Quotes

Teaching has a tremendous and very strange impact on me.  I simply feel that when I teach Torah, I feel the breath of  eternity on my face.

The error of modern representatives of religion is that they promise their congregants the solution to all the problems of life − an expectation which religion does not fulfill. Religion, on the contrary, deepens the problems but never intends to solve them. The grandeur of religion lies in its mysterium tremendum its magnitude and its ultimate incomprehensibility. To cite one example, we may adduce the problem of theodicy, the justification of evil in the world, that has tantalized the inquiring mind from time immemorial till this last tragic decade. The acuteness of this problem has grown for the religious person in essence and dimensions. When a minister, rabbi, or priest attempts to solve the ancient question of Job's suffering through as sermon or lecture, he does not promote religious ends, but, on the contrary, does them a disservice. The beauty of religion with its grandiose vistas reveals itself to men, not in solutions but in problems, not in harmony but in the constant conflict of diversified forces and trends. 


The beauty of God is experienced as holiness, as the mysterium magnum, ineffable and unattainable, awesome and holy (nora ve-kadosh), as something that transcends everything comprehensible and speakable, which makes one tremble and experience bliss. Beauty and paradox merge—He is both remote and so near; awesome and lovely, fascinating and daunting, majestic and tender, comforting and frightening, familiar and alien, the beyond of creation and its very essence.


Most of all I learned [from his mother] that Judaism expresses itself not only in formal compliance with the law but also in a living experience. She taught me that there is a flavor, a scent and warmth to mitzvot. I learned from her the most important thing in life—to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle pressure of His hand resting upon my frail shoulders.


…the religious person is given not only a duty to follow the halakha but also a value and vision. The person performing the duty seeks to realize this ideal or vision. Kant felt that the duty of consciousness expresses only a "must" without a value. He demanded a routine form of compliance, an "ought" without aiming at a value. As a soldier carries out his duty to the commanding officer, one may appreciate his service or just obey through discipline and orders. Kant's ethics are a "formal ethics", the goal is not important.   For us it would be impossible to behave this way. An intelligent person must find comfort, warmth, and a sense of fulfillment in the law. We deal with ethical values, not ethical formalisms. A sense of pleasure must be gained by fulfilling a norm. The ethical act must have an end and purpose. We must become holy. 



(1) Partial transcript of an address  to the RCA Convention, 1975, on the topic of religious conversion. This is a preamble to the class.  Transcribed by Eitan Fiorino in mail-jewish.org, from mp3 Rav - Gerus & Mesorah (1) [5053].mp3 ) 
(2) Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, "Sacred and Profane", Gesher, Vol. 3, No. 1, p. 7 in Besdin, A, Reflections of the Rav, p. 224) 
(3) Worship of the Heart: Essays on Jewish Prayer EDITED BY SHALOM CARMY, p. 66 in Prayer and the Beauty of God: Rav Soloveitchik on Prayer and Aesthetics (JOSHUA AMARU, The Torah u-Madda Journal (13/2005)
(4)Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “A Tribute to the Rebbetzen of Talne,” Tradition 17:2, Spring 1978, p. 7
(5)  Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Mesorat HaRav Siddur, p. 112-3

If true prayer takes place in the heart one does not need a master of ceremonies to mediate between the congregation and the Creator. Judaism teaches  that every individual possesses a heart full of love - conscious or unconscious - for God; his heart is as near to the Gates of Heaven as that of the "clergyman," often more so. There is no need for the "rabbi" to stand  on a pulpit, adorned with the "priestly vestements, " to stage the prayers. He and the simple Jew have exactly the same status before God. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Shiurei HaRav, edited by Joseph Epstein ( Hoboken, New Jersey: Ktav, 1974), adapted translation by Shalom Carmywith Menachem Kasdan from Maayonot, Tefillah 5724, Department of Jewish Education for the Diaspora, p. 84.


...the study of the Torah is an ecstatic, metaphysical performance; the study of Torah is an act of surrender.  That is why chazal stress so many times the importance of humility, and that the proud person can never be a great scholar, only the humble person.  Why is humility necessary?  Because the study of Torah means meeting the Almighty, and if a finite being meets the infinite, the Almighty, the Maker of the world, of course this meeting must precipitate a mood of humility, and humility results in surrender.  Partial transcript of an address  to the RCA Convention, 1975, on the topic of gerut.   Transcribed by Eitan Fiorino   in http://mail-jewish.org/rav/talmud_torah.txt.


