Thursday, December 31, 2009

"We are the sum total of nature, containing the macrocosm in our own microcosm"


"When God created man, God said (Genesis 1:26), 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'

Traditionally, it is understood that God was speaking to the angels.

If so, the plan was not very successful; we are not like angels.

According to another interpretation, God was speaking to the whole of creation, to all of nature.

In that case, 'Let us make man in our image' means, 'Let each of you contribute something.'

The fox and the dove, the tiger and the sheep, the spider and the bee each contributed a small part—as did the angels and the devils.

We humans contain all the parts.

Some of us are foxier than others, or more sheepish than others, but altogether, we contain all the traits found in nature.

In that way, we are the sum total of nature, containing the macrocosm in our own microcosm.

Somehow, we have to learn from all our partners, and perhaps pray that the extra part—that "Divine spark" contributed by God—will help us make the right choices."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From
Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Judaism does not see sexuality only as an instrument for the propagation of the human race"


"In Judaism, sex is never looked on as something wrong or shameful.


It is, on the con­trary, considered to be a high level of action poten­tially capable of bringing out the noblest attributes, not only in the realm of individual feeling, but also in the realm of holiness.

And it is nevertheless precisely because of this potential that strict re­straints are called for.

Indeed, the whole order of relations among the various worlds may be con­ceived in images of intimate engagement, a kind of sexual contact between one world and another, between one level of being and another.

That is why sexual relations themselves have an enor­mous influence on the soul.

All this, besides their primary power—to create a new human being—makes it clear why it is necessary to be extremely respectful to and solicitous about all that concerns the use of the power of sex.

In principle, Judaism does not see sexuality only as an instrument for the propagation of the human race, a means of being fruitful and multiplying."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From T
he Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"If anything is clear, it is that a rigid, unchanging way is wrong"


"What the Jewish sages recommend is not only a middle way, it is a rejection of extremes in terms of a clear knowledge of how to keep everything, including the extreme, in its proper place.


Consequently, in general, there are no preconceptions about what is the correct con­duct for all situations, since the correctness of a way of being is itself only measurable in terms of a specific set of circumstances that may or may not recur.

There is therefore no possibility of fixing a single standard of behavior.

If anything is clear, it is that a rigid, unchanging way is wrong.

Further­more, this principle of movement, of constant change, is the principle manifested by the soul itself in its life on earth.

To be sure, a person needs a special teacher or a great deal of guidance in order to be able always to find the right measure; usually choosing the correct way grows out of the soul's continual oscillation from one extreme to another.

This pendulum swing of experience brings about a certain synthesis somewhere in the middle — al­though too often it is an artificial middle, merely halfway between good and evil and neither one nor the other."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From
The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Monday, December 28, 2009

"A Jew will choose to die rather than cut off his soul from Klal Yisrael"


"What role does each individual Jew who lives an 'ordinary' life play in the chosen collec­tive that is Klal Yisrael?

Just as all the mitzvot and all the spiritual and moral imperatives are imposed upon every individual Jew without ex­ception, so too is the potential for greatness the heritage of every Jew.

Not only is it an attribute of the Jewish collective, but it is engraved on the being, on the soul of every single Jew.

The deepest understanding of this characteristic of each Jewish neshomah (soul) is found in the Torat HaKabbalah, the mystical aspect of Torah instruction, as it is expounded upon and interpreted through the teachings of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of Chabad, who is reverently known as the Alter Rebbe.

In the Alter Rebbe's approach, the greatness of the Jewish people and their uniqueness begins with, and is composed of, the hidden strength in every Jew, no matter how low he has sunk, and no matter how sinful he be.

It is this hidden strength that makes even such a Jew ready to give up his life: to die when forced to choose between renouncing his Jewishness or losing his life.

This power to withstand the ultimate test of human endurance, to give one's life so as not to compromise the collective Jewish holiness, is the manifestation of the uniqueness of the nation as a collective, and the Jew as an individual.

This capacity is not confined to the great and the wise among our people; it is shared by every Jew, great and small, learned or illiterate, even by a Jew who has throughout his lifetime turned his back on all of the Torah imperatives and led a life virtually devoid of mitzvot.

