The Writings of Martin Buber, edited by Will Herberg

Every person is a philosopher by nature; however, we are quickly dissuaded from this delightful activity by those who call philosophy impractical. But there is nothing more practical than knowing who you are and what you think. Try it sometime.

Re: The Writings of Martin Buber, edited by Will Herberg

Postby admin » Thu Jul 02, 2015 8:04 pm



The era of advanced capitalism has broken down the structure of society. The society which preceded it was composed of various societies; it was complex and pluralistic in structure. This is what gave it its peculiar social vitality, and enabled it to resist the totalitarian tendencies inherent in the prerevolutionary centralistic state, though many elements were very much weakened in their autonomous life. This resistance was broken by the policy of the French Revolution, which was directed against the special rights of all free associations. Thereafter, centralism in its new, capitalistic form succeeded where the old had failed, that is, in atomizing society. Exercising control both over the machine and, with its help, over the whole of society, capitalism wants to deal only with individuals, and the modern state aids and abets it by progressively dispossessing groups of their autonomy. The militant organizations which the proletariat erects against capitalism -- trades unions in the economic sphere and the [labor] party in the political -- are unable, in the nature of things, to counteract this process of dissolution, since they have no access to the life of society itself or to its foundations in production and consumption. Even the transfer of capital to the state could not modify the social structure, even were the state to establish a network of compulsory associations, since these latter, having no autonomous life, are unfitted to become the cells of a new socialist society.

From this point of view, the heart and soul of the cooperative movement is to be found in the trend in society toward structural renewal, toward the reacquisition. in new tectonic forms, of internal social relationships, toward the establishment of a new consociatio consociationum. It is, as I have shown, a fundamental error to view this trend as romantic or utopian merely because in its early stages it had romantic reminiscences and utopian fantasies. At bottom, it is thoroughly "topical" and constructive -- that is to say. it aims at changes which, in the given circumstances and with the means at its disposal, are quite feasible. And psychologically speaking, it is based on a human need that is eternal, even though it has often been forcibly suppressed or rendered insensible: the need of man to feel that his own house is a part of some greater, all-embracing structure in which he is at home, the need to feel that the others with whom he lives and works all acknowledge and confirm his individual existence. An association based on community of views and aspirations alone cannot satisfy this need; the only thing that can do so is an association which makes for communal living. But here the cooperative organization of production or consumption proves, each in its own way, inadequate, because both touch the individual only at a certain point and do not mold his actual life. On account of their merely partial or functional character, all such organizations are alike unfitted to act as cells of a new society. Both of these partial forms have undergone vigorous development, but the consumer cooperatives only in highly bureaucratic forms, and the producer cooperatives in highly specialized forms, so that they are today less able than ever to embrace the whole life of society. The consciousness of this fact is leading to a synthetic form, the full cooperative. By far the most powerful effort in this direction is the village commune, where communal living is based on the amalgamation of production and consumption-production being understood not as agriculture alone, but as the organic union of agriculture and industry, with the handicrafts as well.

The repeated attempts that have been made during the last one hundred and fifty years, both in Europe and America, to found village settlements of this kind, whether communistic or cooperative in the narrower sense, have mostly met with failure. [2] I would apply the word "failure" not merely to those settlements, or attempts at settlements, which after a more or less brief existence either disintegrated completely or took on a capitalist complexion; I would also apply it to those that maintained themselves in isolation. For the real, the truly structural task of the new village communes begins with their federation, that is, their union under the same principle that operates in their internal structure. Hardly anywhere has this come about. Even where, as with the Dukhobors in Canada, a sort of federative union exists, the federation itself continues to be isolated and exerts no attractive or educative influence on society as a whole, with the result that the task never gets beyond its beginnings, and consequently there can be no talk of success in the socialist sense. It is remarkable that Kropotkin saw in these two elements -- isolation of the settlements from one another and isolation from the rest of society -- the efficient causes of their failure even as ordinarily understood.

The socialistic task can only be accomplished to the degree that the new village commune, combining the various forms of production, and uniting production and consumption, exerts a structural influence on the amorphous urban society. This influence will only make itself felt to the full if, and to the extent that, further technological developments facilitate and actually require the decentralization of industry; but even now a pervasive force is latent in the modern communal village, and it may spread to the towns. It must be emphasized again that the tendency we are dealing with is constructive and "topical": it would be romantic and utopian to want to destroy the town, as once it was romantic and utopian to want to destroy the machine, but it is constructive and "topical" to try to transform the town organically in closest possible alliance with technological developments, and to try to turn it into an aggregate composed of smaller units. Indeed, many countries today show significant beginnings in this respect.

As 1 see history and the present, there is only one all-out effort to create a full cooperative which justifies our speaking of success in the socialistic sense, and that is the Jewish village commune in its various forms, as found in Palestine. No doubt, it, too, is up against grave problems in the sphere of internal relationships, federation, and influence on society at large, but it alone has proved its vitality in all three spheres. Nowhere else in the history of communal settlements is there this tireless groping for the form of community life best suited to this particular human group, nowhere else this continual trying and trying again, this going at it and keeping at it, this critical awareness, this sprouting of new branches from the same stem and out of the same formative impulse. And nowhere else is there this alertness to one's own problems. this constant facing up to them, this tough will to come to terms with them, and this indefatigable struggle -- albeit seldom expressed in words -- to overcome them. Here, and here alone, do we find in the emergent community organs of self-knowledge whose very sensitiveness has constantly reduced its members to despair -- but this is a despair that destroys wishful thinking only to raise up in its stead a greater hope which is no longer emotionalism but sheer work. Thus on the soberest survey and on the soberest reflection, one can say that in this one spot in a world of partial failures, we can recognize a non-failure -- and, such as it is, a signal non-failure.

What are the reasons for this? There is no better way of getting to know the peculiar character of this cooperative colonization than by following up these reasons.

One element has been repeatedly pointed out -- that the Jewish village commune in Palestine owes its existence not to a doctrine but to a situation, to the needs, the stress, the demands of the situation. In establishing the "kvutza," or village commune, the primary thing was not ideology, but work. This is certainly correct, but with one limitation. True, the point was to solve by collaborating certain problems of work and construction which Palestinian reality forced on the settlers; what a loose conglomeration of individuals could not, in the nature of things, hope to overcome, or even try to overcome, things being what they were, the collective could attempt to do and actually succeeded in doing. But what is called the "ideology" -- I personally prefer the old but untarnished word "ideal" -- was not just something to be added afterwards, that would justify the accomplished fact. In the spirit of the members of the first Palestinian communes, ideal motives joined hands with the dictates of the hour; and among the motives there was a curious mixture of memories of the Russian artel, impressions left over from reading the so-called "utopian" socialists, and the half-unconscious after-effects of the Bible's teachings about social justice. The important thing is that this ideal motive remained loose and pliable in almost every respect. There were various dreams about the future: people saw before them a new, more comprehensive form of the family; they saw themselves as the advance guard of the workers' movement, as the direct instrument for the realization of socialism, as the prototype of the new society; they had as their goal the creation of a new man and a new world. But nothing of this ever hardened into a cut-and-dried program. These men did not, as everywhere else in the history of cooperative settlements, bring a plan with them, a plan which the concrete situation could only fill out, but not modify. The ideal gave an impetus, but no dogma; it stimulated, but did not dictate.

More important, however, is that behind the Palestinian situation that set the tasks of work and reconstruction, there was the historical situation of a people visited by a great external crisis and responding to it with a great inner change. Further, this historical situation threw up an elite -- the halutzim, or pioneers -- drawn from all classes of the people, and thus beyond class. The form of life appropriate to this elite was the village commune, by which I mean not a single note, but the whole scale, ranging from the social structure of "mutual aid" to the commune itself. This form was the best fitted to fulfil the tasks of the nuclear halutzim, and at the same time the one in which the social ideal could materially influence the national idea. As the historical conditions have shown, it was impossible for this elite, and the form of life it favored, to become static or isolated; all its tasks, everything it did, its whole pioneering spirit made it the center of attraction and a central influence. The pioneer spirit (halutziut) is, in all its parts, related to the growth of a new and transformed national community; had it become self-sufficient, it would have lost its soul. The village commune, as the nucleus of the evolving society, had to exert a powerful pull on the people dedicated to this evolution, and it had not merely to educate its friends and associates for genuine communal living, but also to exercise a formative structural effect on the social periphery. The dynamics of history determined the dynamic character of the relations between village commune and society.

This suffered a considerable setback when the tempo of the crisis in the outer world became so rapid, and its symptoms so drastic, that the inner change could not keep pace with them. To the extent that Palestine was turned from the one and only land of the aliyah ("ascent") into a country of immigrants, a quasi-halutziut came into being alongside the genuine halutziut. The pull exerted by the commune did not abate, but its educative powers were not adapted to the influx of very different human material, and this material sometimes succeeded in influencing the tone of the community. At the same time, the commune's relations with society at large underwent a change. As the structure of the society altered, it withdrew more and more from the transforming influence of the focal cells; indeed, it began, in its turn, to exert an influence on them -- not always noticeable at first, but unmistakable today -- by seizing on certain essential elements in them and assimilating them to itself.

In the life of peoples, and particularly peoples who find themselves in the midst of some historical crisis, it is of crucial importance whether genuine elites (which means elites that do not usurp, but are called to their central function) arise, whether these elites remain loyal to their duty to society, establishing a relationship to it rather than to themselves, and finally. whether they have the power to replenish and renew themselves in a manner conformable with their task. The historical destiny of the Jewish settlements in Palestine brought the elite of the halutzim to birth, and it found its social nuclear form in the village commune. Another wave of this same destiny has thrown up. together with the quasi-halutzim, a problem for the real halutzim elite. It has caused a problem that was always latent to come to the surface. They have not yet succeeded in mastering it, and yet must master it before they can reach the next stage of their task. The inner tension between those who take the whole responsibility for the community on their shoulders and those who somehow evade it can be resolved only at a very deep level.

The point where the problem emerges is neither the individual's relationship to the idea, nor his relationship to the community, nor yet his relationship to work; on all these points. even the quasi-halutzim gird up their loins, and do by and large what is expected of them. The point where the problem emerges. where people are apt to slip. is in their relationship to their fellows. By this I do not mean the question. much discussed in its day. of the intimacy that exists in the small kvutza and the loss of this intimacy in the large kvutza; I mean something that has nothing whatever to do with the size of the commune. It is not a matter of intimacy at all; intimacy appears when it must. and if it is lacking. that's all there is to it. The question is rather one of openness. A real community need not consist of people who are perpetually together. but it must consist of people who. precisely because they are comrades. have mutual access to one another and are ready for one another. A real community is one which in every point of its being possesses, potentially at least, the whole character of community. The internal questions of a community are thus in reality questions relating to its own genuineness, hence to its inner strength and stability. The men who created the Jewish communes in Palestine instinctively knew this, but the instinct no longer seems to be as common or as alert as it was. Yet it is in this most important field that we find the remorselessly clear-sighted collective self-observation and self-criticism to which I have already drawn attention. But to understand and value it aright, we must see it together with the amazingly positive relationship -- amounting to a regular faith -- which these men have to the inmost being of their commune. The two things are two sides of the same spiritual world, and neither can be understood without the other.

In order to make the causes of the non-failure of these Jewish communal settlements in Palestine sufficiently vivid, I began with the non-doctrinaire character of their origins. This character also determined their development in all essentials. New forms and new intermediate forms were constantly branching off -- in complete freedom. Each grew out of the particular social and spiritual needs as these came to light -- in complete freedom; and each acquired, even in the initial stages, its own ideology -- in complete freedom; each struggled to propagate itself, and to spread and establish its proper sphere -- all in complete freedom. The champions of the various forms each had his say; the pros and cons of each individual form were frankly and fiercely debated -- always, however, on the plane which everybody accepted as obvious, the common cause and the common task, where each form recognized the relative justice of all the other forms in their special functions. All this is unique in the history of cooperative settlements. What is more, nowhere, as far as I can see, in the history of the socialist movement were men so deeply involved in the process of differentiation, and yet so intent on preserving the principle of integration.

The various forms and intermediate forms that arose in this way at different times and in different situations represented different kinds of social structure. The people who built them were generally aware of this, as also of the particular social and spiritual needs that actuated them. They were not aware to the same extent that the different forms corresponded to different human types, and that just as new forms branched off from the original kvutza, so new types branched off from the original halutz, each with its special mode of being and each demanding its particular sort of realization. More often than not, it was economic and similar external factors that led certain people to break away from one form and attach themselves to another. But in the main, each type looked for the social realization of its peculiarities in this particular form, and on the whole, found it there. And not only was each form based on a definite type; it molded, and keeps on molding, that type. It was and is intent on developing it; the constitution, organization, and educational system of each form are -- no matter how consciously or unconsciously -- dedicated to this end. Thus, something has been produced which is essentially different from all the social experiments that have ever been made -- not a laboratory where everybody works for himself, alone with his problems and plans, but an experimental station where, on common soil, different colonies or "cultures" are tested out according to different methods for a common purpose.

Yet here, too, a problem emerged, no longer within the individual group, but in the relation of the groups to one another; nor did it come from without. It came from within -- in fact, from the very heart of the principle of freedom.

Even in its first undifferentiated form, a tendency towards federation was innate in the kvutza, to merge the kvutzot into some higher social unit; and a very important tendency it was, since it showed that the kvutza implicitly understood that it was the cell of a newly structured society. With the splitting off and proliferation of the various forms -- from the semi-individualistic form which jealously guarded personal independence in its domestic economy, way of life, children's education, etc., to the pure communistic form -- the single unit was supplanted by a series of units in each of which a definite form of colony, and a more or less definite human type, constituted itself on a federal basis. The fundamental assumption was that the local groups would combine on the same principle of solidarity and mutual help as prevailed within the individual group. But the trend toward a larger unit is far from having atrophied in the process. On the contrary, at least in the kibbutz, or collectivist, movement, it asserts itself with great force and clarity. It recognizes the federative kibbutzim -- units where the local groups have pooled their various aspirations -- as a provisional structure; indeed, a thoughtful leader of the movement calls them a substitute for a commune of communes. Apart from the fact, however, that individual forms -- especially, for instance, the moshavim, or semi-individualistic labor settlements, though these do not fall short of any of the other forms in the matter of communal economic control and mutual help -- are already too far removed from the basic form to be included in a unitary plan, in the kibbutz movement itself subsidiary organizations stand in the way of the trend toward unification which strives to embrace and absorb them. Each has developed its own special character and consolidated it in the unit, and it is natural that each should incline to view unification as an extension of its own influence. But something else has been added that has led to an enormous intensification of this attitude on the part of the single units, and that is political development. Twenty years ago, a leader of one of the large units could say emphatically: "We are a community, not a party." This has radically changed in the meantime, and the conditions for unification have been aggravated accordingly. The lamentable fact has emerged that the all-important attitude of neighborly relationship has not been adequately developed, although not a few cases are on record of a rich and flourishing village giving generous help to a young and poor neighbor which belonged to another unit. In these circumstances, the great struggle that has broken out on the question of unification, particularly in the last decade, is the more remarkable. Nobody who is a socialist at heart can read the great document of this struggle, the Hebrew compilation entitled The Kibbutz and the Kvutw, edited by the late labor leader, Berl Katznelson, without losing himself in admiration of the high-minded passion with which these two camps fought with one another for genuine unity. The union will probably not be attained save as the outcome of a situation that makes it absolutely necessary. But that the men of the Jewish communes have labored so strenuously with one another, and against one another, for the emergence of a communitas communitatum, that is to say, for a structurally new society: this will not be forgotten in the history of mankind's struggle for self-renewal.

I have said that I see in this bold Jewish undertaking a "signal non-failure." I cannot say a signal success. To become that, much has still to be done. Yet it is in this way, in this kind of tempo, with such setbacks, disappointments, and new ventures, that real changes are accomplished in this our mortal world.

But can one speak of this non-failure as "signal"? I have pointed out the peculiar nature of the premises and conditions that led to it. And what one of its own representatives has said of the kvutza, that it is a typically Palestinian product, is true of all these forms.

Still, if an experiment conducted under certain conditions bas proved successful up to a point, we can set about varying it under other, less favourable conditions.

There can hardly be any doubt that we must regard the last war as the end of the prelude to a world crisis. This crisis will probably break out -- after a somber "interlude" that cannot last very long -- first among some of the nations of the West, who will be able to restore their shattered economy in appearance only. They will see themselves faced with the immediate need for radical socialization, above all, the expropriation of the land. It will then be of absolutely decisive importance who is the real subject of an economy so transformed, and who is the owner of the social means of production. Is it to be the central authority in a highly centralized state, or the social units of urban and rural workers, living and producing on a communal basis, and their representative bodies? In the latter case, the remodelled organs of the state will discharge the functions of adjustment and administration only. On these issues will largely depend the growth of a new society and a new civilization. The essential point is to decide on the fundamentals: a restructuring of society as a league of leagues, and a reduction of the state to its proper function, which is to maintain unity, or a devouring of an amorphous society by the omnipotent state -- socialist pluralism or so-called socialist unitarianism -- the right proportion, tested anew every day according to changing conditions, between group freedom and collective order, or absolute order imposed indefinitely for the sake of an era of freedom alleged to follow "of its own accord." So long as Russia has not undergone an essential inner change -- and today we have no means of knowing when and how that will come to pass -- we must designate one of the two poles of socialism between which our choice lies by the formidable name of "Moscow." The other, I would make bold to call "Jerusalem."


We are living in an age of the depreciation of words. The intellect with its gift for language has been all too willing to put itself at the disposal of whatever trends prevail at the time. Instead of letting the word grow out of the thought in responsible silence. the intellect has manufactured words for every demand with almost mechanical skill. It is not only the intellectuals who are now finding a suspicious reception for their disquisitions, who must suffer for this "treason." [3] What is worse is that their audience. above all the entire younger generation of our time, is deprived of the noblest happiness of youth, the happiness of believing in the spirit. It is easily understood that many of them now see nothing but "ideologies" in intellectual patterns, nothing but pompous robes for very obvious group interests, that they are no longer willing to believe there is a truth over and above parties, over and above those who wield power and are greedy for it. They tell us, tell one another. and tell themselves, that they are tired of being fed on lofty illusions, that they want to go back to a "natural" foundation, to unconcealed instincts, that the life of the individual, as well as that of every people, must be built up on simple self-assertion.

No matter what others may do, we. my friends, should not choose this way. If we really are Jews, meaning the bearers of a tradition and a task, we know what has been transmitted to us. We know that there is a truth which is the seal of God, and we know that the task we have been entrusted with is to let this one truth set its stamp on all the various facets of our life. We are not the owners of this truth, for it belongs to God. We ourselves cannot use the seal, but we can be the wax that takes the seal. Every individual is wax of a different form and color, but all are potentially receptive to the stamp of truth, for all of us, created "in the image of God," are potentially able to become images of the divine. We are not the owners of the truth, but this does not mean that we must depend either on vain ideologies or on mere instincts, for every one of us has the possibility of entering into a real relationship to truth. Such a relationship, however, cannot grow out of thinking alone, for the ability to think is only one part of us; but neither is feeling enough. We can attain to such a relationship only through the undivided whole of our life as we live it. The intellect can be redeemed from its last lapse into sin, from the desecration of the word, only if the word is backed and vouched for with the whole of one's life. The betrayal of the intellectuals cannot be atoned for by the intellect retreating into itself, but only by its proffering to reality true service in place of false. It must not serve the powers of the moment and what they call reality -- not the short-lived semblance of truth. The intellect should serve the true great reality, whose function it is to embody the truth of God; it must serve. No matter how brilliant it may be, the human intellect which wishes to keep to a plane above the events of the day is not really alive. It can become fruitful, beget life and live, only when it enters into the events of the day without denying, but rather proving, its superior origin. Be true to the spirit, my friends, but be true to it on the plane of reality. Our first question must be: what is the truth? what has God commanded us to do? But our next must be: how can we accomplish it from where we are?

We shall accomplish nothing at all if we divide our world and our life into, two domains: one in which God's command is paramount, the other governed exclusively by the laws of economics, politics, and the "simple self-assertion" of the group. Such dualism is far more ominous than the naturalism I spoke of before. Stopping one's ears so as not to hear the voice from above is breaking the connection between existence and the meaning of existence. But he who hears the voice and sets a limit to the area beyond which its rule shall not extend is not merely moving away from God, like the person who refuses to listen: he is standing up directly against him. The atheist does not know God, but the adherent of a form of ethics which ends where politics begin has the temerity to prescribe to God, whom he professes to know, how far his power may extend. The polytheists distribute life and the world among many powers. As far as they are concerned, Germany has one god and France another; there is a god of business, and a god of the state. Each of these domains has its own particular code of laws, and is subject to no superior court. Western civilization professes one God and lives in polytheism. We Jews are connected to this civilization with thousands of strands, but if we share in its dualism of life and profession of faith, we shall forfeit our justification for living. If we were only one nation among others, we should long ago have perished from the earth. Paradoxically, we exist only because we dared to be serious about the unity of God and his undivided, absolute sovereignty. If we give up God, he will give us up. And we do give him up when we profess him in synagogue and deny him when we come together for discussion, when we do his commands in our personal life, and set up other norms for the life of the group we belong to. What is wrong for the individual cannot be right for the community, for if it were, then God, the God of Sinai, would no longer be the Lord of peoples, but only of individuals. If we really are Jews, we believe that God gives his commands to men to observe throughout their whole life, and that whether or not life has a meaning depends on the fulfilment of those commands. And if we consult our deep inner knowledge about God's command to mankind, we shall not hesitate an instant to say that it is peace. There are many among us who think this command is intended for some more propitious future; for the present, we must participate in the universal war, in order to escape destruction. But it is only if we do participate in this war that we shall be destroyed; for as far as we are concerned, there is only one possible kind of destruction: God letting us slip out of his hand.

I frequently hear some among us saying: "We too want the spirit of Judaism to be fulfilled; we too want the Torah to issue forth from Zion, and we know that to realize this purpose the Torah must not be mere words, but actual life; we want God's word on Zion to become a reality. But this cannot happen until the world again has a Zion, and so first of all we want to build up Zion, and to build it -- with every possible means." It may, however, be characteristic of Zion that it cannot be built with "every possible means," but only bemishpat (Is. 1:27), only "with justice." It may be that God will refuse to receive his sanctuary from the hands of the devil. Suppose a man decided to steal and rob for six years, and in the seventh. to build a temple with the fortune thus amassed; suppose he succeeded -- would he really be rearing temple walls? Would he not rather be setting up a den of robbers (Jer. 7:11). or a robber's palace. on whose portals he dares to engrave the name of God? It is true that God does not build his own house. He wants us to build it with our human hands and our human strength. for "house" in this connection can mean only that at long last we may begin to live God's word on earth! But after we have laid the foundations of this house by his means, bemishpat, do you really imagine that God is not strong enough to let it be finished by those same means? If you do imagine that, stop talking about Judaism, Jewish spirit, and Jewish teachings! For Judaism is the teaching that there is really only One Power which, while at times it may permit the sham powers of the world to accomplish something in opposition to it, never permits such accomplishment to stand. But whatever is done in the service of that power, and done in such a way that not only the goal but the means to that goal are in accord with the spirit of justice, will survive, even though it may have to struggle for a time, and may seem in great peril, and weak compared to the effective sham powers.

I should like to bring a concept of the utmost importance home even to those who cannot or will not understand the language of religion, and therefore believe that I am discussing theology. I am speaking of the reality of history. In historical reality, we do not set ourselves a righteous goal, choose whatever way to it an auspicious hour offers, and, following that way, reach the set goal. If the goal to be reached is like the goal which was set, then the nature of the way must be like the goal. A wrong way, that is, a way in contradiction to the goal, must lead to a wrong goal. What is accomplished through lies can assume the mask of truth; what is accomplished through violence, can go in the guise of justice, and for a while the hoax may be successful. But soon people will realize that lies are lies at bottom, that in the final analysis, violence is violence, and both lies and violence will suffer the destiny history has in store for all that is false. I sometimes hear it said that a generation must sacrifice itself, "take the sin upon itself," so that coming generations may be free to live righteously. But it is self-delusion and folly to think that one can lead a dissolute life and raise one's children to be good and happy; they will usually turn out to be hypocrites or tormented.

History has much to teach us, but we must know how to receive her teaching. These temporary triumphs which are apt to catch our attention are nothing but the stage setting for universal history. If we keep our eyes fixed on the foreground, the true victories, won in secret, sometimes look like defeats. True victories happen slowly and imperceptibly, but they have far-reaching effects. In the limelight, our faith that God is the Lord of history may sometimes appear ludicrous; but there is something secret in history which confirms our faith.

He who makes peace, our sages taught, is God's fellow worker. But addressing conciliatory words to others and occupying oneself with humane projects is not the way to make peace. We make peace, we help bring about world peace, if we make peace wherever we are destined and summoned to do so: in the active life of our own community and in that aspect of it which can actively help determine its relationship to another community. The prophecy of peace addressed to Israel is not valid only for the days of the coming of the Messiah. It holds for the day when the people will again be summoned to take part in shaping the destiny of its earliest home; it holds for today. "And if not now, when?" (Mishnah, Sayings of the Fathers, 1:14). Fulfilment in a Then is inextricably bound up with fulfilment in the Now.
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Re: The Writings of Martin Buber, edited by Will Herberg

Postby admin » Thu Jul 02, 2015 8:07 pm


PART 3: Of Biblical Faith

1. Saga and History

2. Holy Event

3. "Upon Eagles' Wings"

4. The Words on the Tablets

5. The Zealous God

6. The Contradiction

7. Biblical Leadership

8. Plato and Isaiah

9. The Man of Today and the Jewish Bible


In order to learn at first hand who Moses was and the kind of life that was his, it is obviously necessary to study the biblical narrative. There are no other sources worthy of serious consideration; comparison of reports, normally the chief means of ascertaining historical truth, is not possible here. Whatever has been preserved of Israel's traditions since ancient times is to be found in this one book. Not so much as the vestige of a chronicle dating from that period, or deriving from the nations with whom the Children of Israel established contact on their journey from Egypt to Canaan, has been preserved; and not the vaguest indication of the event in question is to be found in ancient Egyptian literature.

The biblical narrative itself is basically different in character from all that we usually classify as serviceable historical sources. The happenings recorded there can never have come about, in the historical world as we know it, after the fashion in which they are described. The literary category within which our historical mode of thinking must classify this narrative is the saga; and a saga is generally assumed to be incapable of producing within us any conception of a factual sequence.

Further, it is customary to accept as a fundamental tenet of the non-dogmatic biblical scholarship of our day the view that the tales in question belong to a far later epoch than the events related, and that it is the spirit of that later epoch which finds expression in them; or, even more, the spirit of the sundry and various later periods to which are ascribed the "sources," the different constituent parts of which the story is composed or compiled according to the prevalent view. Thus Homer, for example, to take an analogous case, provides us with a picture of the epoch in which he himself lived rather than of the one in which his heroes did their deeds.

Assuming that to be the case, just as little could be ascertained regarding Moses' character and works as is to be ascertained of Odysseus'; and we would perforce have to rest content with the possession of a rare testimony to the art with which court writers commissioned by the kings of Israel, or the more popular (in the original sense of the word) prophets of the nation, wrought the image of its founder out of material entirely inaccessible to us.

The scholarship of our own epoch, however, has prepared the way for another and deeper insight into the relation between saga or legend and history. For example, the philologist Hermann Usener indicated (in 1897) [1] that what finds expression in the saga is not a post-factum transfiguration of an historical recollection, but a process which follows on the events, "in their footsteps, so to say." At a more recent date (in 1933) [2], the Iranologist Ernst Herzfeld observed that "saga and the writing of history start out from the identical point, the event," and that it is the saga which in particular preserves historical memories, "not of what the consequences show to be 'historical event,' but of that which roused the emotions of the men undergoing the experience." It is' possible to formulate even more precisely the nature of the issue involved. The man of early times met the unplanned, unexpected events which transformed the historical situation of his community at a single stroke with a fundamental stirring of all the elements in his being; a state of affairs properly described by the great Germanist Jacob Grimm (1813) [3] as "objective enthusiasm." It is a primeval state of amazement which sets all the creative forces of the soul to work. What happens is therefore not a mere recasting of the event perceived by imagination become paramount; the experience itself is creative. "Periods of a more sensuous religious emotion," says Usener, "see vast, bright, superhuman figures passing before the victorious troops ,and bringing death and defeat to the ranks of the foe." Here the emphasis should be put on the word "see." The historical wonder is no mere interpretation; it is something actually seen. Even the subsequent comprehension of the flashing lightning-like visions within the consecutive report of the saga is not arbitrary in character. An organic and organically creative memory is here at work.

