am here to de­vour as many hamburgers as possible" may be purposes, but they are not fulfilling ones.

The very concept of purpose is essentially a religious statement, and the quest for purpose is a spiritual journey."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, November 29, 2009

"We do indeed believe in thousands of things--some of them pure nonsense"

"The decades or centuries of belief come and go, to be replaced by periods of skepticism or indifference, and then, by a profound change in the attitude toward faith.

In an age of faith, it is easy to believe.

In fact, in such an age, faith does not even require any belief.

In certain times and places, one could not even speak about belief in God; it was a simple, self-evident fact.

Not believing in God was a little more bizarre than doubting that the earth is round.

Generally, we accept the dictates of society almost without noticing.

We take things for granted, we jump to conclusions, and we accept common knowledge and every­day realities unchallenged.

None but the most abstract philosopher would doubt the existence of his own nose. However, when it comes to Faith with a capital F, things become more difficult; many people just cannot accept it.

Our times are clearly different. Our fin de si├Ęcle is not an age of Faith.

Incidentally, we are not in an age of ratio­nality or skepticism either, but rather in a time of credulity.

We do indeed believe, or half-believe, in thou­sands of things—some of them pure nonsense—but not in Faith, in the capital F sense.

There is a Jewish anecdote about two students who went for a walk in the woods, and happened to be in the line of fire of a hunter.

When the shots whizzed over their heads, they were frightened and fell down, imagining that they were hit.

After some time, one of them raised his head cautiously, saying, "It seems that we are still alive."

To which his friend responded, "And what is the basis for this assumption?"

Surely, most people would not go that far.

The difference between the two levels of faith—faith in conventional wisdom, and faith in God—is not grounded in any psychological disparity, but rather in societal norms.

When a person says that he is a nonbeliever, it is not a very accurate statement.

A real nonbeliever would not get out of bed.

If he did get out of bed, he would not take a step, because almost everything that we do depends on hundreds or thousands of beliefs, from believing that the sun will rise tomorrow to believing that salt is still salty."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, November 27, 2009

"All of us accept almost everything on faith"

"For many people, among them those who either regret or boast about their being nonbelievers, the word "Faith," written with a very capital F, is a very big block.

In real­ity, however, faith is related not only to Great Things; it has to do just as much, if not more, with the myriad of lit­tle things that are a part of everybody's daily life.

There are, obviously, many people who are credulous, and some others who are much less so, but nearly every­one is a believer to some degree.

Belief exists even in the most hardheaded, rational nonbelievers.

Many of us take pride in our rationality—we think we base our actions and thoughts on accurate knowledge, verified facts, and an orderly sorting and sifting of opinions.

The truth, however, is that nobody is a total nonbeliever; all of us ac­cept almost everything on faith.

Faith, in the everyday, common sense of the word, is so ingrained in our lives that we cannot do anything without it.

We accept what we are taught in school and what we learn in the street.

Most of these things are not only un­verified, they are unverifiable, yet they are still a huge part of our lives.

It is practically impossible to do any real checking about most basic things.

We do not have the time, the facilities, or the talents to find out for ourselves about most things that we say we know.

We accept the facts about the height of Mount Everest—even most of the people who climb it do not bother to double-check the measurements—just as we accept facts about cars and electricity, signing contracts, and walking in the street.

We take so much for granted because we have faith—to some degree—in the car dealer and the electrician, and in the normal, even decent, behavior of those people we en­counter."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, November 26, 2009

"In Heaven we will be judged according to our level of holiness"

"Spirituality and spiritual entities are not inherently superior or better than material ones.

Good and evil can both be spiritual or physical.

Although some religious groups tend to equate spiritual with good, matter and body with evil, it is obviously untrue.

There can be ex­tremely evil spiritual worlds, from Nazi ideology to every­day cruelty.

Avarice and hatred are spiritual qualities, but surely not good ones.

The body, too, may become a vehicle for all kinds of evil, just because the spirit within it is evil.

However, it, too, can be, both in itself and as a tool, a means to very admirable things.

A great philosopher is not inherently superior to the long-distance runner, al­though societies may differ in favoring one or the other.

