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Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907 – 1972)


Polish-born American rabbi, considered by many to be one of the most significant Jewish theologians of the 20th century.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
Religion is critique of all satisfaction. Its end is joy, but its beginning is discontent, detesting boasts, smashing idols. It began in Ur Kasdim, in the seat of a magnificent civilization. Yet Abraham said, "No," breaking the idols, breaking away. And so every one of us must begin by saying no to all visible, definable entities pretending to be triumphant, ultimate. The ultimate is a challenge, not an assertion. Dogmas are allusions, not descriptions.
Heschel quotes
Reason is not the measure of all things, not the all-inclusive power in the inner life of man. The powers of will and emotion, the realm of the subconscious lie beyond the scope of knowledge. The rush of reason is an effort of limited strength.
Faith is not the miniature of thinking but its model, not its shadow but its root. It is a spiritual force in man, not dealing with the given, concrete limited, but directed upon the transcendent. It is the spring of our creative actions.
Heschel
Faith is an awareness of divine mutuality and companionship, a form of communion between God and man. It is not a psychical quality, something that exists in the mind only, but a force from the beyond.




The greatest problem is not how to continue but how to exalt our existence. The call for a life beyond the grave is presumptuous, if there is no cry for eternal life prior to our descending to the grave. Eternity is not perpetual future but perpetual presence. He has planted in us the seed of eternal life. The world to come is not only a hereafter but also a here-now.
Heschel Abraham Joshua
There are two primary ways in which mans relates himself to the world that surround him: manipulation and appreciation. In the first way he sees in what surrounds him things to be handled, forces to be managed, objects to be put to use. In the second way he sees in what surrounds him things to be acknowledged, understood, valued or admired.
The stone is broken, but the words are alive.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
Society today is no longer in revolt against particular laws which it finds alien, unjust, and imposed, but against law as such, against the principle of law. And yet we must not regard this revolt as entirely negative. The energy that rejects many obsolete laws is an entirely positive impulse for renewal of life and law.
He whose soul is charged with awareness of God earns his inner livelihood by a passionate desire to pour his life into the eternal wells of love. … We do not live for our own sake. Life would be preposterous if not for the love it confers.
Faith implies no denial of evil, no disregard of danger, no whitewashing of the abominable. He whose heart is given to faith is mindful of the obstructive and awry, of the sinister and pernicious. It is God's strange dominion over both good and evil on which he relies. … Faith is not a mechanical insurance but a dynamic, personal act, flowing between the heart of man and the love of God.
Heschel
Wonder, or radical amazement, is a way of going beyond what is given in thing and thought, refusing to take anything for granted, to regard anything as final. It is our honest response to the grandeur and mystery of reality our confrontation with that which transcends the given.
Heschel Abraham Joshua
New insight begins when satisfaction comes to an end, when all that has been seen, said, or done looks like a distortion. … Man's true fulfillment depends on communion with that which transcends him.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
The Torah has not imposed upon Israel a tyranny of the spirit. It does not violate human nature. On the contrary, the road to the sacred leads through the secular. The spiritual rests upon the carnal, like "the Spirit that hovers over the face of the water. " Jewish living means living according to a system of checks and balances. We are not asked anything that cannot be responded to. We are not told: Love thy enemy, but Do not hate him, and positively: "If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again." (Exodus 23:4).




Man is a messenger who forgot the message.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
One of the results of the rapid depersonalization of our age is a crisis of speech, profanation of language. We have trifled with the name of God,we have taken the name and the word of the Holy in vain. Language has been reduced to labels, talk has become double-talk. We are in the process of losing faith in the reality of words.
Yet prayer can happen only when words reverberate with power and inner life, when uttered as an earnest, as a promise. On the other hand, there is a high degree of obsolescence in the traditional language of the theology of prayer. Renewal of prayer calls for a renewal of language, of cleansing the words, of revival of meanings.
The strength of faith is in silence, and in words that hibernate and wait. Uttered faith must come out as a surplus of silence, as the fruit of lived faith, of enduring intimacy.
Theological education must deepen privacy, strive for daily renewal of innerness, cultivate ingredients of religious existence, reverence and responsibility.
Heschel quotes
One must forget many clichés in order to behold a single image. Insight is the beginning of perceptions to come rather than the extension of perceptions gone by. Conventional seeing, operating as it does with patterns and coherences, is a way of seeing the present in the past tense. Insight is an attempt to think in the present. ... insight is knowledge at first sight.
Heschel Abraham Joshua
Acceptance is appreciation, and the high value of appreciation is such that to appreciate appreciation seems to be the fundamental prerequisite for survival. Mankind will not die for lack of information; it may perish for lack of appreciation.
Our concern with environment cannot be reduced to what can be used, to what can be grasped. Environment includes not only the inkstand and the blotting paper, but also the impenetrable stillness in the air, the stars, the clouds, the quiet passing of time, the wonder of my own being. I am an end as well as a means, and so is the world: an end as well as a means. My view of the world and my understanding of the self determine each other. The complete manipulation of the world results in the complete instrumentalization of the self.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
Man's sin is in his failure to live what he is. Being the master of the earth, man forgets that he is the servant of God.
In the realm of faith, God is not a hypothesis derived from logical assumptions, but an immediate insight, self-evident as light. To rationalists He is something after which they seek in the darkness with the light of their reason. To men of faith He is the light.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
Being is both presence and absence. God had to conceal His presence in order to bring the world into being. He had to make His absence possible in order to make room for the world's presence. Coming into being brought along denial and defiance, absence, oblivion and resistance.
Heschel Abraham Joshua
Spiritual life begins to decay when we fail to sense the grandeur of what is eternal in time.


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