Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

“When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”

“Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.”

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

“Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart.”

“Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge.”

“A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.”

“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.”

“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”

“A test of a people is how it behaves toward the old. It is easy to love children. Even tyrants and dictators make a point of being fond of children. But the affection and care for the old, the incurable, the helpless are the true gold mines of a culture.”

“The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.”

“The primary purpose of prayer is not to make requests. The primary purpose is to praise, to sing, to chant. Because the essence of prayer is a song, and man cannot live without a song.

“Prayer may not save us. But prayer may make us worthy of being saved.”

“We can never sneer at the stars, mock the dawn, or scoff at the totality of being.”

“People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state–it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle…. Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.”

“Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”

“Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”

“…morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

“Prayer begins at the edge of emptiness.”

“I would say about individuals, A Individual dies when they cease to to be surprised. I am surprised every morning when I see the sunshine again. When I see an act of evil I don’t accomodate, I don’t accomodate myself to the violence that goes on everywhere. I am still so surprised! That is why I am against it. We must learn to be surprised.”

“There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious. Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time; to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year.”

“The problem to be faced is: how to combine loyalty to one’s own tradition with reverence for different traditions.”

“Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.”

“God is either of no importance, or of supreme importance.”

“To become aware of the ineffable is to part company with words…the tangent to the curve of human experience lies beyond the limits of language. the world of things we perceive is but a veil. It’s flutter is music, its ornament science, but what it conceals is inscrutable. It’s silence remains unbroken; no words can carry it away. Sometimes we wish the world could cry and tell us about that which made it pregnant with fear–filling grandeur. Sometimes we wish our own heart would speak of that which made it heavy with wonder.”

“Indeed, the sort of crimes and even the amount of delinquency that fill the prophets of Israel with dismay do not go beyond that which we regard as normal, as typical ingredients of social dynamics. To us a single act of injustice–cheating in business, exploitation of the poor–is slight; to the prophets, a disaster. To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence: to us, an episode; to them, a catastrophe, a threat to the world.”

“Only those will apprehend religion who can probe its depth, who can combine intuition and love with the rigor of method”

“Prayer begins where our power ends.”

“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.”

“To pray is to dream in league with God, to envision His holy visions.”

“I have one talent, and that is the capacity to be tremendously surprised, surprised at life, at ideas. This is to me the supreme Hasidic imperative: Don’t be old. Don’t be stale.”

“The true meaning of existence is disclosed in moments of living in the presence of God”

“In our own lives the voice of God speaks slowly, a syllable at a time. Reaching the peak of years, dispelling some of our intimate illusions and learning how to spell the meaning of life-experiences backwards, some of us discover how the scattered syllables form a single phrase.”

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