The Talmud (Yevamot 105b) records a discussion regarding whether one who prays should focus his attention on earth or Heaven. The issue is resolved by the suggestion that, “A man who offers his prayers must direct his eyes below [to Earth] and his heart above [toward Heaven] …” Even though this debate has a literal, […]
Soul-searching…is much more than a simple accounting of profit and loss. Regardless of the kind of problem it deals with – moral, economic, or political – it is an overall reckoning, one that includes a pre-supposition of the possibility of a major, fundamental mistake.
Shavuot is the movement towards, a route leading to a goal. The giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai is the conclusion of deliverance, that which gives it its fullest meaning.
Speaking about Jerusalem onYom Yerushalyim is to speak of many things: of Jerusalem as a city, as a history, as a place in which people live, about the center of the whole world. Rabbi Steinsaltz gives us his take on what makes Jerusalem – his city – so special. Video of this talk included.
Along with their natural, land-bound significance, both of these festivals have general and historical significance. Pesaḥ is primarily a remembrance of the Exodus, the festival of freedom, whereas Shavuot is the day of the Giving of the Torah. Even in their historical and spiritual sense, however, Pesaḥ and Shavuot must be regarded not as separate […]
Pesaḥ and Shavuot share the same inner nature, for Shavuot is what gives meaning to the freedom of Pesaḥ. In and of itself, going out to freedom is meaningless as long as a new independent personality is not formed to invest the freedom with inner content. The connection between these festivals takes on further meaning […]
What we are – I propose – is a family.
Sefer Esther (the Scroll, or book, of Esther) is an intriguing and astonishing instance of a miracle that has no supernatural element whatsoever. It has no trace of a deus ex machina or of mysterious happenings over and above the events which themselves radically change the situation. Rather, all the motivations, desires, and explanations are plain […]
The entire universe is designed like a map, but its meaning remains concealed; God did not clearly explain how and what we may learn from each thing. We therefore must study and investigate on our own what it is that the creations of this world teach us.
Rabbi Aaron of Karlin – one of the first great Hasidic leaders – once set out to influence R. Haike, a righteous and learned man from Amdur, Lithuania, to cease living in seclusion and join the burgeoning Hasidic movement in order to influence the society around him. Rabbi Aaron did not deliver a lengthy sermon. He said a single sentence: “When one does not get better, one gets worse.”
The Temple menorah served no practical purpose; It was a symbol of the holiness of the place, its relation to light. Light is the genesis – the creation of the world. The primary utterance of creation is “Let there be light,” its separation from darkness. The Midrash asks – from what was light created? The […]
We can be educated in making different choices. I can decide that habit, so and so, these things, other things, “points of desire”—I don’t want them anymore. I decided I am not going after that anymore. I am changing to something else. And, if I am successful, I’m not bothered by them anymore. I want […]
Our soul is within us at all times, but our conscious attitude toward it varies, depending on who we are as well as the times in which we live. [When] we are busy with our routine of work, studies, or domestic life, we are not always aware that the soul exists. The fact that we are alive, that we are able to think and feel, are all obviously expressions of the soul to some extent. However, even tangible, phenomena such as our breathing and our heartbeat are not always part of our conscious awareness; all the more so is this the case with regard to the soul…
Recently, in anticipation of the US holiday of Thanksgiving, Rabbi Steinsaltz was asked, “What are you thankful for?” Rabbi Steinsaltz replied: What am I thankful for? The best answer is that it depends on the day, the mood, the period. Some days I am not thankful for anything, just angry and irritated. Of one in […]
Jewish knowledge is not just good to have. It is essential. Some may think that knowledge belongs to scholars, religious leaders and the elite. Not so in Judaism. For us, study is an essential demand upon everyone. Of course, in history there were times when the general level of knowledge was not very high. Yet […]
One of the simple explanations for the commandment to dwell in a sukka on the Festival of Sukkot lies in the dual feeling that the experience creates. On the one hand, there is the sense of exile, of leaving one’s house to dwell in a temporary structure, but there is also a feeling of recollection […]
Yom Kippur is, in essence, a day of atonement, of forgiveness for sins and transgressions, and as such it is mainly an act from Above which may not have anything to do with man’s Teshuva. Although according to most of our Sages, one must do Teshuva in order for Yom Kippur to atone, still, it […]
