From King Solomon to Einstein, exploring the meaning of some of the best Jewish quotes
- “In Jewish history there are no coincidences.” – Elie Wiesel
If you would have asked me my favorite Yiddish word, I would have said bashert. It translates into the idea that Wiesel so beautifully captured as aphorism in my favorite quote. The older I get the more I am astonished by its truth, both in a national as well as personal sense. The seemingly haphazard, random, and arbitrary events that comprise the story of our lives begin to form a coherent and purposeful narrative when we view them from a divine perspective. With the wisdom of retrospective insight I have countless times learned to acknowledge that coincidence is but God’s way of choosing to remain anonymous. Rabbi Benjamin Blech
- “A righteous man falls down seven times and gets up.” – King Solomon, Proverbs, 24:16.
Life is all about the ability to get up from challenge. Greatness is defined as getting up one more time than what you’ve fallen down. The Torah defines someone who’s righteous not as someone who had succeeded, but someone who has persevered. It creates a paradigm of what righteousness is – trying to do what’s right, getting up from failure, and keep moving forward. Charlie Harary
“If you don’t know what you’re living for, you haven’t yet lived.” – Rabbi Noah Weinberg, of blessed memory
Life is the most precious thing we have. Everyone wants to live a life of meaning. But we are so busy ‘living’ that we don’t have a moment to really think about living. One of my father’s priorities was getting people to ask the big questions in life, to get out of the pettiness and focus on living a life of real purpose. Yehuda Weinberg
- “I do not want followers who are righteous, rather I want followers who are too busy doing good that they won’t have time to do bad.” – Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk
People who focus on being righteous can become self-absorbed and self-righteous. While those pursing good deeds and actions become righteous. Rabbi Ari Kahn
- “Klieg, Klieg, Klieg-Du bist a Nar. You are smart, smart. smart – but you are not so smart!” – a Yiddish saying
It’s one of my favorite quotes because it is so true! And my mother used to say it quietly about people and whenever she did, she was right. Benjamin Brafman
- “If I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you. But if I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you.” – Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk
A self-definition that is based on other’s perspective is untrue and deceptive. Rabbi Zev Pomeranz
- “Gam zu l’tova. This too is for the good.” – Nachum Ish Gamzu, Talmud, Taanit, 21a
When things get “hard” it reminds me that this too is for the best and I need to reorient my thinking to this realization. Rabbi Yitz Greenman
- “I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent” – Rabbi A.Y. Kook
This quote embodies the depth of love every Jew needs to feel for another. The connection between Jews is instinctive, therefore one has no choice but to speak. Caring for other Jews cuts to the core of who we are as a people and we need to reach a point where that is so deep that it is impossible not to say or do something. Yitzchak Tendler
- “People often avoid making decisions out of fear of making a mistake. Actually the failure to make decisions is one of life’s biggest mistakes.” – Rabbi Noah Weinberg.
I love this quote because it inspires me to keep taking the risks I need in order to grow. I want to be able to keep climbing even after I fall, and Rav Noah’s words have always given me the courage to fail and keep trying anyway. Sara Debbie Gutfreund
“There are two things that are infinite, the universe and man’s stupidity….. And I am not sure about the universe.” – Albert Einstein
I find it’s a clever way of saying people are crazy. Rabbi Stephen Baars
- “If you want to meet a princess, make yourself into a prince.” – Rabbi Dov Heller, Aish LA
To me that encapsulated everything about finding a wife. Totally practical and also spiritual. Mike Cooper
- “There are no problems, only opportunities for growth.” – Rebbetzin Dena Weinberg:
It gets me through almost everything. It means that God is sending me this so that I can grow. It prevents me from blaming others, including myself. It frames a situation not as something overwhelming that is impossible to solve, but as a puzzle that can be worked out, and the process of working it out is where real growth takes place. Words are powerful; as soon as you reframe from “problem” to “opportunity,” you pull down the covers, get out of bed, pull up your boot straps and rise to the occasion. No one wants problems, but who doesn’t want opportunities? Lori Palatnik
- “If I am not for me, who is for me; and if I am (only) for myself, what am I. And if not now, when?” – Hillel, Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14
I find this to be the most inspirational and motivating message. I was created for a specific purpose – there is no other ‘me.’ Consider that I am here for others – bearing the ‘me’ in mind, how can I make the difference to the world? Lastly, there’s no time like the present. Rabbi Chaim Cohen
- “Who is wise? One who learns from every man… Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations… Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot… Who is honorable? One who honors his fellows.” – Ben Zoma, Ethics of the Fathers, 4:1
This is my favorite quote because it upends our society’s definitions of these things. We tend to think strength, happiness, wisdom and honor are reliant on external circumstances – how much wealth you have, how strong you are, how much you know…. Jewish wisdom shows all four are internal; it’s all up to the person himself. Want to be rich? It’s about your attitude, not about how much money you have. Want to be smart? You don’t need Einstein’s genes, just the ability to open your eyes and watch people around you. Want to be strong as a hero? It’s in your heart – just be strong enough to do the right thing. Nir Greenberger
- “Torah is not education, it’s transformation.” – Rebbitzen Dena Weinberg
If you are just learning Torah for the education and not growing and transforming yourself, you are not really learning Torah. Bonnie Cohen
- “Yeshuat Hashem k’heref ayin. The salvation of God is like the blink of an eye.” – Pesikta Zutreta, Esther 4:17.
No matter how bleak something may look, salvation could be just around the corner. God can change everything in the blink of an eye. This quote teaches us to always have hope; redemption can come at any moment. Danielle Haas
- “L’fum tzara agra, according to the effort is the reward.” – Ben Hei Hei, Ethics of the Fathers, 5:26.
This is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter where you have started on the ladder of life; it matters how many rungs you’ve climbed. This is the true measure of man. As President Coolidge said: Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Of course we cannot do anything without God’s help. The choice is in our hands, but the results are in His. Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith
“If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for a tomorrow?” – Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
The purpose of human life is to improve one’s character traits, by working on oneself every day. That’s why God gives us today – and tomorrow. Sara Yoheved Rigler
- “L’Chaim!” – a traditional Jewish toast.
Jews appreciate every moment of life. It doesn’t matter if things are going the way you want them, stop and pause, and raise your glass to the delicious opportunity life is giving you right now. You’ll never get that moment back again. Rabbi Jack Kalla