We are living in a time of many fast changes. Never before have things changed as quickly as they do now. There is more than one cause for this; firstly, the development of technology, which has affected not only technical matters but also society and inter-personal relationships; in addition there is a breakdown of tradition: old social institutions such as the family, notions like obedience and acceptance, and even modern ideas like nationalism. Newspapers are busier and bulkier than ever before: there is always something new happening, mostly smaller or bigger scandals on every possible level. All in all, life seems to be rushing in a much faster pace.
The performance of the commandments (mitzvot) has traditionally been conceived as a dual imperative: the contemplation of the content and inner meaning of the mitzvah, and its physical expression. Jewish writings have dealt extensively with the questions arising from this duality, weighing the value of deed against that of intention and seeking the relationship between the two.
Devout men throughout the ages have generally stressed the intention over the deed. Nevertheless, they also felt that while a deed without intention is like a body without a spirit, intention without deed is similarly imperfect, like an illusive apparition, having existence but no substance. Thus for these men, in the real of mitzvoth, there was no deed without intention, and no intention without deed.
The questions that prompted the continual re-discussion of this issue are still with us today.
modern world is characterized, not only in principle but also in practice, on
greater freedom – socially, in the sense of accessibility and of traveling the
world, etc. All these are supposed to be ways in which the liberated human
being finds expression.
It is one of the many paradoxes of Jewish history that where as the Jewish people has known premature and unnatural death as a constant companion probably more than any other nation, culturally and spiritually the Jews are remarkably unpreoccupied by death and the hereafter.
In the Exodus from Egypt, the Jews left a vast civilization that was obsessed with death and devoted much spiritual energy and material resources to preparations for the hereafter. This cult of death was one of the evils from which Moses led the Children of Israel, guiding them toward a more wholesome outlook that put the stress on life.
The Limitations of Human Consciousness
Human consciousness strives to perceive and know all, to understand everything that exists in the world, possibly also things that do not exist in it. However, man has realized that even though the desire to know is unlimited, the human ability to know is limited.
There have always been various limitations to human consciousness, some of which can be overcome through various technical means: by bettering technical thinking, or improving the various instruments we use in order to get acquainted with reality. But in addition to all those things that were inaccessible for purely technical reasons, there are things that are inaccessible in essence.
I would like to start with what I started out last year: with the feeling that here, at this time and in this place, we are in a sort of an island, isolated from the rest of the world. All around us the world is storming, boiling, full of trouble, while here we are in a kind of a bubble. On the one hand, it is quite pleasant to be in such a bubble; but on the other hand it is not only impossible, but also forbidden for people – and especially for us, as Jews – to reside, even temporarily, in such a world of calm and quiet. Even when one is in high and lofty worlds, one must remember that although the great Ladder reaches the heaven, it is firmly grounded in the earth. And the earth is not always a comfortable place; for throughout the world the earth is now shaking, quivering, and wet with blood.
This is why I chose to speak, this time, about a less abstract topic: Heroism; to try and understand what heroism is.
Often, one can hear people say: "I don't want to be different, I want to by just like everybody else."
But who is "everybody"? Who creates this entity? Who defines it? "Everybody" is not an independently existing term, but rather the outcome of imitation. One person imitates another, and everybody imitates "everybody." Who, then, is the first, the real "everybody" that everyone imitates?
Furthermore, is "everybody" good? Is it smart, understanding, religious? Not necessarily; because had "everybody" been an expression of good, there would have been no need to rely on it or use its awesome appellation; rather, one would have simply said – "I am doing X because it is good.
Just as they do in the higher world, the ten Sefirot exist in the human soul; and from their mutual interrelations are derived and manifested all the broad span of thoughts, feelings, and experiences of man, thus, the first three Sefirot assert the aspects of pure consciousness: Hokhmah, expressing the power of original light, is that which distinguishes and creates and is the basis of intuitive grasp; Binah, expressing the analytical and synthetic power of the mind, builds and comprehends forms and probes the meaning of that which comes from the Sefirah of Hokhmaha; and Daat, expressing the crystallization of awareness in terms of conclusions and the abstract ascertaining of facts, is that which enables consciousness to make a transition from one form of existence to another, thereby ensuring its continuity.
Generally speaking, the Jewish way is not designed for outstanding individuals but for the people as a whole. In areas that pertain to the people of Israel, every single one of the Torah commandments pertains to the entire nation, and there is no commandment or teaching that involves only a select, special section of the people. Moreover, one of the aspirations and ideals of Judaism is the Tikkun, betterment, of the whole world.
What is the relationship between the external manifestation of the human soul (its "aspects," forces) and the essence of the soul itself? This question lies at the center of much Hassidic speculation concerning human psychology, and is central in the doctrines of the Chabad school.
The founder of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, made apparently contradictory statements concerning the nature of this relationship. In his major work, the Tanya, we read: "The soul .. consists of ten aspects (behinot), which correspond to the ten Divine Manifestations (sefirot) from which they are descended … and are subdivided into Intellect (sekhel) and Attributes (middot): (Chapter 3). Later in the same book he writes: "The essence and the being of the soul … are its ten aspects" (Chapter 12).
The Inner Aspect of Education
Every educational method, everywhere the world and at all times, is based upon certain ideas, ideals and world-views. In many cases - perhaps even in most cases - educators (or whoever else is in charge of education) are only partially aware of these fundamental ideas, goals and aspirations of the education they impart; and the degree of awareness is even lower in the education given by non-professional educators or teachers. In the final analysis, however, it is not the awareness of ideals that determines education, but their existence in the mind of the educator or of the influential figure.
The Crisis of Innocence
The Hebrew word for innocence – temimut – comes from the same root as wholeness, perfection. And although the word is not used in the exact same meaning as "perfection," it is universally accepted that innocence entails a state of primordial perfection.
How does innocence find expression? How do we define it? Usually we see innocence as a direct approach to things, an approach that is neither convoluted nor intricate, without complicating and without even thinking that things can be complicated. It’s a simple, direct approach based on trust and without apprehension.
Surely, the innocent approach is not always sufficient for finding solution or unraveling intricacies, either natural or man-made ones. But innocence can sometimes fall short, because it can be deceived and tricked, and as a result it often seems to us somewhat ridiculous and silly.
In spite of the unpopularity of the whole concept of reaction, there are always many people who look back to the “good old days” with a certain nostalgia, if not with a strong desire to actually revert to what they see as a better state of affairs. Amongst modern Jews, the preferred period seems to be located about 2009 years ago, when, it is conceded, Jewish life had an authentic style and vitality, and was vastly richer in content.
But is it possible to go back to any period in the past? Is not the very idea of a return self-destructive in its direction?