That this early saga, close as it is to the time of the event, tends to assume rhythmical form, can well be understood. It is not due solely to the fact that enthusiasm naturally expresses itself in rhythm. Of greater importance is the basic idea characterizing this stage of human existence that historical wonder can be grasped by no other form of speech save that which is rhythmically articulated, of course in oral expression (a basic concept which is closely associated with the time-old relation between rhythm and magic). This is sustained by the wish to retain unchanged for all time the memory of the awe-inspiring things that had come about; to which end a transmission in rhythmical form is the most favorable condition. Occasionally, the saga assumes specifically lyrical form; as in the Song of Deborah, where the bard mocks and curses as from the very battle.

Hence, alongside the more registrative forms of historical record, conditioned by the court and its requirements, which constitute a stage preliminary to the scientific writing of history, and which develop from the royal lists of the Sumerians to the well-constructed chronicles of the biblical books of Kings, the historical song and the historical saga exist as spontaneous forms of popular preservation by word of mouth of "historical" events, such events, that is, as are vital in the life of the tribe. It is of importance to investigate the sociological character of these types.

The saga is the predominant method of preserving the memory of what happens, as long as tribal life is stronger than state organization. As soon as the latter becomes more powerful, on the other hand, the unofficial popular forms are overshadowed through the development of an annalistic keeping of records by order of the governing authority.

If a saga assumes poetic form in its early stage, it remains virtually unchanged for a long time, even when it is transmitted by word of mouth alone, save that passages may be introduced which describe the course of events subsequent to the initial incident giving rise to the saga. Reminiscences not included in the poem may under certain circumstances condense into a parallel account, so that, as in the case of the story of Deborah, prose is found aide by side with poetry; or, more correctly speaking, a loosely cadenced version accompanies the more strictly versified form. If the saga, however, does not assume this strict form at about the time of the event, but remains in its "mobile" state, it will be variously treated by different narrators, without any need to assume a conscious wish to introduce changes. Differing religious, political, and family tendencies, simultaneous and parallel to one another as well as consecutive, find expression in the treatment, with the result that a product already current in the tradition is "rectified," that is, supplemented or actually transformed in one or another detail. This continuous process of crystallization is something entirely different in character from compilation and welding of elements from various sources.

Such a state of affairs invests research with the duty of establishing a critique of tradition. The student must attempt to penetrate to that original nucleus of saga which was almost contemporary with the initial event. The attempt is rendered difficult, inter alia, by the fact that the literature of the ages saw fit to round off the saga material by supplementary data; as, for instance, where it was felt that the unknown or only superficially known birth and childhood story of the hero must not be left untold.

Here the procedure of investigation must necessarily be reductive. It must remove layer after layer from the images as set before it, in order to arrive at the earliest of all.

There can be no certainty of arriving by this method at "what really happened." However, even if it is impossible to reconstitute the course of events themselves, it is nevertheless possible to recover much of the manner in which the participating people experienced those events. We become acquainted with the meeting between this people and a vast historical happening that overwhelmed it; we become conscious of the saga-creating ardor with which the people received the tremendous event and transmitted it to a molding memory. This, however, should certainly not be understood to mean that the only results we can expect to obtain lie in the field of group psychology. The meeting of a people with events so enormous that it cannot ascribe them to its own plans and their realization, but must perceive in them deeds performed by heavenly powers, is of the genuine substance of history. In so far as the saga begins near the event, it is the outcome and record of this meeting.

The critique of tradition involved in the interpretation of the saga approximates us to the original meeting. At the sight of it, we have to stand without being able to educe an "objective state of affairs." We shall not regain an historical nucleus of the saga by eliminating the function of enthusiasm from it. This function is an inseparable element of the fragment of history entrusted to our study. Yet, in every case, we can and should test whether and how the narrative can be connected with and incorporated in the historical circumstances. Here history cannot be dissevered from the historical wonder; but the experience which has been transmitted to us, the experience of event as wonder, is itself great history and must be understood out of the element of history; it has to be fitted within the frame of the historical. Whether Sinai was a volcano cannot be determined historically, nor is it historically relevant. But that the tribes gathered at the "burning mountain" comprehended the words of their leader Moses as a message from their God, a message that simultaneously established a covenant between them and a covenant between him and their community, is essentially an historical process, historical in the deepest sense; it is historical because it derives from historical connections and sets off fresh historical connections. When faced by such tales, it is wrong to talk of an "historization of myth"; it might be preferable to describe them as a mythization of history, remembering that here, unlike the concept familiar in the science of religion, myth means nothing other than the report by ardent enthusiasts of that which has befallen them. And it may very well be doubted whether, in the last resort, the report of an unenthusiastic chronicler could have come closer to the truth. There is no other way of understanding history than the rational one, but it must start off with the overcoming of the restricted and restrictive ratio, substituting for it a higher, more comprehensive one.

However, two factors should be emphasized as having contributed greatly to the strength of the historical content of the Moses saga.

To begin with, the central figures of the Bible saga are not, as in so many hero-tales, merged in or amalgamated with persons belonging to mere mythology; the data regarding their lives have not been interwoven with stories of the gods. Here all the glorification is dedicated solely to the God who brings about the events. The human being acting under the God', orders is portrayed in all his un transfigured humanity. The wonder-working staff in his hand does not transform him into a possessor of superhuman powers; when once he uses that staff unbidden, he is subject to judgment. And when he descends from Sinai with radiant face, the radiance is not a shining forth from his own being, but only the reflection of some higher light. This withdrawing of the human being from the mythical element steeps the tale in an atmosphere of august sobriety, a dry atmosphere, one might almost say, which frequently permits a glimpse of an historical nucleus.

Besides, precise inspection goes to show that the early narrator of the deeds of Moses aimed not at beautiful or instructive individual sagas, but at a continuity of events. It is true that in the report of the journey through the wilderness, for example, we meet repeatedly with episodes, but they are introduced in a connection which obviously derives not from later harmonizing literary tendencies (like the Book of Joshua, for instance). but from a powerful primitive emotion which is the passionate recollection of a sequence of unheard-of events. Nor yet does the relation found here appear to show anything of the poetic composition of the epos; it is the practically related sequence of the itinerary. The latter may possibly have been worked up from an inexact or mutilated tradition to a state of questionable completeness; maybe the associated temporal sequence .has been transformed by didactic aims and number symbolism; but the origin, the memory of a journey in the course of which the nation came into being, and the zealous purpose of preserving on record the stations of that journey, has remained unobliterated. In the literature of the world, the specifically historical can undoubtedly be found only where the principle of original connection is to be met with; here it cannot be denied.

All this leads to a threefold critical task which, difficult as it may be, nevertheless seems in some degree to be capable of accomplishment. It is necessary to draw a distinction between saga produced near the historical occurrences, the character of which is enthusiastic report, and saga which is further away from the historical event. and which derives from the tendency to complete and round off what is already given. Therefore, it is necessary to establish a further distinction, within the former, between the original components and their subsequent treatment. Finally, it is also necessary to penetrate to the historical nucleus of the saga as far as possible. Naturally, it is impossible to produce a coherent historical picture in this way, which is the only one scientifically permissible; yet we are entitled to hope genuine historical outlines may be ascertained. The distinction drawn should not be understood in the sense of elimination; as we have seen. the saga element too, in so far as it is characterized by closeness to history. is historically important. being a document of the reception of what befell in the minds of those whom it befell. ,Yet we may go further; what was added later is also of importance for us. Even the men who round off and supplement do what they do not arbitrarily but under the sustained urge of the primeval impulse. Tradition is by its nature an uninterrupted change in form; change and preservation function in the identical current. Even while the hand makes its alterations, the ear hearkens to the deeps of the past; not only for the reader but also for the writer himself does the old serve to legitimize the new. The Moses who had his being long ago is properly expanded by the one who has come into being in the course of long ages. It is our aim to come nearer to the former by our testing and selective work on the text; the latter is given to us directly. We must hold both in view without confusing them; we must comprehend the brightness of the foreground and gaze into the dark deeps of history.

At the same time, we must bear in mind that the forces which formed the saga are in essence identical with those which reigned supreme in history; they are the forces of a faith. For this faith, which is in character a history faith, a faith relating largely to historical time as such, did not merely treat a transmitted material after the fact; it cannot be imagined as absent from this material. The transmitted events are steeped in it; the persons who furthered the events believed in it. did in it what had to be done. and experienced in it what had to be experienced. The research of our day has reached the point. in the course of its radical doubts and queries. of providing fresh ground for an old certainty: that the biblical tales of the early Israelitic days report an early Israelitic faith. Whatever the mixture of fact and legend may be in the events related, the indwelling story of faith which inheres in them is authentic in all its main lines. What we learn of the faith determining the active and the receptive life of those persons is not. as scholarship supposed for some time, a "projection" of a later religious development against the surface of the earlier epoch, but is, in essence. the religious content of the latter. And it is this faith which shaped the saga that was near to history and at subsequent stages also shaped the more distant saga.

In its character, this saga is "sacred legend," since the relation to God of the men of whom it tells is a fundamental constituent. But this history, too, is in its character "sacred history," because the people who work and suffer in" it work and suffer as they do in virtue of their relationship to their God.


We know nothing of Israel's religious situation in the Egyptian age, and we can only conjecture on the basis of scattered disconnected phrases (e.g., Ezek. 20:7f.) that it was out of a state of religious decay that Moses stirred them up. We can proceed only by putting the period of the Exodus alongside that of the fathers.

When we pass from the atmosphere of the patriarchal tradition, as we have tried to picture it hypothetically, and enter the atmosphere of the Exodus tradition, we are confronted at the first glance with something new. But it is quickly manifest that this does not mean a change in the deity, but a change in men. We have already seen that the deity is in essence no other than the primitive deity. Against this the human partner is essentially changed; therefore, the situation common to the two is entirely different; and with this the sphere in which the deity acts is so different that one may easily think the very character of this activity to be changed, and one does not recognize the identity of the agent. The new thing from the human side is that here we have "people," not "a people" in the strictest sense, but at all events the element "people." That is to say, this collection of men is no more a company assembled around the recipients of revelation and their kinsmen as in the patriarchal age, but a 'something that is called "Israel" and which the deity can acknowledge to be "his people" -- again it is not of decisive importance whether this people comprises all the tribes of Israel, or only some of them, the rest having been left in Canaan or having returned thither before this. We do not know whether "Israel" originally was the name of a people or the name of a "holy confederacy," to which the tribes were gathered together by the leadership of Moses, [4] and gave themselves, after their sacred call, the name "Israel," the meaning of which probably is not "God strives," but "God rules." [5]

But if this is the original explanation of "Israel," then this community has already, in consequence of the special historical conditions, reached, at the moment of the exodus -- that is, at the moment when we are able to perceive them historically -- that stage of self-evident unitedness, so that we are justified in applying to them the name "people," even though they do not yet possess all the marks reckoned as belonging to this concept. And if "Israel" was already in origin the name of a people, then it is only at this point, at the exodus from Egypt, not in Egypt itself, that the people comes into actual existence, and only at this point is the name "Israel" perfectly manifest as "the visible program of God's sovereignty." [6] And the deity now acts historically upon this people seen by him as an absolute unity, the same deity whom the fathers discovered as the guardian God accompanying them. The change which we think we perceive in him as we now advance in time is nothing but the transformation of the situation into an historical one, and the greatness of Moses consists in the fact that he accepts the situation and exhausts its possibilities. No external influence is to be found here. Indeed, it is vain to attempt to find here a Kenite ingredient; YHVH has taken over nothing from the Egyptian god Aton, who is brought into the picture as "monotheistic," and other things which may have approached him have not touched his nature. This God has become manifest as a God of history, because he became the God of Israel, this Israel that only now came into being, that only now he was able to "find" (Hos. 9:10). and because this Israel only now has entered the realm of history. He reveals himself to it: what was hidden in prehistoric time is made historically manifest. Our path in the history of faith is not a path from one kind of deity to another, but in fact a path from the "God who hides himself" (Is. 45: 15) to the One who reveals himself.

If we look at the first of the writing prophets, Amos, and examine the traditions which he handles concerning this activity of YHVH, and ask what are the reminiscences that he knows to be common to all his hearers, these two appear before us: the leading from Egypt through the desert (Am. 2:10; 3:1; 9:7); and the appropriation which the deity expresses in a word reminiscent of the marriage union (Gen. 4: 1). but later uses to indicate the primal mission of the prophet (Jer. 1:5), "You have I known" (Am. 3:2). The first of these two, talked over by everyone and thought to be understood by all -- "I have brought you up" (2: 10) -- Amos shows (9:7) to be something that is in no way peculiar to Israel, but the fundamental fact of the historic contact of this leader God with the peoples. It is with set purpose that record is here kept of the names of the two neighboring peoples who fought most mightily with all Israel or Judah. the one in early times, the other in the immediate past. In these instances, very painful as they are to you -- this is the force of the prophet's words -- you lee that this God of yours, of whose historic dealing with you you boast, deals historically with other peoples as with you. leading each of them on its wanderings and singling out ill lot. The second thing, not familiar to the people as to its expression and sense, but corresponding in the people's memory to the events of revelation and covenant-making, he lays bare as the supra-historical election to be binding absolutely, peculiar "only" to Israel among all the peoples: "Therefore" -- and now comes the iron word from the Decalogue -- "will I visit upon you all your iniquities." YHVH has not revealed himself to any other family of the "families of the earth" save only to this Israel. and to them he has revealed himself really as the "zealous God." And in the mouth of Amos' contemporary. Hosea, who presupposes no general thought or teaching. but expresses directly the things of the heart, YHVH illustrates his zealousness by his experience with Israel in the desert: I loved them (11:1) and they betrayed me (9:10; 11:2; 13:6).

Those Semitic peoples who call their tribal deities by the name malk, meaning originally counsellor, arbitrator, leader. and only afterwards receiving the meaning of king, appear to have expressed by this name not the oracle power of the settlement but the leadership in primitive wanderings and conquest. These are nomad gods, leader gods of the tribe. which, through the political change of meaning of the word, become afterwards "kings"; the type of this tribal god, although not the name, we find in the message of Jephthah to the king of the "Ammonites" (or more correctly the king of Moab). where he tells him that Chemosh his god "disinherited" other peoples even as YHVH had done. in order to give a land to the people led by him (Judg. 11:23f.). Amos' saying about the bringing up of the Aramaeans disposes of such a notion: the peoples do not know who is their liberator, they each call him by a different name, each one thinks it has one of its own, whereas we know the One, because he "has known" us. This is the national universalism of the prophetic faith.

The Mosaic age does not possess this religious view of the history of peoples, but it does have the fundamental religious experience which opens the door to this view. What is preserved for us here is to be regarded not as the "historization" of a myth or of a cult drama, nor is it to be explained as the transposition of something originally beyond time into historical time: [7] a great history-faith does not come into the world through interpretation of the extra-historical as historical, but by receiving an occurrence experienced as a "wonder," that is, as an event which cannot be grasped except as an act of God. Something happens to us, the cause of which we cannot ascribe to our world; the event has taken place just now, we cannot understand it, we can only believe it (Ex. 14:31). It is a holy event. We acknowledge the performer (15:1, 21): "I will sing unto YHVH, for he has verily risen, the horse and its rider he has cast into the sea." [8]

In this undeniably contemporary song, the deliverance is asserted as a holy event. A later song, which nevertheless is very ancient in form, vocabulary, and sentence construction, the song framing "the Blessing of Moses," praises in its first half (the second half tells of the conquest of the land) a series of divine appearances in the wilderness, [9] beginning with the appearance at Mount Sinai. From the difficult text, it can be understood that the "holy ones" of the people collect round YHVH, when they camp "at his feet" (cf. Ex. 24:10); that later the people receive from the divine words the "instruction" (torah) which Moses "commands"; that so "the congregation of Jacob" becomes YHVH's "inheritance"; and that finally the heads of the tribes gather together and proclaim YHVH to be king over them. What is recorded here of the holy event can only be reconstructed incompletely out of the exodus story. The fact that the proclamation is lacking here is probably to be explained by the fear which they felt of the influence -- so combated by the prophets -- of the meld. cult of the neighboring peoples, that is to say, of the penetration of child sacrifice into Israel. Isaiah is the first (6:5) directly to give YHVH the title meld, king, after forcibly demonstrating the uncleanness of the people over against him. But we still have preserved for us another echo of the proclamation. namely the last verse of the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15:18), which although it is not so near in time to the event as the opening of the Song. yet clearly is "not long after the event about which it tells." [10] Here proclamation is made triumphantly that the divine kingdom will stand forever. This is to be understood not in the light of the state concept of kingship. nor on the basis of the later idea of a cosmic-cultic kingdom of the God, but only as the recognition by wandering tribes of their divine Leader: the sovereignty of this Leader over his people is proclaimed.

Thus, over against the two sayings of Amos. we have before us two series of events. The first comprises the deliverance from Egypt and the leading through the wilderness to Canaan; the second comprises the revelation. the making of the covenant. and the setting up of an order of the people by the leadership of the divine melek. That is to say. the first series exists for the sake of the second. So we are to understand the words "unto me" in the first Sinai message (Ex. 19:4). which still precedes the revelation in the thunderstorm. [11] YHVH bears the people. as the eagle from time to time bears one of its young on its wing (a late form of the picture is found in Deut. 32:11). to the place of revelation: if the people hearken to the voice that now speaks to them. they will become for YHVH. whose is all the earth. a "peculiar treasure" among all the peoples that are his; they will become for him. the King. a "king's realm" (cf. II Sam. 3:28). surrounding him near at hand and serving him directly. a circle of kohanim, that is. "foremost ones at the king's hand" (so I Chron. 18:17 calls the office, while II Sam. 8:18 gives it the name kohanim, meaning those who minister to the king), a "holy" (hallowed, set apart for him) goy (body of people). The saying dates apparently from the time before the division of the Israelite kingdom, [12] and it is already influenced by the political changes of meaning in the concept melek; but it is clear that a traditional basic view of the meaning of the events. the exodus and the making of the covenant. became crystallized in it. YHVH acts as melek in the sense of sovereign. So through a holy event there comes into existence this category decisive from the point of view of the history of faith. of the "holy people," the hallowed body of people. as image and claim; at a later time. after the people had broken the covenant again and again, this category changed and was replaced by the messianic promise and hope.

Both series of events are blended together in a most noteworthy way in the great holy object, indeed the greatest of all holy objects created by the "nomadic faith," the faith of a people seeking a land and believing in the divine Leader who brings them to it -- namely, the ark. [13] It clearly cannot be dated any later; for there is to be found in it all the incentive and motive force of the holy adventure, all its symbol-begetting power. And in spite of the many parallels in the history of religion to one or other aspect of the ark, [14] it can hardly be maintained that the ark is borrowed from anywhere, for its nature lies precisely in the unity of these different aspects. It carries. the cherub throne of the Lord who, seated thereon, guides the wandering and the battle (here both are still absolutely interconnected the one with the other); and together with this is the ark proper containing the tablets. These are called "the testimony," because it is by them that the covenant is always attested anew, and so the ark is also called "the ark of the covenant." Neither of the two could be wanting. This holy object is a visible unity of the two divine activities: the activity of the Leader, who now, in the historic situation, has become also "a man of war" (Ex. 15:3); and the activity of the Revealer, whose revelation, once it had taken place, is never more to be concealed and hidden, but must remain carved on stone or written on a scroll. At the same time, even this is characteristically not attached to a place: the tablets are fixed in the ark, but the ark is by nature mobile, moving in the tent and outside it, for it is forbidden to remove the staves (25:15). Even after the ark stands firm in the temple in Jerusalem, they are not removed (I Kings 8:8); but this means only reverence for tradition and symbolism, and not any longer a direct notion of the leader deity. The double call, originating in the wilderness (Num. 10:35f.), to the Lord of the ark, who travels and halts with the camp, "Rise up YHVH" and "Return YHVH," and the "meld. shout" because Israel's God is "with him" (32:21), is no more heard. His special name "YHVH of hosts" (that is, the host of the people and the host of heaven, concerning both of which the Song of Deborah speaks) is still in the mouth of the people, but its real meaning is no longer really known -- until Amos comes and expounds it again.

The paradox on which the sanctity of the ark is based (every "holy" thing is founded on a paradox) is this, that an invisible deity becomes perceptible as one who comes and goes. According to tradition, as far as we can still recognize it, the ark must be brought into the "tent of meeting" -- not the tent which is described in all its parts in Scripture, and which really cannot be conceived in the wilderness. but the tent of the Leader ("the tent" of Ex. 33:7ff.) -- after atonement for sin had been made. The image of the steer, which has no other design than to be a likeness of that very God "who brought you up from the land of Egypt." (32:4). was put up to make the leadership permanently perceptible. In the hour of forgiveness, God grants (33:14, 17) that his "face" will go with the people. The meaning of this is that a visibleness is conceded which in fact is none; that is to say. not the visibleness of an "image" or a "shape" (20:4). but as in a vision of the ancients (24:10), the visibleness of a place. This is the hour in which the holy object is born. Later, men attempted to render the principle that could no longer be reconstructed in its reality more conceivable by means of a concept of the kabod, that is, the fiery "weight" or "majesty" of the God radiating from the invisible, which now "fills" again and again the "dwelling" of the tent (40:34), just as It had "taken dwelling" upon the mount (24:16). In truth, this idea of a filling of the tent, so that Moses "cannot come into the tent of meeting" (40:35), contradicts its character and purpose. The true tent -- formerly Moses' leader tent, and now that of the leader deity -- is characterized by just this that Moses enters it for the sake of "meeting" the deity, and that "everyone who seeks YHVH" (33:7) can hand over his petition to Moses who will talk it over with the deity. It is of the essence of the leadership that there is the divine' word in dialogue: informative and initiative speaking. The informative function passes afterwards from the divine speech to the oracle vessels called Urim and Thummim, and from the nabi -- for as such the former writing prophets know Moses from tradition (Hos. 12:13) -- to the priest; whereas the initiative speech, the genuine speech of the Leader which is no answer but a commission and a command, is henceforth also spoken only to the nabi, whom "the hand" seizes and sends. Kings rule, priests minister in their office, while the man of the Spirit, without power or office, hears the word of his Leader.

Besides the moveable divine abode, yet another feature of the nomadic period has entered into the life of the settled community and so deeply that it persisted long after the age of the settlement and shared the subsequent wanderings of the people in all ages and generations. becoming almost a perpetual renewal of the first event: the feast of the Passover. [15] A nomadic feast, as it certainly was in primitive times, it was transformed by the holy event into a feast of history; but that which recurs in the festival is the act of going forth, the beginning of the journeyings; the nomadic feast, without any historical character, becomes the historical feast. With loins girt, with feet shod, and with staff in hand, in the haste of departure they eat the sacrifice (Ex. 12:11). The Israelites do what was done formerly, not only performing the action, but in the performance doing it. Through the length and breadth of history, in every new home in a strange land, on this night the stimulus of the God-guided wanderings is active again, and history happens. The Israelites recount the story of the feast, this story which "cannot be the literary product of a later source," but which "contains facts," "solid tradition, springing from the ground of historic events." [16] But it is not the purpose to recount only what happened there and then. In the night of the Passover, "the assembled company is fused together in every year and in all the world with the first cult confederates and attains that unity, which existed formerly at the first occasion in Egypt." [17] As they who keep the covenant in life know it to be the covenant which "YHVH our God made with us in Horeb," "not with our fathen," but "with us our very selves here this day, all of us being alive" (Deut. 5:2f.), so telling the story of God's leading, they experience his historic deed as occurring to themselves. In his footsteps, they are wakeful through the night, which was a night of watching for YHVH and is now a night of watching for all the children of Israel in their generations (Ex. 12:42).

Berith, covenant, between YHVH and Israel denotes an expansion of the leadership and the following so as to cover every department of the people's life. The fundamental relationship represented perceptibly, that the deity -- and it is the same in whatever form (pillar of fire, etc.) or even in no form (ark, "face") -- goes before the company of wanderers and they follow after him, and know in their heart that his way is the right way, this relationship is now taken as an all-embracing relationship founded as an everlasting bond in the making of the covenant. Here the mutual character of this relationship is announced, but the people feel already that a covenant with such a deity as this means no legal agreement, but a surrender to the divine power and grace. The most sublime expression of this is given in two sayings of YHVH (3:14and 33:19),which by their sentence structure are shown to belong to each other (two similar verbal forms linked by the word asher, meaning "whoever," "whomever"). The first says that indeed the deity is always present but in every given hour in the appearance that pleases him, that is to say, he does not allow himself to be limited to any form of revelation, and he does not limit himself to any of them; and the second says that he bestows his grace and mercy on whom he will, and lets no one order a criterion for him nor himself orders any. But connected with this is that element called YHVH's "demonism," [18] the dread of which overcomes us whenever 'we read about YHVH meeting Moses, his chosen and sent one, and "seeking to kill him" (4:24). This is no survival, no "primitive fiend" which has entered, as it were, by mistake from earlier polydemonism into this purer sphere, but it is of the essential stuff of early biblical piety, and without it the later form cannot be understood. The deity claims the chosen one or his dearest possession, falls upon him in order to set him free afterwards as a "blood bridegroom," as a man betrothed and set apart for him by his blood. This is the most ancient revelation of grace: the true grace is the grace of death, a gracing; man owes himself to the deity from the beginning. And here too, as with Jacob (Gen. 32), the event is significantly linked with a journey ordered earlier: the wanderer has to go through the dangerous meeting in order to attain the final grace of the Leader-God.

The idea of following the deity raises itself -- no longer in the Mosaic, but still in an early biblical age -- to the idea of imitating the deity, notably in the interpretation of the greatest institution set up by Moses, the Sabbath. It appears that the Sabbath too was not created ex nihilo, although its origin is not yet clear. [19] It is certain that the material used for this institution was adopted by a mighty force of faith, recast and molded into an indestructible creation of the life of the faithful. It is impossible to think of an age later than that of Moses in which this could have happened. Many think the "ethical Decalogue" (Ex. 20) to be later than the "cultic" (34), but the latter, with its harvest and pilgrimage feasts, presupposes an agricultural usage, whereas the former is yet "timeless," not yet stamped with any particular organized form of human society; [20] the "cultic" is seen, after detailed examination, to be a "secondary mixture," whereas the "ethical" in its fundamental core is known to have a primary, "apodictic" character. [21] The Sahbath ordinance contained in it, in the original shorter version -- beginning apparently with the word "remember" and continuing as far as "thy God" -- is the ordinance of setting apart the seventh day for YHVH (that is to say, a day not ordered for cultic reasons, but freed of all authority of command except that of the one Lord). On this day, men do not do, as on other days, "any work"; the meaning of this for the nomad shepherd, for the shepherd who cannot neglect his flock, is that he puts off all "jobs which he can do today or leave to tomorrow," that he interrupts the cultivation of land in the oasis, that he does not journey to new places of pasture, and so on. [22] It is only in the age of the settlement that the Sabbath becomes a strict day of rest. Among the established and illustrative sayings that come up for consideration (we find in the Pentateuch seven variants of the ordinance). two are of special importance, Ex. 23:12 and Ex. 31:12ff. It is customary to connect them with different "sources" from different periods, but a very rare verb (which is only found elsewhere in the Bible once, in the apparently contemporaneous story of Absalom, II Sam. 16:14), meaning "to draw one's breath," links the two, the "social" and the "religious" motives, in the true biblical repetitive style, referring to one another and explaining one another. The one says that the purpose of the Sabbath ordinance was that the beast might rest and that men whose work is obligatory, that is to say, the slave and the hireling sojourner, who must needs work all the week, might draw breath. The other passage, which sets out the Sabbath ordinance in the most solemn form and imposes the death penalty upon those who transgress it, belongs in the original core of its first part (vv. 13-15 in a shorter version) to the species of ordinances in the "apodictical style" of which Alt writes. [23] Having examined them fundamentally in their typical difference from all the rest of the later Canaanite-influenced "casuistical" forms, he rightly says "that the rise of this species was possible when the bond-relationship to YHVH and the resulting institution of making and renewing the covenant with him came into being." But to this part of the ordinance is added a second, obviously a later expansion, in which the Sabbath is designated as an "everlasting covenant" and a "sign for ever," "for in six days YHVH made the heaven and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and drew breath." The crass anthropomorphism binds together the deity and the tired, exhausted slave, and with words arousing the soul calls the attention of the free man's indolent heart to the slave; but at the same time, it sets up before the community the loftiest sense of following the Leader. Everyone that belongs to the essence of Israel -- and the servants, the sojourners included, belong to it -- shall be able to imitate YHVH without hindrance.

