There are more things in heaven and earth…

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

  • Shakespeare, Hamlet

Concepts are insufficient – as A J Heschel says, “Concepts are delicious snacks with which we try to alleviate our amazement.” He means they are secondary to the unified mystical state of awe or wonderment – that he would say is the ‘real thing’. (Except it isn’t a thing!)

What are the ‘more things’? I’m taking a look at how we get to have the world-view that we have. Clearly world-views are both individual and group.

I might ‘read’ the world as predominantly benign, or predominantly dangerous as part of my personal world-view.

Actions follow the world-view that is held. So in the group known as ISIS it is presumably an appropriate act to burn alive in a cage a prisoner – within their world-view.

To have insight into one’s own world-view and its formation is to have self-knowledge – and probably also Self knowledge

Light in the Iron Cage Heschel and Gnostic…

Light in the Iron Cage (Heschel and Gnostic Religion)

In Man is Not Alone (1955) Abraham Joshua Heschel described the moment of revelation as one in which overwhelming light fills up “the iron cage” in which we live. An undergraduate student with whom I’m working this semester suggested that this was Manichean. I think that gnostic might be more precise. Writing in the immediate wake of the Holocaust, Heschel compared the world to a palace on fire. To whom does this burning world belong? To whom do I belong? For Heschel, the answer comes in a blinding flash of mystical knowledge in which the human creature understands itself to be the special object of God’s concern.


zachary braiterman writes about and teaches modern jewish thought and culture in the department of religion at syracuse university.

ON WONDER “… just as man is endowed…

“… just as man is endowed with the ability to know certain aspects of reality, he is endowed with the ability to know that there is more than what he knows.”

“Awareness of the divine begins with wonder. It is the result of what man does with his higher incomprehension.”

“… how would we know of the mystery of being if not through our sense of the ineffable?”

“We do not create the ineffable, we encounter it…”

“The ineffable is conceivable in spite of its being unknowable.”

“We must first peer into the darkness, feel strangled and entombed in the hopelessness of living without God, before we are ready to feel the presence of His living light.”

“We do not have faith in deeds, we attain faith through deeds – Deeds, not just thoughts or intentions.”

“Faith is the beginning of the end of egocentricity.”

“God is the center toward which all forces tend.”

“… whatever I do to man, I do to God. When I hurt a human being, I injure God.”

“Some of us may find it difficult to believe that God created the world, yet most of us find it even more difficult to act as if man had not created the world.”

“… to be human consists of a number of qualities or sensibilities. One of the central sensibilities is a sense of mystery of my own existence. Without it, I cease to be human. I may be a human being, but I’m not being human.”

“… Man has often made a god out of a dogma, a graven image which he worshipped … He would rather believe in the dogma than in God … he may be ready to take other people’s lives, if they refuse to share his tenets …”

“We must choose between interfaith or internihilism … no religion is an island …”

“…creed is, like music, a translation of the unutterable into a form of expression. The original is known to God alone.”

“Unless God is at least as real as my own self, unless I am sure that God has at least as much life as I do, how could I pray?… If God is unable to listen to me, then I am insane in talking to Him.”

“Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods …”

“God is either the father of all men or of no man. And the idea of judging a person in terms of black or brown or white is an eye disease.”

“Racism is worse than idolatry. Racism is Satanism, unmitigated evil …”

“We are the most challenged people under the sun. Our existence is either superfluous or indispensable to the world; it is either tragic or holy to be a Jew …”

“The vital challenge for the Church is to decide whether Christianity came to overcome, to abolish, or to continue the Jewish way by bringing the God of Abraham and His will to the Gentiles.”

“The task is to humanize the sacred and to sanctify the secular.”

“The cardinal issue, why does the God of justice and compassion permit evil to persist? is bound up with the problem of how man should aid God so that His justice and compassion prevail.”

“Our greatest threat is not the atomic bomb. Our greatest threat is the callousness to the suffering of man.”

Praying with my legs A J Heschel –

The first and most important prerequisite of interfaith…

The first and most important prerequisite of interfaith is faith.

page 10
It is only out of the depth of involvement in the unending drama that began with Abraham that we can help one another toward an understanding of our situation.Interfaith must come out of depth, not out of a void absence of faith. It is not an enterprise for those who are half-learned or spiritually immature. If it is not to lead to the confusion of the many, it must remain a prerogative of the few.
Faith and the power of insight and devotion can only grow in privacy. Exposing one’s inner life may engender the danger of desecration, distortion and confusion. Syncretism is a perpetual possibility. Moreover, at a time of paucity of faith, interfaith may become a substitute for faith, suppressing authenticity for the sake of compromise. In a world of conformity, religions can easily be levelled down to the lowest common denominator.

Both communication and separation are necessary. We must preserve our individuality as well as foster care for one another, reverence, understanding, cooperation. In the world of economics, science and technology, cooperation exists and continues to grow. Even political states, though different in culture and competing with one another, maintain diplomatic relations and strive for coexistence. Only religions are not on speaking terms. Over a hundred countries are willing to be part of the United Nations; yet no religion is ready to be part of a movement for United Religions. Or should I say, not yet ready ? Ignorance, distrust, and disdain often characterize their relations to one another. Is disdain for the opposition indigenous to the religious position ? Granted that Judaism and Christianity are committed to contradictory claims, is it impossible to carry on a controversy without acrimony, criticism without loss of respect, disagreement without disrespect ? The problem to be faced is : how to combine loyalty to one’s own tradition with reverence for different traditions ? How is mutual esteem between Christian and Jew possible ?

To become aware of the ineffable is to…

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. Its flutter is music, its ornament science, but what it conceals is inscrutable. Its silence remains unbroken; no words can carry it away.

Sometimes we wish the world would 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.

–Abraham Joshua Heschel