Likewise, in Heaven they will be judged according to their attitude to holiness, rather than according to their mental or physical prowess."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"God does not love or hate anyone"

"The darkness and the light may be described as polar opposites, so that essentially they are part of a single whole.

This is also true in the realm of morals, at least insofar as God is concerned.

Darkness and light, good and evil, are all the same to Him.

He is not made happy by someone performing a mitzvah, nor is He made sad by some transgression or other.

People tend to believe that they are doing something for God by doing good, as though the Divine profits by it in some way or other, or that it gives Him pleasure.

Whatever the difference, and there is a great one at many levels, between light and darkness, day and night, good and evil, it does not have the same meaning for God as for man.

For the truth of the matter is that God gives, but does not receive; He influences and is not influenced; He acts but is not acted upon.

It is not a matter of the size or importance of anything, but rather of different worlds.

God does not belong to anything knowable, nor can He be said even to exist in terms of the ordinary realm of things.

For example: a person performs an act, good or bad.

It can only be done with the cooperation of the Divine, because of the Divine force in him and the action of the laws of nature.

Someone desecrates the Sabbath, let us say.

It is done as part of, and within the framework of, a cosmos maintained by Divine power in all its details.

All the laws continue to operate, unaffected by the person's breaking the Sabbath rule.

God is oblivious.

No matter how sincerely one endeavors to rebel against the Divine, God continues to give life and, altogether, is not in the least offended.

To be sure, there may be reactions to such a rebellion as part of the laws of life and the world.

What is more, a person can flourish even in sin, so that, it would seem, what we call the Divine indifference has moral implications.

Nevertheless, we do speak of the anger of God or of the fact that He is made joyful by something that happens in the world of men.

Or as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said about some unlucky person: "He acts thus and is hated by God, and I do not like him."

This is the sort of statement that hints at more than it states.

That which is not known definitely, but guessed at as a result of circumstances, is that a certain person is "hated" by God— and this is meant in the same way, the same anthro­pomorphic image, as saying, for instance, that nature hates a vacuum.

It is an image, and the meaning of it is simply that I don't like someone.

It does not intend to convey a Divine sentiment.

Nature, or God, does not love or hate anyone.

When I say that God likes or dislikes a person, I am really describing the way this person relates to things of the world.

The anthropomorphic image, however, has its own necessi­ty, its own emotional logic.

When God is described as being furious with someone and binding the heavens with His wrath, the same forceful expressiveness cannot be achieved by an abstract statement to the effect that a Jew who falls into idolatry is opposing the inner, spiritual system of the universe and inviting disaster.

Therefore, because of the limitations of the human soul and the human imagination, the writings of Scripture have to use anthropomorphic imagery.

The distor­tion arises when modern man fails to respond even to this emotionally direct expression."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

The Sustaining Utterance by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Is it possible for someone to return who was never there?"

"The root meaning of
teshuvah is return to God, or to Juda­ism, in the inclusive sense of embracing in faith, thought, and deed.

On the simplest, most literal level, the possibility of return can only exist for someone who was once "there," such as an adult who retains childhood memories or other recollections of Jewish life.

But is it not possible for someone to return who was never "there," who has no memories of a Jewish way of life, for whom Judaism is not a personal but a historical or biological heritage, or no more than'an epithet that gives him a certain meaningless identity?

The answer is unequivocally in the affirmative, for — on the more profound level—repentance as return reaches beyond such personal configurations.

It is indeed a return to Judaism, but not to the external framework, not to the religious norms that man seeks to understand or to integrate into, with their clear-cut formulae, directives, actions, rituals.

It is a return to one's own paradigm, to the prototype of the Jewish person.

Intellectually, this paradigm may be perceived as a historical reality to which one is personally related, but beyond this is the memory of the essential archetype that is a part of the soul structure of the individual Jew.

In spite of the vast range of ways in which a Jew can alienate himself from his past and express himself in foreign cultural forms, he nevertheless retains a metaphysically, almost genetically, imprinted image of his Jewishness.