"The sayings in the apodictic form," says Alt, [24] "mostly have to do with things with which casuistic law did not deal at all, and by its secular nature could not deal. For the question is here, on the one hand, the sacred sphere of contact with the divine world, . . . and, on the other hand, the holy realms in men's life together ... religion, morals, and law are here still unseparated." And again, [25]"in Israel's apodictic law an aggressive, as yet quite unbroken force operates, a force which subjects every realm of life to the claim of absolute authority of YHVH's will over his people; it therefore cannot recognize any secular or neutral zone." These words fit our view that YHVH as "God of Israel" does not become the lord of a cultic order of faith, shut up within itself, but the lord of an order of people, covering all spheres of life -- that is to say, a melek, and a melek taking his authority seriously, unlike the gods of other tribes. I do not mean to go too far beyond Alt's carefully weighed thesis, and to connect with Sinai the whole series of these sayings, rhythmically constructed so as to engrave them upon the memory of the people, sayings among which there recurs again and again the "I" of the speaking God and the "thou" of the hearing Israel; but even in those that bear the scent of the field about them, we feel that the fiery breath of Sinai has blown upon them. They are fragments of a people's order subject to the divine sovereignty.

Just as the term "divine sovereignty" means not a specialized religious authority but a sovereignty operating on all of the reality of community life, so the term "people's order" means not the order of an indefinite society but of a completely definite people. To what is called, in the Song of Deborah and in other ancient passages of Scripture, "people of YHVH," a secular concept can approximate, namely, that of "a true people," that is, a people that realizes in its life the basic meaning of the concept am ("people"), of living one im ("with") another; it approximates to it, though, to be sure, it does not actually reach it. The "social" element in the apodictic laws is to be understood not as the task of bettering the living conditions of society, but as that of establishing a true people, the covenant partner of the melek; the tribes are as yet a people only by God's act and not by their own. If while, for example, in the passages where it is ordered (Ex. 22:21 EV 22) not to afflict the widow and orphan, or (2:20 EV 21; 23:9) to oppress the sojourner, the reference is to individuals dependent on others, lacking security, subject to the might of the mighty, the object of such commands is not the single person, but the "people of YHVH," this people which shall rise, but cannot rise so long as social distance loosens the connections of the members of the people and decomposes their direct contact with one another. The meld. YHVH does not want to rule a crowd. but a community. There is already recognizable here the prophetic demand for social righteousness, which reached its highest peak in the promise of the union of the peoples into a confederacy of mankind through the mediation of the "servant" coming forth from Israel (Is. 42:6).

Hence we see that the agricultural statute, with its ordinances for the periodical interruption of the family's privilege of eating the fruits of its allotted ground, the remission of debts in the Sabbatical year, and the leveling of all possessions in the year of Jubilee, is only late with regard to its literary setting (Lev. 25); but with regard to its contents it presents "a transposition of the patriarchal conditions of the wilderness age to the agricultural conditions of Palestine," and is designed so that "the absolute coherence of the people" will live on in the consciousness of the common possession of land. [26] This common ownership is by its nature God's property. as we know from ancient Arabic parallels, [27] and the undeniably early saying, "Mine is the land, for you are sojourners and settlers with me" (v. 23), expresses the ancient claim of the divine Leader, his claim to all the land of settlement.28 We have already seen how in the patriarchal story the places occupied in Canaan were called by their divine names as signifying their owner, just as great estates are called by the names of their owners. (Ps. 49:12 EV 11). The divine ownership of the ground and the whole people's possession of it originate in a unity meant to last forever, whereas the rights of the individual are only conditional and temporary.

Within the ancient people's order, as we can deduce it from the apodictic laws. we find the sacred sphere of contact with the divine world substantially "only in the sense of keeping away all practices directed to gods or spirits other than YHVH, or implying a misuse of things belonging to him and therefore holy, as for example his name or the Sabbath." [29] Only a single short sacrificial statute (Ex. 20:24ff.) can be cited here in its original form, purified of additions. [30] The words, "in every place, where I cause my name to be remembered, I will come unto thee and bless thee," derive from the true character of the ancient nomad deity who does not allow himself to be kept to any mountain or temple. Sacrifices were apparently not customary in the wilderness apart from the nomadic offering of the firstborn of the flock (12:12; 34:19). except in extraordinary situations (the joining of Kenites, the ratification of the Sinai covenant). And there appears to have been no fixed sacrificial cult with special sacrificial rules; Amos was probably following a reliable tradition in this connection (5:25). although he gave it an extreme interpretation.

But there is one more feature belonging to this melek covenant between God and people, this leading and following. and that is the person of the mediator. The revelation, the making of the covenant. the giving of the statutes. was carried out by the "translating" utterance of a mortal man; the questions and requests of the people are presented by the words of this person; the kind of man who bears the word from above downwards and from below upwards is called nabi, announcer. So Hosea (12:14 EV 13) calls Moses. In the earlier parts of the Pentateuch. Moses is not so designated directly; in a remarkable story (Num. 12), an ancient verse inserted in it (vv. 6b-8a) sets Moses apparently above the nebiim: for they only know the deity by visions. whereas to Moses. "his servant," he speaks "mouth to mouth" (not mouth to ear. but really mouth to mouth "inspiring"; cf. also Ex. 33:11, "face to face. as when a man speaks to his neighbor"), and moreover not in riddles, which a man must still explain, but so that the hearing of the utterance is itself a "sight" of the intention. And this just fits the concept of the nabi, known also in a later verse of the Pentateuch (Ex. 7:1; cf. 4:16). where the "god" who speaks into a person is, so to say. dependent on the nabi who speaks out. It is relatively unimportant when this term came into existence, but it is important that the thing is as old as Israel. In the story. composed out of the saga material in a strictly consistent form. we are told in a manifold repetition of the roots ra'ah, haz.h (to see) (Gen. 12:1, 7; 13:14. 15; 15:1; 17:1; 18:1, 2a, 2b), of the series of visions Abraham saw, until he became the mediator between below and above. an undismayed mediator, pleading with God (18:25). who now declares him to be a nabi (20:7); in this story, the prevailing view in prophetic circles of the antiquity of prophecy is obviously expressed. The temporary order of seer-prophet recalls an ancient note on word changes, which tells us more than mere' word history (I Sam. 9:9). At all events, no age in the history of early Israelite faith can be understood historically without considering as active therein this type of man with his mission and function, his declaration and mediation. Whatever else Moses is or does, his prophecy, his ministry of the word, is the center of his nature and work. It is true, he does not "prophesy," the prophetic mission in the strict sense belonging to a later and different situation between God and people; but he does everything a prophet should in this early situation: he represents the Lord, he enunciates the message, and he commands in his name.

Here we meet a problem, which historically, both in the spiritual and the political sense, is singularly important. [31] The divine melek leads the kahal, the assembly of men, [32] by means of the one favored and called by him, the bearer of the "charismatic" power, the power of grace. This power, however, is not based, as with oriental kings, upon the myth of divine birth or adoption. but upon the utterly unmythical secret of the personal election and vocation, and is not hereditary. After the man's death, it is necessary to wait until the ruah, the stormy breath ("spirit") of the deity, rushes into another man. (Of the transmission of the visible charisma, the "splendor," or part of it, to a man "in whom there is spirit," Scripture speaks only once, the transmission by Moses to "his servant" Joshua, Num. 27:15ff. The doubtfulness of this passage was later increased considerably with the insertion of the Urim as a determining power of leadership, vv. 21f.). Because of this, the commission, and therefore the actual leadership, is discontinuous, which in the time of the conquest served the semi-nomads ill, for even without this they were given to unlimited family and tribal particularism, loosening the YHVH confederation and weakening "Israel's" power of action. Joshua's attempt to secure the continued unity of the people by getting rid of the family idols and by founding a tribal amphictyony [33] around a cu1t-directed center only, succeeded but partially, as can be seen from the Song of Deborah. The divine melek, who wishes to determine the whole life of the community, is not content to be replaced by a cult deity, to whom it is sufficient to offer sacrifice at the yearly pilgrimages. The Sinai enthusiasm for the. absolute God rises again and expresses itself in the activity and song of the Deborah circle. But the increasing difficulties of completing the as yet incomplete conquest. and of strengthening a position against hostile neighbors. result in arousing against this theopolitical ardor a "realist-political" movement, which aims at establishing the hereditary charisma known to Israel from the great powers, and thus achieving a dynastic security of continuity. The opposition of those faithful to the meld. arises with special strength in the days of Gideon, whose refusal to accept the royal crown may be regarded as historically true. [34] But already his son Abimelech stands in the opposite camp. And a national catastrophe, which the people may be inclined to see as a defeat of the Leader God himself. occurs; on the battlefield of Ebenezer, the victorious Philistines capture the ark of the covenant, which went at the head of the Israelite host. This hour represents the turning point in the history of Israelite faith.
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Re: The Writings of Martin Buber, edited by Will Herberg

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The hour has come. The sign promised to Moses by the voice which spoke from the burning bush is now about to be fulfilled. "At this mountain," Israel is to enter the service of the God. What had come into being yonder only as word must now take on flesh. It is the hour: not of revelation, which had begun with that call "Moses!"; it is the hour of the "covenant." The man aflame with the urgent truth of his mission has fulfilled the first charge laid upon him: he has brought the people to the Mountain of God. "In the third month after the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt, to the very day, they came to the wilderness of Sinai. . . . And Israel camped there, facing the mountain." And now, as Moses, unsummoned, like a messenger who is come to report to his lord the execution of a mission, ascends the mountain "to the God," which assuredly means to the place of that earlier revelation, the voice comes, as it were, to meet him; and YHVH entrusts him with the mission unto the house of Jacob.

This message is a rhythmic utterance, in which once again almost every word stands in the place fixed for it by sound and sense. Only one sentence, "when ye hearken. hearken unto my voice and keep my covenant," does not appear to be in place within the firm rhythm here, but would seem to indicate either a reworking or an interpolation. Enigmatically singular and independent, the passage as a whole has sometimes been attributed to later literary strata, with which it actually has certain concepts and turns of phrase in common. In our days, however, the view is increasingly being held [35] that here we have an old, genuinely traditional fragment which goes back to Moses himself; if not verbally. then at all events in basic content. Indeed, I know no other text which expresses so clearly and effectively as this what I would like to call the theopolitical idea of Moses; namely, his conception of the relation between YHVH and Israel, which could not be other than political in its realistic character, yet which starts from the God and not from the nation in the political indication of goal and way. In order to see this clearly, we must certainly treat the speech as early; that is, we must understand the weightiest words in it not in the sacral meaning with which they have been vested in the course of time, but in their aboriginal sense.

"You have seen what I did in Egypt. I bore you upon eagles' wings and brought you unto me" (Ex. 19:4). The first part of this verse summarizes the negative aspect of a decisive point of view. In order that Israel might come here to the God, it was necessary for that to befall the Egyptians which had befallen them; and it also had to befall them in such a fashion that Israel itself should see that which befell. Only as those who saw. and seeing "confided," could they be brought to YHVH. to the meeting with him. And so they were brought to him "upon eagles' wings." Those who consider such an image as this to be no more than a happy metaphor miss the intent of the whole passage. The basis of comparison here is not the speed of the eagles or their strength. which would be an introduction scarcely suited to a first divine manifesto to the assembled people; at that moment. something fundamentally important regarding the historical relationship between YHVH and Israel has to find its expression through the figure of speech used. This is achieved in an image which is admittedly too meager to be fully comprehended by us: but the early listener or reader certainly grasped the sense. Later, it may nevertheless have proved desirable to elucidate it by means of expansion. and a poetic commentary which we have reason to assume reflects the traditional view has been preserved in the late "Song of Moses" (Deut. 32:1).

Here YHVH is likened in his historical relationship with Israel to the eagle. who stirs up his nest and hovers above it in order to teach his young how to fly. That the latter are taken to mean the peoples cannot be doubted. as in the Song, shortly before (ibid., 8). the Highest had allotted their territories to the nations and had fixed their boundaries. The great eagle spreads out his wings over the nestlings; he takes up one of them, a shy or weary one, and bears it upon his pinions until it can at length dare the flight itself and follow the father in his mounting gyrations. Here we have election, deliverance, and education all in one.

The verse following likewise certainly dealt in its original form with the berith, the "covenant," which called for mention at this spot. Yet it must be assumed that no demand, after the fashion of a prerequisite condition for everything that was to follow, was made in it for a docile observance of the sections of the covenant by Israel, but that the verse contained the hitherto unconveyed notification that YHVH wished to make a berith with Israel. The original meaning of berith is not "contract" or "agreement"; that is, no conditions were originally stipulated therein, nor did any require to be stipulated.

In order to gain an idea of what is really comprehended in this concept, we can best start with the story of David, which consists of chroniclers' tales that were certainly recorded for the most part soon after the events with which they deal. Here we find two kinds of berith, which are not conceptually differentiated from each other. One is the alliance between two people who stand to some degree on the same level, like that concluded by David and Jonathan (I Sam. 18:3, 23:18). This we may describe on the basis of Arab and other analogies as a covenant of brotherhood. That this leads to a mutual undertaking of unconditional support, a faithfulness even unto death, is not stated, and does not have to be stated, for it stands to reason. The two covenanters have just become brethren, which is quite enough in a social form where the clan is still the central reality of communal life. Any detailed .agreement is superfluous.

The other kind of berith is found most clearly in the covenant which David, now king of Judah, concludes with the elders of the northern tribes (II Sam. 5:3). Here there is no common level; the person at the higher level of power concludes a covenant, not "with" the submitting ones, but "for them." Here. too, no special agreement is necessary, and indeed there is no room for any such thing. The relation of overlordship and service, into which the two partners enter, is the decisive factor. Engagements, concessions, constitutional limitations of power may be added, yet the covenant is founded not on them but on the basic fact of rule and service. According to its principal form, I classify this kind of berith as the royal covenant. [36] It is this kind which YHVH makes with Israel.

The argument cannot be offered against this view that in the Genesis narrative there is another kind of covenant, which the God makes either with living creatures in general (Gen. 9:9ff.), or with a chosen family (Gen. 6:18, 17:2ff.). This, too, is not a contract, but an assumption into a life-relationship, a relationship comprehending the entire life of the men involved -- according to the situation, however, not into a relationship which has a political, theopolitical character. Only here, only in the Sinai covenant and its later renewals, is it a berith between YHVH and the people, between him and Israel, no longer Israel as the "seed of Abraham," out of which a people has to grow, but as the people which has grown out of that seed. And in accordance with this, the concept of royal dominion is also expressly introduced here (Gen. 17:6). This life relationship between the King and his people is the important thing. In the narrative of the conclusion of the covenant itself, a "Book of the Covenant" is certainly read out by Moses (Ex. 24:7f.), and the covenant is considered to be concluded "upon all these words." This book, however, has the character not of an agreement but of a royal proclamation. The laws contained therein are registered accordingly in the record of the making of the covenant as those proclaimed in that hour (Ex. 34:27). But these laws cannot claim any priority over those which may be proclaimed later on, and when the people declare after the reading that they wish "to do and to hear," they clearly signify that they bind themselves not in respect of specific ordinances as such, but in respect of the will of their Lord, who issues his commands in the present and will issue them in the future, in the respect of the life relationship of service to him.

Those who maintain the Kenite hypothesis argue: [37] "If YHVH had been the God of Israel even before Moses, a covenant would have been superfluous; for it would have stood to reason that YHVH was the God of Israel and Israel the people of YHVH. Contracts are only made where the demands of the contracting parties differ and may under certain circumstances become opposed to one another. For this reason it follows of necessity from the idea of covenant that Israel and YHVH had hitherto been strangers to one another." But berith is not the same as agreement or contract. YHVH and Israel enter into a new relation to one another by making the covenant, a relation which had not previously been in existence, and further could not have been in existence because Israel as a nation, as a nation which was able to elect itself a king and submit to his service. had been constituted only in that hour. YHVH, speaking from the flame, had anticipated this hour with that ammi of his. He now proclaims that the hour has come, and utters the words about his kingdom. In its present form, the narrative has the people begin with the proclamation of the king in the final verse of the Song of the Sea. The older tradition, however, was obviously that according to which the first and decisive word was uttered from above.

The proclamation of the covenant is immediately followed by YHVH's assurance that Israel will be for him "a peculiar treasure among all the nations," Segulah, the Hebrew word translated in the Authorized Version as "peculiar treasure," means a possession which is withdrawn from the general family property because one individual has a special relation to it and a special claim upon it. The meaning of the word as employed in connection with the relation between YHVH and Israel is immediately explained here by the words "for the whole earth is mine," It is impossible to express more clearly and unequivocally that the liberation from Egypt does not secure the people of Israel any monopoly over their God. From this phrase there is a direct line leading to the warning of the prophet (Amos 9:7), which also refers to the Exodus, the warning which glorifies this God as the one who has also guided other nations in their wanderings, even the neighboring nations which are foes of Israel, and which glorifies this God as the liberator of the nations. The expression "peculiar treasure" is directly imperilled by an atmosphere of restriction and self-assurance, unless it is accompanied by such an explanation. This we can see in three cases (Deut. 7: 16, 14:21, 26:18), where the word is used in the book of Deuteronomy (a work which may well have developed from a collection of traditional sayings of Moses in a number of variant forms, rather like the Hadith of Mohammed in Islamic tradition). All these three passages are associated with the concept of the "holy people," which is also derived from the Eagle Speech. The danger of particularist misunderstanding is so obvious that in the first passage a warning is issued against ascribing the choice made by God to their own importance. The Eagle Speech itself opposes the haughty stressing of the choice by the subsequent message that the choice means a charge imposed on them and nothing more; and that therefore the choice, so to say, exists only negatively unless the charge is also fulfilled.

This message became obscured for later generations by the fact that, as already mentioned, its great concepts no longer retained their original concreteness, but were understood in accordance with a technical waning of meaning. When one reads "you shall become unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy people," it at first strikes us almost irresistibly as though it is not the theopolitical idea of a factual divine domination which finds expression here, but a cult conception which aims at being all-embracing. But that is not so. The period whose loftiest thought was given shape by the Eagle Speech was concerned not with "religion," but with God and people; that is, with God's people on a basis of political and social realism, with what might almost be called a pre-state divine state. The word mamlakah, which is translated "kingdom," means king's rule, and likewise area of the king's rule; and the word kohanim, which usually means priests, is synonymous, where it describes a secular court office, with "the first at the hand of the king" (Cf. 1 Sam. 8:18 with 1 Chron. 18:17), or with companion, adjutant (I Kings 4:5; cf. II Sam. 20:26 and I Chron. 27:33). The mamlakah comprises those particular servants of the king who attend immediately upon him. Mamleketh kohanim therefore means the direct sphere of rule of the lord, composed of those of his companions who are at his immediate disposal, his immediate retinue. All of them, all the Children of Israel, stand in the identical direct and immediate relationship of retainers to him.

To this corresponds the second member of the sentence, "a holy people." And this balancing phrase, as is so frequent in parallelisms of the kind. is simultaneously a completion, and indeed a clarifying completion, of the sense. As the elemental meaning of the biblical concept of holiness we have to assume a power drawn and concentrated within itself, which, however, radiates forth and is capable of exerting both a destructive and a "hallowing" effect. In relation to YHVH, holiness is regarded as his direct power, dispensing both good and ill, and thence as the derived quality of those things and beings which are separated from out of the unspecified common realm, the "profane," and are dedicated or dedicate themselves to YHVH, and which, since they are dedicate to him, and as long as they are so dedicate to him, are hallowed by his only force.

Therefore goy kadosh, as complement of that memleketh kohanim which means the charging and appointment by God, thus requires and implies a spontaneous and ever renewed act on the part of the people. They have to dedicate themselves to YHVH and remain dedicate to him, and further they must do this as goy, that is, with their corporeal national existence. Hence, the intention is not the behavior of the members of the people, as it is later (Ex. 22:30), of all members of the people as individuals, as for example, that they shall refrain from unclean, polluting foods; the point at issue is the behavior of the national body as such. Only when the nation with all its substance and all its functions, with legal forms and institutions, with the whole organization of its internal and external relationships, dedicates itself to YHVH as its Lord, as its melek, does it become his holy people; only then is it a holy people.

And specifically as that, and as that alone, can it render its divine Leader the services for which he has selected it: as "the first to his hand" of the "whole earth," which is "his"; in order to transmit his will, which it fulfils by means of its own life. It is laid upon Israel to factualize, by way of this office and this dedication, YHVH's choice of them as a "peculiar treasure" among all peoples; this is the berith he wishes to conclude with them.

The biblical narrative makes Moses "offer" his theopolitical message to the elders, and "the whole people" answer through the latter that they will do what YHVH has said, that is, that they will enter the melek covenant which he wishes to conclude with them. That what took place at Sinai was understood even in early tradition as such a covenant, as a royal pronouncement from above and as an acclamation of royalty from below, is indicated by the hymn which is placed as the frame of the so-called "Blessing of Moses" (Deut. 33: 1-7, 26-29). Even radical critics [38] conclude from the resemblance between this psalm and the Song of Deborah "that in itself it may be old and indeed very old." But since Israel is twice referred to in it under the name "Yeshurun," which is otherwise found only in two late passages, it is assumed that the language of the text before us is not so much archaic as archaicizing. In both those other passages, however, this name which would appear to derive from the old folk-singers (compare the title of an old collection of songs, Sepher Hayashar or Book of the Upright), has been taken over with a conscious purpose. Following a few difficult, and in part incomprehensible verses, the hymn reads with absolute clarity (ibid., 5): "And there came about in Yeshurun a king, when the heads of the people foregathered, the tribes of Israel together." No interpretation other than a reference to what happened at Sinai, which is mentioned at the commencement of the hymn, serves to do justice to this important passage. The great meld message appears to be the one which is lauded in the preceding verse as "the teaching which Moses commanded us." [39]

Historically considered, the idea finding expression in the Eagle Speech and associated texts is the challenge offered to Pharaonism by the Hebrew tribes, departing from Egypt into freedom. The freedom is understood by their leader as God's freedom, and that means as God's rule. Historically considered, this means the rule of the Spirit through the persons charismatically induced and authorized as the situation warrants, its rule on the basis of the just laws issued in the name of the Spirit. The entire conception of this royal covenant, which aims at being all-embracing, is only possible when and because the God who enters into the covenant is just and wishes to introduce a just order into the human world. Justice as an attribute is in some degree implicit in the old Semitic conception of the tribal gods as judges of the tribes.4o It achieved completion in the Cod-conception of Israel. The just law of the just meld is there in order to banish the danger of "Bedouin" anarchy, which threatens all freedom under God. The unrestrained instinct of independence of the Semitic nomads, who do not wish to permit anybody to rise above them and to impose his will upon them, [41] finds its satisfaction in the thought that all the Children of Israel are required to stand in the same direct relation to YHVH, but it achieves restraint through the fact that YHVH himself is the promulgator and guardian of the law. Both together, the kingship of God as the power of his law over human beings and as the joy of the free in his rule, achieve expression in the ideal image of Israel which is found in an old lyric utterance [42] attributed to the heathen prophet Balaam (Num. 23:21): "One beholds no trouble in Jacob and one sees no toilsomeness in Israel, YHVH his God is with him and melek jubilation is in him." YHVH the "Present One" is really present among his people, who therefore proclaim him as their melek.

During the period following the conquest of Palestine, the melek title was rarely employed for YHVH, obviously in order to differentiate him from the "religious and political Canaanite world with its divine kings and its monarchistic state forms," [43] and particularly because these melek or "moloch" gods demanded children as sacrifices. [44] But the idea of divine rule remained in existence, as can be seen from the narratives of Gideon and Samuel. [45] During the early period of David's rule, it once again, as I would suppose, received magnificent poetic formulation in the four verses now placed at the end of Psalm 24, praising YHVH the "hero of war" and "the king of glory," who enters Jerusalem invisibly enthroned on the Ark of the Covenant. But the factual meaning had already begun to undergo its transformation into the symbolic. Under the influence of the dynasty, which consistently opposed all attempts of the Spirit to influence public life, the conception of divine rule soon became quite pallid. Only Isaiah, in the notes of his annunciatory vision (Is. 6:5), dared to contrast YHVH as "the," that is, as the true, melek with King Uzziah, whom he had smitten with leprosy. In all later Psalms which sing of YHVH's ascent to the throne, he is only the Cosmocrator, which means far more in appearance but far less in reality. For the true kingship does not exist without a people who recognize the king. When the whole world appears in those Psalms as such a people, the action is thereby shifted to an eschatological level, to a future becoming-perfect of the creation. Unlimited recognition of the factual and contemporary kingship of God over the whole national existence, however, is what was required of Israel, in the midst of the historical reality, by the message which found its form in the Eagle Speech.


Certain excerpts from a "Theosophia," presumably written by an Alexandrian of the fifth century C.E., [46] have come down to us. In these, we are told, among many other memorabilia, that Moses had actually written two decalogues. The first and hence older of them reads, "For their altars ye shall smash, their pillars ye shall break, their sacred poles ye shall cut down," and so on. This refers, of course, to Exodus 34:13-26, out of which it would be possible to construct ten commandments, though with a certain amount of difficulty. The second is the decalogue of tradition, Exodus 20:2-17. To give this view expression in modern scientific terminology, it means that Moses preceded his "ethical" decalogue with an earlier "cui tic" one, which starts polemically and then goes on to various prescriptions. That the commencement proposed by the author, which begins with "his" and refers to the peoples already mentioned, cannot be any real commencement, was apparently not noticed by him.

In a dissertation on the Tablets of Moses, prepared with "indescribable toil," which the University of Strasbourg rejected, Goethe undertook to prove "that the Ten Commandments were not actually the covenantal laws of the Israelites." A year and a half later, he returned to this thesis in a little paper entitled "Two important and hitherto unclarified Biblical Questions thoroughly dealt with for the first time by a country priest in Swabia." In this paper, he has his country priest offer a view largely identical with that finding expression in the "Theosophia," which was unknown to Goethe. He begins, however, with the sentence "Thou shalt worship no other God," which might indeed be the starting-point for a decalogue. Goethe sets out to overcome the "troublesome old error" that the covenant "by which God pledged himself to Israel" could "be based on universal obligations." What is regarded by us as the decalogue is only "the introduction to the legislation" which, in the view of the Swabian village pastor, contains doctrines "that God presupposed in his people as human beings and Israelites." Behind this, however, lies Goethe's actual idea, though not without some contradiction of what has been said: that the history and doctrine of the People Israel had a particularist and not a universal character until the time when Christianity was grafted on to its stem. Some decades later, in his notes and studies to the "West-Oestlicher Divan," Goethe declared that he had endeavored to separate "what would be fitting to all lands, to all moral people" from that "which especially concerns and is binding on the People Israel." He did not specify this separation in any greater detail; in any case, however, his views as they find expression in his early work remain a pace behind those of his masters Hamann and Herder, who recognized in that particularism the earthly vehicle without which nothing universal can achieve earthly life.

A century after the "Two Questions," Wellhausen, who was long followed and in wide circles still is followed without restriction by critical Bible study, undertook to prove the priority of the "Goethean Law of the Two Tablets" by means of a comprehensive critical analysis of sources. Exodus 10 and Exodus 34, he held, are diametrically opposed. "There the commandments are almost entirely moral; here they are exclusively ritual." .1And obviously, in accordance with a view still prevalent in our own days, the ritual decalogue must be older and in fact original. The decalogue of Exodus 20 accordingly appears to be influenced by the prophetic protest against ritualism, whereas that of Exodus 34 would mirror the primitive pansacralism of the Moses epoch, though after a fashion conditioned by the setting actually found in Canaan.

If we consider this so-called "cultic" decalogue without prejudice, we find that it is not a complete whole in itself like the "ethical" one, but consists of a compilation of appendices and complements -- chiefly, furthermore, such as would comprehensibly derive from a transition to regular agriculture and the civilization associated therewith. Most of them, supplements almost exclusively, are also to be found in the same or an analogous form in the so-called "Book of the Covenant" (Ex. 20:22 to 23:19). The complements, on the other hand. in no case refer to the laws of this book. but only to those which are found either in the "ethical decalogue" itself or else in prescriptions to be found earlier in the text. Thus. the provisions for the sacrifice or redemption of the animal first-born (Ex. 13:11 ff.) are extended to horned cattle (cf. Ex. 22:29). Two characteristic complements to Exodus 20 are provided: the prohibition of images, which in that context has as its subject only such as are hewn and carved (this still remains to be shown), is extended there to graven images (cf. Ex. 20:23), while the commandment of Sabbath rest is rendered more stringent by being made applicable even to the seasons of ploughing and harvesting, the times of most. pressing work in the fields. From all this, it may reasonably be concluded that this compilation was younger than the decalogue in its original form. It has therefore been justly described more recently as a "secondary mixed form," [48] save that it may certainly be considered as older than the redaction of the Book of the Covenant in our possession, since it assuredly did not borrow the doublets from the latter. Still, the selection was clearly made in accordance with a specific attitude, so that we may well assume to have before us the "house-book of a Palestinian sanctuary," [49] prepared from old material.

