on August 15, 2004
Heschel's interpretation of Judaism is that of MYSTICISM AND MONOTHEISM, the ineffable and unexplainable, the allusiveness that can only point us to the inner certainty of God.
Heschel is a substantial writer and skilled in both analogy and description. And ultimately, in defining Jewish wisdom in words, is that which cannot be as defined in words as calculable and systematic, but rather as a direction to be pointed. And this is what you will find in most non-fundamental wisdom. It is here that expressions defining God as indefinable are so well conveyed. The SUBLIME, the MYSTERY, wonder, awe, reverence, the idea of the holy and that of revelation are the spontaneous creative events verses that of causal processes.
Here `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. All enigmas can be solved, and all wonder is nothing but the effect of novelty upon ignorance.' P. 40 Such dogmatic fallacies can be found in both science and religion. `The deeper we search the nearer we arrive at knowing that we do not know. The mystery of divinity, `it is a dimension off all existence and may be experienced everywhere and at all times. This sense of the ineffable perceives is something objective, which cannot be conceived by the mind nor captured by imagination or feeling, something real, which by its very essence, is beyond the reach of thought and feeling. What we are primarily aware of is not our self, our inner mood, but a transubjective situation, in regard to which our ability fails. Subjective is the manner, not the matter of our perception. What we perceive is objective in the sense of being independent of and corresponding to our perception. Our radical amazement reasons to the mystery, but does not produce it. You and I have not invented the grandeur of the sky nor endowed man with the mystery of birth and death. We do not create the ineffable, we encounter it. P. 47
Now what underlies this ineffable and non-explanatory presence or allusive presence of divinity beyond discursive analysis, is what Judaism consists of, monotheism, this being an absolute purpose and a CERTAINTY, the certainty of God that finds all other expression.
`God is a mystery but the mystery is not God. He is a revealer of mystery. The certainty that there is meaning beyond the mystery is the reason fore ultimate rejoicing. P. 49 The certainty of the realness of God does not come about as a corollary of logical premises, as a leap from the realm of logic to the realm of ontology, from an assumption to a fact. It is on the contrary, a transition form an immediate apprehension to a thought form a preconceptual awareness to a definite assurance, from being overwhelmed by the presence of God to an awareness of His existence. What we attempt to do in the act of reflection is to raise that preconceptual awareness to the level of understanding. P. 67 `To meet Him is to come upon an inner certainty.' P. 80
Regarding Jewish LAWS, Heschel writes that such laws are not meant as a yoke, nor repressive to desires, nor a straight jacket of rituals, but out of love, from an internal center, the heart, where the soul, the internal motivation of love, must be in harmony with the law
Laws are emphasized not as mechanical duties but rather as artistic acts, as in music one must be what he plays. The goal is to find access to the sacred deed. To do a mitzvah is one thing; to partake of its inspiration another. P. 166
The law is a cry for creativity, not mechanical processes, nor technicalities. The law is only valid with the motivation of the heart behind it. It is both the action and the inspiration behind the action. The laws and traditions are self-defeating without faith and heart motivation. Judaism is more than law, it is purity of the heart, it is faith and love of God. God is called to re-create the world in his likeness. The law must never be idolized. Rules are only generalizations. Judaism is not legalism. Just as proclaimed truths - kerygma, are worthless without the deeper allusive essence - dogma, so is Halakhah - the definite rational instructions worthless without the Agadah - the allusive, non-discursive and immeasurable. The law must have both or its way is perverted.
`It supplies the weapons, it points the way; the fighting is left to the soul of man.' 'Obedience to the letter of the law regulates our daily living, but such obedience must not stultify the spontaneity of our inner life. P. 176
`The true goal for man is to be what he does.' P. 164. `Sacred deeds are designed to make living compatible with our sense of the ineffable. The mitzvot are forms of expressing in deeds the appreciation of the ineffable. P. 182 The soul grows by noble deeds. The soul is illumined by sacred acts. P. 177
'To reduce Judaism to halakhah - defined actions - is to dim its light, to pervert its essence and to kill its spirit. . . . to reduce it to agadah - inward purity only - is to blot out its light, to dissolve its essence and to destroy its reality. Indeed, the surest way to forfeit agadah is to abolish halakhah. They can only survive in symbiosis. The life of the spirit too needs concrete actions for its actualization.' P. 177
Heschel outlines the tension between regularity and spontaneity, how both must be polarized.
`The way to kavvanah is through the deed; the way of faith is a way of living. Halakhah and agadah are correlated; halakhah is the string, agadah is the bow. When the string is tight and the bow will evoke the melody.' `Deeds not only follow intention; they also engender kavvanah.' P. 180
And the PSYCHOLOGY of Judaism:
`We must not indulge in self-scrutinization; we must not concentrate upon the problem of egocentricity. The way to purify the self is to avoid dwelling upon the self and to concentrate upon the task. Any religious or ethical teaching that places the main emphasis upon the virtues of inwardness such as faith and the purity of motivation must come to grief. If faith were the only standard, the effort of man would be doomed to failure. Indeed, the awareness of the weakness of the heart, the unreliability of human inwardness may perhaps have been one of the reasons that compelled Judaism to take recourse to actions instead of relying upon inward devotion.' P. 189 There is power in the deed purifies desires. It is the act, life itself that educates the will. The good motive comes into being while doing the good. P. 190
This review is far from detailed, as their is much more not mentioned, you'll have to read the book for that. However I think this review does reveals somewhat of the religious dimension and insight of the ineffable Heschel lays out, the ideas beyond conceptualization with monotheism at its center. I recommend this book for anyone, the religious - of all persuasions, the non-religious, and/or anyone who wishes to attempt to perceive the idea of the sacred within the de-mystified and rational world we live in. Heschel is worth all the time invested in his writings.