To use a metaphor from the world of botany:

A change of climate, soil, or other physical conditions can induce marked alter­ations in the form and the functioning of a plant, and even the adoption of characteristics of other species and genera, but the unique paradigm or prototype persists."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, November 23, 2009

"We do not declare the world to be a lie, a delusion"

"If there is no direct communication with God, no possible understanding of the Divine, what kind of connection do we have?

To which it may be answered that since our component parts are divine, we are a part of God.

And being a part of Him, we can devise some sort of communication with God.

It is just that this communication does not penetrate the realm of our minds in the sense that it can formulate things as whole entities.

What, then, do we live by?

We live by those shadows, or figments, that we can grasp, that we can make contact with, little as it is.

Because that which we grasp is a positive essence.

Clinging to it, we do not declare the world to be a lie, a delusion; we simply accept that though sometimes it is dark and evil, it is still Divine manifestation.

We are bound to both aspects of the world, that which is and that which is not, the manifest and the unmanifest, for they are intrinsically one.

Our specific existence simply depends on our being somewhere in between—we draw sustenance from it, we never entirely belong to either realm, we never arrive at our journey's end.

On the other hand, that which we contain within our grasp is true—it is not a falsehood; it is only a product of our being where we are, and we cannot overleap it.

We are an expression of the Divine and yet it is not given to us to comprehend it.

We stand on the other side of an abyss, formed by the very act of Creation.

As it is said, 'And no man shall see Me and live.'"

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

The Sustaining Utterance by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, November 22, 2009

"On occasion two people feel close to each other because they are two branches of one soul"

"The House of Israel is composed of 600,000 souls, corresponding to which the world is composed of 600,000 segments.

This reckoning is not so simple, because the nation of Israel has always consisted of more than 600,000 people.

These 600,000 particular souls are roots, and each root subdivides into 600,000 sparks,

The soul of a Jew at a particular time and place is not generally speaking one of the 600,000 original souls but only a part of it, a spark.

This division of the root souls explains why on occasion two people who apparently have nothing in common—family ties, educational background, or shared viewpoints—feel a bond between them.

The underlying reason for this mysterious closeness is the essence of their inner souls.

They feel close to each other because their souls are close; they feel suited to each other because they are no more than two branches of one soul.

The fact that they are not necessarily similar is because the root soul does not always branch out in a symmetrical fashion.

One person may be more intellectual and another more emotional.

Yet they will feel an inexplicable connection, for they are fragments of one soul."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Understanding the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, November 20, 2009

"Lighting candles expresses the essence of Shabbat itself"

"There is much rabbinic discussion of the connection between women's role and the mitzvah of light­ing candles.

The act is seen as one of tikun olam, "repairing the world" and illuminating it.

Furthermore, Shabbat itself, and the Sabbath night in particular, are seen as inherently related to the role and nature of women.

The night of Shabbat is the time of the exaltation of the Shekhinah—God's indwelling Presence in the world.

The Shekhinah grows stronger on Shabbat, its light is more evident, and it turns routine household activities such as eating, drinking, and sleeping into sacred acts.

Woman is the eternal symbol of the Shekhinah.

The Shabbat hymns, such as Lekha Dodi; the Shabbat evening service; Kiddush; and the lau­datory passage from Proverbs, "A Woman of Valor," recited at the Friday night table, are all replete with imagery linking Shab­bat, the Shekhinah, and women.

Each verse and each custom enfolds and unfolds additional levels of association.

The lighting of the candles is not only the first act of wel­coming Shabbat, in which the members of the household re­ceive its sanctity into their midst.

It also expresses the essence of Shabbat itself, the penetration of the light of this special day into mundane reality."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Teshuvah by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, November 19, 2009

"After the death of the body the soul returns and is reincarnated in the body of another person"

"It has been said that each of the letters of the Torah has some corresponding soul.

That is to say, every soul is a letter in the entire Torah, and has its own part to play.

The soul that has fulfilled its task, that has done what it has to do in terms of creating or repairing its own part of the world and realizing its own essence, can wait after death for the perfec­tion of the world as a whole.

But not all the souls are so privileged.

Many stray for one reason or another.