Critical research of the Wellhausen school has for the greater part not. or only inadequately, recognized the real character of this composition. In general, it has not ceased to stress its "great age" and the "influence of the foundation of the religion of Moses" [50] that finds expression in it; as against which the date of the decalogue was shifted into ever later times, until the assumption was made that it could belong only to the exilic or post-exilic age, [51] and must in fact constitute the catechism of the religious and moral duties of Israel in exile, [52] and as such must be "a product of the religious needs of Israel in exile." [53] Supporters of a more moderate point of view still found it necessary to explain that the Ten Commandments were "both impossible and superfluous for archaic Israel." [54]

As against this negative self-certainty, the past three decades have seen the emergence of the feeling that it is necessary to examine the situation once again. irrespective of all preconceptions and theories.

For the greater part, the argument had been conducted on the basis of single commandments. which were held to be incompatible with the social and cultural, moral and literary conditions of the early period; to which the protagonists of the Mosaic origin of the decalogue had replied by characterizing the passages which were questionable in respect of content and language as later supplements, and in turn laid bare an incontestably original decalogue. Now, however, the stress is being increasingly shifted from the parts to the whole.

The thesis of the impossibility of such high ethical standards in those days lost its force when the publication and translation of Egyptian and Babylonian texts led to the dissemination of information regarding, and to appreciation of, a reality in the history of the human mind which has received the name of the "ancient Oriental moral code," but which might rather be regarded as the ancient Oriental tendency to commingle cultic prohibitions and postulates with those of a moral \ind. In those texts which have become best known and are also most characteristic -- a confession of the dead before the judges of the dead found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead (deriving from the period in which the Exodus from Egypt took place), and a "catalogue of sins" from the Babylonian conjuration tablets -- the moral part is the greater by far; [55] and this fact is quite sufficient in itself to break down the general assumption that cult necessarily preceded ethics. But even if we turn our attention to the so-called primitive races and read, say, the tribal lore of an East African tribe, [56] which the elders pass on to adolescents about to be admitted into the community, we observe that their real concern is with the correct relations between the members of a family, the members of a clan; there is, furthermore, the important fact of the repeated stressing that this is the will of the god, of the "Heaven Man." The most thoroughgoing opponents of a Mosaic origin for the decalogue therefore no longer reject the possibility that Moses may have proclaimed moral commandments such as those to be found in the decalogue. "The moral commandments of the decalogue," says one of these opponents, [57] "belong to those basic laws with which even the most primitive of societies cannot dispense."

So the question at issue is now held to be whether Moses could have regarded the moral commandments "as the totality of the basic prescriptions of religion," and whether he really presented "the collection of these commandments as the religious and moral norm par excellence" -- which, however, "would appear improbable and unthinkable in the highest degree, according to the evidence of the sources." "The question," says another critic, [58] "is not whether Moses could have established certain individual religious and moral demands with this content, but whether Moses, taking into consideration all that we otherwise know of his religious attitude. can be believed to have been capable of compressing the basic demands of religiousness and morality into this decalogue, while excluding from it all the other motives which at the time were of importance in religious and moral life: whether he can be supposed to have done this with a genius which would find its parallel only in Jesus, and which, indeed, would needs have been far greater in the case of Moses. who stands at the beginning of religious development, than in that of Jesus."

What is meant by the words "all that we otherwise know of his religious attitude" in this context is explained as follows: from the material of the most ancient sagas. we received quite a different picture of the personality of Moses than that which we must assume in order to comprehend the decalogue as having been his work. "Moses the sorcerer. the healer. the dispenser of oracles. the Faustian magician is a different figure from the man who summarized the essence of piety and morality in the few lapidary sentences of the decalogue," But quite irrespective of the basic problem, regarding which it is possible to hold very different views -- the problem as to which are the oldest sagas. and even assuming that in these Moses appears as a thaumaturgist and the like, what conclusions could be drawn from this? On the same page of a book to which the scholar just quoted refers, we first read: [59] "Moses the Faustian magician is an entirely believable figure of the steppes." and then: "the deeds of the ancient heroes were already felt by their contemporary world as wonders and enchantments, and those heroes themselves may likewise easily have regarded them in the same way," That Moses himself experienced and understood many of his own deeds, particularly the decisive ones, as "wonders," or more correctly. as deeds of his God performed through him, is obvious -- which, however, does not transform him into a "Faustian magician," but if anything into the contrary; yet the idea that he himself regarded anything he did as "sorcery" seems to me to lie beyond all proof. In legend, to be sure, and to some degree even in the legend which blossomed in the minds and memories of those who were present. some. thing of the kind may have taken place -- clearly under the influence of Egyptian conceptions; [60] those people, thirsting for miracle, whose remolding memory allowed them to remember events as they did not occur and could not have occurred, were prepared to transform God himself into a sorcerer, and with him his messenger. The same process was doubtless at work, and very early at that, in the legend of Jesus. It was not enough to glorify his healings; the legend set him also walking on the sea, giving his commands to the winds and turning water into wine. Great is the work of the saga, and as ever it still thrills our heart;8! that, however, should not prevent us from penetrating wherever possible beyond the veil of legend and, as far as we can, viewing the pure form which it conceals.

In this, nothing helps us so much, with Moses as with Jesus and others, as those utterances which, by use of criteria other than a general judgment derived from the saga material about the "religious attitude" of a person, may properly be attributed to the specific man with whom we deal. There is certainly no doubt that Moses took over archaic rites that were charged with magical meaning. Yet, as we have seen in the case of the Passover, the Sabbath, and the Blood Covenant, he brought about a fundamental transformation of meaning in them without thereby depriving them of any of their vitality, rather rejuvenating this very vitality by transmuting it from a nature to an historical vitality. The change in meaning which he introduced was drawn by him from the same ground of faith, the same kind and power of faith, which was given imperishable form in the first three of the Ten Commandments. It is not hard to understand, when one has at length touched this ground of faith, that Moses should have worded these, and specifically these, basic demands -- no less but likewise no more -- and fashioned them into a unity.

An attempt must be made, however, to render the situation even clearer in its details.

What the critics have more recently been using as arguments against the Mosaic origin of the decalogue refers, as has been said, not to the content of the individual commandments, but to their elevation to the level of fundamentals of religion, or, I would prefer to say, to fundamentals of community life under the rule of God. This has been demonstrated with particular impressiveness in connection with the prohibition of statues and images; nor can we choose any better example in order to elucidate the actual facts.

One of the most radical of critics has admitted [62] that the iconoclastic movement in later Israel may with some justification have referred itself to Moses. As among the ancient Arabs and in the early days of the Semitic cultures in general, art dots not appear to have been put to use in the cult practices. We know that the pre-Islamic Arabs" were beginning to convert stones into images of gods by bringing out a natural resemblance -- say, to a human head -- with the aid of art. Between this primitive cultural situation and the later tendencies directed against images of the god, there lay the essential difference that the primitive Semites regarded their imageless cult as a natural usage, whereas it constituted a program of reform for the later ones. What is natural would not require to be fixed by any separate or special commandment. The cult in which absence of images is a principle could therefore, it is claimed, not derive from the days of Moses.

Edvard Lehmann has justly pointed out [64] that it is often difficult to decide whether a cult is imageless because it does not yet require images or because it no longer requires them. But there are historically important constellations in which the appearance of a great personality during the pre-image period anticipates the highest teachings of the post-image period in a simple form that cannot be improved upon.

We must first realize that matters are by no means simple as regards the pre-image stage in Mosaic Israel, if we assume that Israel was then under Egyptian influence, not in the matter of belief in some gods or other, but in respect of the custom of making images of the gods believed in. If this was indeed the case. a conflict must necessarily have come about between those who could not or did not wish to break down this influence, and those who wished to eradicate it. If, however. we assume that the unabbreviated wording of the "prohibition of image." is of early date (I mean that, although only Ex. 20:4a belongs to the original text, the rest of the verse was added very early), the prospects continue to expand before us, seeing that in that case we have more than a prohibition of images. For that prohibition is followed by a prohibition of the worship of any of the figures that could be perceived in the heavens, on the earth, or in the water ("And every figure that ... and that . . . and that . . . , bow not down before them and serve them not"). In Egypt, the great national gods appeared in the forms of beasts and other natural beings. Hence, once the "other gods" have been excluded in verse 3. there is an implicit prohibition of worshipping YHVH himself in an image or in one of the natural forms.

We penetrate even deeper when we base our viewpoint on what we know of the God of Israel.

Originally. he was what has been called a "god of way," [65] but he differed in character from all the other gods of way. The function of a god of way, who accompanies and protects the wandering nomads and the caravans through the wilderness, was exercised in Mesopotamia by the moon. the god "who opens the way." and his assistants. In Syria, it was the evening star who served this purpose. (Characteristically enough. such a god of way of the Nabataeans. whose name meant roughly "he who accompanies the tribe," was apparently considered by Epiphanius to be the deified Moses. [66])It is assuredly something more than a mere coincidence that the name of the city of Haran, which together with Ur was the chief city of the moon cult and in which Abraham separated from his clan. meant way or caravan. and would appear to have designated the spot "where the caravans met and from which they started out." [67] The God by whom Abraham. after "straying away" from Haran. is led in his wanderings, differs from all solar, lunar. and stellar divinities. apart from the fact that he guides only Abraham and his own group, [68] by the further fact that he is not regularly visible in the heavens, but only occasionally permits himself to be seen by his chosen. whenever and wherever it is his will to do so. This necessarily implies that various natural objects and processes are on occasion regarded as manifestations of the God. and that it is impossible to know for certain where or wherein he will next appear.

It may be supposed, and is readily understandable. that among the Hebrew tribes resident in Egypt the guiding function of the ancient clan God had been forgotten. But this clearly is what revives within the spirit of Moses in Midian when he meditates upon the possibility of bringing forth the tribes. The God who meets him wishes to resume his guiding function, but for "his people" now. With his words. "I shall be present howsoever I shall be present," he describes himself as the one who is not restricted to any specific manner of manifestation. but permits himself to be seen from time to time by those he leads and, in order to lead them. to be seen by them after the fashion which he prefers at the given moment. [69]

Thus it can be understood that clouds. and smoke, and fire, and all kinds of visual phenomena are interpreted by Moses as manifestations from which he has to decide as to the further course through the wilderness, as to the whither and the how. But always, and that is the fundamental characteristic, YHVH remains the invisible one, who only permits himself to be seen in the flame, in "the very heavens," in the flash of the lightning. Admittedly anthropomorphic manifestations also alternate with these, but none of them shows an unequivocally clear-cut figure with which YHVH might be identified.

For this reason, he should not be imaged, that is, limited to anyone definite form; nor should he be equated with one or another of the "figures" in nature, that is, restricted to anyone definite manifestation. He is the history God that he is only when he is not localized in nature, and precisely because he makes use of everything potentially visible in nature, of every kind of natural existence, for his manifestation. The prohibition of "images" and "figures" was absolutely necessary for the establishment of his rule, for the investiture of his absoluteness before all current "other gods."

No later hour in history required this with such force; every later period which fought images could do nothing more than renew the ancient demand. Just what was immediately opposed to the founder-will of Moses makes no difference: whether the memories of the great Egyptian sculptures or the clumsy attempts of the people themselves to create, by means of some slight working of wood or stone, a reliable form in which the divinity could be taken with them. Moses certainly saw himself as facing a conflicting tendency, namely, that natural and powerful tendency which can be found in all religions, from the most crude to the most sublime, to reduce the divinity to a form available for and identifiable by the senses. The fight against this is not a fight against art, which would certainly ~ in contrast with the report of Moses' initiative in carving the images of the cherubim; it is a fight to subdue the revolt of fantasy against faith. This conflict is to be found again, in more or less clear-cut fashion, at the decisive early hours, the plastic hours, of every "founded" religion. that is, of every religion born from the meeting of a human person and the mystery. Moses more than anybody who followed him in Israel must have established the principle of the "imageless cult," or more correctly of the imageless presence of the invisible, who permit. himself to be seen. [70]

Thus, in the case of the sentence whose antiquity has been the most strongly disputed, we have shown that the roots of these commandments and prohibitions derive from a specific time and situation. However, this leaves open the decisive question as to whether the whole decalogue as such, as collection and composition, can be explained in terms of this specific time and situation, whether it can be assumed that Moses separated and unified precisely these phrases as an absolute norm, out of the wealth of existent or nascent statements regarding the right and the unright, regarding what should be and what should not be, while excluding all cultic elements.

First, we once again meet the argument of "primitivity," although in attenuated form. It is claimed [71] that at the Mosaic epoch the religion of Israel could not have possessed tendencies such as would have permitted the appearance of a "catechism," in which the cult is consciously thrust into the background and the main content of the religion is reduced to purely ethical statements. An assumption that this could have occurred is said to be based on "a lack of understanding of both the mentality and the civilization of the Masaic epoch." [72] The "prelogical" thinking of those times is supposed to have included the primacy of the "sacral system," for "in his religion and the practice of his cult, primitive man has the means of producing everything that he urgently needs."[73] And in this sense, even "the loftiest emorescence of Egyptian culture" is regarded as primitive.

The use of such a concept of primitiveness leads to a questionable simplification of religious history. Religions as complexes of popular practices and traditions are more or less "primitive" at all times and among all peoples. The inner struggle for faith, for the personally experienced reality, is nonprimitive in all religions. A religious change, an interior transformation which also alters the structure. never takes place. however. without an internal conflict. Particularly in the case of the religion of Israel, we cannot comprehend its ways and changes at all unless we pay attention to the inner dialectic, to the struggle, ever recurrent at various stages and in various forms, for the truth of belief, for revelation.

That this conflict began at the time of Moses, and indeed that he waged the primal fight from which everything subsequent. including the great protests of the prophets against a cult emptied of intention, can find its starting point, is proved, even though generally in legendary form, by the great and the small stories which tell of the "murmuring." the rebellion, the insurrection, in most of which we recognize or sense the presence of a religious problem in the background. The people wish for a tangible security, they wish to "have" the God, they wish to have him at their disposal through a sacral system; but it is this security which Moses cannot and must not grant them.

This, however, should not in any way be taken to mean that Moses had "founded a clear and conscious anti-cultic religion," [74] that is, a religion directed against the cult. Nothing is so likely to interfere with an historical cognition that is one not of categories but of facts as the introduction of alternatives formulated in so extreme a fashion. There can be no talk here of a simple rejection of the cult. It is quite enough to bear in mind, to begin with, that a semi-nomadic life does not encourage a high degree of cult practices and institutions; here in particular there is clearly a very ancient tendency "to place morality above the cult." [75] Further, it should also be remembered that all those elements which were likely to militate against the exclusive service of YHVH have been eliminated. For what remained there was need of a change not of form, but only of sense and content. in order to satisfy the purpose of Moses. The sacral principle remained; but the sacral assurance, the sacral power of utilizing the God. was uprooted, as was demanded by his character and essence. This sacral power was replaced by the consecration of men and things. of times and places, to the One who vouchsafes his presence amid his chosen people, if only the latter persevere in the royal covenant.

And why are there no cultic ordinances in the decalogue? Why is it that in the domain of cult nothing more is done than the prohibition of the false, not the prescription of the correct deeds? Why is the prescription of circumcision not to be found? Why is Sabbath observance required, but not that of the New Moon festival? Why the Sabbath, but not the Passover? Does not this. for instance. indicate a late origin, seeing that in exile. far from the Temple, the Sabbath came to be the center of religious life?

All these and similar questions taken together mean: why does the decalogue contain these precise commandments, these and none other, no more and no less? Why have these been joined together as the norm, and where in those early days could the principle have been found in accordance with which the association took. place? Naturally, this question also includes the analogous questions which arise within the ethical field, such as: is it possible to suppose that in the time of Moses there could have been a prohibition of "coveting," which, in contrast to all the other prohibitions, was aimed not at action but at a state of mind? Or, on the other hand, why is there no prohibition of lying? [76]

It is desirable to offer a single and comprehensive answer to all these questions, and necessarily that answer will have to deal with both selection and composition. Hence the literary category as such must be a subject of interest. Why should there be a decalogue or anything resembling a decalogue? Why these ten commandments and no others? Why, which in turn means: to what end? To what end, and that in turn means: when?

In order to find an answer, we must first disabuse ourselves of the widely held view that the decalogue is a "catechism" which supplies the essence of the Israelite religion in summary fashion, in articles of faith that can be counted on the ten fingers. specially "prepared for learning by heart." [77] If we have to think of ten fingers, then rather those of the law-giver himself, who was first a law-finder, and who, so to say, sees in his two hands an image of the completeness requisite ere he raises those two hands towards the multitude. We miss the essential point if we understand the decalogue to be "the catechism of the Hebrews in the Mosaic period." [78] A catechism means an instruction for the person who has to be in a position to demonstrate his full membership in a religious community on the basis of general statements which he recites either in complete or in abbreviated form. Such a catechism is therefore prepared partly in the third person as a series of statements, and partly in the first as a series of articles of personal faith.

The soul of the decalogue, however, is to be found in the word "Thou." Here nothing is either stated or confessed, but orders are given to the one addressed, to the listener. In distinction to all catechisms and compositions resembling catechisms, everything here has reference to that specific hour in which the words were spoken and heard. It is possible that only the man who wrote down the words had once had the experience of feeling himself addressed; possibly he transmitted that which he heard to his people not orally, taking the "I" of the God in his own mouth as though it were his own, but only in written form, preserving the necessary distance. At all times, in any case, only those persons really grasped the decalogue who literally felt it as having been addressed to themselves, only those, that is, who experienced that first one's state of being addressed as though they themselves were being addressed. Thanks to its "thou," the decalogue means the preservation of the divine voice.

And if we now no longer formulate the question from the point of view of literary criticism, but in accordance with strictly historical categories, the decalogue again shows its difference in kind, its antithesis in fact to all catechisms. It is both legislation and promulgation, in the precise historical sense. What this means is that the intention to be recognized in it refers neither to articles of faith nor to rules of behavior, but to the constituting of a community by means of common regulation. This has been obscured through the fact that the contents of the single commandments are partly "religious" and partly "ethical," and that if the single commandments are considered on their own, they seem, even in their totality, to be directed towards the religious and ethical life of the individual, and appear to be capable of realization there. Only when the Ten Commandments are considered as a whole can it be recognized that no matter how repeatedly the individual alone is addressed, it is nevertheless not the isolated individual who is meant. If the "religious" commandments are taken by themselves, and the "ethical" by themselves, it is almost possible to gain the impression that they derived from a culture in which religion and morality have already become separate spheres, each with a special system and a special form of speech. If they are regarded in their connection, however, it will be observed that there are no such separate fields at all here, but only one as yet undifferentiated common life, which requires a constitution containing both "religious" and "ethical" elements in order to achieve a uniform growth.

Here the unifying force has to start from the conception of a divine lord. The disparate material out of which the people develop shapes itself into a closed national form as a result of their common relation to him. Only as the people of YHVH can Israel come into being and remain in being. The constitution appears not as something objective, to be taken at its own intrinsic value, but as an allocution by him, something which can be actualized only in and through a living relationship with him. It therefore begins by his designation of himself as the One who brought forth and liberated the Israel addressed, including each and every person addressed in Israel. God does not wish to speak as the Lord of the world that he is (Ex. 19:5b), but as the One who has led them forth from Egypt. He wishes to find recognition in the concrete reality of that historic hour; it is from that starting point that the people have to accept his rule.

This calls for and conditions a threefold commandment through a threefold prohibition. First: a commandment of an exclusive relationship of worship by means of the prohibition of other gods "in my face." Secondly: a commandment of selfdedication to his invisible but nevertheless manifesting presence, by means of a prohibition of all sensory representations. Thirdly: a commandment of faith to his name as the truly Present One, through the prohibition of carrying that name over to any kind of "illusion," [79] and thus of admitting that any kind of illusive thing whatsoever can participate in the presence of the Present One. This, to be sure, prohibits idol-worship, image-worship, and magic-worship. But the essential reason for which they have been prohibited is the exclusive recognition of the exclusive rule of the divine Lord, the exclusive leadership of the divine Leader; to this end it is necessary to recognize him as he is, and not in the shape with which people would like to endow him.

This first part of the decalogue, which bases the life of the community on the rule of the Lord, is built up in five phrases, all beginning "Thou shalt not" (the two phrases, beginning with "for," appear to be later supplements). If the final verse of the third section is restored to an original shorter version, it can be seen to consist likewise of five phrases beginning "Thou shalt not." (Therefore, to be precise, we have a group of twelve commandments before us.) Between these two groups comes a central section containing the commandment of the Sabbath and the commandment to honor parents (in shorter versions), both commencing with a positive injunction. The first, a "religious" one, refers back to what went before; the second as "ethical" refers ahead to those that follow.

Between the two of them, however, there is a connection other than the purely formal one. The two of them, and only these two among all of the Ten Commandments, deal with time, articulated time; the first with the closed succession of weeks in the year, the second with the open succession of generations in national duration. Time itself is introduced into the constitutional foundation of national life by being partly articulated in the lesser rhythm of the weeks, and partly realized in its given articulation through the greater rhythm of the generations. The former requirement is provided for by the repeated "remembering" of the Sabbath day as that which has been consecrated to YHVH; the latter, by the "honoring" of the parents. Both together ensure the continuity of national time; the never-to-be-interrupted consecution of consecration, the never-to-be-broken consecution of tradition.

There is no room here for the mention of special individual festivals alongside the Sabbath. The Sabbath represents the equal measure, the regular articulation of the year. and further. one which is not simply taken over from nature. which is not strictly lunar. but is based on the concept of the regular consecration of every seventh day. It is not the exceptional. not that which has to be done only at certain times and on certain occasions, but that which is of all time. that which is valid at all times, for which alone place must be found in the basic constitution. The cult is not in any way excluded. but only its general prerequisite postulates, as they are expressed in the first part of the decalogue. and not its details, have found acceptance here in accordance with the main purpose.

If the first part deals with the God of the community, and the second with the time, the one-after-the-other of the community, the third is devoted to the space, the one-with-the-other of the community in so far as it establishes a norm for the mutual relations between its members. There are four things above all which have to be protected in order that the community may stand firm in itself. They are life. marriage. property, and social honor. And so the damaging of these four basic goods and basic rights of personal existence is forbidden in the most simple and pregnant of formulas. In the case of the first three. the verb does not even possess any object; as a result of which the impression is given of a comprehensive and absolute prescription.
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Re: The Writings of Martin Buber, edited by Will Herberg

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But these four commandments in themselves are not enough to protect the community from disorganization through the many kinds of inner conflicts that might break out. They apply only to actions. to the active outcome of passions or feelings of ill-will directed against the personal sphere of other people; they do not involve attitudes which have not passed into action.

There is one attitude. however. which destroys the inner connection of the community even when it does not transform itself into action. and which indeed. precisely on account of its passive or semi-passive persistence. may become a consuming disease of a special kind in the body politic. This is the attitude of envy. The prohibition of "covetousness," no matter whether it was without any object in its original form, [80] or read, "Do not covet the house [i.e., the content of the personal life in general, household, property. and prestige (cf. Ex. 1:21)] of your fellow-man." is to be understood as a prohibition of envy. The point here is not merely a feeling of the heart. but an attitude of one man to another which leads to a decomposition of the very tissues of society. The third part of the decalogue can be summarized in its basic tendency as: Do not spoil the communal life of Israel at the point at which you are placed.

Since, as we have seen, it is the will towards inner stability of the community which determined the selection of commandments and prohibitions, we must, if the decalogue is ascribed to a later period. necessarily note the absence of some phrase reading more or less as follows: Do not oppress thy fellow-man. In a community which was being broken up from within -- as we know was the case during the period of the kings in Israel -- by a vast increase of social inequality, by the misuse of the power of property to gain possession of smaller properties, by the exploitation of the economically weaker and dependent; in a community wherein. generation after generation, rang the great protest of the prophets. no central and authoritative collection of the laws indispensable for the inner strengthening of the community could have been thinkable which did not expressly combat social injustice. It is appropriate to a period in which. to be sure, inequality of property is already to be found. but in which, taking the whole situation into account. that inequality does not yet lead to any fateful abuses. so that the immediately obvious danger deriving from it is envy and not oppression.

But we can fix the period in question even more precisely. Within the individual clan. and even within the individual tribe. there had always been, as we are also aware from other Semitic peoples. a solidarity which interdicted and directly punished every transgression of a member against the personal sphere of life of another. What was lacking in wandering Israel. fused together of related and unrelated elements, joined on its wanderings by other elements, was a sense of solidarity as between the tribes. What Israel needed was the extension of its tribal solidarity to the nation. The members of each separate tribe knew "Thou shalt not kill." "Thou shalt not commit adultery." "Thou shalt not steal"; they had these deeply engraved in their consciousness in respect of other members of their own tribe. An analogous "Israelite" consciousness. however, had hardly begun to come into being. The constituting of a people out of clans and tribes, which Moses undertook, made the expansion of the specific tribal prohibitions to the relations between the components of the people as a whole an unconditional necessity. At no later period was the need so urgent as at this plastic and fateful hour, in which it was necessary to build the "House of Israel" out of unequally suited, unequally cut stones. A wandering into the unknown had begun under the most difficult external circumstances. Before that wandering could be given a destination, it was necessary to shape, no matter in how raw and clumsy a fashion, a folk character which would enable the folk, as a homogeneous being, to follow a road to a destination. This, in turn, indispensably required the proclamation of a basic constitution founded on the principles of the unlimited rule of the one God, the continuance of Israel through the changes of years and generations, and the inner cohesion of those members of Israel living as contemporaries at any one period.

The situation of Moses has been compared, not unjustly, [81] with that of Hammurabi, who made his code in order to establish a strong unity among all the city communities of his kingdom. despite their many and varied customs and laws. But Hammurabi was the victorious ruler of a firmly established kingdom; Moses was the leader of an inchoate, stubborn horde during its transition from a lack of freedom to a problematic freedom.

Admittedly, we must not imagine Moses as a planning, selecting, and composing legislator directed by certain motives of "biological social necessity"; for his consciousness, as for that of his successors in the work of codification, "only the demand of the law was decisive, in order to manifest divine commands that are of absolute authority." [82] But here we are not justified in attempting to discriminate too precisely between conscious and unconscious processes. Moses can only be understood as deriving from the soil of an elemental unity between religion and society. He undertook the paradoxical task of leading forth the Hebrew tribes only because he had been possessed. in his direct experience, by the certainty that this was the will of the God who called those tribes his people. He aims at nothing else than to prepare the community for this God, who has declared that he is ready to be their convenantal Lord; but, and for that very reason. he must provide Israel with a basic constitution, in order to make Israel united and firm in itself. For him God's dominion over the people, and the inner cohesion of the people, are only two aspects of the same reality. From out of those words, "I, YHVH, am thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt," which flow into his expectant spirit, come forth all the remaining ones in a stream that is not to be stayed; and as they come forth, they gain their strict order and form. To be sure, he is not concerned with the soul of man, he is concerned with Israel; but he is concerned with Israel for the sake of YHVH. For this reason, all those who came after him in Israel, and were concerned with the soul of man, had to start from his law.

Thus, in so far as any historical conclusions are at all permissible from texts such as those before us, we have to recognize in the decalogue "the constitution by which the host of Moses became united with their God and likewise among themselves," [83] save that this host should not as it sometimes is, be understood to be a "religious" union, a "Yahveh League," [84] a cult association, [85] a "congregation"; [86] for, despite their deliquescent state, reminiscent as it is of a saturated solution before crystallization, they are a complete society, a people that is coming into being. It is a "unique event in human history" [87] that the decisive process of crystallization in the development of a people should have come about on a religious basis. Irrespective of the importance of the typological view of phenomena in the history of the spirit, the latter, just because it is history, also contains the atypical, the unique in the most precise sense. This is true particularly of the religious document of that crystalloid unification: of the decalogue.

It has been supposed [88] that, in spite of the fact that the original short form to be laid bare within it "contains nothing which speaks against its composition at the time of Moses," nevertheless "it is impossible to trace it back to Moses himself, because in its literary style every decalogue is impersonal." But do we really know so much of decalogues in general that we have to subject this one to a typological view in order to discover what is possible and what is impossible in respect of it? All other sections of the Pentateuch and of other books of the Bible which it has been the practice to describe as decalogues are either loose and, as it were, accidental, or else are of indubitably literary origin; this one alone is fully self-consistent in its nucleus, and aims at the mark like a perfect instrument, each word charged with the dynamism of an historical situation. We cannot under any condition regard something of this kind as an "impersonal" piece of writing, but, if at all, only as the work of that particular man upon whom it was incumbent to master the situation. This may be an hypothesis, but it is undoubtedly the only one which affords what is requisite: namely, the insertion of a combination of words found in literature into a sequence of events such as would be possible within history.

