Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Samson Raphael Hirsch

German Rabbi, Biblical Scholar and Writer, Intellectual Founder of the Torah Im Derech Eretz School of Contemporary Orthodox Judaism

"A Whole combination of knowledge, insight, abilities and skills as well as moral virtue and spiritual excellence, make up the art of the wifely home-builder."

"In general, one cannot judge the true extent of a person’s fortune by outward appearances. The little a righteous man has may be far better than the noisy abundance in which many lawless delight. The modest possessions of a righteous man make him much happier than the great fortunes of many evildoers about which so much ado is made in the world."

"In the highest selflessness lies the greatest power. Ultimately, neglect of duty is due to selfishness. Because of selfishness we omit the good and commit the bad. Selfishness makes us shrink from the fulfillment of our life-task. The humble person with integrity has no trace of selfishness, his self-sacrifice is not obstructed by egotism. He is always ready to use the last spark of his energy and the last fiber of his being in doing good. He feels he has been granted life only to use his every breath for the energetic fulfillment of the good. His entire sojourn on earth, regardless of the length of its duration, is true living. When he has departed from the world, one may say of him: He was alive."

"It’s not how much or how little you have that makes you great or small, but how much or how little you are with what you have."

"Suffering is a great teacher. Suffering teaches you the limitations of your power; it reminds you of the frailty of your health, the instability of your possessions, and the inadequacy of your means which have only been lent to you and must be returned as soon as the Owner desires it. Suffering visits you and teaches you the nothingness of your false greatness. It teaches you modesty."

"Man was created to learn wisdom."

"Merely to seek greater ease and comfort... through the destruction of the eternal code set up for all ages by the God of Eternity, is not and never can be Reform. Judaism seeks to lift us to its height, how dare we attempt to drag it down to our level?"

"Our children should be fitted for bread-winning, but they should be taught that bread-winning is only a means, not the purpose in life, and that the value of life is to be judged... by the good and the service to God with which it is filled."

"Judaism makes man find God where he finds himself."

"The Greeks stressed the holiness of beauty; the Jews emphasized the beauty of holiness."

"[The people of] Israel must never again attempt to restore its national independence by its own power; it was to entrust its future as a nation solely to Divine Providence."

"Any supporter of education and culture should deplore the fact that when these secular studies are evaluated in terms of their usefulness to the young, too much stress is often placed on so-called practical utility and necessity. Under such circumstances, the young are in danger of losing the pure joy of acquiring knowledge for its own sake, so that they will no longer take pleasure in the moral and spiritual benefits to be obtained from study."

"Anyone who emerges in the midst of mankind as a herald who knows how to employ the gift of poetry to inspire the human mind with enthusiasm for all that is pure and true and godly, anyone who knows how to make man proud to be human and to enable him to recognize his God in every breath of his existence, anyone who can snatch man from the dust to have him stand upright in all his dignity and nobility, is, in the view of Judaism, a messenger of God on earth."

"However important it is that love shall precede marriage, it is far more important that it shall continue after marriage."

"If someone is too tired to give you a smile, leave one of your own, because no one needs a smile as much as those who have none to give."

"Money must be viewed as a means, not an ends. It may make many of life's pleasures attainable, but it is useful only within its proper context. If one makes money his life's goal in and of itself, rather than serving as a means towards other joys, it will likely replace them. [paraphrase]"

"Nothing is more clever, nothing can deny better or is more all-knowing than ignorance."

"Our sacred literature does not use obscure language, but describes most things in words clearly indicating their meaning. Therefore it is necessary at all times to delve into the literal meaning of words to achieve complete understanding of what is actually meant."