Sometimes a person does not do all the proper things, and sometimes he misuses forces and spoils his portion and the portion of others.

In such cases the soul does not complete its task and may even itself be damaged by contact with the world.

It has not managed to complete that por­tion of reality which only this particular soul can complete.

And therefore after the death of the body, the soul returns and is reincarnated in the body of another person and again must try and complete what it failed to correct or what it injured in the past."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From "The Soul of Man," in The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Too many of those who study Talmud find it hard to extricate themselves from the model"

Many of the source incidents of the Halachah, as described in the Scriptures, are really only models.

A butting ox, an exposed pit, and the like are models of legal problems or rather of relations between litigants.

Unfortunately, too many of those who study Talmud find it hard to extricate themselves from the confines of the model.

In this case, as in all instances of being trapped by the metaphor, the model becomes something absurd.

It is the imagination that interferes.

One has to learn to function on two levels — one, recognizing that the model helps us to understand something, the other, that it doesn't really express the thing itself.

This sort of intellectual difficulty is sometimes the chief obstacle in the way of certain cultures that seek to adapt themselves to a scientific approach.

They confuse the model with the original object, often as a result of a long tradition of idolatry, of failing to distinguish the instruments of Divinity from Divinity.

And the failure to free oneself from the model and to relate to the source is idolatry."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

The Sustaining Utterance by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"There is one direction that is not closed"

"Israel is in a difficult position.

We try to move to the right, and the way is blocked.

We try to move to the left, and the way is blocked.

We try to go forward, but we cannot.

We are surrounded and blocked on every side.

There is one direction, however, that is not closed: upward!

That route is still open, and it is the way we should try to move.

We should do this, not as a statement or a slogan; but to propel us, toward a different way of life."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Quoted on


Monday, November 16, 2009

"The entire edifice of Jewish culture is bound up in the Talmud""

“Though the Talmud is not the foundation stone of Judaism it is the main conduit.”

The entire edifice of Jewish culture is bound up in the Talmud, and any place where the Talmud is lacking it is not only lacking knowledge, but also a central and vital component.

In general, it could be said that every Jewish society, which for various reasons has lost Talmudic study, withered in terms of its Jewishness and assimilated socially.

Therefore, part of the task of bringing the Talmud back to Am Yisroel was an attempt to solve this problem to a certain extent.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From an interview with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz on YNET


Sunday, November 15, 2009

"My plans and projects might entail another 100 years. Afterwards I'm thinking of going into retirement"

“Personally, at no point along the way did I feel concerned that my Talmud commentary would displace the traditional Gemara.

With people much greater than I, who did have such intentions, it turned out that the power of the tradition still remains and the many books that were written became aids to the traditional approach.

In my case, the more heartwarming responses I receive are from people who came to fully embrace Judaism through this commentary.

Oftentimes the other responses are from people who learned in different ways, and if not for my elucidation, they would have stopped learning.

I have several other projects that I don’t know exactly how to prioritize.

One of them is also a very big undertaking that has to do with the Yerushalmi, and another is publishing the ‘smaller masechtos,’ which have not yet been published with suitable commentary.

In general these plans and projects, some of which I’m already engaged in, don’t leave much free time.

According to my calculations they might entail another 100 years of work.

Afterwards I’m thinking of going into retirement.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From a recent interview with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz on YNET


Friday, November 13, 2009

"Sometimes the traditional approach to Talmud allocates so much time to technical problems to the point where little time remains to study in depth"

“In the final analysis, my Talmud commentary seeks primarily to solve technical problems: linguistic problems, problems of context, problems stemming from the fact that the Talmud is not an ordered book constructed step by step.

All of these problems are really problems of entering the Talmud itself, and unfortunately sometimes the traditional approach to learning allocates so much time to overcoming the technical problems to the point where little time remains to study in depth and offer chiddushim.

True, at a lot of yeshivas there was resistance to the elucidation, but not due to concerns it would prevent creative thinking – to the contrary.

I tried to retain as many of the possibilities of the classical commentaries within the elucidation and within a whole set of additions and notes, but of course it’s easier to engage in study that is mostly technical work and does not open up the possibility of devoting more time to creative thinking.”