A demand is voiced, and quite properly, to ascertain what "situation in life" such a text may have had, which means, more or less, at which celebration it was likely to have been regularly read aloud. Even more important, however, than the question of that which is regularly recurrent, namely, of the reality of the calendar, is that of the first time, that of the reality of innovation. This too can be answered only by hypothesis and assumption. but it can be answered.

If we attempt to gain the view of a sequence of events from the texts which we have sifted, it is first necessary, despite everything which may appear to speak in its favor, to reject the theory that "the decalogue was the document on the basis of which the covenant was made." [89] The concept of the document in the making of the covenant appears to me to be secondary, and to have derived from the fact that the covenant was misunderstood at a later period as the conclusion of a contract. In any case, however, the decalogue has the covenant not as its subject, but as a prerequisite condition.

In a message which must underlie our Eagle Speech, but which cannot be reconstructed from it, Moses brings to hi, rank and file, as he had already brought to the elders, YHVH's offer to establish the berith. which would unite both of them, the God and the human host, into a living community, in which YHVH would be meld and Israel his mamlakah, his regal retinue; YHVH would be the owner and Israel the special personal property chosen by him; YHVH would be the hallowing Leader and Israel the goy hallowed by him, the national body made holy through him. These are concepts which I take out of the version before us, but which must already have been either contained or latent in an undifferentiated "form in the original source if the latter was to fulfil its function.

The host accepts the offer; and in the blood rite which had already begun earlier, and wherein the two partners share in the identical living substance, the covenant by which YHVH becomes "melek in Yeshurun" (Deut. 33:5) is concluded. The process is completed in the contemplation of the heavens and the holy meal. This might be the proper place for a report of the representative to those represented. in which the word "Israel" was given out and taken up. a report that has not come down to us. What now has to follow sooner or later is the proclamation of the melek YHVH. It is this which seems to me to be preserved in the decalogue as restored to its original nucleus. Here YHVH tells the tribes united in "Israel" what has to be done and what left undone by them as Israel. and by each individual person in Israel -- an induction into such a new and exclusive relationship will consist. naturally. for the greater pan. in a prohibition of that which must henceforward be left undone -- in order that a people. the people of YHVH which has to come into being. should come into being. In order that it should really become his people. it must really become a people. and vice versa. The instruction to this is the Ten Commandments.

Whether this proclamation was made immediately after the conclusion of the covenant. or only in the course of the "many days" (Deut. 1:46) of the sojourning at the oasis of Kadesh, is a question that may be left open. It seems to me, on the other hand. as already stated. more likely both from the introduction to the passage commencing "I," as well as from the prose-like structure of the sentences. that the manifestation took place in written form. That it was written down on two tables is a tradition which is worthy of belief. Tables, or stelae, with laws ascribed to the divinity, are known to us both from Babylon and from early Greece, as against which there is not a single historical analogy, [90] to the best of my knowledge. for the frequently assumed imaginary transformation of stone fetishes, thought to have been kept in the ark, into tablets of the law. It may well be conceived that the tablets on which Moses wrote in truly "lapidary" sentences the basic constitution given by YHVH to his people "in order to instruct them" [91] were erected and again and again inspected and read out, until the departure from that spot made it necessary to place them in the ark.

The story of the tables as told in the book of Exodus consists of a series of tremendous scenes. which have always aroused fervent emotions in believing hearts. Moses summoned to the summit of the mountain in order to receive the tables which YHVH himself has written for the instruction of the Children of Israel (Ex. 24:12); Moses ascending into God's cloud and remaining there for forty days and forty nights (ibid., 18); Moses receiving from God the "Tables of the Testimony" written by his finger (Ex. 31:18); Moses on the way down from the mountain becoming aware of the "unbridled" people, and in flaming fury, flinging the tables from his hands, so that they smash on the mountainside (Ex. 32:19); Moses, at the command of YHVH, hewing two fresh tables from the stone "like the first," in order that God may write upon them again, and again ascending the mountain with them (Ex. 34:1, 4); Moses with the tables in his hand receiving from the mouth of the God who "passes by him," the revelation of God's qualities (ibid., 5-7); Moses again standing forty days and forty nights on the mountain without food or drink and writing on the tables "the words of the covenant, the ten words," he and not YHVH, although YHVH had promised him to do this himself, and hence, from the viewpoint and for the purpose of the redactor, who considered that the two passages were mutually reconcilable, functioning as the writing finger of YHVH (ibid., 28); Moses going down with the new tables, the skin of his face radiant from his contact with God, and he himself unaware of it (ibid., 29).

If we wish to have a sequence of events possible in our human world, we must renounce all such tremendous scenes. Nothing remains for us except the image, capable of being seen only in the barest outline and shading, of the man who withdraws to the loneliness of God's mountain in order, far from the people and overshadowed by God's cloud, to write God's law for the people. To this end, he has hewn stelae out of the stone for himself. It must be stone and not papyrus. For the hard stone is called to testify, to serve as a witness. It sees what there is to see, it hears what there is to hear, and it testifies thereto, making present and contemporary for all coming generations that which it has to see and hear; the stone outlasts the decaying eyes and ears, and goes on speaking. In the same way, Moses, before the covenant was made, had erected twelve memorial stones -- such as men making covenants were accustomed to erect (Gen. 31:45ff.) -- for the twelve tribes which were to become Israel at that hour.

Now, however, he goes further. After all, there is one means of placing a more comprehensive, clearer, verbally dependable witness upon the stone. That is the wondrous means of writing, which for early Israel was still surrounded by the mystery of its origin, by the breath of God, who makes a gift of it to men. By means of it, one can embody in the stone what has been revealed to one, so that it is no longer simply an event, the making of the covenant; word by word, it continues to serve as evidence of a revelation, of the law of the King. What Moses says may be clumsy, but not what he writes; that is suitable for his time and for the later times in which the stone will testify.

And so he writes on the tables what has been introduced to his senses, in order that Israel may come about; and he writes it fittingly, as a finger of God. And the tables remain as "tables of testimony" or "tables of making present" (Ex. 32: 15), [92] whose function it is to make present unto the generations of Israel forever what had once become word, that is, to set it before them as something spoken to them in this very hour. It may well be assumed, although there is no tradition extant to this effect, that in the days before Samuel the tables were taken out of the ark at extraordinary moments and elevated before the people, as had once been done in the wilderness, in order to restore them to the situation in which they had been at Sinai. [93] Reports about this may have been destroyed after the tables were placed in the Holy of Holies of Solomon's Temple (together with the ark, which was now deprived of its mobile character [I Kings 8:9]), obviously in order that they might become immovable themselves, no longer serving as the occasionally reviving original witnesses, but remaining nothing more than relics of dead stone.

And at an unknown hour they pass out of our ken. The Word alone endures.


For reasons both of style and of content, I have accepted the view that the original decalogue was not as long as that which we now possess, and that it was largely constructed in succinct imperative sentences; which, however, does not in any way mean that an origin in the days of Moses must be denied to all elements which can be separated out after this fashion. This applies in particular to the widely discussed statement about the "jealous God" (Ex. 20:5b-6). With the possible exception of the last two words ("and who keep my commandments"), which tend to disturb the parallelism of the structure, this has so archaic a stamp that certain of the protagonists of the "original decalogue" [94] have held that it ought to be transposed to the commencement of the decalogue in place of the present introductory verse. Yet the introductory verse. the nuclear passage of the revelation. is so "unmistakably ancient" [95] that it will not do merely to remove it from the place which alone is suitable to it.

The situation is different as regards the verse about the "jealous God:' This likewise obviously fits into an early connection, but not necessarily here, in a passage which, in its nature as proclamation of the God as God of the Covenant. with whom the people have just entered into a community of life. does not require any threat of punishment at this particular point. On the other hand, it seems to me that there is an inner association between this and certain other laws. which also point more or less to the period of Moses. but are not included in the decalogue.

"I YHVH thy God am a jealous God, ordaining the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons unto the third and fourth generation of those that hate me, but doing mercy to the thousandth generation of those that love me." Two of the elements of this statement, the characterization of the God as a jealous one and the differentiation between those that hate him and those that love him, are again to be found in similar form in passages which should be regarded as effects and applications of this. A distinction between the foes of YHVH, who are marked for downfall, and those that love him, who ascend in their course like the rising sun, is drawn with the strongest urge of a fighting faith at the close of the Song of Deborah (Judg. 5:31). "Foes" in this song clearly means not merely the foes of Israel, who are for that reason the foes of Israel's divine leader and commander, but also those within the people itself who at the hour of battle refrained from coming to the aid of YHVH, and who are therefore provided with a curse (ibid., 23); "lovers" are those who unconditionally adhere to YHVH and follow him, those devoting themselves to him of their own free will (ibid., 2). It is of great significance that this expression of personal feeling was chosen as the designation of the following of the God; and this applies equally to the decalogue sentence by which, it seems to me, the song had been influenced." The guilty ones have to bear the burden of their guilt as a load extending beyond their own person if they are haters of God; they are faced by the lovers, over whom the flood of mercy pours forth, reaching far beyond them in distant waves.

But what kind of guilt is it that is spoken of here? According to the context of the decalogue, idolatry and the like are meant; and this view seems to be confirmed by the introduction to Goethe's "cultic decalogue" (Ex. 34:14), where the jealousy of YHVH stands in relation to the worship of another god. But the same association is also found in the report of the historic assembly at Shechem, in a verse (Josh. 24:19) which there is no adequate reason for regarding as later than its context. It is clear that in these two passages the thing about which God is jealous is exclusive devotion to him, the rejection of the demands of all other gods. This, however, does not in any way mean of necessity that the statement in the decalogue, considered on its own intrinsic merits, bears an identical meaning. We must therefore now consult it by itself.

Our question must naturally refer to the precise sense of those much discussed words: "ordaining the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation," The verb paqad, which I render by "ordaining" or "coordinating," originally means "to arrange," then "to set in order," "to fix an order," "to restore order," The order between heaven and earth, disturbed by guilt, is restored by the punishment. That this should take place "unto the third and fourth generation" can only mean, since there is no reason to assume any arbitrary introduction of the figures, the precise number of generations or direct lineal successors which a man living to a ripe old age is likely to see gathered round him. This, in turn, can be understood in two different ways: either that the guilty one sees how the consequences of his guilt work themselves out on his grand-children or great-grand-children, or else that his punishment comes to affect those of his descendants who are then alive. The passage in the decalogue itself does not tell us which of the two possible interpretations is correct; and so we must extend our inquiry to other passages, which may stand in some inner connection with it.

When we consider the undoubtedly early laws of the Pentateuch, with the exception of the decalogue, which deal with the punishment of transgression, we find that there are very few, only two to be precise, in which the divine speaker does not rest satisfied with prescribing for the tribunals a punishment fitting the guilt, but offers a prospect of his own vengeful intervention. Both of them (Ex. 22:21-22, 25-26) refer to transgressions of a "social" nature, to an injustice committed against one's fellow-man of such a kind that it is not amenable to human justice. Both divide themselves sharply from their contexts by the force of language and rhythm, which does not recur in any other of the single laws to be found in the so-called Book of the Covenant. Further, none of the collections of ancient Oriental laws with which those of the Bible have been compared offer any kind of analogy to this singularly exalted tone, nor to this kind of divine warning of an expiation of guilt brought about from on high. Most of the modern commentators think of reworking and interpolation when trying to account for this. To me, however, it seems, despite a certain syntactical clumsiness, that the two laws are both cast in the same mold; and it correspondingly seems to me that the small group to which they both belong is part of the oldest stratum of Mosaic legislation, that is, "Words of YHVH," [97] sayings "which appeal to the conscience and the sense of responsibility before the compelling God."

The first of the two laws forbids the oppression of any widow or orphan: "For if he cries, cries unto me, I shall hear, hear his cry, and my wrath will flame, and I shall slay you with the sword, and your wives shall be widows and your children orphans." The unjust community, the community containing both those who behave thus and those who tolerate such behavior, is visited by war, and the offspring living at the time will be affected by the death of the fathers. The second law holds out the prospect of the same divine hearing of the outcry of the oppressed if the right of pledging is subjected to abuse, and behind it as well a judging intervention of the God is to be understood. Both laws have a character which can be described, alike in content and tone, as none other than proto-prophetic. The small group of four laws to which they belong leaves me with the impression that they must be the sole remaining vestige of a longer series, in which more succinct commandments, such as verses 20 and 24, may have alternated with expanded ones. such as the two under consideration here. And I could well imagine that the series was introduced by the decalogue statement of the "jealous" God, and that it possibly ended with the phrase which now serves as the close of the small group: "For I am a gracious one."

It may admittedly be argued that the adjective here can mean only "jealous" in the usual sense, as is shown by the usage of the verb deriving from the same root. But the pertinent noun is not infrequently used to characterize the zeal of the fighter, and that is what is meant here. YHVH zealously fights his "haters," and these are not only the people who have other gods "in his face," but also those who break up the society founded and led by him through their injustice to their fellow-men. The "religious" and the "social," the exclusive service of YHVH and the just faith between men, without which Israel cannot become Israel, cannot become the people of YHVH, are closely connected.

I have indicated that social inequality in the midst of the people Israel at the time of Moses had not extended so far that such a commandment as "Thou shalt not oppress thy fellowman" required to be inserted in the basic constitution. At the same time, there certainly must have been already such an amount of oppression in the wandering host that the dangers involved had to be counteracted by single specific laws, which surrounded and completed that central massif. Such single laws were not written on tables. but possibly on a scroll, and presumably not on one single occasion, but in the course of time, in connection with particular happenings, which called for the promulgation of new laws of this kind in order to combat the evil. All this is no more than conjecture, and will probably never become more than conjecture. Yet, in our vision, we see this man Moses at times, following some new and wearing experience with his people, entering the leader's tent, sitting down on the ground, and for a long time weighing in his soul whatever may have befallen, until at length the new comprehension rises to the surface and the new word oppresses his throat, till it finally darts across into the muscles of his hand, permitting a new utterance of the Zealous God to come into being on the scroll.

The effect of the association of this jealousy, or zealousness, with the "social" laws can be seen from the example of a commandment at the beginning of the Book of the Covenant (Ex. 21:2 ff.), the commandment to liberate the "Hebrew" slave in the seventh year. This law, it is known, shows some resemblance to one in the Code of Hammurabi, which specifies liberation as early as the fourth year, though only of those enslaved for debt. The important difference between the two codes lies in the fact that in Israelite law the decision is left to the will of the slave, who, if he refuses to be liberated, has the lobe of his ear pierced as a sign of life-long slavery. (This procedure cannot but remind one of another law in the Hammurabi Code, according to which that particular slave who denies his owner with the words "You are not my lord" has an ear cut off, whereas, in Israel, the slave is marked with the degrading sign because of his having renounced liberty.)

Here the differentiating characteristic is not the practical mildness, but the basic recognition of personal freedom of choice. In Babylonian law, the slave, foreign as well as indigenous, is a "chattel"; [98] the Hebrew slave, in Israelite law, is a person. There the relationship is unilateral, while here it is mutual.

The Hittite slave law also shows a noteworthy humaneness. What distinguishes the law of Israel in essence from it is the close relationship between the religious and the social element. Since Israel is the "peculiar property" of YHVH, no person in Israel can be, properly speaking, the slave of any other person in Israel. [99] All belong to the God, and are therefore free to make their own decisions.

This basic feeling, to which "it is impossible to find a parallel within the old Oriental circle," [100] is spirit of Moses' spirit, no matter when the presumably archaic law may have found its actual formulation. And we are also presumably justified in ascribing to the man by whom the Sabbath was inaugurated the initiative for extending the Sabbatical manner of thought into the cycle of the years, in which, as in the days, six units of work. and dependence have to be followed by one unit of liberation. Once in history, shortly before the fall of the kingdom (Jer. 34:8 ff.), the king and the princes in Judah understood a military disaster as being due to the non-fulfilment of a particular commandment. 1t was not a cult law, but that commanding the liberation of the slaves, which they recognized as having been the cause of YHVH's zeal against the beleaguered Jerusalem.


We read (Num. 16) of another revolt, the one known as the revolt of "Korah and his band." Its nucleus of fact is barely to be identified under the thick layer of tendentious treatment, the purpose of which was clearly to equip the privileged position of the "Aaronid" priests vis-a-vis the "Levites" with all the sanctions of the Mosaic period. The only thing which can be regarded as certain [101] is that in the original report there was no question of any action of the Levites as Levites.

On the other hand, it would be regarding things from far too narrow a perspective if we were to see here nothing more than a protest on the part of the laity against the appointment of the Levites to the cult service, a struggle against the priestly class in general on the ground that priests are held to be superfluous. [102]

Nothing is reported in the early stratum of the Pentateuch with regard to the establishment of an actual priestly class. The existence of priests is referred to in passing on one occasion (Ex. 19:22), but we are told nothing about the functions which were exercised by them. Whatever is found in the so-called Book of the Covenant which implies the exercise of such functions does not offer any adequate grounds for the assumption of an organized priestly class in the days of Moses. Here, in any case, the officiating cult group, if it exists, does not show the quality of pathos proper to the sacral power. The obscure hint of an appointment of the Levites -- nothing more than such a hint is to be found in the ambiguous phrasing [103] -- following the suppression of the rebellion (Ex. 32:29) can scarcely be regarded, if recourse is had exclusively to the old texts, as more than an indication of services of watch and ward, to be rendered thereafter by the Levites at the tent of the leader, now elevated to the status of tent of God, without any actual priestly activities.

This tent is not a tent of offering. In the old textual stratum, very little information is given about sacrifices; only on very rare and extraordinary occasions are communal and conventional sacrifices made, and then clearly not by any actual priestly caste. With the exception of Moses, nobody engages in the holy action; there is no participation by Levites, and Moses, too, performs his function not as a professional priest, but as the leader of the people, as we afterwards also find, for example, in the case of Samuel. The tent, to be sure, might be described as "an oracle tent," but nobody except Moses has anything to do in the tent with that oracle.

It is true that in a text which probably derives from the time before the period of the kings but is post-Mosaic (Deut. 33:8), reference is made to a divine bestowal of the oracular instruments called Urim and Thummim upon the Levites, or upon one of them. But the narrative texts available to us do not give us any point d'appui for relating this to a particular event, and it appears most likely that the instruments, which we hear of in an early story as belonging to the time of Saul, was introduced after the death of Moses and as his legacy, in order to ensure the continuation of the oracular function, which, however, had been conducted by him without any instrument.

Possibly the process of back-dating to the Mosaic period came about by way of the mysterious reference to be found in the Blessing of Moses. In general, it seems to me that the period of the conquest of the land must have been decisive for the development of a regulated and somewhat centralized cult and a permanent (in addition to the fluctuating) priestly class; this can be understood from the entire nexus of circumstances.

Be that as it may, all the reports deriving from early days about the priestly functions of the tribe of Levi are not sufficient, in spite of the penetrating efforts of scholars, [104] to make any common front of "laymen against Levites" seem credible as the historical nucleus of the story of Korah and his band. This nucleus does not appear to have been a protest against any "clerical class," but rather to have been directed against the special status of Moses in person, in which those closest to Moses, though perhaps not Aaron in particular (as in the present text of. Num. 16:3), may well have been included.

Here, too, we can best start with a passage which appears to go back to early days, but the wording of which has been so altered in the course of the priestly treatment of the narrative that its antiquity has not been recognized. This passage (Num. 16:3) reads as follows in the form before us: "Enough of you! For all the community, all of them, are holy and YHVH is in their midst, so why do you exalt yourselves over the assembly of YHVH?" The later terms edah (community) and kahal (assembly, congregation) [105] have been substituted, it seems to me, for the original words goy and am. This means that the narrative in its present form has been artistically and of set intent constructed round the word edah, which is used in a double sense: community (the whole nation) and band (the separate group rising in revolt), while in addition the root kahal is used alternatively in the sense of assembling the people and of banding together. [106]

If we restore the original words, two associations which are worthy of remark become clear. The word goy, people. associated with the word kedoshim, holy, is reminiscent of the expression goy kadosh, holy people. found in the Eagle Speech, a form which is found in the Bible at that one place. and at that one place only; and am YHVH, people of YHVH, is found in early strata of the Pentateuch (Num. 17:6 belongs to a very late one) only in the words with which Moses replies to Joshua's misgivings in the story of the descent of the Spirit (Num. 11:29): "Would that he grant that the whole people of YHVH were prophets, that YHVH grant his spirit over them!"

The purpose, in suggesting a cross-reference to these two passages, seems to me unmistakable. The protesting party base themselves on the two utterances made by Moses himself, in which he referred to all Israel as holy, as consisting exclusively of direct servants of YHVH, and again to all the individuals in Israel as prophetic carriers of the spirit of God -- one, it is true, in the form of a commandment, and the other in that of a wish. "Korah and his band," consisting of Levites and laymen who have confederated, say: "The people do not have to become holy first, the people are holy, for YHVH is in their midst; the whole people is holy, and because it is holy, all the individuals in it are holy."

On this they base their attack against Moses and his kinsfolk: "If all are holy, you have no priority over the others. If all are holy, there is no need for any mediation. If all are holy there is no need for human beings to exercise any power over other human beings. Everybody is given instruction directly by YHVH as to what he is to do."

This contradiction rising out of the midst of the people, which converts the words of Moses into their opposite, changing as it does request and hope into insolent self-assertion, was conditioned and made possible by one of his great works, the establishment of the ark of the covenant. The people as people necessarily understood the occasional descent of YHVH into their midst as a residence of YHVH among them, and such a residence as a guarantee of the holiness of them all, while their common holiness was bound to appear to them as an adequate reason for throwing off the yoke of what should be done and what should not be done, the yoke that this man Moses imposed upon them, the holy people, hour by hour, and day by day, in the name of God, as though God dwelt with him alone, as though he alone had access to God.

Moses had endeavored to preclude this danger by placing the shrine with the tables of the law at the feet of YHVH. But he himself, after all, had made the Invisible more visible to his people than the stone upon which his will was written. For the people as people the Divine Presence meant that they possessed the God, or in other words, that they could transform their own will into the will of God.

The issue here is at bottom something rather different from the question of priestly functions, or indeed the question of cult in general. Though it is directed, to be sure, against Moses, yet no matter how deeply and strongly religious motives are associated with the passions at play here, they are not directed really against Moses as priest. This if only for the reason that though Moses himself, as said, actually carries out or directs the cult acts in which the community as such has to be represented, he does not become a priest as a result; he carries them out and directs them as the man who represents the community where the latter has to act "before God." And equally the fact that he receives and transmits the expressions of God's will does not turn him into a priest, for the manner of this reception does not admit of inclusion in any tradition of divinatory methods: it is unique to him, to Moses; it comes into being from his religious experiences and vanishes with him.

He takes over cult elements and transforms their form and meaning; he introduces fresh cult elements, but he has no cult office. [107] The priest represents the greatest human specialization that we know. In his mission and his work, Moses is unspecialized; he is conditioned not by an office but by a situation. an historical situation.

Moses' character is eminently historical; that of the priest. even when he delivers an oracle in given historical situations, is eminently non-historical. This, however, does not mean that Moses is "not a priest but a prophet." [108] It is true that the way in which he receives the revelation is largely prophetical, even though the institution of the tent and all that is associated therewith does make a considerable difference; but his activity in history, as leader of the people, as legislator, is what separates him in character from all the bearers of prophecy known to us. For this reason, Moses likewise cannot be understood merely as a combination of priest and prophet; moreover, he is not to be comprehended at all within any exclusively "religious" categories. What constitutes his idea and his task -- the realization of the unity of religious and social life in the community of Israel, the substantiation of a divine rule that is not to be cultically restricted but is to comprehend the entire existence of the nation, the theopolitical principle -- all this has penetrated to the depths of his personality; it has raised his person above the compartmental system of typology; it has mingled the elements of his soul into a rare unity.

The historical Moses, as far as we are capable of perceiving him, does not differentiate between the spheres of religion and politics, and in him they are not separated. When "Korah and his band" revolt against Moses, it is not to be interpreted as meaning that they rise against his cult privileges as such, for these privileges as such are not stressed and might as well be non-existent.

Rather do they rise at first against the fact that one man leads the people in the name of God. But they go beyond this and revolt against the fact that this man decides in the name of God what is right and what is wrong. "The whole people, all of them, are holy," and therefore nobody can give orders or issue prohibitions to anybody else in respect of what the latter's own holiness suggests to him. Since the people are holy, commandments from without are no longer necessary.

It should not be supposed that later stages of development are introduced here into the words of Korah. The attitude which finds expression in these words is known to us from far more primitive stages. In many of those tribes which are labelled as primitive, such motives have contributed vastly to the establishment of secret societies. A chief or shaman, whose authority is supported by a superhuman power, can be combated in two ways. One is to attempt to overthrow him, particularly by shaking faith in the assurance that he will receive that support, and then to take his place, which is precisely what some suppose to have been the nucleus of the story of Korah, [109] that is, a manifestation of the personal struggle for power known to us from all phases of human history, and one which in general leaves the structure of society unchanged. The second method is to cut off the main roots of the leader's power by establishing, within the tribe but external to the official tribal life, a secret society in which the actual, the true, the "holy" communal life is lived, free from the bonds of the "law," a life of "leopards" or "werewolves," in which the wildest instincts are given free rein through mutual support in action that is regarded as holy. Once they have succeeded in abducting the god, all further robbery is no more than taking possession by means of him. This is naturally bound to have vast and varied social and political effects on the life of the tribe, in relation to which the secret society regards itself as the "true" tribe, the backbone and driving force of the tribe, the tribe, so to speak, in so far as it really dares to be its own self.

This phenomenon, which can be observed throughout the world, is regarded much too superficially if it is considered to be nothing more than a masking of the urge of the libido to throw off its fetters. The people who set rebellions of this kind in motion are not merely endeavoring to find a sanction for the satisfaction of repressed lusts, but are in all seriousness desirous of gaining power over the divine might, or more precisely, of actualizing and giving legitimacy to the god-might which a person has in himself, the "free" one as against the one who is "bound" by the chief or shaman. This tendency can, of coune, be realized only by placing those who are not members of the secret societies in a state of non-freedom and exposure, in a condition frequently far worse than any previous abuse had ever been, but this is only, one might say, a secondary effect, which is regarded as being unworthy of consideration.

It is easy to adduce analogies at higher levels of development, particularly out of the history of antinomist sects and movements. The issue is always that of "divine freedom" against "divine law," but at these higher levels it becomes even more clear than at the more primitive stages that an isolated divine freedom abolishes itself. Naturally, God rules through men who have been gripped and filled by his spirit, and who on occasion carry out his will not merely by means of instantaneous decisions, but also through lasting justice and law. If their authority as the chosen ones is disputed and extended to all, then the actual dominion is taken away from God, for without law, that is, without any clear-cut and transmissible line of demarcation between that which is pleasing to God and that which is displeasing to him, there can be no historical continuity of divine rule upon earth.

The true argument of the rebellion is that in the world of the law what has been inspired always becomes emptied of the spirit, yet continues to maintain its claim of full inspiration; in other words, that the living element always dies off, yet what is left continues to rule over living men. And the true conclusion is that the law must again and again immerse itself in the consuming and purifying fire of the spirit, in order to renew itself and again refine the genuine substance out of the dross of what has become false. This lies in the continuation of the line of that Mosaic principle of ever-recurrent renewal.

As against this comes the false argument of the rebels that the law as such displaces the spirit and freedom, and the false conclusion that it ought to be replaced by them. The falsity of this conclusion remains hidden, and even ineffective, so long al the "eschatological" expectation -- the expectation of the coming of the direct and complete rule of God over all creatures, or more correctly, of his presence in all creatures, without need of law and representation -- is maintained unweakened. As soon as it slackens, it follows historically that God's rule is restricted to the "religious" sphere; everything that is left over is rendered unto Caesar, and the rift which runs through the whole being of the human world receives its sanction.

Indeed, the false would become true as soon as the presence of God comes to be fulfilled in all creatures. It is here that the greatness and the questionability in every genuine eschatology are to be found: its greatness in belief and its questionability in regards to the realities of history. The "Mosaic" attitude is to believe in the future of a "holy people," and to prepare for it within history.

These remarks are essentially relevant to our subject, for they help us to understand the tragedy of Moses. Everything subsequent to the antagonism between Moses and Korah appears to us as having been already present in the seed therein, if only we view Korah in large enough terms. Then we recognize that here the eternal word is opposed by eternal contradiction.

But something peculiar must also be added: the waywardness of Bedouin life, which often survives the nomadic stage. [110] This elementary need of people to be independent of other people may develop in two opposite directions, according to the particular personal temperament with which it is associated. It can grow into an unconditional submission to the will of God and his will alone, but it may also become empty stubbornness, which does not wish to bow to any order because order is, after all, nothing but human order. On the one hand, we see here devotion to the kingdom of God carried out by a person's deepest self, such as can and should be inspired in spontaneous fashion; and on the other, resistance offered by the deepest self to the coming of the kingdom, so that a man submits to his own wilfulness and feels, or endeavors to feel, that very wilfulness to be that which is religiously correct, that which brings salvation, that which is holy.