"Our Sages say G-d imposed three vows when he sent Israel into the wilderness: (1) that the children of Israel shall never seek to reestablish their nation by themselves; (2) that they never be disloyal to the nations which have given them shelter; (3) that these nations shall not oppress them excessively (Kesubos 111a). The purpose of our exile, in addition to that of punishment, is to test us. Nachmanides (1194-1278) writes that the ultimate redemption depends on the Jewish people remaining faithful and preserving their identity in all the lands of their exile. This is a difficult task. The forces of persecution and the enticements of assimilation have often proved all too powerful. Yet, despite all, a remnant of Jewry has always remained faithful and continues so, praise be to G-d, until this very day. Thus, Jews are enjoined to perform a most precarious balancing act. On the one hand there is the obligation to act in an honest, empathetic, loyal and patriotic manner towards the nation in which they dwell. This obligation extends to Jewish relations with all peoples living within the nation. On the other hand, there is a need for spiritual and to some extent social isolation in order to practice the Torah and preserve Jewish survival. Inclining too far to either side of this dichotomy can result in much evil and confusion. In the proper balance, though, lies the fulfillment of Jewish destiny. And, combined with the yearning for the Messiah, it is the only recipe for the world's salvation."

"Our Sages were enemies of ignorance. They regarded education, intellectual enlightenment, and the acquisition of knowledge as the first of all moral commandments. They viewed the dissemination of intellectual enlightenment among all classes of the population as the prime concern of the nation, and the training of a child's mind as the first and most sacred duty of fatherhood. They considered it a matter of conscience for every Jewish father to see that his child should not remain a boor and am ha'arets; no Jewish child must be allowed to grow up as an ignorant, uneducated person."

"Perhaps the day will come when all the things bestowed upon mankind for its benefit and liberation will become corrupted into their very antithesis. Mankind, instead of assuring its members their legitimate rights of development ... will serve them the tear-drenched bread of slaves and the worm-wood of bitterness.... At such time, science, too, will become solely destructive ... will frantically blind itself with its own brightness ....Mankind will vainly exhaust its strength in a blind upsurge of uncurbed desires."

"The goal of study has not been practical life, to understand the world and our duty in it."

"The Importance of a Smile: A smile costs nothing, but gives much. It enriches those who receive, without making poorer those who give. It takes but a moment, but the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. None is so rich or mighty that he can get along without it, and none is so poor but that he can be made rich by it. A smile creates happiness in the home, fosters good will in business, and is the countersign of friendship. It brings rest to the weary, cheer to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and is nature's best antidote for trouble. Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is of no value to anyone until it is given away. Some people are too tired to give you a smile. Give them one of yours, as none needs a smile so much as he who has no more to give."

"The more the Jew is a Jew, the more universalist will be his views and aspirations, the less alien will he be to anything that is noble and good, true and upright in the arts and sciences, in civilization and culture… The more the Jew is a Jew, the more gladly will he give himself to all that is true progress in civilization and culture – provided that in this new circumstance he will not only maintain his Judaism, but will be able to bring it to ever more glorious fulfillment."

"The more the Jew is a Jew, the more universalist will his views and aspirations be, the less aloof will he be from anything that is noble and good, true and upright, in art or science, in culture or education; the more joyfully will he applaud whenever he sees truth and justice and peace and the ennoblement of man prevail and become dominant in human society."

"The prophet of the new message came into their midst with the cry of "religion allied to progress"; he filled the blank, pacified their conscience and wiped out their shame. With this magic word he turned irreligion into Godliness, apostasy into priesthood, sin into merit, frivolity into virtue, weakness into strength, thoughtlessness into profundity."

"This will never change, not even if the latest scientific notion that the genesis of all the multitude of organic forms on earth can be traced back to one single, most primitive, primeval form of life should ever appear to be anything more than what it is today, a vague hypothesis still unsupported by fact. Even if this notion were ever to gain complete acceptance by the scientific world, Jewish thought, unlike the reasoning of the high priest of that nation, would nonetheless never summon us to revere a still extant representative of this primal form [an ape] as the supposed ancestor of us all. Rather, Judaism in that case would call upon its adherents to give even greater reverence than ever before to the one, sole God Who, in His boundless creative wisdom and eternal omnipotence, needed to bring into existence no more than one single, amorphous nucleus, and one single law of “adaptation and heredity” in order to bring forth, from what seemed chaos but was in fact a very definite order, the infinite variety of species we know today, each with its unique characteristics that sets it apart from all other creatures."