He (Abraham) was a resident, like other inhabitants of Canaan, sharing with them a concern for the welfare of society, digging wells, and contributing to the progress of the country in loyalty to its government and institutions. Here, Abraham was clearly a fellow citizen, a patriot among compatriots, joining others in advancing the common welfare. However, there was another aspect, the spiritual, in which Abraham regarded himself as a stranger. His identification and solidarity with his fellow citizens in the secular realm did not imply his readiness to relinquish any aspects of his religious uniqueness. His was a different faith and he was governed by perceptions, truths, and observances which set him apart from the larger faith community. In this regard, Abraham and his descendants would always remain “strangers.”  Reflections of the Rav, p. 169 


There is one power authority that the Torah not only sanctions but encourages in Jewish society, that of the teacher-student relationship. Our leader is not the king, nor the warrior, but the Torah scholar whose authority is that of a Rebbe over his talmidim….(However) the authority of the teacher is not imposed; no coercion or political instrument is employed. His authority emerges from his personality; his learning and selflessness are acknowledged. Not fear but affection and respect motivate one’s submission. A teacher is a master, like a king. At times, he inspires emulation of his way of thinking and his general deportment, but this does not result in the enslavement of his disciples. The students are not crimped and circumscribed; their souls are not shriveled through fear and conformity. On the contrary, there is an enlargement and growth of the total personality. Reflections of the Rav, p. 135


I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God.” (Numbers 15) God is not portrayed here as the Creator, because the cosmic experience is too formal and abstract. God does not wish to appear as a tyrant to whom man must submit. The vastness of the cosmos frightens man, and he cannot transport himself to the outer fringes of the universe to meet Him.... man is still overwhelmed by the cosmos and he thus insists on another act of sacrifice: he invites God to join him in his historic destiny, to become his leader, friend, and guide, but also his prisoner. It is in a sense impudent on man's part to restrict God's Presence to an even smaller area by including Him in a comparatively limited historical process, thereby making His "sacrifice" even greater. Yet God indeed engages in this act of regression, from infinite to finite; He willingly descends from the unalterable cosmic drama to the fleeting historical process. (Mesorat HaRav Siddur, p. 112-5)


The purpose of every leader is to appeal to the good that is in man, to speak to the hidden person. There are two ways in which a leader may give reproof. He might be tempted to tell the people that they are wicked. Today, such reproof is as ineffective as it is inappropriate. Modern man would not repent through such harsh rebuke. Alternatively, one may use Moses' method, the method of nullification of vows. The sinner must be approached and told that he is not as bad as he thinks. For if a Jew perceives that he is totally corrupt, he will mistakenly think that he is too far removed for repentance. Often Jews wish to repent but believe that the road to return is blocked. In response, we must let them know that God "opens His Hand to sinners." We let the sinner know that there is no reason for low self-esteem. This ability is the true strength of the Jewish leader. Derashot Ha Rav, Arnold Lustiger, (Union City, NJ, Ohr Publishing: 2003), pp. 100-101.


The Halakha commands man to enjoy the splendor and beauty of creation to a degree no less than that of the sybarite. However, the pleasure of the man of Halakha is refined, bounded-in and purified... The Halakha never forbade man the pleasures of this world nor did it demand of him asceticism and self-torture... [But] the Halakha does despise the chaos of hedone ... Halakha distances man from madness and the hysteria of desire. Halakhic enjoyment lacks overintensity, overstimulation and drunkenness of the senses. However, it possesses the beauty of gentility and the aesthetic splendor of life. When man enjoys the world in accordance with the view of the Halakha, his enjoyment is modest and refined, lacking the mania of sexual desire and the frenzy of gluttony. (U-vikkashtem Mi-sham, pp. 207-208 in INTRODUCTION TO THE PHILOSOPHY OF RAV SOLOVEITCHIK)


