Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Abraham Joshua Heschel

Polish Jewish Religious Leader

"The meaning of man's life lies in his perfecting the universe. He has to distinguish, father and redeem the sparks of holiness scattered throughout the darkness of the world. This service is the motive of all precepts and good deeds."

"The course of life in unpredictable, no one can write his autobiography in advance."

"A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair."

"Awe 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."

"Faith is not something that we acquire once and for all. Faith is an insight that must be acquired at every single moment."

"God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance."

"Judaism is a religion of time aiming at sanctification of time... The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals."

"Sometimes prayer is more than a light before us; it is alight within us."

"The expansion of human power has hardly begun, and what we are going to do with our power may either save or destroy the planet. The earth may be of small significance within the infinite universe. But if it is of some significance, we hold the key to it. In our own age we have been force into the realization that there will be either one world, or no world."

"We teach children how to measure, how to weigh. We fail to teach them how to revere, how to sense wonder and awe. The sense of the sublime, the sign of the inward greatness of the human soul and something which is potentially given to all men, is now a rare gift."

"A human being must be valued by how many times he was able to see the world from a new perspective."

"A person cannot be religious and indifferent to other human beings’ plight and suffering."

"A Jew is asked to take a leap of action rather than a leap of thought: to surpass his needs, to do more than he understands in order to understand more than he does… Through the ecstasy of deeds he learns to be certain of the presence of God."

"An act of injustice is condemned, not because the law is broken, but because a person has been hurt."

"As surely as we are driven to live, we are driven to serve spiritual ends that surpass our own interests… We are not only in need of God but also in need of serving His ends, and these ends are in need of us."

"As totality is implied in every part, so is the value of the universe involved in every event, in every phenomenon."

"Beyond all mystery is the mercy of God."

"By inwardness alone we do not come close to God. The purest intentions, the finest sense of devotion, the noblest spiritual aspirations are fatuous when not realized in action."

"By negligence and silence we have all become accessory before the God of mercy to the injustice committed against the Negroes by men of our nation."

"A person cannot honor that which does not affect his finer sensibilities, his conscience, his sense of meaning."

"An act is not good because we feel obliged to do it; it is rather that we feel obliged to do it because it is good."

"A person cannot see the beauty of life unless he remembers that the Finite (Sof) and the Infinite (Ein Sof) kiss each other; that the One who is enthroned on high is concerned with all below. We live always at one with eternity. Eternal life has been planted in our midst."

"Dazzled by the brilliant achievements of the intellect in science and technique, we have been deluded into believing that we are the masters of the earth and our will the ultimate criterion of what is right and wrong."

"Death is the radical refutation of man’s power and a stark reminder of the necessity to relate to a meaning which lies beyond the dimension of human time. Humanity without death would be arrogance without end. Nobility has its root in humanity, and humanity derived much of its power from the thought of death."

"Despair is due not to failures but to the inability to hear deeply and personally the challenge that confronts us."

"Detachment of doctrine from devotion, detachment of reason from reverence, of scrutiny from the sense of the ineffable reduces God as a challenge to a logical hypothesis… God is relevant only when overwhelmingly urgent."

"Existence embraces both life and death, and in a way death is the test of the meaning of life. If death is devoid of meaning, then life is absurd. Life’s ultimate meaning remains obscure unless it is reflected upon the face of death."

"Extreme rationalism may be defined as the failure of reason to understand itself."

"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."

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

"Faith is intellectual humility, devotion of the mind, a true offering, the finest feat the heart can perform."

"Faith is not a 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."

"Faith is sensitiveness to what transcends nature, knowledge and will, awareness of the ultimate, alertness to the holy dimension of all reality. Faith is a force in man, lying deeper than the stratum of reason and its nature cannot be defined in abstract, static terms. To have faith is not to infer the beyond from the wretched here, but to perceive the wonder that is here and to be stirred by the desire to integrate the self into the holy order of living. It is not a deduction but an intuition, not a form of knowledge, of being convinced without proof, but the attitude of mind toward ideas whose scope is wider than its own capacity to grasp."

"Friendship, affection is not acquired by giving presents. Friendship, affection comes about by two people sharing a significant moment, by having an experience in common."

"God’ absence is an illusion."

"God is greater than religion… Faith is greater than dogma."

"Human faith is never final, never an arrival, but rather an endless pilgrimage, a being on the way."

"I believe the ultimate meaning of existence is to be a religious witness."

"In biblical days prophets were astir while the world was asleep; today the world is astir while church and synagogue are busy with trivialities."

"In prayer we seek not to make God visible but to make ourselves visible to God."

"In prayer we shift the center of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender."

"In the midst of our applauding the feats of civilization, the Bible flings itself like a knife slashing our complacency; remind us that God, too, has a voice in history."

"In visions of wisdom, in devotion to the good, in submission to beauty, and when overwhelmed by the holy, we awake to behold existence in this relationship. In reverence, suffering, and humility we discover our existence and find the bridge that leads from existence to God. And this is religion."

"Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself."

"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."

"It is dangerous to take human freedom for granted, to regard it as a prerogative rather than as an obligation, as an ultimate fact rather than as an ultimate goal. It is the beginning of wisdom to be amazed at the facts of our being free."

"It is in the way in which we gratify physical needs that the seed of holiness is planted."

"It is not enough for me to be able to say `I am’; I want to know who I am and in relation to whom I live. It is not enough for me to ask questions; I want to know how to answer the one question that seems to encompass everything I face: What am I here for?"

"It is the dimension of time wherein man meets God, wherein man becomes aware that every instant is an act of creation, a Beginning, opening up new roads for ultimate realizations. Time is the presence of God in the world of space, and it is within time that we are able to sense the unity of all beings."

"Life is a drama, and religion has become routine. The soul calls for exaltation, and religion offers repetition. Honesty, veracity, does not come about by itself. Freshness, depth has to be acquired. One must work on them constantly."