The basic meaning of the Hebrew word Shabbat is “standstill”, cessation. God “worked” on the six days of Creation, and when Shabbat arrived, He ceased to work. But the word Shabbat has an additional meaning, which is found also in Rabbinic literature: “return”. This meaning, “return” does not contradict the idea of “cessation” but, rather, […]
We always hope that each new year will be better than the last. As the future usually continues what came before it, knowing the past prepares and instructs us about what may unfold. The past year was characterized by too many – and by far too conspicuous – events of evil. Evil is no surprise, […]
There is no essential difference between the love of God and the love of man. But since the love of God is not described in numberless publications sold at corner kiosks, with illustrations and cartoons, the matter seems to be much more difficult. True, there is an intrinsic difficulty. Love of God depends on one’s […]
The start of a new year is universally seen as a good time to step back and look at our lives: For some people, that may mean making (the same) resolutions every January. For Jews, the process extends over a longer period, beginning on the first day of the month of Elul (in August) and extending through Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
I love potatoes; you love steaks. We use the word “love” in this context and we mean it…That’s the problem with love. Men may love a potato and may love a woman, in almost the same way. This kind of “love” is not real love. Love has come to mean, “I’m attracted to…” or “I want to…” something. Surely there should be a difference between loving food and loving a person – and between either of those and loving the Torah and God.
The destruction that took place on the 9th of Av happened 2,000 years ago. Memorable events happen to everyone – and not just to individuals, but to groups, families, tribes. In most cases, the memory diminishes with time. When one is very close to an event, every detail is engraved on the mind, and of course, […]
Everyone who lives in Jerusalem – especially those like me who were born here – is in love with the city, really in love. For us, it is not just a place, not just a house; it is a home. But it is even more than that: It is an object of love. Even visitors […]
Day after day, we are bombarded by astonishing stories of theft, embezzlement and corruption committed by individuals and organizations whom we hold to higher standards. But nobody is immune to the forces of evil. Only if we accept evil as a fact of life will we be able to take the necessary precautions against it.
A holiday unmarked by date, without ritual, unconfined by space The literal translation of Shavuot is the Festival of Weeks because of the holiday’s connection with Passover. In Rabbinic Hebrew, this festival is called Atzeret because it is similar to Shemini Atzeret, which follows the festival of Sukkot. However, unlike Shemini Atzeret, which is celebrated immediately […]
What is the preparation required for these days? How can one prepare oneself for receiving the Torah? Aside from Sefirat HaOmer, there is another period in the year dedicated to rectification and purification – the Ten Days of Teshuva. Yet there is a difference between these two periods. During the Ten Days of Teshuva and […]
The Jewish mother is not just a mother that happens to be Jewish: it is in many ways an idiom in itself. One may say that being a Jewish mother is not only a matter of genes, but it is a very particular set of mind. For the Jewish mother, the child is not just […]
The crux of Passover is not the migration from one place to another, and not even the transition from slavery to freedom. Its most fundamental point is the willingness to make a revolutionary change in life, whether as one person or as a community.
While there are many different languages in the world, at base there are only two main forms of speech, each diametrically opposed to the other: the scientific and the poetic. One way to define the difference between them would be to say that science takes a myriad of phenomena and gives them one name, while poetry takes one phenomenon and gives it many names…While scientific language is so much more widely used, even its users often feel its limitations. For indeed, how wonderful it is that the world is so full of dreams and beauty and other such magnificent things, and how sad it is when poetic ideas are foisted to the limits and limitations of the world and buried there.
Purim is different. While other Jewish holidays can be serious and solemn, Purim has fun, games, and even clowning. For many generations, Purim has been considered the festival of masks. While there may have been outside influences, the masks seem to grow out of the very essence of the festival. The entire Book of Esther can be defined as a story of masks. The Book begins with a wine-drinking banquet. From that point on, the atmosphere of a drinking feast continues to reign in all the events and episodes of the story.