Happy are those who dwell in Your House.” This verse is from Psalms 84:5, and not from the chapter (Psalms 145) that constitutes most of the rest of the Ashrei prayer. Why does this verse serve as the introduction to this prayer? The Gemara (Berakhot 32b) indicates that particularly pious individuals would prepare themselves for one hour before prayer, based on this verse about dwelling in God's House. The phrase yoshvei veitekha, "those dwell in Your House," has a different connotation than hayoshvim beveitekha, "those who are dwelling in Your House." The latter suggests a mere visitor while the former suggests a long-term tenant. A Jew must sense that his true home is God's House, that is, the beit midrash, the study hall, a familiar place in which he feels comfortable, a place he leaves reluctantly only when compelled. (Mesorat HaRav Siddur, p. 78-9) 


I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God.” (Numbers 15) God is not portrayed here as the Creator, because the cosmic experience is too formal and abstract. God does not wish to appear as a tyrant to whom man must submit. The vastness of the cosmos frightens man, and he cannot transport himself to the outer fringes of the universe to meet Him. The mystics have termed the act of creation as a sacrifice. Since He is infinite and unique, for Him to tolerate another creature is an expression of grace - and sacrifice. God, therefore, moves from all-exclusiveness to all inclusiveness, where the world shares His existence and God imprisons Himself, as it were, in the finite order; this is the notion of tzimtzum. God contracted to make room for the world. But man is still overwhelmed by the cosmos and he thus insists on another act of sacrifice: he invites God to join him in his historic destiny, to become his leader, friend, and guide, but also his prisoner. It is in a sense impudent on man's part to restrict God's Presence to an even smaller area by including Him in a comparatively limited historical process, thereby making His "sacrifice" even greater. Yet God indeed engages in this act of regression, from infinite to finite; He willingly descends from the unalterable cosmic drama to the fleeting historical process. (Mesorat HaRav Siddur, p. 112-5)


 [Many religious people today]"...act like children and experience religion like children. This is why they accept all types of fanaticism and superstition. Sometimes they are even ready to do things that border on the immoral. They lack the experiential component of religion, and simply substitute obscurantism for it....After all, I come from the ghetto. Yet I have never seen so much naïve and uncritical commitment to people and to ideas as I see in America....All extremism, fanaticism and obscurantism come from a lack of security. A person who is secure cannot be an extremist." A Reader's Companion to Ish Ha-Halakhah: Introductory Section, David Shatz, Yeshiva University, Joseph B. Soloveitchik Institute in Wikipedia.org.


Once Rabbi Hayim was asked what was the function of a Rabbi. He replied: 'To redress the grievances of those who are abandoned and alone, to protect the dignity of the poor, and to save the oppressed from the bonds of the oppressor.' Ish Hahalakhah- Galui V'nistar, translated by Lawrence Kaplan, p. 80 in Besden, A. Reflections of the Rav, p. 221. Hear the audio (10:00 minutes in).


Judaism, with its realistic approach to man and his place in the world, understood that evil cannot be blurred or camouflaged and that any attempt to downplay the extent of the contradiction and fragmentation to be found in reality will neither endow man with tranquility nor enable him to grasp the existential mystery. Evil is an undeniable fact. There is evil, there is suffering, there are hellish torments in the world. Whoever wishes to delude himself by diverting his attention from the deep fissure in reality, by romanticizing human existence, is nought but a fool and a fantast.  Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek ( Hoboken, New Jersey: Ktav, 1992), p. 4. 


"It was the practice in Kovno and Slobodka to spend the twilight hour when the Sabbath was drawing to a close in an atmosphere suffused with sadness and grief, an atmosphere in which man loses his spiritual shield, his sense of power, confidence, and strength and becomes utterly sensitive and  responsive, and then begins to engage in a monologue about death and, the nihility of this world, its emptiness and ugliness. The halakhic men of Brisk and Volozhin sensed that this whole mood posed a profound contradiction to the halakhah and would undermine its very foundations. Halakhic man fears nothing. For he swims in the sea of Talmud, that life-giving sea to all the living. If a person has sinned, then the halakhah of repentance will come to his aid. One must not waste time on spiritual self-appraisal, on probing introspections, and on the picking away at the "sense" of sin. Such a psychic analysis brings man neither to fear not to love of God nor, most fundamental of all, to the knowledge of cognition of the Torah. The Torah cannot be acquired in a state of melancholia and depression." Halakhic Man [36], pp. 74-76 in The Rav, Rakeffet-Rothkoff, pp. 168-9.