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From a recent interview on YNET with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, November 12, 2009

"What if someone pretends to be a saint?"

"In a discourse on charity, the sages turn to the case of those who do not need alms, yet pretend that they do.

They say that if a person pretends to be lame, and asks for charity as a lame person, he will not die until he becomes lame.

If a person pretends to have a certain disease, he will not die until he gets it.

The lie will become true.

The mask will become reality.

Even against one's will, the mask exercises a huge power over the person.

In a later period, somebody asked, 'That is what happens when one pretends to be lame; what if someone pretends to be a saint?'

The answer is the same: he will not die until he becomes a saint; that will be his punishment.

It is a pun­ishment, because the life of a saint is so much harder than that of the hypocrite.

Yet it is also a reward—for having assumed this particular mask."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"We think we can have sex without emotion and emotion without sex"

"In our times, as boundaries are becoming hazier, less stringent, and less powerful, many forms of sexual behavior are proliferating.

Whether you call them deviations or alternatives, they all clearly demonstrate that the connec­tion between the biological purpose and the practice of sex is becoming looser over time.

As these inhibitions, prohibitions, or limits have weakened, sexual desire has gained complete independence.

In some places, it has even be come the ruler of the society.

Physical sexuality—pleasure without purpose—gets a lot of advertisement, and it is glorified in our popular culture.

We humans are astute beings capable of making abstractions, even if they do not always make sense.

We can conceive of matter that exists without form, and form without matter, but the fact that we can imagine them does not mean that they can actually exist.

Because the sexual act can be done as a physiological exercise with anybody, in any form, without any emotional content, we think we are capable of separating sexual activity from emotion, both conceptually and in practice.

We think we can have sex without emotion, and emotion without sex.

However, this complete separation exists only in theory.

In reality, emotional relationships, physiological compulsion, and sexual activity (or even sexual fantasy) interconnect and create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

When we cut them asunder, each aspect becomes a one-dimensional monster."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"To honor, revere, and love a holy person is a mitzvah in itself"

"The ordinary man who has been granted con­tact with the holy person is thereby brought into a certain contact with true holiness.

In this sense, the higher the level of a saintly person's holiness, the more is he like an angel (and in a way even more than an angel), acting as a vehicle of holiness by transmitting divine plenty from one world to an­other and bestowing such plenty upon whomever he chooses, through his blessings, his actions, his prayers.

The individual who makes inner contact with such a holy person, showing him love and devotion, thereby supports the flow of divine plenty in the world.

This is what has been meant in Jewish tradition, from time immemorial, when devotion has been shown to those persons who are superior in holiness or have an aura of sanctity.

The gift is given such blessed men to create a bond of some sort that will draw them nearer, whether the holy person is connected to God by being a great scholar of the Torah or whether he is just a saintly individual in his life.

To honor, revere, and love the holy person is a mitzvah in itself, besides serving as a means for direct contact with holiness."
--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Monday, November 9, 2009

"Torah learning is in a way superior to all other mitzvot and equals all the other commandments combined""

"The power of life exists in every part of a person's body—even in his toenails.

However, there can be no doubt that this power manifests to a different extent in different organs—for instance, in the brain as opposed to the hand or foot.

And that difference is not only quantitative but qualitative as well—to an incomparable degree.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi distinguishes between the external and internal organs.

The external organs are the 248 parts of the body that have bones.

The internal organs are the brain, heart, liver, and so forth.

From a halakhic point of view, these latter are not counted among the 248 organs or limbs.

Yet they possess a more inward and inclusive life force than the 248 limbs.

And so Torah learning, which relates to the brain, is in a way superior to all the other mitzvot and equals all the other commandments combined.

The Baal HaTanya teaches that a person fulfills the mitzvah of Torah study by reciting the holy words aloud.

This involves a physical action—in that regard, Torah is like other mitzvot.

But in addition, there is a mitzvah of knowledge, of understanding what one is learning.

And the two are not necessarily alike.

A person can fulfill the mitzvah of Torah study without knowing Torah.