Parashat Pekudei concludes the book of Exodus (Shemot) and also concludes a series of parashot dealing with the Mishkan – the Tabernacle. The particulars of the Tabernacle have given rise to many questions, which are discussed extensively in the Talmud and other sources. But before all these specifics, two fundamental questions must be addressed. The first […]
The holiday of Purim is unusual, even strange, in many ways. It is the only time of the year when we are not only allowed, but expected, to get drunk. It is also the only holiday when we have the custom to masquerade – men dressing as women, women dressing as men – which, at any other time, would not even be permitted…
The Book of Exodus describes the construction of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) not once, but four times, specifying precise measurements and minute details. Why is so much space devoted to the physical attributes of the Mishkan and its vessels, when their purpose is, fundamentally, spiritual?
The “Holy Jew” of Pryzucka once said: “First there were the prophets, but God looked and saw that the situation was deteriorating and that the prophets no longer were what they used to be. Then prophecy ceased, and the prophets were replaced by the Mishnaic and Talmudic Sages. After some time, they too, began to […]
The point of Tu BiShevat is to make a connection between the “new year of the trees” and the core essence of the Jew. This inner connection between man and tree is expressed in eating fruits; but it is also the connection between the Jews and the Land of Israel.
“My” and “mine” seem to be very straightforward words. The concept of my table, my chair or my money is a very simple thing: the chair, the money – and anything else that I own – are mine; they belong to me. But when we search more deeply into the meaning of these words, it is no […]
Parashat Vayigash deals primarily with the events surrounding Jacob’s arrival in Egypt. After many tribulations, Joseph reconciles with his brothers, Jacob arrives in Egypt and finally reunites with Joseph, and the story comes to a close. This is a chapter from Talks on the Parasha, by Rabbi Steinsaltz.
The Temple menorah served no practical purpose; It was a symbol of the holiness of the place, its relation to light. Light is the genesis – the creation of the world. The primary utterance of creation is “Let there be light,” its separation from darkness. The Midrash asks, “From what was light created?” The answer […]
Lighting the Ḥanukkah Flame While the coming holiday of Ḥanukkah has many facets, it is, in its very essence, the holiday for Jewish identity. Its war is the war of Jewish identity, and its victory is a victory for Jewish identity. All the rest about Ḥanukkah is incidental. There are means, there are ways, there […]
Hanukkah is above all a religious war there have been others since then, but this one was the first. Everything revolves around light and darkness. The little curse of holy oil that was use to rekindle the lamp stand of the Temple was hidden and hard to find. The challenge our ancestors faced was to […]
…Jewish tradition has two etymologies for the word adam, “man.” The first defines his physical existence, and in this case the three leters of the word, aleph, dalet and mem, stand for efer (“ashes”), dam (“blood”) and marah (“bile”)…The second definition derives the word adam from the phrase “edame la’elyon,” (Yeshiayhu 14:14). “I resemble the […]
Everything is born of light, and it would be more accurate to say that everything we see is only a category of light. In other words, we do not see things; we see their light. this is also true for the foremost symbol of light in Jewish mysticism: the Infinite Light, Or En Sof. We […]
In a famous work of kabbalistic commentary, the Sefer Ḥasidim, each organ and limb is associated with the 613 commandments of the Torah. Each commandment thus corresponds to a specific part of the body. Man is an array of lights and each mitzva gives off its own small light. Our lives consist of lighting one […]
Although they are very similar, there are nevertheless several appreciable differences between the Torah – “light”- and the mitzva, the “lamp” or the “flame.” The Torah is permanent. You can turn off a lamp or a flame, but you cannot turn off light. The existence of a mitzva is man’s doing. Someone can choose to […]
The holiday of Hanukkah is the one holiday that is known to practically every Jew. It is also the only holiday that is not mentioned in the Bible. In the centuries just before the start of the Common Era, the ruling Greek empire pressured the Jews to assimilate into the Hellenistic world. A small group […]
The same is true of our relationship with God; giving thanks in a religious context is an extension of the basic impulse to be grateful in an interpersonal context. In Judaism, we offer thanks to the Almighty for each gift, even as we ask (or remonstrate) about what we lack.