A Jew, given the option of choosing the publicly denying of God and renouncing his Jewishness, or death, will choose to die rather than cut off his neshomah from Klal Yisrael."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From
The Strife of the Spirit by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

"Every child has his own true name"


"It is said that when parents give their child a name, thinking that they know exactly why they are doing so, the truth is that they don't know why they are choosing it.

And if they make a mistake and give a wrong name, the child will afterward change it because the name is not his correct one.

This attempt to define who one is spills over into the identity of every soul, which also has an appropriate name, a specific formula.

It is so for every star in the sky, too, each one with its name: 'He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by their names . . .' (Psalm 147:4).

***

Every child has his own true name, which the parents try to hit upon when the child is born.

But if they fail, then the child will keep on searching and changing his name until the true name is discovered.

Incidentally, it is written in some books that every person has two names—the name of the sanctified self and the name of the outer shell — and that the name of the outer shell should not be known by any man, it being the name of one's other side, the unholy aspect of personality."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


In The Sustaining Utterance by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Friday, December 25, 2009

"The rabbinic sayings comparing Shabbat to the world to come are more than mere figures of speech"


"The Jewish Sabbath is unique.


Indeed, a comparison with the Christian and Muslim imitations of it—not to mention the modern secular 'weekend'—only underlines this uniqueness.

Shabbat is not simply a day when one refrains from work, nor is it merely the day when it is customary to attend public prayer.

It is a day when one enters a completely different sphere.

The rabbinic sayings comparing Shabbat to the world to come are more than mere figures of speech.

Basically, Shabbat means put­ting aside creative activity in order to concern oneself com­pletely with personal reflection and matters of the spirit, free of struggle and tension.

The key element in Shabbat observance is a kind of passivity: refraining from 'work.'

Yet, over a period of three thousand years, the Jewish people have developed a tradition that transforms what might otherwise be a day of mere inactivity into one of joy and inner peace, 'a day of rest and holiness,' in the words of the liturgy."
--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From Teshuvah by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

"The mitzvah creates its own reward"


"The reward for a mitzvah is not something independent, predicated only slightly on the mitzvah.

Rather, 'the mitzvah creates its own reward.'

In contrast to the widely accepted view of reward and punishment as 'carrot and stick, 'reward and punishment are actually themselves the mitzvah and sin.

The mitzvah and sin are not deeds that stand alone, which God then repays with reward and punishment based on a predetermined system of rules.

Rather, each deed creates the frame­work that is its reward or punishment.

They are a part of the deed, a continuation of the act, an extension of a person's relationship with it."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From
Understanding the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"An angel sees God but cannot perform the slightest mitzvah"


"Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev is reputed to have said that one strand of tzitzit (fringe) on a prayer shawl in paradise would cause it to go up in flames.

Although the divine light is revealed in paradise, the incomparably greater revelation of divinity within that tzitzit would utterly consume it.

That being the case, why is it that a person can put on tzitzit and not be charred into ash?

The answer is that he is not in paradise but rather in a framework that conceals God's grace—a framework of body and soul.

That combination makes it possible for him to achieve things that the pure soul alone could not do—for, were the soul to touch upon them, it would cease to exist.

However, this combination of body and soul must be kept in balance.

To sustain his connection with the divine, a person must have some degree of imperviousness and denseness.

On the other hand, he must stay sufficiently mindful to avoid becoming overly dense.

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter of Gur (founder of Gur Hasidism and author of Chiddushei Harim) comments on the verse 'You ignored the Rock Who bore you, and you forgot God Who formed you' (Deuteronomy 32:18) that God created man with the power to ignore the sufferings and desires of this world and turn his mind to serving God.

But instead man uses that ability to forget 'God Who formed you.'

The ability to engage in holy endeavors— Torah and mitzvot—is itself the ability to be completely opaque to any holiness.

An angel sees God but cannot perform the slightest mitzvah; man, who cannot see God, is capable of performing the mitzvot.

This is the essence of a human being.

His power to choose—his ability either to cleave to God or to deny His existence—creates the human psyche."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz



From
Understanding the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Old age eases the final blow of death"


"In a way, old age, when the body becomes less domi­nant, is, for many of us, a preparation for the dissociation of body and soul.

Therefore, for some people, old age may be a time of great tranquility and serenity, as the body and its wishes and desires become weaker, and the soul can shine undisturbed.