"To reestablish peace and harmony on earth... and to bring the glory of God back to earth, is proclaimed on every page of the Word of God as the result and aim of Torah."

"We forget that by hurrying to impose the yoke of the materialistic, or, as we like to put it euphemistically, the practical aims of life upon the dawn and springtime of childhood and early youth, we only deprive our children prematurely of the bloom of flowering youth and nip our children's spiritual yearnings in the bud. Instead of encouraging our children to get wisdom for its own sake, we raise them to become only clever and shrewd, judging everything in the light of self-interest and respecting only those intellectual and spiritual pursuits that are likely to yield the highest dividends in terms of material gain. A generation raised on such a philosophy of life will never be able to experience that true joy of learning, which regards knowledge itself as the supreme reward."

"We mourn over the sin which brought about that downfall (the Temple destruction -- author), we take to heart the harshness which we have encountered in our years of wandering as the chastisement of a father, imposed on us for our improvement, and we mourn the lack of observance of the Torah which that ruin has brought about. Not in order to shine as a nation among nations do we raise our prayers and hopes for a reunion in our land, but in order to find a soil for the better fulfillment of our spiritual vocation in that reunion and in that land which was promised, and given, and again promised for our observance of the Torah. But this very vocation obliges us, until G-d shall call us back to the Holy Land, to live and to work as patriots wherever He has placed us, to collect all the physical, material and spiritual forces and all that is noble in Israel to further the weal of the nations which have given us shelter. It obliges us, further, to allow our longing for the far-off land to express itself only in mourning, in wishing and hoping; and only through the honest fulfillment of all Jewish duties to await the realization of this hope. But it forbids us to strive for the reunion or possession of the land by any but spiritual means."

"A life of seclusion, devoted only to meditation and prayer, is not Judaism."

"A truth, in order to produce results, must be impressed upon the mind and heart repeatedly and emphatically. Merely to acknowledge the essential principles of righteousness and love, is not sufficient to actually build up such a life ... In addition thereto, symbolic words and actions are necessary so that they may become indelibly stamped upon the soul, and thus preserved for yourself and for others."

"Aggadic statements do not have Sinaitic origin, they reflect the independent views of individual Sages? it is not mandatory for a Jew? to accept them."

"Enlightenment and? moral civilization, are intended to be the heritage of all to whom God has given breath on earth. It is the seedling of this heritage that God has planted into the hearts of mortals, and the purpose of Judaism is to be the sunshine that will cause these seedlings to ripen."

"Every breath drawn by an individual who truly serves God will elicit a responsive chord from the universe around him."

"Everything bestowed upon you - mind, body, fellowman, material goods, other creatures, every talent and every power - all are merely means to action, to further and to safeguard everything. With love and with justice! The earth was not created as a gift to you - you have been given to the earth, to treat it with respectful consideration, as God's earth, and everything on it as God's creation, as your fellow creature, to be respected, loved and helped to attain its purpose according to God's Will."

"God demands that every Jew find his own well-being only and that of the country? In whichever land Jews shall live as citizens? They shall honor and love the princes and government as their own? Tribute with every possible power to their good? It is a duty imposed by God and no less only than all the others, in whatever land they shall dwell in, not only to fulfill all the duties which the laws of that land explicitly laid down, over and above that, do with thoughts, and deed everything that can contribute to the weal of the nation? To give honestly enjoy sleep all that the community demands the common good from the individual in the way of treasure, energy and wisdom; and to sacrifice even life itself the Fatherland calls and sons to its events. This outward obedience to the laws must be joined by the inner obedience: i.e., To be loyal to state the heart and mind, loyal to the Kings, to guard the honor of the state with love and pride, to strive with enthusiasm wherever and whenever you can so that the nations institution shall prosper, so that every all your country has set as its national goal shall be achieved and furthered."

"Heathens and idolaters how much more so with non-Jews the God of the Bible, creator of heaven and earth, keep all the Cardinal Commandments? The Talmud then in regard of the duties man and man on exactly the same level as Jews they have a claim to benefit all of the duties not only of justice also an active human brotherly love."