In the event of great exultation, a person might feel he has suddenly reached a very high plane of spiritual potency. Indeed, any imbalance in the mixture of the worlds is apt to cause trouble. One may learn this lesson from the instance of Rabbi Elimelech, who ordered his Chasidim to refrain from wine and […]
The Festival of Sukkot as the time of the ingathering is a festival of thanksgiving and rejoicing – thanksgiving of the farmer for his prosperity and thanksgiving of the land for Israel’s settlement in its midst.
The Hebrew word teshuva is commonly translated in English as “repentance,” but this does not convey its full meaning. Teshuva is both broader and deeper than repentance, as reflected in its more literal definition: “return.”
The beginning and end of each year are times that stimulate all of us to think. Even those who are not in the habit of making a daily “accounting of this world” tend to do so at these moments, these days that are so conducive to examining, summing up, and planning.
We are now in the month of Elul. Usually people consider this the month of repentance. But repentance is not all that important, and usually it is also not too effective. The month of Elul, then, is not so much about repentance: it is much more about looking in the mirror, looking at myself and trying to find out where am I standing in the world. It is about figuring out: Who am I? Where do I really belong? Where am I now? In Elul we are supposed to meet ourselves, which is so much more difficult than meeting someone else.
Shavuot is a short holiday – one day in Israel, two in the Diaspora. There is no special mitzva connected to it. And, at least in theory, it has no fixed date. Shavuot is completely dependent on Passover, which precedes it, and is celebrated only after the counting of seven weeks. Before there was a fixed Jewish calendar, Shavuot could fall on any one of three possible dates: the 5th, the 6th or the 7th of Sivan.
I have often said that the Jewish people today is at a critical stage in its history. Many of us believe that – despite the horrifying assimilation rate – the maternity wards can make up for the absence of the study halls. Nevertheless, if we do continue along this path, we are moving towards a non-luminous future, in which we are destined to become like the Samaritans, a small, detached, insignificant sect.
How can we know, when we stand before God time after time to do teshuvah, whether we are truly “returning” to God, or if we are merely deluding ourselves?
It should be noted that almost everything that exists in this world can be an object of Torah study either directly or indirectly. While not everything is actually discussed in the Torah, there is not a single thing that is off limits.
Purim is an extraordinary festival in the Jewish calendar. One can point to numerous details – in Halachah, custom, and historical attitude – that distinguish it from all the other festivals. This otherness is apparent not only in the character that was granted to this festival in later generations, but mainly in its most primary source: the Scroll of Esther itself.
Saul and David were both among the first kings of the Jewish people. There are many points of similarity between them: both were young men from small villages; both were anointed as kings by the Prophet Samuel; and both were war heroes who rescued their people at times of distress.
The first verse of “shema,” “Hear (shema) O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is one,” contains the main principles of Jewish faith, and to utter it with concentration and intention is to “accept the yoke of Heaven.”
Rather than explaining what the Talmud is, I would like to clarify why this book is so important for the Jews. People who open this book, often cannot figure out what it is all about, and cannot comprehend why we Jews are so immersed in it, what it is that we find so interesting about it.
Pirkei Avot is a small part – one of sixty – of a much larger collection, which itself is a part of an even larger series of books, created in the second classic period of our culture (roughly between the years 500 BCE to 500 CE). This period began at the time of Confucius, and went on for some thousand years, which in China ranges from the time of the Three Kingdoms up to the creation of the Great Empire Dynasties.
Immediately following each set of shofar blowing during the Rosh HaShana service, there is an attached prayer which, although very short, is directly connected with the basic theme of the day – one can even say it is a summary of the meaning of Rosh HaShana in a few sentences. And in fact, even when […]
From its inception, it has had two very different answers: Israel is a Jewish state, or Israel is a state of Jews.
The main tenet of Hollywoodism can be summed up in one word: happiness. Happiness is the goal, the aim, the motivation for anything and everything.