This schizoid development from a common root meets us in Israel as well as in the pre-Islamic and Islamic Arab worlds. When Moses bases Israel's becoming a "king's retinue of kohanim," that is, the beginning of the kingdom of God, on spontaneity, on "doing and hearing" without compulsion, he relies upon that Bedouin waywardness, trusting and assuming that they who do not wish to recognize any other master but the Lord of the world alone will truly recognize him. To the present day, Israel has really existed in the precise degree to which Moses has proved right. But by doing what he did, Moses also encouraged the contrary development from the identical root. The fact that Korah is able to make use of Moses' own words against him has a tragic purport.

Moses does not wish to use force; he does not wish to impose himself; he wishes to bring the men of his people so far along that they themselves can become kohanim and nebiim. He is "humble:' But this humility of his, which is one with his fundamental faith in spontaneity and in freedom, is precisely what provokes the "Korahite" reaction among men of the Korah type. Since, however, his whole work, the covenant between God and people, is threatened, he must now doom the rebels to destruction, just as he once ordered Levites to fight against Levites. There is certainly something sinister underlying the legend of the earth which opened its mouth and swallowed up the rebels.

It was the hour of decision. Both Moses and Korah desired the people to be the people of YHVH, the holy people. But for Moses this was the goal. In order to reach it, generation after generation had to choose again and again between the roads, between the way of God and the wrong paths of their own hearts, between "life'" and "death" (Deut. 30:15). For this God had introduced good and evil in order that men might find their own way to him.

For Korah, the people, being the people of YHVH, were already holy. They had been chosen by God and he dwelt in their midst, so why should there be further need of ways and choices? The people was holy just as it was, and all within it were holy just as they were; all that needed to be done was to draw the conclusions from this, and everything would be found to be good. It is precisely this which Moses, in a parting speech placed in his mouth, and which appears to be a development of one of his traditional utterances, calls death, meaning the death of the people, as though they were swallowed up while still alive.

Therefore Moses was zealous; he was zealous for his God as the one who sets a goal, and shows a path. and writes a guide to that path on tablets, and orders men to choose again and again, to choose that which is right; and he was zealous against the great and popular mystical Baal which, instead of demanding that the people hallow themselves in order to be holy. treats them as already holy.

Korah calls that Baal by the name of YHVH, but that does not change anything in his essence.
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Re: The Writings of Martin Buber, edited by Will Herberg

Postby admin » Thu Jul 02, 2015 8:12 pm



I do not imagine that you will expect me to give you any so-called character sketches of biblical leaders. That would be an impossible undertaking. for the Bible does not concern itself with character. nor with individuality, and one cannot draw from it any description of characters or individualities. The Bible depicts something else. namely. persons in situations. The Bible is not concerned with the difference between these persons; but the difference between the situations in which the person, the creaturely person. the appointed person, stands hi. test or fails. is all-important to it.

But neither can it be my task to delve beneath the biblical account to a picture more trustworthy historically, to historical data out of which I could piece together an historically useful picture. This too is impossible. It is not that the biblical figures are unhistorical. I believe that we are standing at the beginning of a new era in biblical studies; whereas the past era was concerned with proving that the Bible did not contain history. the coming era will succeed in demonstrating its historicity. By this I do not mean that the Bible depicts men and women and events as they were in actual history; rather do I mean that its descriptions and narratives are the organic, legitimate ways of giving an account of what existed and what happened. I have nothing against calling these narratives myths and sagas, so long as we remember that myths and sagas are essentially memories which are actually conveyed from person to person. But what kind of memory is it which manifests itself in these accounts? I say again: memory, not imagination. It is an organic memory molding its material. We know of it today, because occasionally, though indeed in unlikely and indeed in incredible ways, the existence of great poets with such organic memories still extends into our time. If we want to distinguish between narrators, between a great narrator and one who is simply very talented, the best way is to consider how each of them handles the events of his own life. The great narrator allows the events to drop into him as they happen, careless, trusting, with faith. And memory does its part: what has thus been dropped into it, it molds organically, unarbitrarily, unfancifully into a valid account and narrative -- a whole on which admittedly a great deal of conscious work has then to be done, but upon which the distinguishing mark has been put by the unarbitrarily shaping memory. The other narrator registers, he makes an inventory in what he also calls the memory, but which is really something quite different; he preserves the events while they are happening in order to be able to draw them forth unaltered when he needs them. Well, he will certainly draw them forth from the preservative after a fashion unaltered, and fit for use after a fashion, and then he may do with them what he can.

I said that the great poets show us in their way how the nascence of myths and sagas takes place. Each myth, even the myth we usually call the most fantastic of all, is creation around a memory core, around the kernel of the organically shaping memory. It is not that people to whom something like the exodus from Egypt has happened subsequently improvise events, allowing their fancy to add elements which they do not remember and to "embroider" on what happened; what happened continues to function, the event itself is still active and at work in their souls, but these souls, this community soul, is so made that its memory is formative, myth-creating, and the task before the biblical writers is then to work on the product of this memory. Nowhere is there any point where arbitrariness is observable or interference by alien elements; there is in it no juggling.

This being the case, we cannot disentangle the historical from the biblical. The power of the biblical writing, which springs from this shaping memory, is so great, the elemental nature of this memory so mighty, that it is quite impossible to extract any so-called historical matter from the Bible. The historical matter thus obtained would be unreal. amorphous, without significance. But it is also impossible to distill the "historical matter" from the Bible for another reason. In contrast to the sacred historiography of the other nations. there exists in the case of Israel no evidence from profane parallels by which one might correct the sacred documents; there is no historiography of another tendency than that which resides in this shaping memory; and this shaping memory stands under a law. It is this law which I shall try to elucidate by the examples with which I deal today.

In order to bring out still more clearly and exactly what I have in mind, I shall ask you to recall one of the nations with whom Israel came into historical contact and dispute; I do so for the purpose of considering the aspect under which this nation must have regarded one of the biblical leaders. Let us try to imagine how Abraham must have been regarded by one of the nations against whose kings he fought. according to Gen. 14, a chapter whose fundamental historical character seems to me beyond doubt. Undoubtedly Abraham was a historical figure to this nation in the same sense in which we usually speak about history today. But he was no longer Abraham. That which is important for us about Abraham, that which makes him a biblical character, a "Father," that which is the reason why the Bible tells us about Abraham, that is no longer embraced under this aspect; the significance of the figure has vanished. Or. take for instance the Egyptians and Moses, and imagine how an Egyptian historian would have described Moses and his cause. Nothing essential would have been left; it would be a skeleton taking the place of the living person.

All we can do therefore is to refer to the Bible, to that which is characteristic of the biblical leader as the Bible, without arbitrariness, tells of him and thinks of him. under the law of its conception of history, its living of history, which is unlike anything which we are accustomed to call history. But from this law, from this biblical way of regarding leader and leadership. different from all other ways in which leader and leadership have been regarded, from this have we -- from this has Judaism -- arisen.

As I now wish to investigate the question of the essence of biblical leadership, I must exclude from the inquiry all those figures who are not biblical leaders in the strict sense of the term; and this means. characteristically enough, I must exclude all those figures who appear as continuators, all those who are not called. elected, appointed anew. as the Bible says, directly by God, but who enter upon a task already begun without such personal call -- whether it is a disciple to whom the person who is not permitted to finish the task hands over his office, breathing as it were toward his disciple the spirit that breathes upon him; or whether it is a son who succeeds an elected, originally anointed king, without receiving any other anointing than the already customary official one, which is thus no longer the anointing that comes upon a person and turns him into another man.

Thus I do not consider figures like Joshua and Solomon, because the Bible has such figures in common with history -- they are figures of universal history. Joshua is a great army leader, a great conqueror, but an historical figure like any other, only with special religious affiliations added, which, however, do not characterize his person. Solomon is an Oriental king, only a very wise one; he does his task, he builds the Temple, but we are not shown that this task colors and determines him. What has happened here is simply that the completion of a task, the completion of a task already intended and already begun, has been taken over by a disciple or a successor. The task of Moses, which he had already begun but was not allowed to complete, was taken over by Joshua; the task of David, which he was not allowed to complete, was taken over by Solomon. In this connection, I recall the words that David and God exchanged in the second book of Samuel on the proposed building of the Temple, and the prohibition against David's carrying it out: "It is not for you," says God, reproving David as he had reproved Moses when he told Moses that it was not for him to bring into their land the people whom he had led out of Egypt. The work is taken away from him, and taken away from him, moreover, in view of his special inner and outer situations; another man has nothing more to do than to bring the work. to its conclusion.

Only the elected, only those who begin, are then comprised under the biblical aspect of leadership. A new beginning may also occur within a sequence of generations, as for instance within those which we call the generations of the patriarchs; this is clearly seen in the case of Jacob, with whom something new begins, as the particular way in which revelation comes to him indicates.

I would like first to attempt a negative characterization of the essential features of biblical leadership. It goes beyond both nature and history. To the men who wrote the Bible, nature, as well as history, is of God, and that in such a way that the biblical cosmogony recounts each separately: in the first chapter, the creation of the world is described as the coming of nature into being; and then in the second chapter, this same creation of the world is described as the rise of history. Both are of God, but then the biblical event goes beyond them, God goes beyond them, not in the sense that they -- nature and history -- come to be ignored by God, but in the sense that time and again God's hand thrusts through them and interferes with what is happening -- it so chooses, so sends, and so commands, as it does not seem to accord with the laws of nature and history to send, to choose, and to command.

I shall here show only by two particularly clear examples what I mean by this. First of all, it is the weak and the humble who are chosen. By nature it is the strong, those who can force their cause through, who are able and therefore chosen to perform the historical deeds. But in the Bible, it is often precisely the younger sons who are chosen -- from Abel, through Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, to David; and this choosing is accompanied by a rejection, often a very emphatic rejection, of the older sons; or else those who are chosen were born out of wedlock, or of humble origin. And if it happens that a strong man like Samson appears, a man who has not all these limitations, then his strength is not his own, it is only loaned, not given, and he trifles it away, squanders it, in the manner described, to get it back only in order to die.

A different but no less telling expression of what is meant by this peculiar election against nature is represented by the battle and victory of Gideon. The Bible makes him do the strangest thing any commander ever did. He has an army of ten thousand men, and he reduces its numbers again and again, till only three hundred men remain with him; and with these three hundred he gives battle and conquers.

It is always the same story. The purpose of God is fulfilled, as the Bible itself says in one place, not by might, nor by power, but "by my spirit."

It is "against nature" that in one way or another the leaders are mostly the weak and the humble. The way in which they carry out their leadership is "contrary to history." It is the moment of success which determines the selection of events which seem important to history. "World history" is the history of successes; the heroes who have not succeeded, but who cannot be excluded from it on account of their very conspicuous heroism, serve only as a foil, as it were. True, the conquered have also their place in "world history"; but if we scrutinize how it treats the conquerors and the conquered, what is of importance to history becomes abundantly clear. Granted that one takes Croesus together with Cyrus. that Herodotus has a use for him; nevertheless, in the heart of history, only the conquerors have value. History murmurs a low dirge over the overpowered heroes. but its paean for those who stand firm, who force their cause through, for those who are crowned with success, rings out loud. This is current history. the history which we are accustomed to identify with what happens. with the real happenings in the world, in spite of the fact that this history is based only on the particular principle of picking and choosing. on the selection made by the historian, on the so-called historical consciousness.

The Bible knows nothing of this intrinsic value of success. On the contrary, when it announces a successful deed, it is duty-bound to announce in complete detail the failure involved in the success. When we consider the history of Moses, we see how much failure is mingled in the one great successful action, so much so that when we set the individual events which make up his history side by side, we see that his life consists of one failure after another, through which runs the thread of his success. True, Moses brought the people out of Egypt; but each stage of this leadership is a failure. Whenever he comes to deal with this people, he is defeated by them, let God ever so often interfere and punish them. And the real history of this leadership is not the history of the exodus, but the history of the wandering in the desert. The personal history of Moses' own life, too, does not point back to his youth and to what grew out of it; it points beyond, to death, to the death of the unsuccessful man, whose work, it is true, survives him, but only in new defeats, new disappointments, and continual new failures -- and yet his work survives also in a hope which is beyond all these failures.

Or let us consider the life of David. So far as we are told of it, it consists essentially of two great stories of flight. Before his accession to the throne, there are the manifold accounts of his flight from Saul, and then follows an interruption which is not trifling in terms of length and its value for profane history, but which in the account appears paltry enough; and after this there is the flight from Absalom, painted for us in detail. And even where the Bible recounts David's triumph, as for instance with the entry of the ark into Jerusalem, this triumph is clearly described as a disgrace in a worldly sense; this is very unlike the language of "world history." What Michal, his wife, says to David of his triumph, how he ought to have felt ashamed of himself behaving as he did in front of his people -- that is the language of profane history, of history par excellence. To history such a royal appearance is not permitted, and rightly so, seeing that history is what it is.

And, finally, this glorification of failure culminates in the long line of prophets whose existence is failure through and through. They live in failure; it is for them to fight and not to conquer. It is the fundamental experience of biblical leadership, of the leadership described by one of them, a nameless prophet whose words are preserved in the second part of the Book of Isaiah where he speaks in the first person of himself as "the servant of the Lord," and says of God:

"He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword,
In the shadow of his hand hath he hid me;
And he hath made me a polished shaft --
In his quiver hath he concealed me!" (Is. 49:2)

This existence in the shadow, in the quiver, is the final word of the leaden in the biblical world -- this enclosure in failure, in obscurity, even when one stands in the blaze of public life, in the presence of the whole national life. The truth is hidden in obscurity and yet does its work, though indeed in a way far different from that which is known and lauded as effective by world history.

Biblical leadership falls into five basic types, not according to differences in the personality and character of the leader -- I have already said that personality and character do not come into consideration -- but according to the difference in the successive situations, the great stages in the history of the people which the Bible describes, the stages in the dialogue between God and the people. For what the Bible understands by history is a dialogue in which man, in which the people, is spoken to and fails to answer, yet where the people in the midst of its failure continually rises up and tries to answer. It is the history of God's disappointments, but this history of disappointments constitutes a way, a way that leads from disappointment to disappointment, and beyond all disappointments; it is the way of the people, the way of man, yes, the way of God through mankind. 1 said that there are five basic types in accordance with the successive stages of the situations in the dialogue: first. the Patriarch; second. the Leader in the original sense of one who leads the wandering; third. the so-called Judge; fourth, the King. but of course not the king who is a successor, a member of a dynasty, but the founder of the dynasty. called the first anointed; fifth. the Prophet. All these constitute different forms of leadership in accordance with the different situations.

First, the Patriarch. About this there is a current conception which is not quite correct. No rulership is here exercised. and when we understand the conception in its accurate sense, we cannot even speak of any leadership, for there is as yet no people to lead. The conception indicates a way along which the people are to be led beginning with these men. They are fathers. It is for them to beget a people. It is the peculiar point in biblical history where God, as it were, narrows down his original plan for the whole of mankind and causes a people to be begotten that is called to do its appointed work toward the completion of the creation. the coming of the kingdom. The fathers of this people are the men of whom 1 speak. They are fathers. nothing else. Patriarch expresses too much. They are the real fathers, they are those from whom this tribe. this people, proceeds; and when God speaks to them. when God blesses them. the same thing is always involved: conception and birth. the beginning of a people. And the great story which stands in the middle of the story of the patriarchs -- the birth and offering of Isaac -- makes exactly this point. in a paradoxical manner. Kierkegaard has presented this paradox very beautifully in the first part of his book Fear and Trembling. This paradoxical story of the second in the line of the patriarchs, of his being born and very nearly being killed. shows what is at stake: a begetting. but the begetting of a people standing at the disposal of God -- a begetting. but a begetting commanded by God.

We have a people, and the people is in bondage. A man receives the charge to lead it out of bondage. It is he whom I have described as the Leader in the original meaning of the word. It is he who serves in a human way as a tool for the act which God pronounces: "I bore you on eagles' wings. and brought you unto myself" (Ex. 19:4). 1 have already spoken of his life. But in the middle of his life, the event takes place in which Moses, after the passage through the Red Sea. intones !he song in which the people joins. and which is the proclamation of a king. The words with which the song ends proclaim it: "King shall the Lord be for ever and ever" (Ex. 15:18). The people has here chosen God himself for its king, and that means that it has made a vital and experienced truth out of the tradition of a divine kingdom which was common to all Semitic peoples, but which never had been taken quite seriously. The Hebrew leaders are so much in earnest about it that after the land has been conquered they undertake to do what is "contrary to history": they try to build up a society without a ruling power save only God. It is that experiment in primitive theocracy of which the Book of Judges tells, and which degenerates into anarchy, as is shown by the examples given in the last part of it.

The so-called Judge constitutes the third type of leadership. This type is to be understood as relating to the attempt made by a leading group among the people who are dominated by the desire to make actual the proclamation of God as king, and try to induce the people to follow them. This attempt miscarries time and again. Time and again, the people, to use the biblical phrase, falls away from God. But we can also express this in the language of history: time and again the people fall apart; it is one and the same thing whichever language we use. The attempt to establish a society under no other domination than God's, this too can be expressed in the language of history, or if one likes, in the language of sociology: the attempt to establish a society on pure voluntarism, which fails over and over again. The people falls away. This is always succeeded by an invasion on the part of one of the neighboring peoples, and Israel, from an historical point of view fallen apart and disunited, does not stand firm. But in its conquered state, it again makes itself subject to the will of God, resolves anew to accept God's rule, and again a divine mission occurs: there is always a leader whom the spirit lays hold of as it laid hold of Moses. This leader, whose mission it is to free the people, is the Judge, or more correctly, "he who makes right"; he makes this right exist in the actual world for the people -- which after its return to God now again has right on its side -- by defeating the enemy. This is the rhythm of the Book of Judges; it might almost be called a tragic rhythm, were it not that the word tragic is so foreign to the spirit of biblical language.

But in this Book of Judges, there is also something being prepared. The experience of failure, of the inability to bring about this intended naive, primitive theocracy becomes ever deeper; ever stronger grows the demand for a human kingdom. Judges itself is in its greater part written from an antimonarchical standpoint. The kings of the nations file before one in a way determined by this point of view, which reaches its height in that ironic fable of Jotham's (Judg. 9). But in its final chapters. the Book of Judges has to acknowledge the disappointment of the theocratic hope. because the people is as it is, because men are as they are. And so kingship is demanded under Samuel. And it is granted by God. 1 said before, the way leads through the disappointments. Thus, the demand of the people is, as it were, laid hold of and consecrated from above, for by the anointing of the King a man is transformed into the bearer of a charge laid upon him. But this is no longer -- as was the case with the Judge -- a single charge the completion of which brings his leadership to an end; it is a governor's charge which goes beyond individual acts, indeed beyond the life of individual men. Anointing may also imply the beginning of a dynasty, if the king is not rejected by God, as Saul was.

The kingdom is a new stage in the dialogue, a new stage of attempt and failure; only in this stage the account lays the burden of the failure on the king and not any longer, as in the Book of Judges, on the whole people. It is no longer those who are led but the leader himself who fails, who cannot stand the test of the charge, who does not make the anointing come true in his own person -- a crucial problem in religious history. The history of the great religions, and in general all great history, is bound up with the problem: how do human beings stand the test of what is here called anointing?

The history of the kings is the history of the failure of him who has been anointed to realize the promise of his anointing. The rise of messianism, the belief in the anointed king who realizes the promise of his anointing. is to be understood only in this context.

But now, in the situation of the failure of kings, the new and last type of leader in biblical history arises, the leader who above all other types is "contrary to history," the Prophet, he who is appointed to oppose the king, and even more, to oppose history. When God says to Jeremiah, "I have made thee ... a brazen wall against the whole land" (Jer. 1:18), it is really so; the prophet stands not only against the ruler but against the people itself. The prophet is the man who has been set up against his own natural instincts that bind him to the community, and who likewise sets himself up against the will of the people to live on as they have always lived, which, naturally. for the people is identical with the will to live. It goes without laying that not only the rulers but also the people treat the prophet as their enemy in the way in which, as a matter of history, it falls to the lot of such men to be treated. These experience. of suffering which thus come upon the prophet join together to form that image of the servant of the Lord, of his suffering and dying for the sake of God's purpose.

When the Bible then tries to look beyond these manifestations of leadership to one which no longer stands amidst disintegration and failure, when the idea of the messianic leader is conceived, it means nothing else by it than that at last the answer shall be given: from out of mankind itself the word shall come, the word that is spoken with the whole being of man, the word that answers God's word. It is an earthly consummation which is awaited, a consummation in and with mankind. But this precisely is the consummation toward which God's hand pushes through that which he has created, through nature and through history. This is what the messianic belief means, the belief in the real leader, in the setting right of the dialogue, in God's disappointment coming to an end. And when a fragment of an apocryphal gospel has God say to Jesus: "In all the prophets have I awaited thee, that thou wouldst come and I rest in thee, for thou art my rest," this is the late elaboration of a truly Jewish conception.

The biblical question of leadership is concerned with something greater than moral perfection. The biblical leaders are the foreshadowings of the dialogical man, of the man who commits his whole being to God's dialogue with the world, and who stands firm throughout this dialogue. The life of those people to whom I have referred is absorbed in this dialogue. whether the dialogue comes about through an intervention. as in Abraham's talk with God about Sodom, or Moses' after the .in of the golden calf; or whether it comes about through a resistance they offer against that which comes upon them and tries to overpower them (but their resistance ends in submission, which we find documented from Moses to Jeremiah); or whether the dialogue comes about through the struggle for a purpose and a task, as we know from that dialogue which took place between David and God. Whatever the way. man enters into the dialogue again and again; imperfect entry, but yet one which is not refused. an entry which is determined to persevere in the diological world. All that happens is here experienced as dialogue; what befalls man is taken as a sign; what man tries to do and what miscarries is taken as an attempt and a failure to answer, as a stammering attempt to respond as well as one can.

Because this is so, biblical leadership always means a process of being led. These men are leaders insofar as they allow themselves to be led, that is, insofar as they accept that which is offered them, insofar as they take upon themselves the responsibility for that which is entrusted to them, insofar as they make real that which has been laid upon them from outside of themselves, make it real with the free will of their own being, in the "autonomy" of their person.

So long as we remember this, we can make the lives of these leaders clear. Almost always what we see is the taking of a man out of the community. God lifts the man out of the community, cuts him off from his natural ties; from Abraham to Jeremiah he must go forth out of the land in which he has taken root, away to the place where he has to proclaim the name of God -- it is the same story, whether it is a wandering over the earth like Abraham's, or a becoming utterly alone in the midst of the people as in the case of the prophets. They are drawn out of their natural community; they fight with it, they experience in this community the inner contradiction of human existence. All this is intensified to the utmost precisely in the prophets. The great suffering of the prophets. preserved for us by Jeremiah himself in a small number of (in the highest sense of the word) autobiographical sayings, is the ultimate expression of this condition.

But this ever widening gulf between leader and community, the ever greater failure of the leader, the leader's ever greater incompatibility with "history" -- this means, from the biblical standpoint, the gradual overcoming of history. What we are accustomed to call history is from the biblical standpoint only the fa~ade of reality. It is the great failure, the refusal to enter into the dialogue, not the failure in the dialogue. as exemplified by biblical man. This great refusal is sanctioned with the imposing sanction provided by so-called history. The biblical point of view repudiates with ever increasing strength this two-dimensional reality, most strongly in 'the prophets; it proclaims that the way, the real way, from the creation to the kingdom is trod not on the surface of success, but in the depths of failure. The real work, from the biblical point of view, is the late recorded, the unrecorded, the anonymous work. The real work is done in the shadow, in the quiver. Official leadership fails more and more, leadership devolves more and more upon the secret. The way leads through the work which history does not write down, and which history cannot write down, work which is not ascribed to him who did it, but which possibly at some time in a distant generation will emerge as having been done, without the name of the doer -- the secret working of the secret leadership. And when the biblical writer turns his eyes toward the final, messianic overcoming of history, he sees how the outer history becomes engulfed, or rather how both the outer history and the inner history fuse, how the secret which the leadership had become rises up out of the darkness and illumines the surface of history, how the meaning of biblical history is consummated in the whole reality.


Plato was about seventy-five years old when the assassination of the prince Dion, master of Syracuse, his friend and disciple, put an end to the enterprise of founding a republic in accordance with the concepts of the philosopher. It was at this time that Plato wrote his famous letter to his friends in Sicily, in which he' rendered an account of his lifelong ambition to change the structure of the state (which for him included the structure of society), of his attempts to translate this purpose into reality, and of how he failed in these attempts. He wrote to them that, having observed that all states were poorly governed, he had formed the opinion that man would not be free from this evil until one of two things happened: either true philosophers were charged with the function of government, or the potentates who ruled states lived and acted in harmony with the precepts of philosophy. Plato had formulated this thesis -- though somewhat differently -- about twenty years earlier as the central passage of his Republic. The central position which he gave this passage indicates that in the final analysis he believed that individuals, above all, leaders, were of prime importance rather than any particular institutions -- such institutions as the book deals with. According to Plato, there are two ways of obtaining the right persons as leaders: either the philosopher himself must come to power, or he must educate those who rule to conduct their lives as philosophers.

In his memorable tractate Zum ewigen Frieden, Kant opposed this thesis of Plato's without mentioning him by name. The rebuttal is part of a passage which appeared only in the second edition, and which Kant designated as a "secret article" of his outline on international law. He wrote: "Because the wielding of power inevitably destroys the free judgment of reason, it is not to be expected that kings should philosophize or philosophers be kings, nor even to be desired. But one thing is indispensable to both philosophers and kings, because the possession of sovereign power inevitably corrupts the free judgment of reason, and that is that kings or kingly nations -- that is, nations which govern themselves on the basis of laws of equality -- should not dispense with or silence the class of philosophers, but let them express themselves in public." Previously, Kant had emphasized that this was not meant to suggest that the state should prefer its power to be represented by the principles of the philosopher rather than the dicta of the jurist, but merely that the philosopher should be heard. This line of thought is a clear indication not only of resignation, but also of disappointment in the spirit itself, for Kant had been forced to relinquish faith in the spirit's ability to rise to power and, at the same time, remain pure. We may safely assume that Kant's disillusionment is motivated by his knowledge of the course of church history, which, in the more than two thousand years intervening between Plato and himself, came to be the spirit's actual history of power.

Plato believed both in the spirit and in power, and he also believed in the spirit's call to the assumption of power. The power he saw was decadent, but he thought it could be regenerated and purified by the spirit. The young Plato's own grave and epochal encounter with "history" took place when the city-state of Athens condemned and executed his teacher Socrates because he had disobeyed the authority of power, and obeyed the Voice. And yet, among all those who concerned themselves with the state, Socrates alone knew how to educate the young for a true life dedicated to the community; like the seer Tiresias in Hades, he was the only one spiritually alive amid a swarm of hovering shades. Plato regarded himself as Socrates' heir and deputy. He knew himself to be called to renew the sacred law and to found the just state based on law. And he knew that for this reason he had a right to power. But while the spirit is ready to accept power at the hands of God or man, it is not willing to seize it. In The Republic, Socrates is asked whether the philosophic man would, if he is as Socrates describes him, be at all apt to concern himself with affairs of state. To this question Socrates replies that the philosophic man, in his own state, would certainly concern himself with such matters, but the state which he conceives and which is suitable to him would have to be one other than his native land, "unless there is some divine intervention." But even prior to this passage, he speaks of the man who is blessed with spirit and yet confronts a furious mob, confronts them without confederates who could help maintain justice, and feels like one who suddenly finds himself surrounded by wild beasts. Such a man, he goes on to say, will henceforth keep silent. attend to his own work. become. a spectator, and live out his life without doing any wrong to the end of his days. But when Socrates' listeners interpose that such a man will thus have accomplished a great work by the time he dies, he contradicts them. saying: "But not the greatest, since he has not founded the state which befits him." That is the gist of Plato's resignation. He was called to Syracuse and went there time after time, even though there too he suffered one disappointment after another. He went because he was called and because there is always the possibility that the divine voice may be speaking in the voice of man. According to Dion's words, there was a possibility that then, if ever, the hope to link the philosophers and the rulers of great states to each other could be fulfilled. Plato decided to "try." He reports that he was ashamed not to go to Syracuse, lest he should seem to himself to be nothing but "words." "Manifest," is the word he once used to Dion: we must manifest ourselves by truly being what we profess in words. He had used the word "must," not "should." He went and failed. returned home, went once more, and still another time. and failed again. When he came home after the third failure ,he was almost seventy. Not until then did the man whom Plato had educated come into power. But before he was able to master the confusion of the people. he was murdered by one who had been his fellow student at Plato's Academy.

