Abraham Joshua Heschel – God in Search of Man ‎

What is the Meaning and Purpose of Life? | Total Comments: 0 | Total Topics: 1

			It is difficult, if not impossible, to place Abraham Joshua Heschel in one of our 20 categories. ‎He could be considered a philosopher, but he lived about 600 years too late to fit in. Some ‎might call him a mystic, but he produced no works of genuine mysticism. He followed in the ‎footsteps of the Hasidic Masters, but was hardly one himself. He represented among the best ‎examples of traditional religion confronting modernity, but would be shunned by other ‎members of the group for not being traditional enough. He was neither an atheist, a pantheist, ‎nor an exponent of Mussar. Even placing him in the non-Orthodox category is questionable, ‎being as his writings bear almost no trace of Conservative or Reform leanings. ‎
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At the end of the day, Heschel’s name is forever associated with the Jewish Theological ‎Seminary, the flagship of the Conservative movement. He taught there for 26 highly ‎productive years and was a guiding light to many of its students. Because of this association, ‎the Orthodox will have nothing to do with him. His writings can hardly be quoted as an ‎authoritative source in Orthodox circles. He is quoted widely in Conservative circles even ‎though his books have a strikingly Orthodox tenor. He is far too traditional to fit comfortably ‎into Reform theology, whatever that may be. ‎
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Among other works, he wrote a book called ‘God in Search of Man’ - the title of this essay. ‎This book covers a bewildering variety of topics, including one that matches the book’s title. ‎On page 136, Heschel introduces the controversial idea that God needs us as much as we ‎need God. He calls this: ‎
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‎ ‘The mysterious paradox of Biblical faith: God is pursuing man. It is as if God were ‎unwilling to be alone, and He had chosen man to serve Him. Our seeking Him is not only ‎man’s, but also His concern, and must not be considered an exclusively human affair. His will ‎is involved in our yearnings. All of human history as described in the Bible may be ‎summarized in one phrase: God is in search of man. Faith in God is a response to God’s ‎question…When Adam and Eve hid from His presence, the Lord called: Where art thou? It is ‎a call that goes out again and again. It is a still small echo of a still small voice, not uttered in ‎words, not conveyed in categories of the mind, but ineffable and mysterious, as ineffable and ‎mysterious as the glory that fills the whole world. It is wrapped in silence; it is concealed and ‎subdued, yet it is as if all things were the frozen echo of the question: Where art thou?’ ‎
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Analysis ‎
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Talk about profound. Sometimes it seems amazing that the Orthodox have been able to ‎disregard this guy. We’ve seen the rudiments of this idea previously, in the essay on Adam ‎and Eve and the Garden of Eden. But there is an additional element in Heschel’s take on this ‎eternal question. It is not just God putting a tough existential question to Adam and Eve as a ‎consequence of their fall. It is also God expressing His need for our companionship and the ‎tragic divine longing that God experiences when we turn our backs on Him. ‎
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Now wait just a minute. God needs us? God misses us if we ignore Him? What about the ‎philosophical foundation that God has nothing resembling human needs and that there is ‎nothing, absolutely nothing, that we mere humans can do to add to or change God in any ‎way? We did mention that the idea was controversial and that Heschel is not readily ‎acceptable in an Orthodox setting. So is this officially heretical or is it legit? ‎
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It turns out that many ideas in Judaism were not there from the outset, but were added as ‎Jewish thinkers encountered different modes of thought. We’ve seen this with philosophy ‎and mysticism in general, but it may even apply to other areas like Talmudic reasoning and ‎Mussar ideas. The notion that God has no need of creation is one of these. From the Bible ‎itself, there may be hints along these lines, but there is certainly no shortage of Biblical quotes ‎that convey the exact opposite. Is it really so heretical to take these Biblical allusions at face ‎value and to not apply the traditional anthropomorphic brush off that claims they are just the ‎Bible’s way of attributing non-existent human feelings to God so that we could better ‎understand what’s going on in God’s mind. ‎
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This is really what Heschel is doing. He is taking all those statements at face value and saying ‎that God indeed does want our offerings and our loyalty, and almost desperately craves our ‎faith and love. This desire of God, he claims, is what human history is really all about, at least ‎from the perspective of the Bible. The radical nature of this idea cannot be overemphasized. ‎Up to now, we have seen plenty of ‘search for God’ themes in our search for the meaning ‎and purpose of life. But we have never seen this before. In reality the search starts from the ‎other side – God is searching for man. ‎
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Taken to its limit this is nothing less than a new take on the purpose of creation. Why did ‎God create this whole universe? The answer is so that God, in His austere and sublime ‎holiness, could have companionship. God did not want to be alone. We are those companions. ‎We human beings, our flesh and blood, or DNA, with our bad breath and our constant ‎backsliding, were created so God would have someone to play God with. God is the divine ‎version of a creative child, living out His divine dreams through the very real creation of this ‎universe and its inhabitants. ‎
