Abraham Joshua Heschel

Abraham Joshua

Polish Jewish Religious Leader

Author Quotes

Self-respect is the root of discipline; the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.

Wisdom is beyond our reach. We are unable to attain insight into the ultimate meaning and purpose of things. Man does not know the thoughts of his own mind nor is he able to understand the meaning of his own dreams.

We must continue to perform the sacred deeds even though we may be compelled to bribe the self with human incentives. Purity of motivation is the goal; constancy of action is the way… The way to purify the self is to avoid dwelling upon the self and to concentrate upon the task.

Ultimately, then, the goal of religious life is quality rather than quantity, not only what is done, but how it is done.

To forget that love is the purpose of all mitsvot [good deeds, duties] is to vitiate their meaning.

To be a Jew is to affirm the world without being enslaved by 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. Civilization is on trial. Its future will depend upon how much of the Sabbath will penetrate its spirit.

This is one of the goals of the Jewish way of living: to experience commonplace deeds as spiritual adventures, to feel the hidden love and wisdom in all things.

The world is a gate, not a wall.

The wisdom, teaching, and counsel of the Bible are not in conflict with the ultimate attainments of the human mind, but, rather, well ahead of our attitudes… Its aim is not to record history but rather to record the encounter of the divine and the human on the level of concrete living. Incomparably more important than all the beauty or wisdom that it bestows upon our lives is the way it opens to man an understanding of what God means, of attaining holiness through justice, through simplicity of soul, through choice. Above all it never ceases to proclaim that worship of God without justice to man is an abomination; that while man'’ problem is God, God’s problem is man.

The way to truth is an act of reason; the love of truth is an act of the spirit.

The Torah, we are told, is both concealed and revealed, and so is the nature of all reality. All things are both known and unknown, plan and enigmatic, transparent and impenetrable… The world is both open and concealed, a matter of fact and a mystery. We know and do not know – this is our condition.

The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted. Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin. Modern man fell into the trap of believing that everything can be explained, that reality is a simple affair which has only to be organized in order to be mastered.

The purpose of observance is not to express but to be what we feel or think, to unite our existence with that which we feel or think; to be close to the reality that lies beyond all thought and feeling; to be attached to the holy.

The power of religious truth is a moment of insight, and its content is oneness or love. Source and content may be conveyed in one word; transcendence.

The main aspects of religious existence: worship, learning, and action. The three are one, and we must go all three ways to reach the one destination.

The intention of scientific thinking is to answer man’s questions and to satisfy his need for knowledge. The ultimate intention of religious thinking is to answer a question which is not man’s, and to satisfy God’s need for man.

The Bible is an answer to the supreme question: what does God demand of us?

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

The beginning of wisdom is awe. Ultimate meaning and ultimate wisdom are not found within the world but in God, and the only way to wisdom is… through our relationship to God. That relationship is awe. Awe, in this sense, is more than an emotion; it is a way of understanding. Awe is itself an act of insight into a meaning greater than ourselves.

Small is the world that most of us pay attention to, and limited is our concern.

Self-centeredness is the tragic misunderstanding of our destiny and existence… There is no joy for the self within the self. Joy is found in giving rather than in acquiring; in serving rather than taking.

Reason’s goal is the exploration and verification of objective relations; religion’s goal is the exploration and verification of ultimate personal relations.

Only those who have experienced ultimate not-knowing, the voicelessness of a soul struck by wonder, total muteness, are able to enter the meaning of God, a meaning greater than the mind. There is a loneliness in us that hears. When the soul parts from the company of the ego and its retinue of petty concepts; when we cease to exploit all things but instead pray the world’s cry, the world’s sigh, our loneliness may hear the living grace beyond all power.

Nothing exists for its own sake, nothing is valid by its own right. What seems to be a purpose is but a station on the road. All is set in the dimension of the holy. All is endowed with bearing on God.

Man is not for the sake of good deeds; the good deeds are for the sake of man… The goal is not that a ceremony be performed; the goal is that man be transformed; to worship the Holy in order to be holy. The purpose of the mitsvot is to sanctify man.

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Abraham Joshua
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Polish Jewish Religious Leader