Prayer means sacrifice, unrestricted offering of the whole self, the returning to God of body and soul, everything one possesses and cherishes. There is an altar in heaven upon which the archangel Michael offers the souls of the righteous. Thrice daily we petition God to accept our prayers, as well as the fires - the self-sacrifices of Israel - on that altar ("ve-ishei Yisrael u-tefillatam be-ahava tekabbel be-ratzon"). Prayer is rooted in the idea that man belongs, not to himself, but that God claims man, and that His claim to man is not partial but total. God the Almighty sometimes wills man to place himself, like Isaac of old, on the altar, to light the fire and to be consumed as a burnt offering. “Redemption, Prayer, Talmud Torah”, Tradition 17:2 (Spring 1978), pp. 70-71

Alas, not always does creative man respond readily to the divine normative summons which forms the very core of his new existential status as a confronted being. All too often, the motivating force in creative man is not the divine mandate entrusted to him and which must be implemented in full at both levels, the cognitive and the normative, but a demonic urge for power. By fulfilling an incomplete task, modern creative man falls back to a non-confronted, natural existence to which normative pressure is alien. The reason for the failure of confronted man to play his role fully lies in the fact that, while the cognitive gesture gives man mastery and a sense of success, the normative gesture requires of man surrender. At this juncture, man of today commits the error which his ancestor, Adam of old, committed by lending an attentive ear to the demonic whisper "Ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil."Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, "Confrontation," from Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought, 1964 volume 6, #2.

Abraham, the knight of faith, according to our tradition, sought and discovered God in the starlit heavens ofMesopotamia. Yet, he felt an intense loneliness and could not find solace in the silent companionship of God, whose image was reflected in the boundless stretches of the cosmos. Only when he met God on earth as Father, Brother, and Friend - not only along the uncharted astral routes - did he feel redeemed.  Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith,  (Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1995), p. 49. 

One serves God and enters into an intimate relationship with Him by self-realization on the part of the moral will, by living a moral life, by walking humbly with people, be engaging in deeds of charity, by being just and merciful, generous and kind, by cultivating the truth, by helping others, by disciplining oneself, by taming one’s animal desires and impulses and by introducing axiological worth into the realm of a bodily existence.Joseph B. Soloveitchik,Worship of the Heart  (Toras HaRav), pp. 9-10.

The slave lives in silence, if such a meaningless existence may be called life. He has no message to deliver. In contrast with the slave, the free man bears a message, has a good deal to tell, and is eager to convey his life story to anyone who cares to listen. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “Redemption, Prayer, Talmud Torah”


Serve the Lord with joy.” Man must worship his Creator not only out of a feeling of absolute decree and coercion but also out of spontaneous, variegated desire and aspiration which gladdens the heart. The Torah commands us to serve God with joy, with longing and yearning, out of enjoyment and happiness, unfettered pleasure and the soul's delight. When man does not see God and sense His presence at every turn; when he thinks of God only out of fear of punishment, with a cool intellect, without ecstasy, icy or enthusiasm, when his actions lack soul, inwardness and vitality, then ills religious life is flawed. At the same time, if man is not always aware of God, if he does not walk with God in all his ways and paths, if he does not sense God's touch on his stooped shoulders in times of distress and loneliness, imparting a certain comfort and encouragement, then his service is likewise incomplete. And From There You Shall Seek in Mesorat HaRav Siddur, p. 75-6  

Nishmas col chai. The soul of all that lives. Although this prayer has the same theme as the blessing of Yishtabach ("May your name be praised"), emphasizing God's attributes and the privilege given to us to praise Him, it is recited only on Shabbat and Holidays simply because there is not sufficient time to recite it during weekdays. It may be described as the great universal hymn of the salvation of mankind. A Jew is not satisfied with his redemption unless everybody will be redeemed with him; the Jew feels the beat of the heart of the universe. The Jew prays even for the cosmos. Once a month, he prays that God restore the diminution of the moon. The Jewish experience is all-inclusive, all-embracing, sympathetic to all. (Days of Deliverance, in Mesorat HaRav Siddur, p. 475-6 ) 

… if the State of Israel will become a secular kingdom without Torah, without sanctity, without the Sabbath, without Jewish education, without family purity, a State in which Jewish uniqueness will be erased, then the price we are paying for her in blood and tears is too heavy." (The Rav Speaks, trans. from Yiddish addresses delivered by the Rav at Mizrachi Conventions, 1962-1967, p. 79, in. Insights of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, pp. 138-9).



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