Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Fritz A. Rothschild

Author, Professor Emeritus of Jewish Philosophy, Graduate of Rabbinical School, known for his Anthology of Writings from Abraham Joshua Heschel

"Eternity is another word for unity. In it, past and future are not apart; here is everywhere, and now goes on forever. The opposite of eternity is diffusion not time. Eternity does not begin when time is at its end. Time is eternity broken into space, like a ray of light refracted in the water… unity is a task, not a condition. The world lies in strife, in discord, in divergence. Unity is beyond not within reality."

"Everything holds the great secret. For it is the inescapable situation of all being to be involved in the infinite mystery. We may continue to disregard the mystery, but we can neither deny nor escape it. The world is something we apprehend but cannot comprehend."

"Deity cannot be understood through a knowledge of timeless qualities of goodness and perfection, but only by sensing the living acts of God’s concern and his dynamic attentiveness in relation to man, who is the passionate object of his interest."

"Fear is the anticipation and expectation of evil or pain, as contrasted with hope which is the anticipation of good. Awe, on the other hand, is the sense of wonder and humility inspired by the sublime or felt in the presence of mystery. Fear is “a surrender of the succors which reason offers,” awe is the acquisition of insights which the world holds in store for us. Awe, unlike fear, does not make us shrink from the awe-inspiring object, but, on the contrary, draws us near to it. That is why awe is compatible with both love and joy."

"Human happiness does not consist in satisfying one’s personal wishes but in the certainty of being needed, in having the visions of goals still unattained."

"It is only the idea of a divine presence hidden within the rational order of nature which is compatible with our scientific view of nature and in accord with our sense of the ineffable."

"God is within the world, present and concealed in the essence of things. If not for His presence, there would be no essence; if not for His concealment, there would be no appearance."

"It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless."

"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 upon others; to relieve and to increase his own and other people’s tensions. It is in the employment of his will, not in reflection, that he meets his own self as it is; not as he should like it to be."

"Man is but a short, critical stage between the animal and the spiritual. His state is one of constant wavering, of soaring and descending. Undeviating humanity is nonexistent. The emancipated man is yet to emerge."

"Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder."

"Temporality and uninterruptedness express the relation of existence to time, a passive relation. What distinguishes organic from inorganic existence is the fact that the plant or the animal stands in an active and defensive relation to temporality… Life, we know from biology, is not a passive state of indifference, and inertia. The essence of life is intense care and concern."

"The Bible is an answer to the question: how to sanctify life."

"Purity of motivation is the goal; constancy of action is the way"

"Speculation does not precede faith. The antecedents of faith are the premise of wonder and the premise of praise."

"The Bible is primarily not man’s vision of God but God’s vision of man. The Bible is not man’s theology but God’s anthropology, dealing with man and what He asks of him rather than with the nature of God. God did not reveal to the prophets eternal mysteries but His knowledge and love of man. It was not the aspiration of Israel to know the Absolute but to ascertain what He asks of man; to commune with His will rather than with His essence."

"The deeper we search, the nearer we arrive at knowing that we do not know."

"The divine expresses itself in three different ways, as creation, revelation, and redemption."

"The grand premise of religion is that man is able to surpass himself; that man who is apart of this world may enter into a relationship with Him who is greater than the world."

"The present is always unique, never a mere exemplification of general formulas. It carries an irreducible preciousness, a freight of meaning greater than the general essence which later on knowledge can abstract from it."

"The idea of creation expresses the conviction that neither blind chance nor an impersonal mechanical order is behind the existence of the universe. Behind the orderly processes of nature stands the primordial act of God’s concern. There are processes because there was an event of creation."

"The power we attain in the world of space terminates abruptly at the borderline of time. But time is the heart of existence… We cannot conquer time through space. We can only master time in time… We pass through time, we occupy space."

"The relation of existence to time is characterized by two polar elements: temporality and uninterruptedness. Existence is evanescent and always faces the prospect of annihilation, of being thrown out of the stream of time, yet it also exhibits some degree of permanence as the continuous duration in time. Without an element of constancy there could be no permanence within temporality and no knowledge of reality, since our categories of reason are “mirrors, in which the things are reflected in the light of their constancy… Things perish within time, while time itself is everlasting… The present moment is not a terminal but a signal of beginning, an act of creation."

"Time is perpetual innovation, a synonym for continuous creation."

"Three correlative pairs: the sublime and wonder, mystery and awe, the glory and faith."

"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… Every instant is an act of creation. A moment is not a terminal but a flash, a signal of Beginning. Time is perpetual innovation, a synonym for continuous creation. Time is God’s gift to the world of space."

"The roots of ultimate insights are found not on the level of discursive thinking, but on the level of wonder and radical amazement, in the depth of awe, in our sensitivity to the mystery, in our awareness of the ineffable. It is the level on which the great things happen to the soul, where the unique insights of art, religion, and philosophy come into being."

"To the spiritual eye space is frozen time, and all things are petrified events."

"To surrender to mystery is fatalism; to withdraw into reason is solipsism. Man is driven to commune with that which is beyond the mystery. The ineffable in him seeks a way to that which is beyond the ineffable."

"We do not create the ineffable, we encounter it."

"True insight is a moment of perceiving a situation before it freezes into similarity with something else."

"What cannot be grasped in reflection, we comprehend in deeds… The true goal for man is to be what he does… Man is more than what he does. What he does is spiritually a minimum of what he is. Deeds are outpourings, not the essence of the self."