Finding Rest :: Weekend Reading List

We have turned to Abraham Joshua Heschel this week to recover some of the tension lost when we, as western Christians, read the Hebrew Scriptures. Instead of publishing his thoughts with commentary we chose to present them in full force—allowing the rabbi’s words to confront, challenge, and inspire our faith.

I first entered the flourishing world of Heschel’s writings through his works on the Sabbath. The kind of rest he presents as normative for God’s people had been long-missing from my personal faith. I remember becoming captivated by his vision of rest and relationship—and quickly found myself longing for true sabbath.

So today, may we find the rest Rabbi Heschel says is the invitation of God for everyone of faith:

He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. He must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling his own life. He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man.

Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else. Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self.

[The Hebrew word] menuha, which we usually render with “rest”, means here much more than withdrawal from labor and exertion, more than freedom from toil, strain or activity of any kind. Menuha is not a negative concept but something real and intrinsically positive.

The essence of good life is menuha. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters” (the waters of menuhot). In later times menuha became a synonym for the life in the world to come, for eternal life.

The Sabbath is a reminder of two worlds—this world and the world to come; it is an example of both worlds. For the Sabbath is joy, holiness, and rest; joy is part of this world; holiness and rest are something of the world to come.

Unlike the Day of Atonement, the Sabbath is not dedicated exclusively to spiritual goals. It is a day of the soul as well as of the body; comfort and pleasure are an integral part of the Sabbath observance. Man in his entirety, all his faculties must share its blessing.

Time is like a wasteland. It has grandeur but no beauty. Its strange, frightful power is always feared but rarely cheered. Then we arrive at the seventh day, and the Sabbath is endowed with a felicity which enraptures the soul, which glides into our thoughts with a healing sympathy. It is a day on which hours do not oust one another. It is a day that can soothe all sadness away.

A song of the Sabbath day: “It is good to give thanks unto the Lord!” Therefore, all the creatures of God bless Him.

*Abridged and adapted from The Sabbath.

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 33 (Listen – 6:03)
Psalms 81-82 (Listen – 2:36)

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 34 (Listen – 5:11) Psalms 83-84 (Listen – 3:20)
Ezekiel 35 (Listen – 2:21) Psalms 85 (Listen – 1:25)

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Spiritual Audacity :: Throwback Thursday

By Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)

Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved! — Psalm 80.19

The renewal of man involves a renewal of the sense of wonder and mystery of being alive—taking notice of the moment as a surprise. The renewal of man must begin with rebellion against reducing existence to mere fact or function.

Contemporary consciousness has not come to terms with its own experience. Overwhelmed by the rapid advancement in technology, it has failed to develop an adequate anthropology, a way of ensuring the independence of the human being in the face of forces hostile to it.

Why do I speak about the renewal of man? Because the Hebrew Bible is not a book about God. It is a book about man. Paradoxical as the Bible is, we must accept its essential premise: that God is concerned about man.

It is useless to speak of the holy to those who have failed to cultivate the ingredient of being human. Prior to faith are premises or prerequisites of faith, such as a sense of wonder, radical amazement, reverence, a sense of mystery of all being. Man must learn, for example, to question his false sense of sovereignty.

Men of faith frequently succumb to a spectacular temptation: to personalize faith, to localize the holy, to isolate commitment. Detached from and irrelevant to all emergencies of being, the holy may segregate the divine.

To recover sensitivity to the divine we must develop in “uncommon sense,” rebel against the seemingly relevant, against conventional validity; to think many thoughts, to abandon many habits, to sacrifice many pretensions.

Those who pray tremble when they realize how staggering are the debts of the religions of the West. We have mortgaged our souls and borrowed so much grace, patience, and forgiveness. We have promised charity, love, guidance, and a way of redemption, and now we are challenged to keep the promise, to honor the pledge. How shall we prevent bankruptcy in the presence of God and man?

We must learn how to labor in the affairs of the world with fear and trembling. While involved in public affairs, we must not cease to cultivate the secrets of religious privacy. What is required is a continuous effort to overcome hardness of heart, callousness, and above all to inspire the world with the biblical image of man.

*Abridged and adapted from Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity.

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 32 (Listen – 5:30)
Psalms 80  (Listen – 1:58)



Conquering Evil

By Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire? — Psalm 79.5

Many modern theologians have consistently maintained that the Bible stands for optimism, that pessimism is alien to its spirit! There is, however, very little evidence to support such a view. With the exception of the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, the rest of the Bible does not cease to refer to the sorrow, sins, and evils of this world.