"If in recent centuries German Jews remained more or less aloof from European civilization the fault lay not in their religion but in the tyranny which confined them by force within the walls of their ghettoes and denied them intercourse with the outside world? religion is truly present, it will find expression, especially in the sunshine of freedom."

"If your left hands wounds the right hand, shall the right hand out of revenge wound the left hand?... Are we not all members of one entity? limbs of one body?"

"If, however, in the midst of the world worships wealth and lust, Israel were to lead a tranquil life of righteousness and love; if, while everywhere else the generation of man is sinking into the depth of sensuality and immorality, Israel?s sons and daughters splendor of youth, purity and innocence,, what a powerful instrument good Israel could be! If every Jew would be a uniquely eloquent example and teacher of universal righteousness and universal love; thus the dispersed of Israel or to show themselves everywhere on earth as the glorious priests of God and pure humanity; if only we were, or would become that which we should be, if only our lives were a perfect reflection of our law- what a mighty force we would constitute steering mankind to the final goal of all human education! This would affect mankind more quietly, but much more forcefully and profoundly than ever our tragic record of suffering."

"It became essential that the Jewish people be reminded for all times of an important fact; namely, that they must never again attempt to restore their national independence by their own power; they were to entrust their future as a nation solely to Divine Providence."

"It follows that this task of self-control is an obvious one; and yet it is rated at being so difficult that a person who succeeds in it deserves far more praise and fame than the conquering hero of a city."

"My mind is too small to recognize the good and truth that will result, according to you, from your efforts in colonizing Eretz Yisroel. What you consider a mitzvah and a great obligation, does not seem so in my humble opinion. I have no knowledge of secret matters, and I see nothing better than to continue on the road paved by our fathers and predecessors, who made it their goal only to improve our Torah observance, and to look forward to the redemption, which might come any day, if we only listen to G-d's voice. They never approached redemption through the improvement of the Holy Land, only through the improvement of our hearts and deeds."

"One of the horrible ironies of the 20th century is that in precisely those two states tried the hardest to be patriots, Germany and Italy, evil and maniacal persecution by Gentiles."

"Only a determined enemy of truth would deny that the Jews have on the whole conscientiously and gladly carry out the duties and obligations imposed on them by the Talmud of loyalty and obedience authorities and the fair dealing brotherly love towards all."

"The mere sight of the starry sky serves to proclaim the majesty of G-d?s creation: the heavenly realm, governed by unchangeable, mysterious laws, reveals G-d as the Almighty Lawgiver. What be the sense of living if man were not similarly to conceive of his life as a service toward the realization of the Divine Will? How great is man as he recognizes his vocation calling upon him to dedicate himself to G-d?s will in freedom and to prepare, with his own life, for the kingdom of G-d on earth? God counts on ?the children and infants: to mature towards this one, great goal in life. This, in turn, entails deeply significant responsibilities in the education of our children."

"There is but one road that leads to salvation; amends must be made precisely where the wrong was done. We must forget the views and prejudices that we inherited about Judaism and, instead, turn to the sources of Judaism, the Tanach (scriptures), the Talmud and the Midrash. We must read, study and comprehend them in order to live by them and to draw from them Judaism's views about God, the world, mankind and Yisrael. Thus Judaism must be studied and understood out of itself and be elevated, all by itself, to a science of wise living."

"Was Judaism ever 'in accordance with the times?' Did Judaism ever correspond with the views of dominant contemporaries? Was it ever convenient to be a Jew or a Jewess??Was that Judaism in accordance with the times, for which, during the centuries following the Dispersion, our fathers suffered in all lands, through all the various periods, the most degrading oppression, the most biting contempt, and a thousand-fold death and persecution? And yet we would make it the aim and scope of Judaism to be always 'in accordance with the times!"

"We have a duty to inform [our pupils] of this [view], lest they come to think that it is part of Jewish doctrine to believe literally every exaggerated statement found in the aggadic literature and that whoever does not believe this is a heretic, God forbid."