Abraham Joshua Heschel

Abraham Joshua

Polish Jewish Religious Leader

Author Quotes

Things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme. Awe is a sense for the transcendence, for the reference everywhere to mystery beyond all things. It enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.

This is the difference between religion and philosophy. Religion begins with the sense of the ineffable; philosophy ends with the sense of the ineffable. Religion begins where philosophy ends.

To be a Jew is to affirm the world without being enslaved to it; to be a part of civilization and to go beyond it; to conquer space and to sanctify time. Judaism is the art of surpassing civilization, sanctification of time, sanctification of history.

To understand the teaching of the Bible, one must accept its premise that time has a meaning which is at least equal to that of space; that time has a significance and sovereignty of its own.

Vacancy of experience cannot be compensated for by a lack of bias.

We appreciate what we share, we do not appreciate what we receive.

We do not have faith in deeds; we attain faith through deeds.

We dwell on the preciousness of every moment. Things of space vanish. Moments of time never pass away. Time is the clue to the meaning of life and death. Time lived with meaning is a disclosure of the eternal.

The problem is the spirit of our age: denial of transcendence, the vapidity of values, emptiness in the heart, the decreased sensitivity to the imponderable quality of the spirit, the collapse of communication between the realm of tradition and the inner world of the individual.

We have surrendered our responsibility to shape the inner life of our children to others.

The prophet perceives the whole world in terms of justice or injustice.

We live in an age of self-dissipation, of depersonalization. Should we adjust our vision of existence to make our paucity, make a virtue of obtuseness, glorify evasion?

The quest for symbols is a trap for those who seek the truth.

We live not only in time and space but also in the knowledge of God. The events in the world reflect in him, and all existence is coexistence with God. Time and space are not the limits of the world. Our life occurs here and in the knowledge of God.

The solution of mankind’s most vexing problem will not be found in renouncing technical civilization, but in attaining some degree of independence of it.

We must distinguish between being human and human being. We are born human beings. What we must acquire is being human. Being human is the essential – the decisive – achievement of a human being.

The spirituality that flows from our actions is not fleeting, transient, or solitary in a silent cosmos. The music of refined actions, the melody of a noble soul, is woven into the tapestry of eternal music which God Himself composed.

What looks absurd within the limits of time may be luminous within the scope of eternity.

The tyranny of conformity tends to deprive man of his inner identity, of his ability to stand still in the midst of flux, to remain a person in the midst of a crowd.

What the world needs is a sense of ultimate embarrassment. Modern man has the power and the wealth to overcome poverty and disease, but he has no wisdom to overcome suspicion. We are guilty of misunderstanding the meaning of existence; we are guilty of distorting our goals and misrepresenting our souls. We are better than our assertions, more intricate, more profound than our theories maintain.

Faith implies no denial of evil, no disregard of danger, no whitewashing of the abominable… Faith is not a mechanical insurance but a dynamic, personal act, flowing between the heart of man and the love of God.

It is as if a divine cunning operated in human history, using our instincts as pretexts for the attainment of goals which are universally valid, a scheme to harness man’s lower forces in the service of higher ends.

Prayer in action; it requires complete mobilization of heart, mind, and soul… For the soul, home is where the prayer is... Prayer calls for self-reflection, for contrition and repentance, examining and readjusting deeds and motivations, for recanting the ugly compulsions we follow, the tyranny of acquisitiveness, hatred, envy, resentment.

The conscience is… a brake, not a guide; a fence, not a way. It raises its voice after a wrong deed has been committed, but often fails to give us direction in advance of our actions.

Faith is an awareness of divine mutuality and companionship, a form of communion between God and man.

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Abraham Joshua
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Polish Jewish Religious Leader