More frustrating than the fact that evil is real, mighty, and tempting is the fact that it thrives so well in the disguise of the good, and that it can draw its nutriment from the life of the holy. In this world, it seems, the holy and the unholy do not exist apart but are mixed, interrelated, and confounded; it is a world where idols are at home, and where even the worship of God may be alloyed with the worship of idols.

What is our situation in trying to carry out the will of God? In addition to our being uncertain of whether our motivation—prior to the act—is pure, we are continually embarrassed during the act with “alien thoughts” which taint our consciousness with selfish intentions. And even following the act there is the danger of self-righteousness, vanity, and the sense of superiority, derived from what are supposed to be acts of dedication to God.

It is easier to discipline the body than to control the soul. The pious man knows that his inner life is full of pitfalls. The ego, the evil inclination, is constantly trying to enchant him. Should we, then, despair because of our being unable to attain perfect purity? We should if perfection were our goal.

The climax of our hopes is the establishment of the kingship of God, and a passion for its realization must permeate all our thoughts. For the ultimate concern of the Jew is not personal salvation but universal redemption. Redemption is not an event that will take place all at once at “the end of days” but a process that goes on all the time. Man’s good deeds are single acts in the long drama of redemption, and every deed counts. One must live as if the redemption of all men depended upon the devotion of one’s own life.

At the end of days, evil will be conquered by the One; in historic times evils must be conquered one by one.

*Abridged from Insecurity of Freedom.

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 31 (Listen – 3:31)
Psalms 79  (Listen – 1:50)



Living in Awe

By Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)

They did not remember his power… He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever…. With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand. — Psalm 78.42, 69, 72

Lift up your eyes and see. How does a man lift up his eyes to see a little higher than himself? The grand premise of religion is that man is able to surpass himself; that man who is part of this world may enter into a relationship with Him who is greater than the world; that man may lift up his mind and be attached to the absolute.

Awe precedes faith—it is at the root of faith. We must grow in awe in order to reach faith. Forfeit your sense of awe, let your conceit diminish your ability to revere, and the universe becomes a marketplace for you.

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.

The perception of the glory is a rare occurrence in our lives. We fail to wonder, we fail to respond to the presence. This is the tragedy of every man: to dim all wonder by indifference. “Replete is the world in spiritual radiance, replete with sublime and marvelous secrets. But a small hand held against the eye hides it all,” said the Baal Shem. “Just as a small coin held over the face can block out the sight of a mountain, so can the vanities of living block out the sight of the infinite light.

God is a mystery, but the mystery is not God. He is a revealer of mysteries. We do not deify the mystery; we worship him who in his wisdom surpasses all mysteries. Awe is a sense for the transcendence, for the reference everywhere to him who is beyond all things. It is an insight better conveyed in attitudes than in words. Something sacred is at stake in every event.

*Abridged and adapted from God in Search of Man and Between God and Man.

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 30 (Listen – 4:07)
Psalms 78:40-72  (Listen – 7:12)



When Wonder is Lost

By Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)

They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them. — Psalm 78.10-11

Among the many things that religious tradition holds in store for us is a legacy of wonder. The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted. Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin.

Wonder or radical amazement is the chief characteristic of the religious man’s attitude toward history and nature. One attitude is alien to God’s spirit: taking things for granted, regarding events as a natural course of things. To find an approximate cause of a phenomenon is no answer to his ultimate wonder. He knows that there are laws that regulate the course of natural processes; he is aware of the regularity and pattern of things. However, such knowledge fails to mitigate his sense of perpetual surprise at the fact that there are facts at all. Looking at the world he would say, “This is the Lord’s doing, it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalms 118:23).

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. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.

Awareness of the divine begins with wonder. It is the result of what man does with his higher incomprehension. The greatest hindrance to such awareness is our adjustment to conventional notions, to mental cliches. Wonder or radical amazement, the state of maladjustment to words and notions, is therefore a prerequisite for an authentic awareness of that which is.

Radical amazement has a wider scope than any other act of man. While any act of perception or cognition has as its object a selected segment of reality, radical amazement refers to all of reality; not only to what we see, but also to the very act of seeing as well as to our own selves, to the selves that see and are amazed at their ability to see.

*Abridged and adapted from Between God and Man and God in Search of Man by Rabbi Hershel J. Matt.

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 29 (Listen – 3:43)
Psalms 78:1-39  (Listen – 7:12)