Bob Schwartz

Tag: Abraham Joshua Heschel

Time

Salvador Dali - The Persistence of Memory

Driving down a country road, a man sees a farmer. The farmer is holding up a pig so that the pig can eat apples from a tree. The man stops and says to the farmer, “You know, that’s not very efficient. If you put the pig down, shook the tree and let the apples fall to the ground, it would save a lot of time.” The farmer says, “You may be right, but what’s time to a pig?”


The result of our thinginess is our blindness to all reality that fails to identify itself as a thing, as a matter of fact. This is obvious in our understanding of time, which, being thingless and insubstantial, appears to us as if it had no reality.

Indeed, we know what to do with space but do not know what to do about time, except to make it subservient to space. Most of us seem to labor for the sake of things of space. As a result we suffer from a deeply rooted dread of time and stand aghast when compelled to look into its face. Time to us is sarcasm, a slick treacherous monster with a jaw like a furnace incinerating every moment of our lives. Shrinking, therefore, from facing time, we escape for shelter to things of space. The intentions we are unable to carry out we deposit in space; possessions become the symbols of our repressions, jubilees of frustrations. But things of space are not fireproof; they only add fuel to the flames. Is the joy of possession an antidote to the terror of time which grows to be a dread of inevitable death? Things, when magnified, are forgeries of happiness, they are a threat to our very lives; we are more harassed than supported by the Frankensteins of spatial things.

It is impossible for man to shirk the problem of time. The more we think the more we realize: we cannot conquer time through space. We can only master time in time.

Abraham Joshua Heschel
The Sabbath


At the time the mountains were climbed and the rivers were crossed, you were present. Time is not separate from you, and as you are present, time does not go away.

As time is not marked by coming and going, the moment you climbed the mountains is the time being right now. If time keeps coming and going, you are the time being right now. This is the meaning of the time being.

Does this time being not swallow up the moment when you climbed the mountains and the moment when you resided in the jeweled palace and vermilion tower? Does it not spit them out?

Zen Master Dogen
The Time-Being
The Essential Dogen

The Sabbath: To Have and To Do Without

Abraham Joshua Heschel

“To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence of external obligations, a day on which we stop worshiping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow men and the forces of nature—is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for man’s progress than the Sabbath?

“The solution of mankind’s most vexing problem will not be found in renouncing technical civilization, but in attaining some degree of independence of it.

“In regard to external gifts, to outward possessions, there is only one proper attitude—to have them and to be able to do without them. On the Sabbath we live, as it were, independent of technical civilization: we abstain primarily from any activity that aims at remaking or reshaping the things of space. Man’s royal privilege to conquer nature is suspended on the seventh day.”

The Sabbath
Abraham Joshua Heschel

Republican Jewish Coalition and the Sabbath

Republican Jewish Coalition Spring Leadership 2014

It’s Saturday, the Sabbath in Jewish communities. Why is this Sabbath different than all other Sabbaths?

Because on this Sabbath Sheldon Adelson’s Republican Jewish Coalition is continuing its three-day Spring Leadership Meeting, including a galaxy of political and policy stars looking for support, prestige, power, and money, including:

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
Ohio Governor John Kasich
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
Vice President Dick Cheney
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer
Ambassador John Bolton

It’s true that the majority of American Jews don’t fully honor the Sabbath as a time for rest, reflection, and study. It’s also true that some number of those do try in small ways to live in the spirit of the Sabbath. Where Sheldon Adelson and the RJC sit on this spectrum of Sabbath observance and honor is between them and their God and their party.

One of the things that most non-Jews and many Jews don’t recognize is the complex significance of the Sabbath. The year is filled with special days, some regarded as very serious, very important and, in the case of the High Holidays, literally awesome. The Sabbath, though, stands apart, characterized as a beloved or royalty, as a bride or queen.

The great, deep and inspiring Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote an incomparable work on the nature and meaning of this. The Sabbath presents a spiritual picture of what he calls sacred time. The book is considered by readers of all faiths and even no faith an uplifting view of how we are to live in the context of such a powerful reality.

