Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan: Words To Live By


During 5771 JInsider will commemorate the legacy of one of the most important scholars of our generation, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. Rabbi Kaplan’s clear, coherent and meaningful teachings and his 60-plus books have been regarded as a significant factor in helping make Judaism relevant. To showcase this wide body of knowledge, we will launch a dedicated website (aryehkaplan.org) and co-sponsor learning events with Rabbi Naftali Citron of the Carlebach Shul and the JCC in Manhattan. We will be collaborating with Rabbi Kaplan’s former colleagues and students including Avraham Sutton, Rabbi Gedaliah Fleer and others. We are also genuinely interested in individual first-person stories of how Rabbi Kaplan has affected your life. Please contact us at connect@jinsider.com to share how Rabbi Kaplan’s works have elevated or inspired your Jewish journey.

A Tribute To Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (z’l)
“Rabbi Kaplan held an M.A. in physics, and his work reflected that training. In culling Jewish sources for his books, he once remarked, ‘I use my physics background to analyze and systemize data, very much as a physicist would deal with physical reality.’ This ability enabled him to undertake monumental projects, producing close to 50 books, celebrated for their erudition, completeness and clarity. Rabbi Kaplan brought forth numerous other original works ranging from books explaining the deepest mysteries of Kabbalah and chasidism to a unique Haggadah combining utmost simplicity and scholarly depth.

His remarkable ability of presenting esoteric information in a popular, lively style won him a wide following. Moreover, the breadth of his knowledge did not suffer from the pitfall of superficiality.

He labored tirelessly, day and night, producing more outstanding works of great and original Torah scholarship single-handedly than teams of other authors working in the field. Yet, he somehow managed to find time for the simplest Jews, perfect strangers, seeking the answers to the spiritual questions in their lives. None were turned away empty-handed. With this burning preoccupation with Torah, which was his mission in life, he was also a devoted husband to his loyal wife, Tobie, with whom he gave love and inspiration to their nine children. May his example be an inspiration, and his memory a blessing.”
—from “The Aryeh Kaplan Reader”(Mesorah Publications Ltd.)

Life is A Test: Free Will and Personal Reward
Here is a great example of Kaplan’s concise, logical, and relevant teaching with an incredible attention to detail. Read it for concept, construction and his scientific/encyclopedic-like writing style (footnotes not included).

“Ultimately, then, all of life is a test. However, there are times that God puts an individual through an especially difficult test (nisayon). In such a case, a person is placed in a situation where his devotion and faith are tested.

God does not put a person to a difficult test unless He knows that the person will pass it. It is thus written, ‘God tests the righteous, but His spirit hates the wicked’ (Psalms 11:5). It is taught, ‘The potter does not tap vessels that are easily broken, but only vessels that are strong. God similarly does not test the wicked but the righteous’ (Bereshit Rabbah 32:3).

Since God is omniscient, He has no need to test people to see what they will do. When He tests a person, it is to bring out his latent potential and allow him to express it in action (Kuzari 5:20).

God therefore sometimes tests a person in order to reward him. This is because there is no reward for potential alone, as it is written, ‘Your work shall be rewarded’ (2 Chronicles 15:7). A test may also make a task more difficult so as to increase its reward.

Moreover, a test is often needed to make a person’s potential and ability known to himself so as to increase his self-confidence. In some cases, God also tests a person in order to make his good qualities known to others. It is for this reason that God often tests a person before choosing him for greatness or leadership.

Although God might guide or test man, the final choice between good and evil ultimately rests with the individual. Whether a person does right or wrong, it is totally up to him. Every normal person can always control his action, if he only tries hard enough. Man was created to be master of his fate, and as such, he bears the responsibility for it.”

— from Aryeh Kaplan’s “The Handbook of Jewish Thought,” (Maznaim Publishing)

Like Rabbi Isaac Luria (the Holy Ari) and Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto (the Ramhal), Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan died at 48 (in 1983). Nevertheless, his lifetime achievement, in terms of the work he left behind, will have an enormous influence on future generations.