Contrarily, he can know Torah without at that moment engaging in the mitzvah of Torah study.

Like any other mitzvah, Torah study requires some connection to the physical world.

Thus, it can exist only within the garment of the 248 limbs.

On the other hand, the knowledge of Torah, which does not possess a physical garb, is comparable to one of the inner organs, which are not considered one of the 248 limbs of the body yet on which the life force of the entire body depends.

Torah knowledge thus corresponds to the life of the soul that energizes the body."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Understanding the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Sunday, November 8, 2009

"There may be many different relationships that people will call 'love' "

"Love is the emotion of attraction toward an ob­ject—the beloved.

But this feeling of attraction is not a single, well-defined emotion.

Because of the great variety in personalities, the differences in the object of love, and the vagueness of the term, there may be many different relationships that people will call 'love.'

There is a Jewish folk tale that illustrates how vague the meaning of the word 'love' can be, and also it demon­strates some of the basic problems in statements such as 'I love you.'

Once upon a time, a fisherman caught a large pike, and when he pulled the fish out of the water and saw its size, he said, 'This is wonderful! I'll take it to the Baron; he loves pike.'

The poor fish says to himself, 'There's some hope for me yet.'

The fisherman brings the fish to the manor house, and the guard says, 'What do you have?'

'A pike.'

'Great,' says the guard. 'The Baron loves pike.'

The fish feels that there is some corrobora­tion of the facts.

The fisherman enters the palace, and though the fish can hardly breathe, he still has hope: the Baron loves pike.

He is brought into the kitchen, and all the cooks exclaim how much the Baron loves pike.

The fish is placed on a table, and the Baron himself enters, and gives instructions, 'Cut off the tail, cut off the head, and slit it this way.'

With his last breath, the fish cries out in great despair, 'Why did you lie? You don't love pike, you love yourself!'

The poor fish clearly had a linguistic-philological prob­lem.

It confused two different meanings of the same verb.

This raises the question: are these two meanings really so different from each other?

Don't people make the same mistake when they think and talk about love?

There is 'fish love,' and there is Love.

Clearly, they are not the same.

They do not have the same emotional impact, and what is more important, the emotions themselves are not the same."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Friday, November 6, 2009

"Do you believe in horseshoes?"

"Someone came to visit Niels Bohr, one of the greatest physicists of the century.

To his great astonishment, the visitor saw a horseshoe hanging on the doorway.

After some time, when they had become friendly, he asked, 'Professor Bohr, do you believe in horseshoes?'

Bohr said, 'Absolutely not.'

So the visitor asked, 'Then why is one hanging in your doorway?'

Bohr answered, 'People say that it helps even if you do not believe in it.'

We all know sane, intelligent people who will not go to synagogue or church because there is no proof for the ex­istence of God, but who will talk about vibrations, or who use crystals to heal themselves, who avoid the unlucky number 13, or who consult an astrologer.

To be sure, not all intelligent people in our era are prone to all of the New Age superstitions.

Some people prefer to adhere to slightly older ones, so they firmly believe in New York Times headlines, in the wisdom of the theater reviewer, or in psychoanalysis.

The fountain of Faith is clearly gushing there."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Thursday, November 5, 2009

"We have the ability to make good and bad choices"

"Ever since the beginning of our existence, we have exercised our ability—whose boundaries are expanding daily—to change things at will.

Our free will is sometimes frivolous, often foolish, but in any case, it pushes us to try, and sometimes to do, many new things.

We have managed to form and destroy a great number of things, and we are still creating and innovating.

We have even succeeded in turning our basic weakness into strength.

Biologically, we are not specialized; other creatures far surpass us in almost every capacity.

They are better at running, jumping, swimming, climbing, and so many other skills.

All our senses are inferior to those of other creatures.

Even our brain lacks many special capac­ities.

We cannot find our homes like dogs;

we cannot nav­igate like birds;

we cannot move in the dark like bats.

Yet we have created, with our rather clumsy fingers, tools and machines that enable us to outrun the cheetah, to outfly the eagle, to outspin the spider.

The natural world can be seen as a vast orchestra in which each of the creatures has a distinct voice and sound.