In order to draw water from the wells of salvation, one needs a vessel. And “happiness” is the vessel used to draw this water. When the vessel can be filled with water, then the wells become “the wells of salvation.”
And how does the concept of “soldier” fit in? On one hand, the soldier is totally obedient, 100% servant. On the other hand, he has something which the servant does not: mesirut nefesh, self-sacrifice. The soldier’s willingness to fight to his death is not part of the slave’s makeup. Rather, it embodies the very best of what the son has to offer. When the Rebbe spoke about “soldiers,” he spoke about this combination of obedience and self-sacrifice. This readiness to give one’s life out of obedience and the acceptance of the yoke.
The Golden mean, which is the middle way in between extremes, the medium between the different contradictions, is the basis of Maimonides’ ethical theory.
So Torah study must transform the student’s personality; if it does not, then there is something wrong about the teacher, the teaching method, and the pupil himself.
Thus, we come to the great question: What is man? What is the true essence of this unity of angel and beast, body and soul, reason and emotion, good and bad? Truly, of all these, there is not one that can give a satisfactory definition of man’s real self; only the combination of all these is man – this is the human in him.
The gloomiest day in the entire Jewish calendar is Tisha B’Av – the 9th day of the summer month of Av. A long series of national disasters, from the destruction of the first Temple to the Spanish Expulsion, is historically identified with this date.
will begin with a distinction that was made many generations ago, between “holiness” and “the holy.” One possible definition can be that holiness is the essence, the base of the matter.The holy is all that touches upon the holiness, all that imbibes from the holiness, or relates to the holiness. Because there is the essence that is holiness itself, and there is that which becomes holy because it is related somehow to the holiness.
At the conclusion of the Haftarah on the second day of Rosh HaShanah, we read the verse, “Is Ephraim a dear son to me? Is he a darling child? For whenever I speak of him, I remember him still; therefore my inward parts are moved for him, I will surely have compassion on him, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:19).
On the day of a boy’s Bar Mitzvah, his father says the blessing of baruch she-petaranu – which, in very colloquial English, is something like “good riddance.” Yet it seems that the son should be making this blessing, not the father, since, in practical terms, he continues to remain responsible for the boy for another five, or who knows how many more, years…
The start of the Jewish New Year is filled with holy days, among them four foundational celebrations: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simhat Torah-Shemini Atzeret.
Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the year, is a holy day. As such, it is a day of joy, lavish meals and the like. At the same time, however, it is a solemn day – not because it contains an element of mourning, but because there is seriousness about it.
The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple is more than the destruction of our historical capital and our most sacred site. It is not merely a memory of a tragic event that occurred long ago. Rather, it is a blow to the vital center of the Jewish people.
More than that – we can appeal. Human beings have the right (perhaps also the duty) to converse with God, to ask things from Him and also to complain to Him, to claim: “You’re not right.” It is the same right that a child has to cry and to say, “Why do other kids get more?” A human being is entitled to complain. God wants us to be honest with Him. But still and all, He cannot be judged
There is a future. On the one hand, I wait for tomorrow, and I possibly hope that it is only sweetness and light and roses. On the other hand, there is something in between, and I don’t know what that will be.
Our sages say that everything in this world has an end — or, as they put it, boundaries and definitions — while the Torah (by which we mean all Jewish teaching) is boundless.
We are now living in a world that is empty of Christianity or Judeo-Christianity. And this void is now being filled with something else and that something else is paganism.
This is the new epoch in Torah-learning opened by the Rebbe. It is a departure from the approach which dominated the recent generations, in which the study of Torah entailed delving into its details. In this new paradigm, the goal is to see the details from the perspective of the whole.
On Purim, however, even when the festival is strictly observed according to all the rules and regulations — Megillah reading, Purim gifts, donations to the poor and Purim banquet — there is an overriding mischievous atmosphere, sometimes even a riotous one.
But if a person took an action that made a difference – his deed will remain alive, even when his personal aspirations are gone. One who gave a slice of bread to a hungry man owns this deed. And such an ownership right is much more sustainable than any other kind.
