“Pebbles” by Rabbi Steinsaltz

Toss a pebble in a pond, and the ripples expand indefinitely.

We are pleased to share with you some of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s “pebbles” – a handful of seemingly simple thoughts that carry deep and far-reaching messages.  

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There was once a great Rebbe who was asked lots of basic theological questions. Why does God do this? Why does God do that?

He answered by saying, “A God that every man on the street can understand is not a God I would believe in.”

If I want a God made exactly to my measure, a God that I can put into my pocket, then it is possibly not worth having such a God.

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It is important to ask questions, all kinds of questions, and to know that asking those questions does not undermine one’s faith.

I was once a student of mathematics. I learned about so many unanswered problems and so many paradoxes and so many logical contradictions.

Do these things undermine my belief or understanding of mathematics?

Not at all.

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Each person has his or her own unique spiritual essence. This uniqueness is not only due to the genetic disposition of the individual or to his education. Each person is unique by Divine intention.

Each of us has special tasks to perform in this world. Even if there are others who might do the tasks better, these tasks that are ours are not for others.

Just as Adam was put in charge of the Garden of Eden, each of us is put in charge of one part of God’s garden – the World – to work and to nurture. Every individual soul is responsible for his or her plot in God’s garden.

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Every person also has a specific function within the people of Israel, just as every limb and organ has a function in the body.

Israel is a living entity, with a head, a chest, feet, and toenails. Israel’s head contains the soul of the rare saints. These saints connect with both God and the people.

It was said of a famous pious man that if a woman were in labor within 500 miles of him, he was unable to sleep because of her pain. Is it possible that the head does not know of every ache in its body?

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What does it mean to be Jewish? When I went out in the street for the first time in my life with my head covered, I had the feeling that everybody was watching me. That small thing, that yarmulke on my head, had a weight of a ton or two. It was terrible. I felt crushed by it. But you get accustomed to it. And so do your friends.

It is a small hardship.

But the idea of covering one’s head? That is harder to accept. When I cover my head, I am acknowledging that I have a Master.

I would say that the hardest part of being a Jew is the feeling that you will lose your freedom. It is hard because it means you can’t do everything, you can’t move everywhere.  Our Sages call it the yoke of heaven. It is the yoke, the acceptance of the yoke, that is the most difficult part of being Jewish.

The Aleph Society thanks Arthur Kurzweil for his assistance in compiling these “pebbles.” More can be found in his book, On the Road with Rabbi Steinsaltz, available now from Jossey-Bass.