Plato held that mankind could recover from its ills only if either the philosophers -- "whom we termed useless" -- became kings, or the kings became philosophers. He himself hoped first for the one and then for the other of these alternatives to occur as the result of "divine intervention," But he was not elevated to a basileus in Greece, and the prince whom he had educated to be a philosopher did not master the chaos in Sicily. One might possibly say that the peace which Timoleon of Corinth established in Sicily after the death of this prince was achieved under the touch of Plato's spirit. and that Alexander. who later united all of Greece under his rule. had certainly not studied philosophy with Plato's most renowned disciple without benefit to himself; but neither in the one case nor the other was Plato's ideal of the state actually realized. Plato did not regenerate the decadent Athenian democracy. and he did not found the republic he had projected in theory.

But does this glorious failure prove that the spirit is always helpless in the face of history?

Plato is the most sublime instance of that spirit which proceeds in its intercourse with reality from its own possession of truth. According to Plato. the perfect soul is one which remembers its vision of perfection. Before its life on earth. the soul had beheld the idea of the good. In the world of ideas. it had beheld the shape of pure justice. and now. with the spirit's growth. the soul recollects what it had beheld in the past. The soul is not content to know this idea and to teach others to know it. The soul wishes to infuse the idea of justice with the breath of life and establish it in the human world in the living form of a just state. The spirit is in possession of truth; it offers truth to reality; truth becomes reality through the spirit. That is the fundamental basis of Plato's doctrine. But this doctrine was not carried out. The spirit did not succeed in giving reality the truth it wished to give. Was reality alone responsible? Was not the spirit itself responsible as well? Was not its very relationship to the truth responsible? These are questions which necessarily occur to us in connection with Plato's failure.

But the spirit can fail in another and very different way.

"In the year that King Uzziah died" (Is. 6:1). Isaiah had a vision of the heavenly sanctuary in which the Lord chose him as his prophet. The entire incident points to the fact that King Uzziah was still alive. The king had been suffering from leprosy for a long time. It is well known that in biblical times leprosy was not regarded merely as one ailment among others, but as the physical symptom of a disturbance in man's relationship to God. Rumor had it that the king had been afflicted because he had presumed to perform sacral functions in the sanctuary of Jerusalem which exceeded his rights as a merely political lieutenant of God. Moreover. Isaiah feels that Uzziah's leprosy was more than a personal affliction. that it symbolized the uncleanness of the entire people, and Isaiah's own uncleanness as well. They all have "unclean lips" (Is. 6:5). Like lepers, they must all cover "their upper lip" (Lev. 13:45), lest by breath or word their uncleanness go forth and pollute the world. All of them have been disobedient and faithless to the true king, to the king whose glory Isaiah's eyes now behold in his heavenly sanctuary. Here God is called ha-melek, and this is the first time in the Scriptures that he is designated so nakedly, so plainly, as he King of Israel. He is the king. The leper whom the people call "king" is only his faithless lieutenant. And now the true king sends Isaiah with a message to the entire people, at the same time telling the prophet that his message will fail; he will fail, for the message will be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misused, and thus confirm the people -- save for a small "remnant" -- in their faithlessness, and harden their hearts. At the very outset of his way, Isaiah, the carrier of the spirit, is told that he must fail. He will not suffer disappointment like Plato, for in his case failure is an integral part of the way he must take.

Isaiah does not share Plato's belief that the spirit is possession of man. The man of spirit -- such is the tradition from time immemorial -- is one whom the spirit invades and seizes, whom the spirit uses as its garment, not one who houses the spirit. Spirit is an event, it is something which happens to man. The storm of the spirit sweeps man where it will, and then storms on into the world.

Neither does Isaiah share Plato's belie! that power is man's possession. Power is vouchsafed man to enable him to discharge his duties as God's lieutenant. If he abuses this power, it destroys him, and in place of the spirit which came to prepare him for the use of power, an "evil spirit" comes upon him (I Sam. 16:14). The man in power is responsible to one who interrogates him in silence, and to whom he is answerable, or all is over with him.

Isaiah does not believe that spiritual man has the vocation to power. He knows himself to be a man of spirit and without power. Being a prophet means being powerless, and powerless confronting the powerful and reminding them of their responsibility, as Isaiah reminded Ahaz "in the highway of the fuller's field" (Is. 7:3). To stand powerless before the power he calls to account is part of the prophet's destiny. He himself is not out for power, and the special sociological significance of his office is based on that very fact.

Plato believed that his soul was perfect. Isaiah did not. Isaiah regarded and acknowledged himself as unclean. He felt how the uncleanness which tainted his breath and his words was burned from his lips so that those lips might speak the message of God.

Isaiah beheld the throne and the majesty of him who entrusted him with the message. He did not see the just state which Plato beheld in his mind's eye as something recollected. Isaiah knew and said that men are commanded to be just to one another. He knew and said that the un just are destroyed by their own injustice. And he knew and said that the rule of justice was coming, and that a just man would rule as the faithful lieutenant of God. But he knew nothing and said nothing about the inner structure of that rule. He had no idea; he had only a message. He had no institution to establish; he had only to proclaim. His proclamation was in the nature of criticism and demand.

His criticism and demands are directed toward making the people and their prince recognize the reality of the invisible sovereignty. When Isaiah uses the word ha-melek, it is not in the sense of a theological metaphor, but in that of a political constitutional concept. But this sovereignty of God which he propounded is the opposite of the sovereignty of priests, which is commonly termed theocracy and which has very properly been described as "the most unfree form of society," for it is "unfree through the abuse of the highest knowable to man." [111] None but the powerless can speak the true king's will with regard to the state, and remind both the people and the government of their common responsibility toward this will. The powerless man can do so because he breaks through the illusions of current history and recognizes potential crises.

That is why his criticism and demands are directed toward society, toward the life men live together. A people which seriously calls God himself its king must become a true people, a community all the members of which are governed by honesty without compulsion, kindness without hypocrisy, and the brotherliness of those who are passionately devoted to their divine Leader. When social inequality, when distinction between the free and the unfree splits the community and creates chasms between its members, there can be no true people, there can be no longer "God's people." So the criticism and demands are directed toward every individual on whom other individuals depend, everyone who has a hand in shaping the destinies of others, and that means they are directed toward everyone of us. When Isaiah speaks of justice, he is not thinking of institutions, but of you and me, because without you and me, the most glorious institution becomes a lie.

Finally, the criticism and demands apply to Israel's relationship to other nations. They warn Israel not to consent to the making of treaties, not to rely on this or that so-called world power, but to "keep calm" (Is. 7:4; 30:15), to make our own people a true people, faithful to its divine King; and then we will have nothing to be afraid of. "The head of Damascus," Isaiah said to Ahaz in the highway of the fuller's field, "is Rezin, and the head of Samaria, Pekah," meaning "but you know who is the head of Jerusalem -- if you want to know." But "if ye will not have faith, surely ye shall not endure" (cf. Is. 7:9). There has been much talk in this connection of "utopian" politics which would relate Isaiah's failure to that of Plato, who wrote the utopian Republic. What Isaiah said to Ahaz is accepted as a sublimely "religious" but politically valueless utterance, meaning one which lends itself to solemn quotation but is not applicable to reality. Yet the only political chance for a small people hemmed in between world powers is the metapolitical chance to which Isaiah pointed. He proclaimed a truth which could not, indeed, be tested in history up to that time. but only because no one had ever thought of testing it. Nations can be led to peace only by a people which has made peace a reality within itself. The realization of the spirit has a magnetic effect on mankind which despairs of the spirit. That is the meaning which Isaiah's teachings have for us. When the mountain of the Lord's house is "established" on the reality of true community life, then, and only then, will the nations "flow" toward it (Is. 2: 2), there to learn peace in place of war.

Isaiah too failed, as was predicted when he was called to give God's message. The people and the king opposed him, and even the king's successor, who attached himself to Isaiah, was found wanting in the decisive hour, when he flirted with the idea of joining the Babylonian rebel against Assyria. But this failure is quite different from Plato's. Our very existence as Jews testifies to this difference. We live by that encounter in the highway of the fuller's field, we live by virtue of the fact that there were people who were deadly serious about this ha-melek in relation to all of their social and political reality. They are the cause of our survival until this new opportunity to translate the spirit into the reality we have a presentiment of. We may yet experience an era of history which refutes "history." The prophet fails in One hour in history, but not so far as the future of his people is concerned. For his people preserve his message as something which will be realized at another hour, under other conditions, and in other forms.

The prophet's spirit does not, like Plato's, believe that he possesses an abstract and general, a timeless concept of truth. He always receives only one message for one situation. That is exactly why after thousands of years, his words still address the changing situations in history. He does not confront man with a generally valid image of perfection, with a Pantopia or a Utopia. Neither has he the choice between his native land and some other country which might be "more suitable to him." In his work of realization, he is bound to the topos, to this place, to this people, because it is the people who must make the beginning. But when the prophet feels like one who finds himself surrounded by wild beasts, he cannot withdraw to the role of the silent spectator, as Plato did. He must speak his message. The message will be misunderstood, misinterpreted, misused; it will even confirm and harden the people in their faithlessness. But its sting will rankle within them for all time.
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Re: The Writings of Martin Buber, edited by Will Herberg

Postby admin » Thu Jul 02, 2015 8:12 pm



Biblia, books, is the name of a book, of a Book composed of many books. It is really one book, for one basic theme unites all the stories and songs, sayings and prophecies contained within it. The theme of the Bible is the encounter between a group of people and the Lord of the world in the course of history, the sequence of events occurring on earth. Either explicitly or by implication, the stories are reports of encounters. The songs lament the denial of the grace of encounter, plead that it may be repeated, or give thanks because it has been vouchsafed. The prophecies summon man who has gone astray to turn, to return to where the encounter took place, promising him that the torn bond shall once more be made whole. If this book transmits cries of doubt, it is the doubt which is the destiny of man, who after having tasted nearness must experience distance and learn from distance what it alone can teach. When we find love songs in the Bible, we must understand that the love of God for his world is revealed through the depths of love human beings can feel for one another.

Since this book came into being, it has confronted generation after generation. Each generation must struggle with the Bible in its turn, and come to terms with it. The generations are by no means always ready to listen to what the book has to say, and to obey it; they are often vexed and defiant; nevertheless, the preoccupation with this book is part of their life, and they face it in the realm of reality. Even when generations negated the book, the very negation confirmed the book's claim upon them; they bore witness to the book in the very act of denying it.

The picture changes when we shift to the man of today, and by this, I mean the "intellectual" man of our time, the man who holds it important for intellectual values to exist, and admits -- yes, even himself declares -- that their reality is bound up with our own power to realize them. But if we were to question him and probe down to truth-and we do not usually probe that far down -- he would have to own that this feeling of his about the obligations of the spirit is in itself only intellectual. It is the signature of our time that the spirit imposes no obligations. We proclaim the rights of the spirit. we formulate its laws, but they enter only into books and discussions, not into our lives. They float in mid-air above our heads, rather than walk the earth in our midst. Everything except everyday life belongs to the realm of the spirit. Instead of union. a false relationship obtains between the spirit and everyday life. This relationship may shape up as spurious idealism, toward which we may lift our gaze without incurring any obligation to recover from the exigencies of earth; or it may present itself as spurious realism, which regards the spirit as only a function of life and transforms its unconditionality into a number of conditional characters: psychological, sociological, and others. It. is true that some contemporaries realize all the corroding consequences of this separation of two interdependent entities, a corrosion which is bound to penetrate into deeper and deeper strata, until the spirit is debased into a willing and complacent servant of whatever powers happen to rule the world. The men of whom I am speaking have pondered how this corrosion can be halted, and have appealed to religion as the only power which is still capable of bringing about a new union between spirit and world. But what goes by the name of religion nowadays will never bring about such a union. For nowadays, "religion" itself is part of the detached spirit. It is one of the subdivisions -- one which is in high favor, to be sure -- of the structure erected over and above life, one of the rooms on the top floor. with a very special atmosphere of its own. But this sort of religion is not an entity which includes all of life, and in this its present status, can never become one. It has lost its unity. and so it cannot lead man to inner unity. It has adapted itself to this twofold character of human existence. To exert an influence on contemporary man, religion itself would have to return to reality. And religion was always real only when it was free of fear, when it shouldered the load of concreteness instead of rejecting it as something belonging to another realm, when it made the spirit incarnate, and sanctified everyday life.

The so-called Old Testament constitutes the greatest document of such reality. Two traits -- which are, however, interrelated -- set it apart from the other great books of the world religions. One trait is that in the "Old Testament," both events and words are placed in the midst of the people, of history, of the world. What happens does not happen in a vacuum existing between God and the individual. The Word travels by way of the individual to the people, so that they may hear and translate it into reality. What happens is not superior to the history of the people, it is nothing but the secret of the people's history made manifest. But that very fact places the people acted upon in opposition to the nations which represent -- in their own eyes -- an end in themselves, to groups concerned only with their own welfare, to the "breath of world history." This people is called upon to weld its members into a community that may serve as a model for the so many and so different peoples. The historical continuity of "seed" and "earth" is bound up with the "blessing" (Gen. 12ff.), and the blessing with the mission. The Holy permeates history without divesting it of its rights.

The second trait is that in the Bible the law is designed to cover the natural course of man's life. Eating meat is connected with animal sacrifice; matrimonial purity is sanctified month after month; man is accepted as he is with all his urges and passions and included in holiness, lest his passions grow into a mania. The desire to own land is not condemned, and renunciation is not demanded, but the true lord of the land is God, and man is nothing but a "sojourner" in his midst. The Landlord makes a harmonious balance of property ownership, lest inequality arise, grow, and break the bond between the members of the community. Holiness penetrates nature without violating it. The living spirit wishes to spiritualize and quicken life; it wishes spirit and life to find the way to one another; it wishes spirit to take shape as life, and life to be clarified through spirit. The spirit wishes creation to attain perfection through itself. The function of this book is to bear witness to the spirit's will to perfection and to command service to the spirit in its search for union with life. If we accept the Old Testament as merely "religious writing," as a subdivision of the detached spirit, it will fail us, and we must needs fail it. If we seize upon it as the expression of a reality which comprises all of life, we really grasp it, and it grasps us. But contemporary man is scarcely capable of this grasp any longer. If he "takes any interest" at all in the Scriptures, it is an abstract, purely "religious" interest, and more often not even that, but an interest connected with the history of religion or civilization, or an aesthetic interest, or the like -- at any rate it is an interest that springs from the detached spirit with its numerous autonomous domains. Man of today is not like the generations of old, who stood before the biblical word in order to hearken to or to take offense at it. He no longer confronts his life with the Word; he locks life away in one of many unholy compartments, and then he feels relieved. Thus he paralyzes the power which, of all powers, is best able to save him.

Before demonstrating in greater detail and by way of examples what power the Jewish Bible has to guide the life of the man of today, I must broach the basic question which the thoughtful reader is asking himself at this point. Even if this man of today, even if we were able to approach this whole book with our whole selves, would we not still lack the indispensable prerequisite to its true reception? Would we be able to believe it? Could we believe it? Can we do more than believe that people once did believe as this book reports and claims?

The man of today has no access to a sure and solid faith, nor can it be made accessible to him. If he examines himself seriously, he knows this and may not delude himself further. But he is not denied the possibility of holding himself open to faith. If he is really serious, he too can open himself up to this book, and let its rays strike him where they will. He can give himself up and submit to the test without preconceived notions and without reservations. He can absorb the Bible with all his strength, and wait to see what will happen to him, whether he will not discover within himself a new and unbiased approach to this or that element in the book. But to this end, he must read the Jewish Bible as though it were something entirely unfamiliar, as though it had not been set before him ready-made, at school and after in the light of "religious" and "scientific" certainties; as though he had not been confronted all his life with sham concepts and sham statements which cited the Bible as their authority. He must face the book with a new attitude as something new. He must yield to it, withhold. nothing of his being, and let whatever will occur between himself and it. He does not know which of its sayings and images will overwhelm him and mold him, from where the spirit will ferment and enter into him, to incorporate itself anew in his body. But he holds himself open. He does not believe anything a priori; he does not disbelieve anything a priori. He reads aloud the words written in the book in front of him; he hears the word he utters, and it reaches him. Nothing is prejudged. The current of time flows on, and the contemporary character of this man becomes itself a receiving vessel.

In order to understand the situation fully, we must picture to ourselves the complete chasm between the Scriptures and the man of today.

The Jewish Bible has always approached and still does every generation with the claim that it must be recognized as a document of the true history of the world, that is to say, of the history according to which the world has an origin and a goal. The Jewish Bible demands that the individual fit his own life into this true history, so that "I" may find my own origin in the origin of the world, and my own goal in the goal of the world. But the Jewish Bible does not set a past event as a midpoint between origin and goal. It interposes a movable, circling midpoint which cannot be pinned to any set time, for it is the moment when I, the reader, the hearer, the man, catch through the words of the Bible the voice which from earliest beginnings has been speaking in the direction of the goal. The midpoint is this mortal and yet immortal moment of mine. Creation is the origin, redemption the goal. But revelation is not a fixed, dated point poised between the two. The revelation at Sinai is not this midpoint itself, but the perceiving of it, and such perception is possible at any time. That is why a psalm or a prophecy is no less "Torah," that is, instruction, than the story of the exodus from Egypt. The history of this people -- accepting and refusing at once -- points to the history of all mankind, but the secret dialogue expressed in the psalms and prophecies points to my own secret.

The Jewish Bible is the historical document of a world swinging between creation and redemption, which, in the course of its history, experiences revelation, a revelation which I experience if I am there. Thus, we can understand that the resistance of the man of today is that of his innermost being.

The man of today has two approaches to history. He may contemplate it as a "freethinker," and participate in and accept the shifting events, the varying success of the struggles for power, as a promiscuous agglomeration of happenings. To him, history will seem a medley of the actions and deaths of peoples, of grasping and losing, of triumph and misery, a meaningless hodge-podge to which the mind of man, time and again, gives an unreliable and unsubstantial semblance of meaning. Or he may view history dogmatically, derive laws from the past sequences of events, and calculate future sequences, as though the "main lines" were already traced on some roll which need merely unroll; as though history were not the vital living, growing, of time, constantly moving from decision to decision, of time into which my time and my decisions stream full force. He regards history as a stark, ever-present, inescapable space.

Both of these approaches are a misinterpretation of historic destiny, which is neither chance nor fatality. According to the biblical insight, historic destiny is the secret correlation inhering in the current moment. When we are aware of origin and goal, there is no meaningless drift; we are carried along by a meaning we could never think up for ourselves, a meaning we are to live -- not to formulate. And that living takes place in the awful and splendid moment of decision -- your moment and mine no less than Alexander's or Caesar's. And yet your moment is not yours, but rather the moment of your encounter.

The man of today knows of no beginning. As far as he is concerned, history ripples toward him from some prehistorical cosmic age. He knows of no end; history sweeps him on into a posthistorical cosmic age. What a violent and foolish episode this time between the prehistorical and the posthistorical has become! Man no longer recognizes an origin or a goal. because he no longer wants to recognize the midpoint. Creation and redemption are true only on the premise that revelation is a present experience. Man of today resists the Scriptures because he cannot endure revelation. To endure revelation is to endure this moment full of possible decisions, to respond to and to be responsible for every moment. Man of today resists the Scriptures because he does not want any longer to accept responsibility. He thinks he is venturing a great deal, yet he industriously evades the one real venture, that of responsibility.

Insight into the reality of the Bible begins with drawing a distinction between creation, revelation, and redemption. us Christianity withdrew from such insight -- and thus from the grounds of the "Old Testament" -- in its earliest theology which fused the essentials of revelation with the essentials of redemption in the Christ. It was entirely logical for Marcion to dispute the value of a creation which from this point of view was bound to seem nothing but a premise, and to brand it as the blunder of another, inferior god. With that act, the essence of time which was closely allied to the essence of our spirit, was abandoned, time which distinguishes between past, present, and future -- structures which in the Bible reach their most concrete expression in the three structures of creation, revelation, and redemption. The only gate which leads to the Bible as a reality is the faithful distinction between the three, not as hypostases or manifestations of God, but as stages, actions, and events in the course of his intercourse with the world, and thus also as the main directions of his movement toward the world. But such distinction must not be exaggerated to mean separation. From the point of view of the Bible, revelation is, as it were, focused in the "middle," creation in the "beginning," and redemption in the "end." But the living truth is that they actually coincide, that "God every day renews the work of the beginning," but also every day anticipates the work of the end. Certainly, both creation and redemption are true only on the premise that revelation is a present experience. But if I did not feel creation as well as redemption happening to myself, I could never understand what creation and redemption are.

This fact must be the starting point for the recurring question, if and how the chasm between man of today and the Scriptures can be bridged. We have already answered the question whether the man of today can believe, by saying that while he is denied the certainty of faith, he has the power to hold himself open to faith. But is not the strangeness of biblical concepts a stumblingblock to his readiness to do so? Has he not lost the reality of creation in his concept of "evolution," that of revelation in the theory of the "unconscious," and that of redemption in the setting up of social or national goals?

We must wholly understand the very substantial quality of this strangeness, before we can even attempt to show that there is still an approach, or rather the approach.

And again we must begin with the center.

What meaning are we intended to find in the words that God came down in fire. to the sound of thunder and trumpet, to the mountain which smoked like a furnace, and spoke to his people? It can mean, I think, one of three things. Either it is figurative language used to express a "spiritual" process; but if biblical history does not recall actual events. but is metaphor and allegory. then it is no longer biblical, and deserves no better fate than to be surrendered to the approaches of modern man. the historical, aesthetic, and similar approaches. Or it is the report of a "supernatural" event, one that severs the intelligible sequence of happenings we term natural by interposing something unintelligible. If that were the case, the man of today in deciding to accept the Bible would have to make a sacrifice of intellect which would cut his life irreparably in two, provided he does not want to lapse into the habitual, lazy acceptance of something he does not really believe. In other words, what he is willing to accept would not be the Bible in its totality including all of life, but only religion abstracted from life.

But there is a third possibility: it could be the verbal trace of a natural event, that is, of an event which took place in the world of the senses common to all men, and fitted into connections which the senses can perceive. But the assemblage that experienced this event experienced it as revelation vouchsafed to them by God, and preserved it as such in the memory of generations, an enthusiastic, spontaneously formative memory. Experience undergone in this way is not self-delusion on the part of the assemblage; it is what they see, what they recognize and perceive with their reason. for natural events are the carriers of revelation. and revelation occurs when he who witnesses the event and sustains it experiences the revelation it contains. This means that he listens to that which the voice, sounding forth from this event, wishes to communicate to him, its witness, to his constitution, to his life, to his sense of duty. It is only when this is true that the man of today can find the approach to biblical reality. I, at any rate, believe that it is true.

Sometimes, we have a personal experience related to those recorded as revelations and capable of opening the way for them. We may unexpectedly grow aware of a certain apperception within ourselves, which was lacking but a moment ago, and whose origin we are unable to discover. The attempt to derive such apperception from the famous unconscious stems from the widespread superstition that the soul can do everything by itself. and it fundamentally means nothing but this: what you have just experienced always was in you. Such notions build up a temporary construction which is useful for psychological orientation, but collapses when I try to stand upon it. What occurred to me was "otherness," was the touch of the other. Nietzsche says it more honestly: "You take, you do not ask who it is that gives." But I think that as we take, it is of the utmost importance to know that someone is giving. He who takes what is given him, and does not experience it as a gift, is not really receiving: and so the gift turns into theft. But when we do experience the giving. we find out that revelation exists. And we set foot on the path which will reveal our life and the life of the world as a si~n communication. This path is the approach. It is on this path that we shall meet with the major experience that is of the same kind as our minor experience.

The perception of revelation is the basis for perceiving creation and redemption. I begin to realize that in inquiring about my own origin and goal, I am inquiring about something other than myself. and something other than the world. But in this very realization, I begin to recognize the origin and goal of the world.

What meaning are we intended to find in the statement that God created the world in six days? Certainly not that he created it in six ages. and that "create" must mean "come into being" -- the interpretation of those who try to contrive an approach to the Bible by forcing it into harmony with current scientific views. But just as inadequate for our purposes is the mystic interpretation, according to which the acts of creation are not acts, but emanations. It is in keeping with the nature of mysticism to resist the idea that, for our sake. God assumed the lowly form of an acting person. But divest the Bible of the acting character of God, and it loses its significance. and the concepts of a Platonic or Heraclitean system -- concepts born from the observation of reality -- are far preferable to the homunculus-like principles of emanation in such an interpretation. What meaning. then, are we intended to find? Here there can be no question of verbal traces of an event, because there was none to witness it. Is then access barred to everyone who cannot believe that the biblical story of creation is the pure "word of God"? The saying of our sages (Bab. Talmud, Berakot 31b) to the effect that the Torah speaks the language of men hides a deeper seriousness than is commonly assumed. We must construe it to mean that what is unutterable can only be uttered, as it is here expressed. in the language of men. The biblical story of creation is a legitimate stammering account. Man cannot but stammer when he lines up what he knows of the universe into a chronological series of commands and "works" from the divine workshop. But this stammering of his was the only means of doing justice to the task of stating the mystery of how time springs from eternity. and world comes from that which is not world. Compared to this. every attempt to explain cosmogony "scientifically." to supply a logical foundation for the origin of all things, is bound to fail.

If then, the man of today can find the approach to the reality of revelation in the fact that it is our life which is being addressed. how can he find the approach to the reality of creation? His own individual life will not lead him straight to creation as it does to revelation. which he can find so readily because -- as we have seen- -- very moment we live can in itself be its midpoint. Nevertheless, the reality of creation can be found. because every man knows that he is an individual and unique. Suppose it were possible for a man to make a psychophysical inventory of his own person, to break down his character into a sum of qualities; and now suppose it were possible for him to trace each separate quality, and the concurrence of all. back to the most primitive living creatures, and in this way make an uninterrupted genetic analysis of his individuality by determining its derivation and reference -- then his. form. his face. unprecedented, comparable to none, unique, his voice never heard before. his gestures never seen before. his body informed with spirit. would still exist as the untouched residue, underived and underivable. an entity which is simply present and nothing more. If after all this futile effort. such a man had the strength to repeat the question "whence," he would, in the final analysis, discover himself simply as something that was created. Because every man is unique. another first man enters the world whenever a child is born. By being alive. everyone groping like a child back to the origin of his own self. we may experience the fact that there is an origin, that there is creation.

And now to the third, the last. and the most difficult problem: how are we to understand the concept that "in the end of days" everything in the world will be resolved, that the world will be so perfectly redeemed that, as it is written, there will be "a new heaven and a new earth"? Here again, two opposite interpretations must be avoided. We must not regard the tidings in the light of another world to come. They mean that this our world will be purified to the state of the kingdom, that creation will be made perfect, but not that our world will be annulled for the sake of another world. But neither do the tidings refer to a more righteous order, but to "righteousness," not to mankind grown more peaceful, but to "peace."

Here, too, the voice we hear stammers legitimately. The prophet, who is overwhelmed by the divine word, can only speak. in the words of men. He can speak only as one who is able to grasp from what and whence he is to be redeemed, but not for what and whither. And the man of today? Must not this he hears be strangest to him, exactly because it is closest to his fathomless yearning? He dreams of change, but does not know transformation. He hopes that if not tomorrow, then the next day things will be better, but the idea that truth will come means nothing to him. He is familiar with the idea of development and the overcoming of obstacles, but he can realize neither that a power wishes to redeem him and the world from contradiction, nor that because of the existence of this power it is demanded of him that he turn with the whole of his being. How can we mediate between this man and the biblical message? Where is the bridge?

This is the most difficult of all. The lived moment leads directly to the knowledge of revelation, and thinking about birth leads indirectly to the knowledge of creation. But in his personal life probably not one of us will taste the essence of redemption before his last hour. And yet here, too, there is an approach. It is dark and silent and cannot be indicated by any means, save by my asking you to recall your own dark and silent hours. I mean those hours in the lowest depths when our soul hovers over the frail trap door which, at the very next instant, may send us down into destruction, madness, and "suicide" at our own verdict. Indeed, we are astonished that it has not opened up until now. But suddenly we feel a touch as of a hand. It reaches down to us, it wishes to be grasped -- and yet what incredible courage is needed to take the hand, to let it draw us up out of the darkness! This is redemption. We must realize the true nature of the experience proffered us: it is that our "redeemer liveth" (Job 19:18), that he wishes to redeem us -- but only by our own acceptance of his redemption with the turning of our whole being.