For others, whose conscious mind was always, and wholly, defined by their body, it is a pe­riod full of anguish, since their desires remain with them, although they can no longer be satisfied.

Teleologically speaking, however, old age eases the final blow of death."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From
Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Monday, December 21, 2009

"The convert to Judaism deserves special consideration and a special relationship"


"In the Midrash, there is a parable:

A shepherd has a large flock of sheep.

A deer enters the fold.

The shepherd tells his herdsmen to treat the deer with special care.

The herds­men ask why, with such a large flock, the shepherd should concern himself with this one deer.

The shepherd tells them, 'My sheep have only this fold, while this deer has the whole world to choose from. Yet he chose my flock, and it is there­fore fitting that I should give him special care.'

This attitude sums up the many mitzvot that require us to welcome the proselyte into our midst, someone who has the choice of belonging elsewhere and who, neverthe­less, chooses to enter the Jewish framework.

The convert deserves special consideration and a special relationship.

The Book of Ruth is a beautiful portrayal of a true pros­elyte, unique in the Scriptures in that she is described as being wholly pure.

The description of Ruth's homecoming to her real, inner being is a spiritual odyssey:

We see her shed the trappings of her former existence, the connection with her family and origins.

We see her undeterred by the difficulties of her new life.

We see her fidelity to her commitment even when she is faced with the indifference of the local people.

Finally, we see all these pale into insignificance in relation to Ruth's inner soul.

We see that same ancient kernel of sanctity, that same spark that had burned unseen for generations, finds its rightful place within the people of Israel."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From
On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Evil is not defeated by being nice to it"


The "On Faith" website recently asked the following question:

Q: Is there such a thing as a 'just war'? In his Nobel speech, was President Obama right to speak in these theological terms about war? He also stated that 'no holy war can ever be a just war.' Do you agree or disagree?

Rabbi Steinsaltz responded:

"A holy war can be a just war -- as any war can be, or it may be dirty and unjust. Whether or not a war is just has nothing to do with its holiness, or otherwise.

Defining a just war is surely a more complicated and far more debatable problem.

In practical and political terms, no state has ever practiced giving the other cheek or Ahimsa (in the way that Gandhi defined it).

But even in moral terms, as a Jew I do not believe that non-resistance to evil, or lack of self defense, is morally superior.

Evil is not defeated by being nice to it.

War may be just and moral when it is fought against evil (as in World War II) or as a means of self defense.

These are general statements; in real life, as states are basically amoral entities, there is always a question about their motivations.

Rule and power, and in many cases money, may be the hidden reasons for a "just war."

In many cases, as is true altogether about the world, completely straightforward answers are hard to give.

Very often there is a mixture of real high morality and some very utilitarian elements.

While it is never easy to uncover a nation's main reasons for going to war - and what the national fringe benefits may be - still, there are just wars in which soldiers can participate proudly."

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Friday, December 18, 2009

"By fulfilling a mitzvah we accomplish for the world something similar to the work of a psychoanalyst"


"Fire consumes with the purpose of transforming, and thus elevates whatever it consumes.

To elevate things means to bring them back to their true nature and reinstate their true identity.

By fulfilling a mitzvah, by transforming oil into light, we accomplish for the world something similar to the work of a psychoanalyst:

We take a person or an object and tell them: 'You have forgotten who you are and where you come from.'

Our true vocation as men is to free the world of its complexes by creating change, and to upset the laws of a static world by transforming things through the fire of the mitzvah.

Hanukkah is, first and foremost, a religious war in which everything revolves around light and darkness.

The little cruse of holy oil that was used for rekindling the Temple lamp was hidden and very hard to find.

The challenge our ancestors faced was to reveal the light.

We relive this need and this lesson every year on Hanukkah by lighting an additional light on each of the eight evenings of the holiday."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From an essay "Man of Light" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Whoever perceives the essence of the Torah perceives the total light of the Infinite"


"The verse
The mitzvah is a lamp (or: flame) and the Torah, light (Proverbs 6:23) distinguishes between Torah and Mitzvah.

On the first day of Creation God created primordial light, through which one could see from one end of the universe to the other.

This light was too strong for man, and the Sages tell us (Babylonian Talmud, Hagigah 12a) that God hid the light and concealed it for the righteous in the end of days.

The Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, asks: "Where did God hide this light?”

And he answers: 'In the Torah.'

Thus, whoever perceives the essence of the Torah perceives the total light of the Infinite.

This is the basic difference between the Torah and the mitzvah:

The Torah reflects the Infinite light, whereas the mitzvah sheds light on a specific object in a specific situation.

As such, the mitzvah has an advantage over the Torah:

While the Torah, however beautiful, is distant, the mitzvah is close to us, it is a lamp that one can hold and move.

Indeed, in another verse, the soul is compared to a lamp which helps us see details better: The soul of man is the lamp of God, revealing all his inmost parts (Proverbs 20:27).

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From an essay "Man of Light" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"The Divine light that travels through the universe"


"In Jewish tradition there are two meanings to the word
adam, man:

The first comes from the word adamah, earth, defining his physical existence; according to this meaning, the three letters of the Hebrew word adam aleph, dalet, mem – stand for efer (ash), dam (blood) and marah (bile).

The second meaning sees the word adam as derived from the phrase edame la'elyon – 'I resemble the Supernal One,' man in God's image (Genesis 1:27).


The word 'image' can be taken almost literally.

According to the laws of optics, when a broad ray of light goes through a small aperture, it preserves the shape of its luminous source.

Similarly, the Divine light that travels through the universe is reflected through this tiny slit called 'man' – while remaining Divine Light, albeit on a human scale."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From an essay, "Man of Light" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"The ongoing existence of the world is an abnormal state"


"The creation of the universe was not a onetime event.

From the moment that it came into being, the world is continually created anew at every moment.

The ongoing existence of the world is an abnormal state, one that demands a consistent, creative force to keep it in existence.

Existence requires the constant power of creation to give it being and to construct it at every moment."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From
Learning from the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Monday, December 14, 2009

"Israel has to be a wholeness"


"The original menorah was cast in one piece of gold.

The idea is that Israel has to be a wholeness.

Each member is responsible and liable for the others in a singleness of essence.

Concerning this concept of mutual responsibility, there is no denying the obvious fact that Jews do tend to be contentious and argumentative with one another.

Antagonisms and conflicts within the community have always been all too prevalent.

Nevertheless, the sense of spiritual unity has usually been present, the knowledge that there is a basic connection.

Each Jew is a part of an organic whole, like a limb or an eye of a single human body, and even if there is a lack of harmony or an illness in the body, the organic unity remains.

The whole is a molten menorah, all of gold.

Thus, there is a certain basic understanding among the people, each type nourishing the other.

To be sure the golden mold of the menorah may be covered with dust, and the dirt may accumulate into such a considerable layer that the goal will be completely invisible.

The task, then, of the teacher is not necessarily to devise some new system of thought or to provide the people with a new head and a new heart -- which cannot be done in any case -- but to dig strenuously into the covering layer of dirt to reveal the gold beneath."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From
The Candle of God by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

"God hides Himself to the extent necessary that the world may exist"


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

Creation itself becomes a divine paradox.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From
The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Friday, December 11, 2009

"The Temple menorah was conceived by the Jewish people as the symbol par excellence of Jewish existence"


"Di­vine revelation itself is a revelation of light.

The tzadikim in the Garden of Eden 'bask in the light of Shekhinah,' and even God Himself is 'my light and my salvation'(Psalm 27:1).

Hence, too, in the language used by the kabbalists, all of reality is 'lights" and "enlightenments,' all the way up to 'the light of the Infinite.'

This light metaphor is not only an abstract and intel­lectual one.

Light is even personified—it enjoys its own ex­istence—'The light of the righteous rejoices' (Proverbs 13:8).

The way in which human beings relate to light, too, is emo­tional, almost sensual—'Truly the light is sweet and a pleas­ant thing it is for the eyes' (Ecclesiastes 11:7).

The symbolic meaning of light as an expression of the positive aspect of reality is not confined only to the realm of language.

It is realized also in the use of light and lamps as concrete means of expression, which symbolize and point to an essence that contains holiness, in all its different appearances in reality:

In holiness and at the Holy Temple;

In the sanctity of place;

In the Sabbath and festivals—in the sanctity of time;

On special occasions—in the sanctity and importance of the event.

The Temple menorah, with all of its ornate and extremely elaborate craftsmanship, was not there for any practical purpose.