The colorful festival of Purim, with its banquet and mirth, is actually a Jewish Victory Day celebrating one of our many battles in the long, unending war against anti-Semitism.
If we could glance out from the roller coaster that has become our modern lives, we would see the same dreary scenery everywhere: houses, trees, people. Speed makes everything look the same and blurs any sense of novelty. When we are moving so quickly, it is impossible to take a long, satisfying look at anything, to complete any kind of meaningful work, or even to experience thorough enjoyment.
The process of teshuvah teaches us how to change our direction and change ourselves.
The Jewish view of world history is optimistic, but it is an optimism with substance and meaning: The realization of the hope that it offers depends on us.
The basic idea involves having a certain respect for everything. It is a strange idea, perhaps.
This is the point of the Giving of the Torah. We, as humans, are incapable of reaching God; but God ? with His infinite loving kindness and goodness ? lowers Himself toward us, so to speak, in order to fulfill the purpose of Creation.
It is the fact that sex is forbidden that makes it high on the list of the things desired. But there is an inner, deeper feeling that there is something important about sex-and not just in extremely religious literature.
While Passover is the festival of redemption, the Exodus from Egypt is commemorated on each of the Biblical festivals and all through the year. Even events in Jewish history as important as the re-establishment of sovereignty in Israel during the Second Temple era are not considered to be equal to the Exodus. Our Sages teach that only the Final Redemption will be able to overshadow its significance.
When you speak about faith, what do you really speak about? Is faith an emotion? If so, what kind of emotion? Is it a state of mind? Or is it just a matter-of-fact “Here I am and I believe in something.” In Through the Looking-Glass, the Red Queen says to Alice, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed in six impossible things before breakfast.” So is faith this-believing in impossible things?
Love is such a used, abused, and misused word that people should possibly stay away from it. How I would define it? In essence, love is the basic experience of caring about another, of going out from myself toward the Other.
But there is another view of home, in which home is the end, not the beginning. You leave your present home, and you are searching for a new home. There is in the Bible, in the Psalms (84:1-4), the notion of the Temple, as this is where I want to stay.
Doing things because they have “always” been done “that way” is boring. Listening and not participating is boring. And this is the danger for religion, especially in America, where people are becoming only listeners and passive participants.
This past year has been overshadowed by a war that, despite the loss of many lives, has not had a decisive outcome
Toss a pebble in a pond, and the ripples expand indefinitely. We’d like to share with you some of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s “pebbles” – a handful of seemingly simple thoughts that carry deep and far-reaching messages.
Repentance is one of the ultimate spiritual realities at the core of Jewish faith. Its significance goes far beyond the narrow meaning of contrition or regret for sin, and it embraces a number of concepts considered to be fundamental to the very existence of the world.
I don’t know if it’s stressed enough that spiritual is a neutral term. I had some training in mathematics and I use it because it’s very helpful for thinking. The point is that there are negative numbers and positive numbers. Spirituality per se is just spirituality. It can be evil or it can be good. Measuring evil and good doesn’t depend on the strength of the emotion, but on the quality.
For most people, the act of studying stops abruptly at the end of formal schooling, whether after elementary school, high school, or college.
A person has all kinds of driving impulses, but no solution. You come to the same questions, the same answers, and so you move in a circle. You don’t move anywhere.
Since I began writing about the Tanya ? Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi’s revolutionary work on Hasidut from the late 18th century ? I have been asked many times about the connection of Tanya to Kabbalah.
The Song of Songs is at once and the same time, a private song and a general one; it is both carnal and spiritual.
Combining the spiritual and the material is an important achievement. And it’s not that easy. This attachment to all the senses is one of the things that I feel is lacking with many people who have tendencies toward spirituality. And this tendency for spirituality makes them apt to wander in a limitless and possibly directionless void.
The most distinct feature that makes a human being, and differentiates it from all other beings, is the ability to speak. In the Biblical account of the creation of Man it says that God breathed into him, and then man became “a living soul” – nefesh chayah; and the Aramaic translation of these two words is ruach […]
hat is fundamentalism? First of all, it is a new word, a 20th century word, not earlier. But what does it mean? Today it simply means anything you don’t like. What one finds in the newspapers about fundamentalism is not theoretically sound or sound in any other way.