A drum and a flute are not interchangeable.

The spider can produce threads; the bee cannot.

We humans made ourselves, somehow, into a combination of all the creatures, and we can do everything.

We can make honey and we can sting; we can plant and we can destroy; we can kill and we can resuscitate.

All these abilities are part of our strange, diverse nature.

Our power of choice enables us to do things for our good and our benefit, and also things that are against our best interests.

A baby goat will not jump down from a high rock unless it can do so without being hurt.

It has an instinct for self-preservation.

A baby human cannot be trusted in the same way: a child might jump or creep down and be injured.

We can rely on an apple tree not to produce or­anges, but we cannot rely on a human to be consistent.

Ac­cording to the ancient explanation, this is because humans have both good and evil inclinations.

Nowadays we would say it is because we humans have cut ourselves loose from the total rule of instinct, and instead, we have the ability to make both good and bad choices."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"The butterfly does not know its life as a caterpillar at all"

"There is an image, found on a tablet from the Minoan culture in Crete of some four thousand years ago.

On one side of the tablet is a drawing of a person walking, then of a person lying down, apparently dead, and a small bird­like figurine, which probably represents the soul.

On the other side are a caterpillar, a chrysalis, and a butterfly.

There is no way to determine the tablet's original in­tent; to my mind, however, it seems to be depicting pre­cisely that dramatic change.

For the caterpillar, changing into a butterfly is exactly the same as dying is for hu­mans.

In other words, the caterpillar cannot imagine life as a butterfly.

When the caterpillar goes into the chrysalis, it dies; in a sense, it ceases to exist as a caterpillar.

When it reemerges, it is the same caterpillar that reemerges—and yet it is not the same. It is entirely different; it has an entirely different life, an entirely different existence.

Neither of the two stages is understood by the other.

Not only is the caterpillar unable to imagine life as a butterfly, the butterfly does not know its life as a caterpillar at all, even though the caterpillar has begotten it.

That image—whether the Minoan stone intended it as such, or it is just my interpretation—is a rudimentary portrayal of what happens at death.

When we die, every­thing pertaining to our former existence ceases.

We reemerge in an entirely different form, one that is not un­derstandable in life."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Almost every Jewish custom is likely to have some kabbalistic significance"

"The Kabbalah was never a conspicuous part of the daily life of the Jewish people.

To be more precise, we would say that the Kabbalah as a conscious study was restricted to a small elite.

This was usually a closed circle of people who could devote themselves to it—not only be­cause of the intellectual complexities of the Kabbalah, but because, more than in any other field of Jewish tradition, a very great moral purity was required of the student.

Such a high level of moral and spiritual experience could scarcely be expected of an ordinary person.

In any case, by its very nature, the pursuit of esoteric wisdom is limited to a cho­sen few.

Nevertheless, the Kabbalah has had such a profound influence on the tradition that one may even see it as the theology of Judaism.

This is especially true of the last five hundred years or so—in spite of the fact that in our own time the Kabbalah is just beginning to emerge from the ob­scurity into which it was thrust by enlightened rational­ism.

What is apparent, however, is the influence of the Kabbalah on almost all the features of daily life, from an­cient times to the present.

True, not everyone is aware of it, but almost every Jewish custom is likely to have some kabbalistic significance or at least to have been fashioned by some such influence.

This means that the practical Kabbalah—not in its crude magic and miracle-making folk expressions, but in its deep penetration into the action, rituals and prayers, laws, language, and customs of the people—is still existent.

There is a core of those few who have made the Kabbalah a source of inner transformation and esoteric knowledge.

But there are widening circles whose authority was never sig­nificant but whose influence manages to be felt somehow.

To be sure, only the inner circle is likely to know the mean­ing of many of the old expressions and actions.

In the fur­ther circles, people simply know that this is the way things are done; certain words are said, ritual actions are per­formed without comprehending why or how they came into being.

From this point of view, the Kabbalah is still very much present—even if unknown to the majority of the people.

Most Jews would probably angrily reject the notion that many of their traditional modes of expression are 'kabbalistic.' "

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz