Abraham Joshua Heschel

Abraham Joshua

Polish Jewish Religious Leader

Author Quotes

Prayer should be an act of catharsis, of purgation of emotions, as well as a process of self-clarification, of examining priorities, of elucidating responsibility. Prayer not verified by conduct is an act of desecration and blasphemy. Do not take a word of prayer in vain. Our deeds must not be a refutation of our prayers.

We have lost sensitivity to truth and purity of heart in the wasteland of opportunism… Continuity, permanence, intimacy, authenticity, earnestness are its attributes. For the soul, home is where the prayer is.

Prayer becomes trivial when ceasing to be an act in the soul.

Piety, finally, is allegiance to the will of God. Whether that will is understood or not, it is accepted as good and holy, and is obeyed in faith. Life is a mandate, not the enjoyment of an annuity; a task, not a game; a command, not a favor.

Piety is the response of man to the holy dimension, the subjective correlative of objective religion.

Piety does not consist in isolated acts, in sporadic, ephemeral experiences... It is something unremitting, persistent, unchanging in the soul, a perpetual inner attitude of the whole man.

Piety cannot consist of specific acts only, such as prayer or ritual observances, but is bound up with all actions, concomitant with all doings, accompanying and shaping all life’s business. Man’s responsibility to God is the scaffold on which he stands as daily he goes on building life. His every deed, every incident of mind, takes place on this scaffold, so that unremittingly man is at work either building up or tearing down his life, his home, his hope of God.

Philosophy may be defined as the art of asking the right questions... Awareness of the problems outlives all solutions. The answers are questions in disguise, every new answer giving rise to new questions.

Parochialism [excessive narrowness of interest or view, provincialism] has become untenable.

Our needs are temporal, while our being needed is lasting.

Our life is beset with difficulties, yet it is never devoid of meaning. The feeling of futility is absent from our souls.

Our history is the most emphatic testimony that injustice to some men spells the doom of all men. Prejudice is like a hydra, a monster which has many heads, an evil which requires many efforts to overcome.

Our existence carries eternity within it.

Our community is in spiritual distress, and some of our organizations are often too concerned with digits. Our disease is a loss of character and commitment, and the cure of our plight cannot be derived from charts and diagrams.

No religious act is properly fulfilled unless it is done with a willing heart and a craving soul. You cannot worship Him with your body if you do not know how to worship Him with your soul. The relationship between deed and inner devotion must be understood in terms of polarity. Observance must not be reduced to external compliance with the law. Agreement of the heart with the spirit, not only with the letter of the law, is itself a requirement of the law. The goal is to live beyond the dictates of the law; to fulfill the eternal suddenly; to create goodness out of nothing, as it were... All observance is training in the art of love... Every act of man is an encounter of the human and the holy.

Modern man’s discovery of the fundamental aloneness and solitude in a universe indifferent to his fate is due to an expectation that it was in the universe where care for what is ultimately precious was to be found. He now suffers from the collapse of naïve self-deception and oversimplification. Our era marks the end of simplification, the end of personal exclusiveness, the end of self-defense through aloofness, the end of a sense of security.

Mindfulness of God rises slowly, a thought at a time.

Man’s task is to reconcile liberty with service, reason with faith. This is the deepest wisdom man can attain. It is our destiny to serve, to surrender. We have to conquer in order to succumb; we have to acquire in order to give away; we have to triumph in order to be overwhelmed. Man has to understand in order to believe, to know in order to accept. The aspiration is to obtain; the perfection is to dispense. This is the meaning of death: the ultimate self-dedication to the divine. Death so understood will not be distorted by the craving for immortality, for this act of giving away is reciprocity on man’s part for God’s gift of life. For the pious man it is a privilege to die.

Man is gradually losing his ability to be in charge of his own life. He is beginning to regard himself not only as a self-contradiction but as an impossibility.

Man does not possess religion; he exists in religion. This religious existence precedes his religious experience.

Living involves responsible understanding of one’s role in relation to all other beings.

Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy. And yet being alive is no answer to the problems of living. To be or not to be is not the question. The vital question is: how to be and how not to be. The tendency to forget this vital question is the tragic disease of contemporary man, a disease that might prove fatal, that may end in disaster. The pray is to recollect passionately the perpetual urgency of this vital question.

Judaism teaches not to flee from the realm of space; to work with things of space, but to be in love with eternity… To disparage space and the blessings of things in space is to disparage the works of creation… Time and space are interrelated.

Jean-Paul Sartre has said, “Man is condemned to be free.” God has given him “choice” – the greatest obligation of freedom.

It is in deeds that man becomes aware of what his life really is, of his power to harm and to hurt, to wreck and to ruin; of his ability to derive joy and to bestow it on others; to relieve and to increase his own and other people’s tensions... What he may not dare to think, he often utters in deeds. The heart is revealed in the deeds.

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Polish Jewish Religious Leader