Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Abraham Joshua Heschel

Polish Jewish Religious Leader

"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."

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

"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?"

"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."

"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."

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

"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."

"Wonder, rather than doubt, is the root of knowledge."

"Worship is a way of living, a way of seeing the world in the light of God. To worship is to rise to a higher level of existence, to see the world from the point of view of God."

"When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people."

"When 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."

"When The goal is not to have but to be; not to own but to give; not to control but to share; not to subdue but to be in accord… not to amass, but to face sacred moments."

"When The problem to be faced is: how to combine loyalty to one's own tradition with reverence for different traditions."

"Prayer begins at the edge of emptiness."

"There are three ascending levels of how one mourns: With tears - that is the lowest. With silence - that is higher. And with a song - that is the highest."

"Remember that there is meaning beyond absurdity. Know that every deed counts, that every word is power... Above all, remember that you must build your life as if it were a work of art."

"The search of reason ends at the shore of the known; on the immense expanse beyond it only the sense of the ineffable can glide. It alone knows the route to that which is remote from experience and understanding. "

"Awe is an intuition for the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme."

"How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned right to serve, to adore, and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great."

"Prayer begins where expression ends... Words can only open the door, and we can only weep on the threshold of our incommunicable thirst after the incomprehensible."

"The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world."

"Religion consists of God's question and man's answer."

"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 an inherent weakness of religion not to take offense at the segregation of God, to forget that the true sanctuary has no walls... It has often done more to canonize prejudices than to wrestle for truth; to petrify the sacred than to sanctify the secular. Yet the task of religion is to be a challenge to the stabilization of values."

"The road to the sacred leads through the secular."

"It is in deeds that man becomes aware of what his life really is... In his deeds man exposes his immanent as well as his suppressed desires, spelling even that which he cannot apprehend. What he may not dare to think, he often utters in deeds. The heart is revealed in deeds."

"No religion is an island. We are all involved with one another. Spiritual betrayal on the part of one of us affects the faith of all of us."

"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."

"God is hiding in the world. Our task is to let the divine emerge from our deeds."

"Life passes on in proximity to the sacred, and it is this proximity that endows existence with ultimate significance. In our relation to the immediate we touch upon the most distant. Even the satisfaction of physical needs can be a sacred act. Perhaps the essential meaning of Judaism is that in doing the finite we may perceive the infinite."

"The path of loyalty to the routine of sacred living runs along the borderline of the spirit; though being outside, one remains very close to the spirit. Routine holds us in readiness for the moments in which the soul enters into accord with the spirit."

"A Jew is asked to take a leap of action rather than a leap of thought... Through the ecstasy of deeds he learns to be certain of the hereness of God. Right living is a way to right thinking."

"Inspirations are brief, sporadic and rare. In the long interims the mind is often dull, bare and vapid. There is hardly a soul that can radiate more light than it receives. To perform a mitzvah is to meet the spirit. But the spirit is not something we can acquire once and for all but something we must constantly live with and pray for. For this reason the Jewish way of life is to reiterate the ritual, to meet the spirit again and again, tehs spirit in one self and the spirit that hovers over all beings."

"As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation."

"Death may be a supreme spiritual act, turning oneself over to eternity: The moment of death, a moment of ecstasy. A moment of no return to vanity. Thus afterlife is felt to be a reunion and all life a preparation for it… Death is not sensed as a defeat but as a summation, an arrival, a conclusion."

"Does man exist for the sake of society? The ultimate worth of a person would then be determined by his usefulness to others, by the efficiency of his social work.... Such service does not claim all of one’s life and can therefore not be the ultimate answer to his quest for the meaning of life as a whole. Man has more to give than what other men are able or willing to accept. Man’s quest for a meaning of existence is essentially a quest for lasting... The way to the lasting does not lie on the other side of life; it does not begin where time breaks off. The lasting begins not beyond but within time, within the moment, within the concrete... The days of our lives are representatives of eternity rather than fugitives, and we must live as if the fate of all time would totally depend on a single moment."

"Evaluating faith in terms of reason is like trying to understand love as a syllogism and beauty as an algebraic equation."

"Being human is a characteristic of a being who faces the question: After satisfaction, what?"

"Exaltation is gone from the synagogue, from the church, and also from many a classroom and university. The cardinal sin is boredom, and the major failure the denial to our young of moments of exaltation."

"Faith is found in solicitude for faith, in an inner care for the wonder that is everywhere. Highest in the list of virtues, this anxious caring extends not only to the moral sphere but to all realms of life, to oneself and to others, to words and to thoughts, to events and to deeds. Unawed by the prevailing narrowness of mind, it persists as an attitude toward the whole of reality; to hold small things great, to take light matters seriously, to think of the common and the passing from the aspect of the lasting."

"Faith is not a clinging to a shrine but the endless, tameless pilgrimage of hearts. Audacious longing, calling, calling, burning songs, daring thoughts, an impulse overwhelming the heart, usurping the mind – it is all a stalwart driving to the precious serving of Him who rings our hearts like a bell, wishing to enter our empty perishing life."

"Generosity without wisdom is an evasion, an alibi for conscience."

"Gloom’s roots are in pretentiousness, fastidiousness, and a disregard of the good. The gloomy man, living in irritation and a constant quarrel with his destiny, senses hostility everywhere and seems never to be aware of the illegitimacy of his own complaints. He has a fine sense for the incongruities of life but stubbornly refuses to recognize the delicate grace of existence."

"God in the universe is a spirit of concern for life... We often fail in trying to understand Him, not because we do not know how to extend our concepts far enough, but because we do not know how to begin close enough. To think of God is not to find Him as an object in our minds, but to find ourselves in Him."

"God manifests Himself in events rather than in things, and these events can never be captured or localized in things."

"Greek philosophy is concerned with values; Jewish thought dwells on mitzvoth [deeds]."

"Every person moves in two domains: in the domain of nature and in the domain of spirit. Half slave, half king, he is bound by the laws of nature, but at the same time able to subdue and dominate them."

"Happiness is not a synonym for self-satisfaction, complacency, or smugness. Self-satisfaction breeds futility and despair. All that is creative in man stems from a seed of endless discontent. New insight begins when satisfaction comes to an end, when all that has been seen, said, or done looks like a distortion. The aim is the maintenance and fanning of a discontent with our aspirations and achievements, the maintenance and fanning of a craving that knows no satisfaction. Man’s true fulfillment depends upon communion with that which transcends him."