Tuesday, September 14, 2021


We are impressed by the towering buildings of New York City. Yet not the rock of Manhattan nor the steel of Pittsburgh but the law that came from Sinai is their ultimate foundation. The true foundation upon which our cities stand is a handful of spiritual ideas. All of our life hangs by a thread—the faithfulness of man to the will of God.

The course in which human life moves is, like the orbit of heavenly bodies, an ellipse, not a circle. We are attached to two centers: to the focus of our self and to the focus of what is beyond our self. Even the intelligence is driven by two forces—by a force that comes as an instinct from within and by a force that comes with ideals from without. The inner force generates the impulse to acquire, to enjoy, to possess; the outer force arouses an urge to respond, to yield, to give.

It seems as though we have arrived at a point in history, closest to instincts and remotest from ideals, where the self stands like a wall between God and man. It is the period of a divine eclipse. We sail the seas, we count the stars, we split the atom, but never ask: Is there nothing but a dead universe and our reckless curiosity?

Primitive man's humble ear was alert to the inwardness of the world, while the modern man is presumptuous enough to claim that he has the sole monopoly over soul and spirit, that he is the only thing alive in the universe. A little crust of bread holds so much of goodness, of secret harmony, of tacit submission to purpose. Why should our minds be crowded by so much deceit, folly, and supercilious vanity?—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 328–29

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