Expositions From The Hasidic Tradition


I reproduce a few excerpts from one of the greatest moral and spiritual classics of the Judaic tradition. There is the Quranic dictum for taking note of ancient stories that have lessons for us. The Quran itself narrates some stories. Prophetic traditions also are replete with such references to traditional lore, including the Biblical. One prophetic tradition states that God doesn’t tolerate men who don’t sin and vows to replace them with those who sin and then seek forgiveness. Man’s sojourn on earth is coloured by sin.  Adam’s first conscious act was an act of rebellion, or sin, and that is linked to the birth of self-consciousness, as Iqbal noted. We have been directed not to hate sinners but the sin. But who doesn’t judge or condemn sinners? All gossip, media talk shows, and street talk are full of such condemnation. By meditating on the following Questions and Answers fromMartin Buber’s Ten Rungs: Collected Hasidic Sayings, let us try to understand how to be human is to sin – implying that we need to pity rather than condemn sinners – and also see that God has a use for sinners as well:


Question: The Talmud teaches that: “Those who are perfect in righteousness cannot stand in that place where they stand who turn to God.” According to this, one who has been free of sin from youth comes after one who has transgressed against God many times, and cannot attain the latter’s rung.

Answer: He who sees a new light every day, light he did not see the day before, if he wishes truly to serve, must condemn his imperfect service

of yesterday, atone for it, and start again. The person who is free of sin, who believes he has done perfect service and persists in that belief, does not accept the light, and comes after him who is ever turning again.

When you accuse a sinner and pronounce judgment upon him, saying that he deserves such and such a misfortune, you are pronouncing judgment upon yourself. Though the trespass of the other may be alien to your soul, you must have trespassed in some such way yourself. If you accuse him of idol worship, for example, you have probably been guilty of pride, and that is just as if you yourself had served an idol. And your guilt may even be greater. For you are subject to sterner judgment. But if you justify the sinner

and point to the fact that he is still prisoned in his flesh and cannot govern his urges, then you are justifying yourself.

Rabbi Mikhal gave this command to his sons: “Pray for your enemies that all may be well with them. And should you think this is not serving God, rest assured that, more than all our prayers, this love is indeed the service of God.” We should also pray for the wicked among the peoples of the world; we should love them too. As long as we do not pray in this way, as long as we do not love in this way, the Messiah will not come.


Question: We are commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves. How can I do this if my neighbour has wronged me?

Answer: You must understand these words rightly. Love your neighbour as something which you yourself are. For all souls are one. Each is a spark from the original soul, and this soul is inherent in all souls, just as your soul is inherent in all the members of your body. It may come to pass that your hand will make a mistake and strike you. But would you then take a stick and chastise your hand because it lacked understanding, and so increase your pain? It is the same if your neighbour, who is of one soul with

you, wrongs you because of his lack of understanding. If you punish him, you only hurt yourself.


Question: But if I see a man who is wicked before God, how can I love him?

Answer: Don’t you know that the primordial soul came out of the essence of God, and that every human soul is a part of God? And will you have no mercy on man, when you see that one of his holy sparks has been lost in a maze and is almost stifled?

The Divine Presence governs from top to bottom and to the verge of all rungs. That is the secret hidden in the words: “And Thou preservest them all.” Even when a man sins, his sin is encompassed by the Presence because without it he would not have the power to move a limb. And that is the exile of the Divine Presence.

It is life’s task to contemplate these sayings and we would be rewarded by a less judging and more human and humane perspective on things.