Everyone who lives in Jerusalem – especially those like me who were born here – is in love with the city, really in love. For us, it is not just a place, not just a house; it is a home.
What happened recently in London should bring about a fundamental change in our way of seeing the world. There is most certainly evil in this world.
However, the basic meaning of “a special people” is in fact “a unique people.” This uniqueness, the placing of a certain group of people in a role, in a place, in some form of commitment, has an effect on this group, as it affects the individual who attains any level of uniqueness. It implies various aspects of elevation, and even of pride in the special role, in the special status.
The Talmud (Yevamot 105b) records a discussion regarding whether one who prays should focus his attention on earth or Heaven. The issue is resolved by the suggestion that “A man who offers his prayers must direct his eyes below [to Earth] and his heart above [toward Heaven].”
There is much concern about continuity in the Jewish world today. Achieving continuity is not an end in itself, however. We must be concerned not only with how to assure continuity, but inwhy? That is, what is it that we are so anxious to pass on?
Opening the Tanya: Discovering the Moral and Mystical Teachings of a Classic Work of Kabbalah
Shavuot is designated as zman matan Torateinu, the time of the giving of the Torah: one Torah, given at one time. This is God’s part of the event. But what about ours? What happens on the receiving end?
The next set of questions – those asked by the Four Sons, or the Four Children – addresses a larger issue. According to one perspective, the Four Sons represent four generations of the Jewish people. This leads us to the wider question I have posed above. A different night is one thing, but a whole different generation?
People generally think that a miracle must be a supernatural event. In truth, however, a miracle need not be supernatural, and a supernatural event may not necessarily be a miracle.These two concepts sometimes overlap, but they are not identical.
KABBALAH. The mere mention of the word conjures up images of magical and mysterious otherworldly dimensions, of spiritual secrets that are profoundly miraculous and deeply inspiring. Nowadays it seems everyone-Jew or non-Jew, famous or nameless-is discovering and uncovering the divine truths of Kabbalah. Or are they?
In our times there is a growing and a widespread fake Jewish Spirituality that is perhaps as dangerous as anything that can happen. You have things that seem to be spiritual but are somewhere between confidence games and magic tricks.
Most Jews (and even many non-Jews) know about Pesach, the Festival of Freedom. In fact, more Jews participate in a Pesach seder each year than in any other Jewish observance. It is ironic, then, to note that Shavuot, the Festival of the Giving of the Torah, which is the climax and completion of Pesach, is largely unknown and ignored. Pesach arouses the hopes and yearnings of the Jewish people; Shavuot fulfills them.
The Passover seder sets before us a rich array of symbols and ceremonies. At the center of the wealth and diversity of symbolic acts and readings, however, is one central theme which binds them all: “Once we were slaves-now we are free.”
Indeed, why did God choose the Jews?
Before we can get to this question, we need to ask another question.
What is a Jew?
The recent survey of American Jewry – at least, the parts that have been released thus far – contains demographic data that should alarm anyone who has an interest in the continuity of the Jewish people.
In the book of Exodus, there is a verse: “See that the Lord hath given you the Sabbath” (16:29). The Rabbis in the Talmud expanded this, saying: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have a good gift in my treasury, and it is called the Sabbath. I want to give it to the Jews. Please go and tell them.'”
Throughout the world, people are discovering the need for a new kind of heroism. The world, which has seen and sometimes even admired the heroism of violence, must now learn the kind of heroism that has nothing to do with swords, guns, and bombs. It is the heroism of the person in an extended state of dread. He knows that any journey may be his last, that danger lurks everywhere. Yet he does not break down: He conquers his will, is slow to anger, and maintains his focus.
When the Twin Towers toppled on September 11, 2001, the immediate shock wave destroyed adjacent buildings, but surely did not stop there. Those tremors spread throughout New York, traveled across the United States and were felt everywhere in the world, creating very mixed feelings – fear and terror, shock and incredulity and, in some places, also joy and revenge.