It stood at the heikhal, a windowless hall only seldom frequented by people.

Yet it was there as a symbol of the holiness of that place, of its relation to light.

This menorah—'the sun's sphere' (Talmud Yerushalmi, end of Hagigah)—is a sphere of sunlight, which shines through the walls and the curtains.

No wonder, then, that this meaning of the Temple menorah was conceived by the Jewish people as the symbol par excellence of Jewish existence (as can be seen in Jewish ornaments from all periods), from synagogue mosaics in the Galilee to ornaments on utensils in the Roman catacombs, and even, in a sense, to the synagogue itself—the place where an eternal candle burns day and night."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From
On Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

"It is practically impossible to differentiate between true feeling and external noise"


"Many of us believe in, or have experienced, an inner 'thin small voice' (1 Kings 19:12), telling us what is good and what is evil.

But this seemingly innate inner voice is, in fact, conditioned by time, place, and culture, as well as by personal taste.

We are living in a very noisy culture that bombards us with books, magazines, newspa­pers, radio, television, movies, and video games—a multi­tude of voices trying to guide, advise, influence, or convince us.

These voices implant ideas in us, which we often repeat without thinking.

Even when we think that we are making our own statements, we may merely be re­peating the words of a TV announcer we heard some time before.

We often do not verify what we hear, yet we believe it, adhere to it, and use it.

It is practically impossible to differentiate between true feeling and external noise."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From
Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Only when man can related his inner center to God does his self take on meaning"


"Defining oneself only in relation to secondary things leaves one's being as nothing but a series of empty shells each dependent on the others for meaning.


Thus a man is defined as this one's friend, that one's son, the father of another, the one occupied with this or that, the one who thinks this or that, someone engaged with certain problems, and all these are only shadow relation­ships that leave him a faceless, empty figure trying to clothe itself with some visible individuation.

Only when a man can relate his inner center to God as the first and foremost and only reality, only then does his self take on meaning.

It ceases to be a relative entity without any content of its own and becomes itself a significant content."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz



From The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"The purpose of a mitzvah is ultimately to elevate the entire world"


"Everything in the world is connected to everything else.

Every detail is intermeshed with other details.

Every action has an ongoing ripple effect.

When a person changes just one particular, he improves the entire world.

When he elevates the power of his animal soul, he elevates all of reality to a higher plane.

The purpose of a mitzvah is ultimately to elevate the entire world, to completely change the central meaning of existence in general."


--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From
Understanding the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Monday, December 7, 2009

"We as humans cannot make judgments of the true value of many things in this world"


"As a Jew, I do believe in Heaven and in Hell.

Even though the Hebrew Bible rarely speaks about Heaven and Hell – and when it does, mostly enigmatically – the concept is a basic tenet of Judaism that is clearly expressed in post-Biblical times.

However, while this belief is an essential part of the Jewish faith, it is surely not stressed or discussed to the same extent as it is in many other religions.

This is because the focus in Judaism is on our duties and our work in this world, which are so much dependent on us.

We don’t dwell heavily on the next world because it is not something that we can do very much about, except to have a general understanding that life after death is a consequence of life before death.

The other reason for there being so little discussion in Judaism of the next world is because it is so abstract.

The fantastic pictures of heaven and hell that come from other religions are not part of the Jewish belief system.

An abstract after-life existence is not the stuff of which children and simple people should be dreaming.

Heaven and hell are closely connected to the deeds and efforts of people in this world.

Those who experience extreme joy in heaven or extreme suffering in hell are deserving of their respective fates because of what they were in this world.

In Judaism, we have general definitions of good and evil, and they correspond with those who go to heaven and those who go to hell.

Luckily for us, the authorities in this world are not the ones to make the decisions.

To fully evaluate just one deed in this world can be extremely complex – how much more so the complete judgment of a human life. In general, people are a mixture of good and bad traits – and good and evil deeds – that are not always clearly defined or separated.

Furthermore, we as humans cannot make judgments of the true value of many things in this world.

We cannot know how any specific deed is evaluated in the eyes of the Eternal.

Things that seem to be important in our eyes may be unimportant in His eyes, and vice versa.

