Tuesday, 2 August 2016


The Torah says: “...and make an idol or image...as G-d has commanded you.”[1]

Lest one takes this verse out of context and think that G-d commanded us to worship idols, Rashi is quick to add; ‘as G-d has commanded you not to do.

But the Kotzker Rebbe seems quite happy to leave the verse in its original form and have it read: Sometimes you can turn G-d’s commandments into a form of idolatry.

He says; “...the Torah warns us to guard ourselves against making ‘idols’ out of what G-d commanded us to do – so that we do not turn G-d’s laws into lifeless objects like wood and stone - as that would be the same as idolatry. [2]

Unless we are able to captivate the spirit, warmth and vibrancy of Judaism, the mere routine following of the law is of absolutely no spiritual value whatsoever. 

On the contrary, without meaning, even G-d’s law would be just another form of idolatry.

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[1] Devarim 4:23
[2] Amud HaEmet p. 92, par 1

Thursday, 30 June 2016


Pinchas was destined to take over from Moshe and become the next leader of the Jewish People. 

He acted with zealous incentive when he took a spear and killed Zimri and Cozbi, who both exemplified the mass sin which brought about a plague which destroyed 24 000 people. 

As a result of his zealotry the plague was halted and Pinchas was hailed the hero.[1]

But the Kotzker Rebbe said: 

“Moshe did not agree to this (the populist sentiment hailing Pinchas as a future leader), because...although he did a great (and necessary) deed...and averted a plague from the Jewish People - nonetheless Moshe said; ‘A fanatic should never be a leader of Israel.’...It was for this reason that Moshe then asked G-d to appoint a new (and more tempered) leader for them.”[2]

A fanatic, even if he or she is right, should never be allowed to lead!

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[1] Bamidbar ch. 25
[2] Amud HaEmet p. 87 par. 4 and 5

Sunday, 26 June 2016


Just before Moshe passed away, he asked G-d; “...to appoint a man over the assembly”[1] who would take over from him.

The Kotzker Rebbe pointed out that the expression ‘a man’ is crucial to the concept of leadership.

 He wrote: (The expression) ‘man’ is used instead of ‘angel’ (or scholar or sage) to emphasize (normative) humanity, which would enable people to relate to him. This is similar to (the Torah recording that) ‘Moshe went down from the mountain (i.e. from his lofty position) towards the people’.”[2]

All too often we look to create an artificial form of exalted leadership. This is true in political and especially religious leadership roles. We tend to demand and fashion an aura of near deification surrounding our spiritual leadership.

Kotzk taught that the aim was to seek out leaders who were as human and approachable as possible.

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[1] Bamidbar 27:16
[2] Amud HaEmet p.80, par. 3

Thursday, 23 June 2016


The Torah considers Pinchas to be a ‘fanatic’, because he; “...zealously avenged Me among them.”[1]

On this the Kotzker Rebbe commented: “Because Pinchas was consumed with G-d’s zealousness, there was implanted into all Israel (from that moment on, a degree of) fanaticism, which will not tolerate any deviant behaviour, and this is (now) intrinsic within them.”[2]

Not confusing fanaticism for extremism, is fanaticism a Jewish trait?

And is the Kotzker endorsing this trait or objecting to it?  

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[1] Bamidbar, 25:11; “bekano et kinati betocham
[2] Amud HaEmet p.86, par. 4

Sunday, 5 June 2016


The Kotzker Rebbe asked; “Why does something unclean defile something which is clean, whereas something clean does not purify that which is unclean?”

And he answered his own question with another; “Something unclean is clearly unclean – whereas that which appears to be pure, who can say that is really is pure?”[1]

This is such a significant teaching especially for our times. We generally are able to identify something unclean and we can certainly identify something which is evil.

The problem though, is how to know when something dressed up, or presented as clean or righteous is really what it appears to be?

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[1] Amud HaEmet 84, par 1

Thursday, 2 June 2016


The Kotzker Rebbe said; “While Korach (who tried to oust Moshe from his position) was standing on the duchan (the platform used by the levi’im to play their musical instruments), he underwent a process of spiritual transformation. 

He became inspired and more spiritually aware than ever before. So he thought that if he would progress further into the heichal (the inner sanctuary), he would become even more elevated.

What he didn’t realize, though, was the fact that the only reason he felt so uplifted by his experience on the duchan, was because Moshe was standing in the heichal.”[1]

The Kotzker reminds us that sometimes, while basking in our sense of achievements, we forget our interconnectedness and our interdependences. 

We think we got to where we are by our own hard work and dedicated determination – and we pretend that the catalystic components - of luck, fate, G-d, timing, and help from others - played no part in our rise to success. 

But there is always someone in your heichal.

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[1] Amud HaEmet p. 91, par 4 
This is an explanation of the verse; "You have taken upon yourselves too much" (Rav lachem).

Thursday, 19 May 2016


Some of our leaders are very dedicated to spreading Judaism. They really want to fill their institutions with eager students thirsty for Torah knowledge.

The Kotzker recognizes the nobility of such a pursuit. But he also cautions that there may an ulterior motive that spoils the apparent altruism. The outreach world may not always be as spiritually philanthropic as it appears. 

Often the unspoken sentiment of spiritual emissaries is that Torah institutions should be well attended as long as they are their institutions.

He said; “You are claiming spirituality? But (like Korach who ‘also wanted the priesthood’) you really want to be the Leaders!” [1]

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[1] Amud HaEmet p. 92, par.4