We are celebrating 100 years since the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. One hundred years is a long time. It is an interval that marks change in many ways.
I would like to start my remarks with the feeling that here, at this time and in this place, we are on a sort of an island, isolated from the rest of the world. In light of the recent events of September 11, all around us, the world is storming, boiling, full of trouble, while here we are in a kind of a bubble.
It is far beyond our capacity as human beings to understand, to give an answer that will be true and satisfactory for us. Only the Almighty and All-Knowing knows, and what He knows is beyond our comprehension. We should not seek to invent “explanations” that suit our needs or our prejudices.
When the New Year comes, some celebrate in an uproarious fashion: some just change the calendar. What about American Jews? They do just what the others do.
Many also make all sorts of attempts to create unity. I sometimes think that just all the different organizations and institutions working for unity could make a sizeable crowd. Yet despite all the love that each of them harbors for fellow Jews, they do not seem to be able to unify with each other.
Not only a new settlement, but also a new kind of a Jew was created here, a new species that undoubtedly wanted to be ? and in many ways, indeed was ? very different from the Diaspora Jew. This new Jew clearly parted with the past, and created many new things. Many were extremely beautiful. They also contained quite a number of questionable elements, but at any rate, there was something new.
Human existence is thus dual in nature, partaking of both matter and spirit. Furthermore, in the World of Action, the spiritual is largely subordinate to the material, to the extent that physical objects and the laws of nature are the basis of reality and determine its nature. The spiritual life almost exclusively derives from and acts upon this substrate.
To speak about the State of the Nation is very presumptuous: Who has the right to do so?
What will become of the Jewish people of today? A new slogan, a new cry, a new point of interest is being expressed world-wide: continuity. Although it is a slightly nicer term, continuity really means a fight for survival.
Yes, but we are not listening. It even says so in the Bible. It is written that the voice on Sinai was a mighty voice that did not stop. Many years later this is repeated in much of the hasidic literature, that the voice giving the Law, the Ten Commandments, never stopped.It is still giving the Law, for ever and ever, for eternity. Put in another way, there is a very clear message that is always being transmitted. The thing that has changed is that we are no longer listening.
The dictionary definition of “Talmud” is the book that is the main collection of the Jewish Oral Law. This is a poor definition, since it does not give any idea either of the tremendous historical power of the Talmud, nor of its complex essence, so full of contradictions and paradoxes.
The dictionary definition of “Talmud” is ? the book that is the main collection of the Jewish Oral Law. This is a poor definition, since it does not give any idea either of the tremendous historical power of the Talmud, nor of its complex essence, so full of contradictions and paradoxes.
Since the Jewish tradition is one of the oldest in human history, it would be valuable to learn something of its origin and durability. Is it possible to ascertain the sources of this tradition?
In more abstract language we can say that What is the question about the essence of things, their definition and identity, and their relationship to other entities. How is the question of the reason for things: Why do things happen the way they do, what brings about their existence, and what causes various events. What For is the question of purpose: What is the purpose for which certain things are done, or exist.
According to Judaism, the course of life – of real life – is not seen as an ascent towards adulthood, and from then on only descent. Rather, it is an uninterrupted journey “from strength to strength.”
Saying that “God’s Name is ‘Peace'” means that peace has a meaning beyond lack of war, a meaning that also transcends the transient phenomena of our world and reaches the highest levels of existence. It is peace not only between people who hate each other, or between the beasts of the field, but a general, all-encompassing peace which is an expression of the whole (in Hebrew, the words “peace” – shalom, “whole” ? shalem, and wholeness ? shleimut, all come from the same root), and which is therefore peace between all the warring forces in the world: between the opposing forces of nature as well as between the various spiritual forces ? emotion and thought, passions and ideas. This peace is the full harmony uniting all creation; it is the eternal serenity of all the worlds, when they advance in unity toward the fulfillment of their goal.
The purpose of religiosity forces man not only towards constant activity, but also towards certain character traits which belong not only to the sphere of his human wholesomeness, but also to his role in the world.