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What does God expect to get out of all this? Among other things, God expects an answer to ‎His eternal question. ‘Where art thou?’ This question, first addressed to Adam and Eve, but ‎repeated throughout human history to every single one of us, is at the forefront of God’s ‎mind. We can almost hear God asking this question as He searches among the masses of ‎humanity going about their daily business oblivious to any higher calling. It is almost as if ‎God can only see us if we stop and recognize Him and acknowledge His presence. ‘Where art ‎thou? Are you still there, or have you totally abandoned Me to the vast emptiness of the ‎universe I created just so you could have an arena to know Me and to experience Me?’ This is ‎God’s question to us that we must strain to hear, but if we are sensitive we can detect its echo ‎in everything. ‎
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What are we to do about this divine dilemma? Heschel answers this question head on. In the ‎next paragraph he states: ‘Faith comes out of awe, out of an awareness that we are exposed to ‎His presence, out of anxiety to answer the challenge of God, out of an awareness of our being ‎called upon. Religion consists of God’s question and man’s answer…Unless God asks the ‎question, all our inquiries are in vain.’ ‎
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Our first task is to hear the question. Without the question, there is no answer, no response, no ‎point. Once we recognize that God is calling upon us, we can proceed to the next step. ‎Without that first step, we are like blind people groping in the darkness. With it we have a ‎mission, a question to answer. Answering that question, even if the answer is ambivalent or ‎evasive, is a huge advance. At the very least, it enables God to feel noticed. But God, of ‎course, wants more than a quick dismissal or a clever excuse. God wants a real answer. ‎
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That answer comes in the form of faith. But faith, to Heschel, should not be limited to the ‎simple act of belief in a divine source of assistance that can be relied upon when all else fails. ‎It springs from awe, that elusive emotion that penetrates through all the superficial layers to ‎the core of reality. As Heschel puts it on page 106: ‘Awe, then is more than a feeling. It is an ‎answer of the heart and mind to the presence of mystery in all things, an intuition for a ‎meaning that is beyond the mystery, an awareness of the transcendent worth of the universe.’ ‎
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This is the answer God wants to hear. It is a silent answer that reverberates with power and ‎speaks the only response that will ever satisfy God’s profound need. ‘I am here. I, in my own ‎small way, am part of Your great purpose. I need You as You need me. Your efforts were not ‎in vain, Your purpose not forgotten. I, in my own human way, sense that You are real. I am ‎aware of Your presence in all things, silent and veiled as it may be, imparting meaning to all. ‎This is my answer to Your eternal question. It is the best I can do. I, like everything else, ‎have transcendent worth. This is where I am.’ ‎
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Practical ‎
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Nobody said Heschel wasn’t profound, He may be a little too profound for everyday life, but ‎there is no denying that he has hit something important. Life and existence have transcendent ‎worth. We all have transcendent worth. We matter. That alone should be enough to get us ‎through the day. That alone should shake off a little of the lethargy and apathy that lulls us ‎into blissful unawareness of where we are and why we are here. ‎
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The idea that God needs us may strike many Jews as sacrilegious, being as it puts God in a ‎position of neediness. But maybe this idea is a product of our times, a feeling born from the ‎steady abandonment of God as we struck out on our own path to self-sufficiency. More than ‎ever, perhaps, God searches for us and wants to hear our answer. Are we ready to come to ‎God’s need as God came to ours so many times in our past? God brought the rain in its time, ‎cured the sick, and delivered us from countless situations in which we were totally helpless. ‎Now that we have matured and no longer need God for all those things, are we willing to be ‎there for God? It is like dealing with an aging parent who took you through birth and ‎childhood and adolescence but who now needs you to help deal with old age and infirmity. ‎Will you be there for that parent? Will you answer when that parent asks you where you are? ‎What is your answer for God? ‎
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Perhaps we all need to take a deep breath every once in a while and pay attention to the Old ‎Guy. We may find that it actually does us some good. We may even want to take a stab at ‎answering that gnawing question. ‘Where art thou?’ If you really care about getting some idea ‎of the meaning of life, it all starts with this question. Pretend that in some way the creator of ‎the universe, the source of all being, the source of your being, is actually posing this question ‎to you and eagerly awaiting your answer. A word of caution, however – allowing God to ask ‎you this question and attempting to answer it is the essence of religion. You may find that ‎once you dip, in even a little bit, you don’t want to come out. ‎
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Food for Thought ‎
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The question posed to Adam and Eve, and to all of us as we live our lives, lays at the core of ‎discovering meaning in life. Why is it that we so rarely broach this question, even over an ‎entire lifetime? What are we hiding from? ‎


		


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Classifying Heschel AaronKastel 03/08/17 at 22:34:27

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