It would be presumptuous to say whether the late Dr. Heschel, who among his many achievements marched with Martin Luther King in Selma almost fifty years ago, would attend the RJC Spring Leadership Meeting. In any case, most likely not the RJC on the Sabbath.

Although the RJC will be holding its political beauty pageant today, they still might have a moment to squeeze in some Heschel. This passage from the Epilogue of The Sabbath is out of context, and not so easy to appreciate on its own. It does have something to say about space, which can be owned and fought over, and time, sacred time, in which we are all joined and connected and sharing—no matter who you are, no matter how many casinos you own, no matter how big your PAC:

Time, then, is otherness, a mystery that hovers above all categories. It is as if time and the mind were a world apart. Yet, it is only within time that there is fellowship and togetherness of all beings.

Every one of us occupies a portion of space. He takes it up exclusively. The portion of space which my body occupies is taken up by myself in exclusion of anyone else. Yet, no one possesses time. There is no moment which I possess exclusively. This very moment belongs to all living men as it belongs to me. We share time, we own space. Through my ownership of space, I am a rival of all other beings; through my living in time, I am a contemporary of all other beings. We pass through time, we occupy space. We easily succumb to the illusion that the world of space is for our sake, for man’s sake. In regard to time, we are immune to such an illusion.

Yom Kippur: Beyond the Self

Shofar - Chagall
No sin is so light that it may be overlooked; no sin is so heavy that it may not be repented.
Moses ibn Ezra

A person cannot find redemption until he sees the flaws in his soul, and tries to efface them. Nor can a people be redeemed until it sees the flaws in its soul and tries to efface them. But whether it be a person or a people, whoever shuts out the realization of his flaws is shutting out redemption. We can be redeemed only to the extent which we see ourselves.
Martin Buber

Should we despair of our being unable to retain perfect purity? We should, if perfection were our goal. However, we are not obliged to be perfect once and for all, but only to rise again and again beyond the level of the self.
Abraham Joshua Heschel

Bear in mind that life is short, and that with every passing day you are nearer to the end of your life. Therefore, how can you waste your time on petty quarrels and discords? Restrain your anger, hold your temper in check, and enjoy peace with everyone.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

Al Cheit (For Our Sins) is a central prayer of Yom Kippur. It is traditionally recited while beating our hearts for each item on the list.

It is a long list. Few will have committed all of them. Few have escaped committing any. It is just a list of examples. Your experience may vary, and there may be others you might add.

The tradition says that the Book of Life is open during the Ten Days of Awe. When the holy days end with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when the shofar sounds, the book closes and our lives will have been written for the next year. But the book is always open. This isn’t an inventory of recriminations. It is an opportunity to reflect and, if needed, to make amends. That is how, as Heschel says, “to rise again and again beyond the level of the self.” That is how we write the book.

Al Cheit
For Our Sins

For the sins we have committed through arrogance and selfishness:
For being obsessed with our own concerns,
For choosing rudeness over common courtesy,
For loving our egos.

For the sins we have committed by defrauding others:
For using people in pursuit of our ambitions,
For manipulating the love of others,
For gossiping.

For the sins we have committed through denial and deceit:
For creating theories to rationalize our behavior,
For faking emotions for our own benefit,
For using the sins of others to excuse our own,
For claiming that ends justify the means.

For the sins we have committed through greed and overindulgence:
For using force to maintain our power,
For poisoning our planet,
For remembering the price of things but forgetting their value.

For the sins we have committed through hardening our hearts:
For accepting poverty as inevitable,
For staying silent when we should speak out,
For resenting the young and ignoring the elderly,
For abandoning proper outrage.

For the sins we have committed through hypocrisy:
For condemning in our children the faults we tolerate in ourselves,
For condemning in our parents the faults we tolerate in ourselves,
For neglecting our promises.

For the sins we have committed by narrow-mindedness:
For passing judgment without knowledge,
For denying our baseless hatreds.

For the sins we have committed against You through sex and love:
For confusing love with lust,
For pursuing fleeting pleasure while disregarding lasting hurt,
For withholding affection to control the ones we love.

For all these sins, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.