So, even when we have our guesses as to who is going in which direction, we are surely not the ones to make the decision – we leave that to a higher and more competent cause."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From "On Faith"--a website

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

"The existence of the world is composed of the shadows of the divine reality"


"The statement that 'everything is of no reality whatever in His presence' means that God exists whether or not the world exists, whether it has or has not yet been created.

The world's existence in no way conceals the divine presence.

The simplest, most primary, and most undeveloped understanding of the verse 'The world is filled with His glory' is that God's glory permeates everything like the air that fills a room.

A more sophisticated conception of this verse is that 'there is no other than He' —that all reality that is visible to us, with its many aspects, is only He.

For example, some pictures, like those of M. C. Escher, confuse foreground and background.

The more one focuses, the less sure one is whether one is looking at a black image on a white background or vice versa.

A similar question, with several layers of meaning, is whether a letter is defined by the black of the letter itself or by the white that surrounds it.

(In regard to a Torah scroll, this question acquires a halakhic aspect, for its sanctity extends to the parchment itself.)

In general, we experience the world as the foreground and divinity as its background.

But on the level where 'everything is no reality whatever in His presence,' we attempt to see the world differently.

Rather than perceiving the divine in the background, filling all spaces between things, we look at the things of the world as spaces in the midst of divine Being.

Previously, we may have thought of a real world in whose unreachable shadows God dwells.

Now, to the contrary, we consider that the existence of the world is composed of the shadows of the divine reality."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From
Understanding the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Friday, December 4, 2009

"When a person builds the sanctuary of God in his life, he must include its holy courtyards"


"Every part of a person's life, even if he is not aware of it at the moment, contributes to a sum total of holiness—not only when he stands within the four cubits of halakhah but also when he is engaged in other activities and has other matters on his mind.

A person can arrive in one way or another from every sphere of his being to the divine light, splitting apart the darkness from one end of the universe to the other and making himself an abode where God may dwell.

When a person builds the sanctuary of God in his life, he must include its holy courtyards.

Then even if he does not succeed in bringing all of reality to the innermost chamber of holiness, he will at the very least be able to bring it to the courtyards of the House of God."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From
Understanding the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

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


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


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

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

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

Some lives have an emotional emphasis.

Others, an intellectual.

For some the way of joy is natural.

For others existence is full of effort and struggle.

There are people for whom purity of heart is the most difficult thing in the world, while for others it is given as a gift from birth."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From T
he Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"My little wrongdoing is as important as my whole life"


"Just as nothing is too big for God, so, too, nothing is too small for God.


Nothing is insignificant or small enough to go unnoticed, because God has an all-encom­passing view that contains absolutely everything.

There­fore, the belief that something is so insignificant that it can escape God's attention is worse than blasphemy: it is nonsense.

The very notion of facing the Infinite means facing it down to the last detail, and the tiniest detail be­comes as significant as one's whole being.

But does God care at all?

Why should God care?

For me, as a human being, my life, my business, or my gold­fish may be very important; but I am limited in every sense, and therefore many things bother or gladden me.

God is infinite; why should the Almighty care for the whole universe, as huge as it may seem to me?

It is very difficult to give an answer on God's behalf; but we can say that He obviously does care.

For some in­explicable reason, God bothered to create the world, and form quite elaborate rules (which we call "laws of nature") for its functioning—and that means that God cares.

The world may be, for God, a plaything or an experiment—but He bothered to have it.

Since the world exists, one cannot say that God is so vast as not to be aware of it, and in some way, care for it.

Therefore, if I do something wrong, my little wrongdo­ing is as important as my whole lifetime, and my barely expressed thought is as significant as the most glorious epic poem.

The cry of a little child weeping in bed is as audible to God as what the President of the United States says in a public address transmitted from coast to coast.

It is only the idolatry of making God in a finite size, with finite knowledge, that gives rise to the question, 'Does God care?' with all its ensuing confusion."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From
Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"If five billion people cry out in prayer, or if one little child prays, they are heard equally"


"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.

If God cares for the whole universe (which, however big it may be, is still limited), then all its little parts are of equal importance in God's eyes.

If one thousand people, a hundred thousand people, or five bil­lion people cry out in prayer, or if one little child prays, they are heard equally.

The number does not make any dif­ference.

When the stars sing, or a little bird sings, they are all heard equally."

--Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


From
Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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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


From
Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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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


From
Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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