thinking for oneself

June 1, 2005

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[The following are all quotations from Abraham Joshua Heschel's book, God In Search of Man.]

We must accept in order to be able to explore. At the beginning is the commitment, the supreme acquiescence.

He who cannot make up his mind, who will not introduce his soul to the Bible until the reasons for its divine dignity have gone all the way to meet his mind, is like a person who refuses to look at a painting before he can decipher the name of the artist signed at its corner. He does not realize it is the work which identifies the signature. Signatures may be forged, a work of art must be created.

Revelation is not vicarious thinking.

The worship of reason is arrogance and betrays a lack of intelligence. The rejection of reason is cowardice and betrays a lack of faith.

Philosophy is, in a sense, a kind of thinking that has a beginning but no end. In it, the awareness of the problem outlives all solutions. Its answers are questions in disguise; every new answer giving rise to new questions. In religion, on the other hand, the mystery of the answer hovers over all questions.

Philosophy deals with problems as universal issues; to religion the universal issues are personal problems. Philosophy, then, stresses the primacy of the problem, religion stresses the primacy of the person.

What we face is not only a problem which is apart from ourselves but a situation of which we are a part and in which we are totally involved.

[on speculation and religion] The first is a question about God; the second is a question from God. The first is concerned with a solution to the problem, whether there is a God and, if there is a God, what is His nature? The second is concerned with our personal answer to the problem that is addressed to us in the facts and events of the world and our own experience. Unlike questions of science which we may if we wish leave to others, the ultimate question gives us no rest… what is asked of us?

The term “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” is semantically different from a term such as “the God of truth, goodness and beauty.” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob do not signify ideas, principles or abstract values… not principles to be comprehended but lives to be continued. The life of him who joins the covenant of Abraham continues the life of Abraham.

It is in deeds that man becomes aware of what his life really is… What he may not dare to think, he often utters in deeds.

If man were able to survey at a glance all he has done in the course of his life, what would he feel? He would be terrified at the extent of his own power.

The dichotomy of faith and works which presented such an important problem in Christian theology was never a problem in Judaism. To us, the basic problem is neither what is the right action nor what is the right intention. The basic problem is: what is right living? And life is indivisible… All a person thinks and feels enters everything he does, and all he does is involved in everything he thinks and feels.

Jewish thinking and living can only be adequately understood in terms of a dialectic pattern… these terms are opposite to one another and exemplify a polarity which lies at the very heart of Judaism, the polarity of ideas and events, of mitsvah and sin, of kavanah and deed, of regularity and spontaneity, of uniformity and individuality, of halacha and agada, of law and inwardness, of love and fear, of understanding and obedience, of joy and discipline, of the good and the evil drive, of time and eternity, of this world and the world to come, of revelation and response, of insight and information, of empathy and self-expression, of creed and faith, of the word and that which is beyond words, of man's quest for God and God in search of man.

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