Approach. I said. For all this still does not constitute a rootedness in biblical reality. But it is the approach to it. It is a beginning.
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Re: The Writings of Martin Buber, edited by Will Herberg

Postby admin » Thu Jul 02, 2015 8:15 pm


PART 4: Of Jewish Destiny 1. The Faith of Judaism

2. The Two Foci of the Jewish Soul

3. Nationalism

4. The Land and its Possessors: An Answer to Gandhi

5. On National Education

6. Hebrew Humanism

7. Zion and the Other National Concepts

8. The Silent Question: On Henri Bergson and Simone Weil


The Way of Faith

My subject is not the religion but only the faith of Judaism. I do not wish to speak to you about cult, ritual, and moral-religious standards, but about faith, and faith taken in its strictest and most serious sense. Not the so-called faith which is a strange mingling of assumptions and cognitions, but that faith which means trust and loyalty. It follows that I do not start from a Jewish theology, but from the actual attitude of faithful Jews from the earliest days down to our own time. Even though I must of necessity use theological concepts when I speak of this realm of faith, I must not for a moment lose sight of the nontheological material from which I draw those concepts: popular literature, and my own impressions of Jewish life in eastern Europe -- but there is nothing in the East of which something may not be found in the West, as well.

When I refer to this popular material, it often happens that people say to me, "You mean, I take it, Hasidism?" That is a question which is natural enough, only it is not primarily Hasidism which I have in mind. In Hasidism, I see merely a concentrated movement, the concentration of all those elements which are to be found in a less condensed form everywhere in Judaism, even in "rabbinic" Judaism. Only, in rabbinic Judaism this movement is not visible in the structure of the community, but holds sway over the inaccessible structure of personal life. What I am trying to formulate may be called the theologoumena of a popular religion.

It is impossible to trace anyone of these theologoumena back to anyone epoch; my intention is to present the unity to be found in the changing forms. Religious truths are generally of a dynamic kind; they are truths which cannot be understood on the basis of a cross section of history, but only when they are seen in the whole line of history, in their unfolding, in the dynamic of their changing forms. The most important testimony to the truth of this conception comes from the way in which these truths clarify and fulfil themselves, and from their struggle for purity. The truth of the history of religion is the growth of the image of God, the way of faith. Though my subject does not impose the historical form on me, it is still of the way of the Jewish faith that I have to speak.

The Dialogical Situation

The question has often been raised whether a Jewish dogmatics does or does not exist. The emphasis should rather fall on the question of the relative power of dogma in Judaism. There is no need to prove that there are dogmas, in view of the incorporation of Maimonides' thirteen articles of faith into the liturgy. But dogma remains of secondary importance. In the religious life of Judaism, primary importance is not given to dogma, but to the remembrance and the expectation of a concrete situation: the encounter of God and man. Dogma can arise only in a situation where detachment is the prevailing attitude to the concrete, lived moment -- a state of detachment which easily becomes misunderstood in dogmatics as being superior to the lived moment itself. Whatever is enunciated in abstracto in the third person about the divine, on the thither side of the confrontation of I and Thou, is only a projection onto the conceptual construct plane, which, though indispensable, proves itself again and again to be unessential.

It is from this point of view that we must regard the problem of so-called monotheism. Israel's experience of the Thou in the direct relationship, the purely singular experience. is so overwhelmingly strong that any notion of a plurality of principles simply cannot arise. Over against this stands the "heathen," the man who does not recognize God in his manifestations. Or rather: a man is a heathen to the extent to which he does not recognize God in his manifestations.

The fundamental attitude of the Jews is characterized by the idea of the yihud, the "unification," a word which has been repeatedly misunderstood. Yihud involves the continually renewed confirmation of the unity of the divine in the manifold nature of its manifestations. understood in a quite practical way. Again and again. this recognition. acknowledgment, and reacknowledgment of the divine unity is brought about through human perception and confirmation (Bewaehrung) in the face of the monstrous contradictions of life, and especially in the face of that primal contradiction which shows itself in multitudinous ways, and which we call the duality of good and evil. But the unification is brought about not to spite these contradictions, but in a spirit of love and reconciliation; not by the mere profession of unification. but by the fulfilment of the profession. Therefore, the unification is contained in no pantheistic theorem. but in the reality of the impossible. in translating the image into actuality. in the imitatio Dei. The mystery be· hind this fact is fulfilled in martyrdom. in the death with the cry of unity on one's lips, the "Hear, O Israel," which at this point becomes testimony in the most vital sense.

A wise man of the Middle Ages said: "My God. where can I find you, but where can I not find you?" The East European Jewish beggar of today softly and unfalteringly whispers his Gotenyu in the trembling and dread of his harshest hour; the term of endearment is untranslatable, naive, but in its saying it becomes rich in meanings. In both. there is the same recognition, the same reacknowledgment of the One.

It is the dialogical situation in which the human being stands that here finds its sublime or childlike expression.

Judaism regards speech as an event which grasps beyond the existence of mankind and the world. In contradiction to the static of the idea of Logos. the Word appears here in its complete dynamic as "that which happens." God's act of creation is speech. but the same is true of each lived moment. The world is given to the human beings who perceive it, and the life of man is itself a giving and receiving. The events that occur to human beings are the great and small. untranslatable but unmistakable signs of their being addressed; what they do and fail to do can be an answer or a failure to answer. Thus, the whole history of the world, the hidden, real world history, is a dialogue between God and his creature, a dialogue in which man is a true, legitimate partner, who is entitled and empowered to speak his own independent word out of his own being.

I am far from wishing to contend that the conception and experience of the dialogical situation are confined to Judaism. But I am certain that no other community of human beings has entered with such strength and fervor into this experience as have the Jews.

The Human Action

What is presupposed when one is serious about the lived dialogue. regarding the moment as word and answer. is. of course, that one is serious about the appointment of man to the earth.

In strongest contrast to the Iranian conception with all its later ramifications. the Jewish conception is that the happenings of this world take place not in the sphere between two principles. light and darkness, good and evil, but in the sphere between God and men, these mortal, brittle human beings who yet are able to face God and withstand his word.

So-called evil is fully and. as a primary element. included in the power of God. who "forms the light and creates darkness" (Is. 45:7). The divine sway is not answered by anything which is evil in itself. but by individual human beings, through whom alone so-called evil. directionless power, can become real evil. Human choice is not a psychological phenomenon but utter reality. which is taken up into the mystery of the One who is. Man is truly free to choose God or to reject him. and to do so not in a relationship of faith which is empty of the content of this world, but in one which contains the full content of the everyday. The "fall" did not happen once and for all, and become an inevitable fate. but it continually happens here and now in all its reality. In spite of all past history, in spite of all his inheritance. every man stands in the naked situation of Adam: to eachm the decision is given. It is true that this does not imply that further events are deducible from that decision; It only implies that the human being's choice is that side of reality which concerns him as one called upon to act.

It is only when reality is turned into logic, and A and non-A dare no longer dwell together. that we get determinism and indeterminism. a doctrine of predestination and a doctrine of freedom, each excluding the other. According to the logical conception of truth. only one of two contraries can be true; but in the reality of life as one lives it. they are inseparable. The person who makes a decision knows that his deciding is no self-delusion; the person who has acted knows that he was and is in the hand of God. The unity of the contraries is the mystery at the innermost core of the dialogue.

I said above that evil is to be taken only as a primary element -- humanly speaking, as passion. Passion is only evil when it remains in the directionless state, when it refuses to be subject to direction, when it will not accept the direction that leads toward God -- there is no other direction. In Judaism, there recurs again and again in many forms the insight that passion, the "evil urge," is simply the elemental force which is the sole origin of great human works, the holy included. The verse in the Scripture which says that at the end of the last day of creation God allowed himself to see his work "that it was very good" has been taken by tradition to refer to the so-called "evil urge." Of all the works of creation, it is passion which is the very good, without which man cannot serve God, or truly live. The words, "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart" (Deut. 6:5) are interpreted, "With both thy urges," with the evil, undirected, elemental urge, as well as the good, because directed, urge. It is of this so-called "evil urge" that God says to man: "You have made it evil."

Consequently, "inertia" is the root of all evil. The act of decision implies that man is not allowing himself any longer to be carried along on the undirected swirl of passion, but that his whole power is included in the move in the direction for which he has decided -- and man can decide only for the direction of God. The evil, then, is only the "shell," the wrapping, the crust of the good, a shell that requires active piercing.

Some time ago, a Catholic theologian saw in this conception a "Jewish activism" to which grace is unknown. But it is not so. We are not less serious about grace because we are serious about the human power of deciding, and through decision the soul finds a way which will lead it to grace. Man is here given no complete power; rather, what is stressed is the ordered perspective of human action, an action which we may not limit in advance. It must experience limitation as well as grace in the very process of acting.

The great question which is more and more deeply agitating our age is this: How can we act? Is our action valid in the sight of God, or is its very foundation broken and unwarranted? The question is answered as far as Judaism is concerned by our being serious about the conception that man has been appointed to this world as an originator of events, as a real partner in the real dialogue with God.

This answer implies a refusal to have anything to do with all separate ethics, any concept of ethics as a separate sphere of life, a form of ethics which is all too familiar in the spiritual history of the West. Ethical life has entered into religious life, and cannot be extracted from it. There is no responsibility un· less there is One to whom one is responsible, for there is no reply where there is no appeal. In the last resort, "religious life" means concreteness itself, the whole concreteness of life without reduction, grasped dialogically, included in the dialogue.

Thus, man has a real start in the dialogue over and over again. However mysteriously, something has been allotted to man, and that something is the beginning. Man cannot finish, and yet he must begin, in the most serious, actual way. This was once stated by a hasid in a somewhat paradoxical interpretation of the first verse of Genesis: "'In the beginning' -- that means for the sake of the beginning; for the sake of beginning did God create heaven and earth." For the sake of man's beginning, that there might be one who would and should begin to move in the direction of God.

At the end of the tractate of the Mishnah which deals with the Day of Atonement, there occurs a great saying, which must be understood in the same way as the hasid understood the words of Genesis. Here Rabbi Akiba is speaking to Israel: "Happy are ye, O Israel. Before whom do ye cleanse yourselves, and who is it who makes you clean? Your Father who is in heaven." Here both the reality and the insufficiency of man's action are clearly expressed, the reality of man's action and his dependence upon grace. And pregnant with meaning, the saying ends with words whose origin is a daring scriptural exegesis: "The Lord is the waters of immersion of Israel."

The Turning

This "beginning" by man manifests itself most strongly in the act of turning. It is usual to call it "repentance," but to do so is a misleading attempt to psychologize; it is better to take the word in its original, literal meaning. For what it refers to is not something which happens in the secret recesses of the soul, showing itself outwardly only in its "consequences" and "effects"; it is something which happens in the immediacy of the reality between man and God. The turning is as little a "psychic" event as is a man's birth or death; it comes upon the whole person, is carried out by the whole person, and does not occur as a man's self-intercourse, but as the plain reality of primal mutuality.

The turning is a human fact, but it is also a world-embracing power. We are told that when God contemplated creating the world, and sat tracing it on a stone, in much the same way as a master-builder draws his ground plan, he saw that the world would have no stability. He then created the turning, and the world had stability. For from that time on, whenever the world was lost in the abyss of its own self, far away from God, the gates of deliverance were open to it.

The turning is the greatest form of "beginning." When God tells man, "Open me the gate of the turning as narrow as the point of a needle, and I shall open it so wide that carriages can enter it," or when God tells Israel, "Turn to me, and I shall create you anew," the meaning of human beginning becomes clear as never before. By turning, man arises anew as God's child.

When we consider that turning means something so mighty, we can understand the legend that Adam learned the power to turn from Cain. We can understand the saying, which is reminiscent of a New Testament text, but which is quite independent of it, "In the place where those who have turned stand, the perfectly righteous cannot stand" (Bab. Talmud, Berakot 34b).

Again we see that there is no separate sphere of ethics in Judaism. This, the highest "ethical" moment, is fully received into the dialogical life existing between God and man. The turning is not a return to an earlier "sinless" state; it is the revolution of the whole being, in the course of which man is projected onto the way of God. This, he hodos tou theou, however, does not merely indicate a way which God enjoins man to follow. It indicates that he, God himself, walks in the person of his Shekinah, his "indwelling," through the history of the world; he takes the way, the fate of the world upon himself. The man who turns finds himself standing in the traces of the living God.

When we remember this, we understand the full, pregnant meaning of the word with which first the Baptist, then Jesus. then the disciples begin their preaching, the word which is falsely rendered by the Greek metanoeite referring to a spiritual process, but which in the original Hebrew or Aramaic idiom cannot have been anything else than that cry of the prophets of old: "Turn ye'" And when we remember this, we can also understand how the following sentence is linked to that beginning of the sermon: "For he basileia ton ouranon is at hand," which, according to the Hebrew or Aramaic usage of the time cannot have meant the "kingdom of heaven" in the sense of "another world," for shamayim, Heaven, was at that time one of the paraphrases for the name of God; malkut shamayim; he basileia ton ouranon, does not mean the kingdom of heaven, but the kingdom of God, which wills to fulfil itself in the whole of creation, and wills thus to complete creation. The kingdom of God is at the hand of man, it wills him to grasp and realize it, not through any theurgical act of "violence," but through the turning of the whole being; and not as if he were capable of accomplishing anything through so doing, but because the world was created for the sake of his "beginning."

Against Gnosis and Magic

The two spiritual powers of gnosis and magic, masquerading under the cloak of religion, threaten more than any other powers the insight into the religious reality, into man's dialogical situation. They do not attack religion from the outside; they penetrate into religion, and once inside it, pretend to be its essence. Because Judaism has always had to hold them at bay and to keep separate from them, its struggle has been largely internal. This struggle has often been misunderstood as a fight against myth. But only an abstract-theological monotheism can do without myth, and may even see it as its enemy; living monotheism needs myth, as all religious life needs it, as the specific form in which its central events can be kept safe and lastingly remembered and incorporated.

Israel first confronted gnosis and magic in its two great neighboring cultures: gnosis, the perception of the knowable mystery, in the Babylonian teaching about the stars whose power holds all earthly destinies in control, a teaching which was later to reach its full development in the Iranian doctrine concerning the world-soul imprisoned in the cosmos; and magic, the perception of the masterable mystery, in the Egyptian doctrine that death can be conquered and everlasting salvation attained by the performance of prescribed formulas and gestures.

The tribes of Jacob could only become Israel by disentangling themselves from both gnosis and magic. He who imagines that he knows and holds the mystery fast can no longer face it as his "Thou"; and he who thinks that he can conjure and utilize it. is unfit for the venture of true mutuality.

The gnostic temptation is answered by the Instruction. the Torah. with the truly fundamental cry: "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this instruction" (Deut. 29:28). Revelation does not deal with the mystery of God. but with the life of man. And it deals with the life of man as that which can and should be lived in the face of the mystery of God, and turning toward that mystery. even more, the life of man is so lived when it is his true life.

The magical temptation is confronted with the word of God from out of the burning bush. Moses expected the people in their distress to ask him what was the name of the god as whose messenger he spoke (not what was the name of the "God of their fathers'" [cf. Ex. 3:13]). For according to the usage common to primitive peoples, once they seized the secret of the name. they could conjure the god. and thus coerce him to manifest himself to them and save them. But when Moses voices his scruple as to what reply he should give to the people, God answers him by revealing the sense of the name. for he says explicitly in the first person that which is hidden in the name in the third. Not "I am that I am" as alleged by the metaphysicians -- God does not make theological statements -- but the answer which his creatures need, and which benefits them: "I shall be there as I there shall be" (Ex. 3: 14). That is: you need not conjure me, for "I am here, I am with you; but you cannot conjure me, for I am with you time and again in the form in which I choose to be with you time and again; I myself do not anticipate any of my manifestations; you cannot learn to meet me; you meet me. when you meet me, "It is not in heaven. that thou shouldst say: 'Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it that we may do it .. .' Yea, the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it" (Deut. 30:12, 14).

It is also in the light of its own inner battle against the infiltration of gnosis and magic that the dynamic of later Judaism must be understood, and especially that vexatious Talmud. We can only grasp some of its apparently abstract discussions when we keep in mind this constant double threat to the religious reality, the threat from gnosis taking the form of the late-Iranian teaching of the two principles and the intermediary substances, and the threat from magic taking the form of the Hellenistic practice of theurgy. Both of these amalgamated inside Judaism and became the Kabbalah, that uncannily powerful undertaking by the Jew to wrest himself free of the concreteness of the dialogical situation.

The Kabbalah was overcome because it was taken just as it was into the primal Jewish conception of the dialogical life. This overcoming of the Kabbalah is the significant work of Hasidism. Hasidism caused all intermediary substances to fade before the relationship between God's transcendence, to be named only "The Unlimited," with the suspension of all limited being, and his immanence, his "indwelling." The mystery of this relationship is rendered, however, no longer knowable; it is applied directly to the pulsating heart of the human person as the yihud, the unification which man must profess and confirm (bewaehren) in every moment of his life, and in his relationship to all the things of the world. On the other hand, Hasidism drains theurgy of its poison, not by attempting to deny the influence of humanity on deity, but by proclaiming that far above and beyond all formulas and gestures, above all exercises, penances, preparations, and premeditated actions, the hallowing of the whole of the everyday is the one true bearer of the human influence. Thus, it dissolves the technique of theurgy, and leaves no "practicable," specific means behind, no means which are valid once and for all and applicable everywhere. In this way, Hasidism renews the insight into the mutuality where the whole of life is put unreservedly at stake; the insight into the dialogical relationship of the undivided human being to the undivided God in the fulness of this earthly present, with its unforeseeable, ever changing and ever new situations; the insight into that differentiation between "secret" and "revelation," and the union of both in that unknowable but ever to be experienced "I shall be there"; the insight into the reality of the divine-human meeting.

Gnosis misunderstands that meeting; magic offends it. The meaning of revelation is that it is to be prepared; Hasidism affirms that revelation is to be prepared in the whole reality of human life.

The Triad of World Time

The insight which Judaism has with regard to the dialogical situation, or rather the fact that it is completely imbued with the dialogical situation, gives Judaism its indestructible knowledge of the threefold chord in the triad of time: creation, revelation, redemption.

Within early Christianity, the Gospel according to John was the first to try to substitute a dyad for the triad by weaving revelation and redemption into one. The light which shone in darkness and was not received by the darkness, the light enlightening the whole man, which comes into the world -- that light is at the same time revelation and redemption; by his coming into the world, God reveals himself, and the soul is redeemed. The Old Testament shrinks into a prologue to the New Testament.

Marcion went further: he tried to substitute a monad for the dyad by banishing creation from religious reality; he tore God the Creator away from God the Redeemer, and declared that the former was not worthy of being adored. The "alien" God, who reveals himself in redeeming the world, redeems the soul from the cosmos and simultaneously from the builder of the cosmos, who becomes the merely "righteous" -- not the "good" -- God of the Jews, the demiurge, the lawgiver, the sham god of this aeon. The Old Testament is rejected as being anti-God.

Marcion's work has not been accepted by the Church, which has indeed fought a great battle against it. The extent to which Marcion's influence has persisted in Christian thought, however, is shown by Adolf von Harnack's Marcionizing thesis, which is only one of many evidences. In his thesis, Harnack stamps the "preservation" of the Old Testament in Protestantism as a canonical document as "the consequence of religious and ecclesiastical paralysis." But more would be gained with the victory of this thesis than the separation of two books, and the profanation of one for Christendom: man would be cut off from his origin, the world would lose its history of creation, and with that its creaturely character; or creation would itself become the fall. Existence would be divided not only cosmologically, but in the last resort it would be divided religiously beyond possibility of redress into a "world" of matter and moral law, and an "overworld" of spirit and love. Here the Iranian teaching of two principles reaches its Western completion, and the duality of man, estranged from his natural, vitally trustful faith, finds its theological sanction. No longer does redemption crown the work of creation; redemption vanquishes creation. The world as such can no longer become the kingdom of God. "The Unknown" who is worshipped at this point is the spirit of reduction.

For the Western peoples, such an issue would have meant only a threat of disintegration; for Judaism, it would have meant certain dissolution. What saved Judaism is not, as the Marcionites imagine, the fact that it failed to experience the "tragedy," the contradiction in the world's process, deeply enough; but rather that it experienced that "tragedy" in the dialogical situation, which means that it experienced the contradiction as theophany. This very world, this very contradiction, unabridged, unmitigated, un smoothed, unsimplified, unreduced, this world shall be -- not overcome -- but consummated. It shall be consummated in the kingdom, for it is that world, and no other, with all its contrariety, in which the kingdom is a latency such that every reduction would only hinder its consummation, while every unification of contraries would prepare it. It is a redemption not from evil, but of evil, as the power which God created for his service and for the performance of his work.

If it is true that the whole world, all the world process, the whole time of the world, unsubtracted, stands in the dialogical situation; if it is true that the history of the world is a real dialogue between God and his creature, then the triad, in which that history is perceived, becomes not a man-made device for his own orientation, but actual reality itself. What comes to us out of the abyss of origin, and into the sphere of our uncomprehending grasp and our stammering narrative, is God's ay of creation into the void. Silence still lies brooding before him, but soon things begin to rise and give answer- -- heir very coming into existence is answer. When God blesses his creatures and gives them their appointed work, revelation has begun, for revelation is nothing else but the relation between giving and receiving, which means that it is also the relation between desiring to give and failing to receive. Revelation lasts until the turning creature answers, and his answer is accepted by God's redeeming grace. Then the unity emerges, formed out of the very elements of contrariety, to establish amidst all the undiminished multiplicity and manifoldness the communion of creatures in the name of God and before his face.

Just as God's cry of creation does not call to the soul. but to the wholeness of things, as revelation does not empower and require the soul. but all of the human being, so it is not the soul, but the whole of the world, which is meant to be redeemed in the redemption. Man stands created, a whole body, ensouled by his relation to the created, enspirited by his relation to the Creator. It is to the whole man. in this unity of body. soul, and spirit, that the Lord of Revelation comes, and upon whom he lays his message. So it is not only with his thought and his feelings, but with the sole of his foot and the tip of his finger as well, that he may receive the sign-language of the reality taking place. The redemption must take place in the whole corporeal life. God the Creator wills to consummate nothing less than the whole of his creation; God the Revealer wills to actualize nothing less than the whole of his revelation; God the Redeemer wills to draw into his arms nothing less than the all in need of redemption.


You have asked me to speak to you about the soul of Judaism. I have complied with this request, although 1 am against the cause for which you hold your conference, and I am against it not "just as a Jew," but also truly as a Jew, that is. as one who waits for the kingdom of God, the kingdom of unification, and who regards all such "missions" as yours as springing from a misunderstanding of the nature of that kingdom. and as a hindrance to its coming. If in spite of this, I have accepted your invitation, it is because I believe that when one is invited to share one's knowledge, one should not ask, "Why have you invited me?", but should share what one knows as well as one can -- and that is my intention.

There is, however, one essential branch of Judaism about which I do not feel myself called upon to speak before you, and that is "the law." My point of view with regard to this subject diverges from the traditional one; it is not a-nomistic, but neither is it entirely nomistic. For that reason, I ought attempt neither to represent tradition, nor to substitute my own personal standpoint for the information you have desired of me. Besides, the problem of the law does not seem to me to belong at all to the subject with which I have to deal. It would be a different matter were it my duty to present the teaching of Judaism. For the teaching of Judaism comes from Sinai; it is Moses' teaching. But the soul of Judaism is pre-Sinaitic; it is the soul which approached Sinai, and there received what it did receive. It is older than Moses; it is patriarchal, Abraham's soul, or more truly, since it concerns the product of a primordial age, it is Jacob's soul. The law put on the soul, and the soul can never again be understood outside of the law; yet the soul itself is not of the law. If one wishes to speak of the soul of Judaism, one must consider all the transformations it underwent through the ages till this very day; but one must never forget that in every one of its stages the soul has remained the same, and gone on in the same way.

This qualification, however, only makes the task more difficult. "I should wish to show you Judaism from the inside," wrote Franz Rosenzweig in 1916 to a Christian friend of Jewish descent, "in the same 'hymnal' way as you can show Christianity to me, the outsider; but the very reasons which make it possible for you to do so make it impossible for me. The soul of Christianity may be found in its outward expressions; Judaism wears a hard protective outer shell, and one can speak about its soul only if one is within Judaism." [1] If, therefore, I still venture here to speak about the soul of Judaism from the outside, it is only because I do not intend to give an account of that soul, but only some indication of its fundamental attitude.

It is not necessary for me to labor the point that this fundamental attitude is nothing else than the attitude of faith, viewed from its human side. "Faith," however, should not be taken in the sense given to it in the Epistle to the Hebrews, as faith that God exists. That has never been doubted by Jacob's soul. In proclaiming its faith, its emunah, the soul only proclaimed that it put its trust in the everlasting God, that he would be present to the soul, as had been the experience of the patriarchs, and that it was entrusting itself to him, who was present. The German romantic philosopher Franz Baader did justice to the depth of Israel's faith relationship when he defined faith as "a pledge of faith, [2] that is, as a tying of oneself, a betrothing of oneself, an entering into a covenant."

The fealty of the Jew is the substance of his soul. The living God to whom he has pledged himself appears in infinite manifestations in the infinite variety of things and events; and this acts both as an incentive and as a steadying influence upon those who owe him allegiance. In the abundance of his manifestations, they can ever and again recognize the One to whom they have entrusted themselves and pledged their faith. The crucial word which God himself spoke of this rediscovery of his presence was spoken to Moses from the midst of the burning bush: "I shall be there as I there shall be" (Exod. 3:14). He is ever present to his creature, but always in the form peculiar to that moment, so that the spirit of man cannot fore' tell in the garment of what existence and what situation God will manifest himself. It is for man to recognize him in each of his garments. I cannot straightaway call any man a pagan; I know only of the pagan in man. But insofar as there is any paganism, it does not consist in not discerning God, but in not recognizing him as ever the same; the Jewish in man, on the contrary, seems to me to be the ever renewed rediscernment of God.

I shall, therefore, speak to you about the Jewish soul by making a few references to its fundamental attitude; I shall regard it as being the concretion of this human element in a national form, and consider it as the nation-shaped instrument of such a fealty and rediscernment.

I see the soul of Judaism as elliptically turning round two centers.

One center of the Jewish soul is the primeval experience that God is wholly raised above man, that he is beyond the grasp of man, and yet that he is present in an immediate relationship with these human beings who are absolutely incommensurable with him, and that he faces them. To know both these things at the same time, so that they cannot be separated, constitutes the living core of every believing Jewish soul: to know both, "God in heaven," that is, in complete hiddenness, and man "on earth," that is, in the fragmentation of the world of his senses and his understanding; God in the perfection and incomprehensibility of his being, and man in the abysmal contradiction of this strange existence from birth to death -- and between both, immediacy!

The pious Jews of pre-Christian times called their God "Father"; and when the naively pious Jew in Eastern Europe uses that name today, he does not repeat something which he has learned, but he expresses a realization which he has come upon himself of the fatherhood of God and the sonship of man. It is not as though these men did not know that God is also utterly distant; it is rather that they know at the same time that however far away God is, he is never unrelated to them, and that even the man who is farthest away from God cannot cut himself off from the mutual relationship. In spite of the complete distance between God and man, they know that when God created man. he set the mark of his image upon man's brow, and embedded it in man's nature, and that however faint God's mark may become, it can never be entirely wiped out.

According to Hasidic legend, when the Baal Shem conjured up the demon Sammael, he showed him this mark on the forehead of his disciples, and when the master bade the conquered demon begone, the latter prayed, "Sons of the living God, permit me to remain a little while to look at the mark of the image of God on your faces." God's real commandment to man is to realize this image.

"Fear of God," accordingly, never means to the Jews that they ought to be afraid of God, but that, trembling, they ought to be aware of his incomprehensibility. The fear of God is the creaturely knowledge of the darkness to which none of our spiritual powers can reach, and out of which God reveals himself. Therefore, "the fear of God" is rightly called "the beginning of knowledge" (Ps. 111:10). It is the dark gate through which man must pass if he is to enter into the love of God. He who wishes to avoid passing through this gate, he who begins to provide himself with a comprehensible God, constructed thus and not otherwise, runs the risk of having to despair of God in view of the actualities of history and life, or of falling into inner falsehood. Only through the fear of God does man enter so deep into the love of God that he cannot again be cast out of it.

But fear of God is just a gate; it is not a house in which one can comfortably settle down -- he who should want to live in it in adoration would neglect the performance of the essential commandment. God is incomprehensible, but he can be known through a bond of mutual relationship. God cannot be fathomed by knowledge, but he can be imitated. The life of man, who is unlike God, can yet be an imitatio Dei. "The likeness" is not closed to the "unlike." This is exactly what is meant when the Scripture instructs man to walk in God's way and in his footsteps. Man cannot by his own strength complete any way or any piece of the way, but he can enter on the path, he can take that first step, and again and again that first step. Man cannot "be like unto God," but with all the inadequacy of each of his days, he can follow God at all times, using the capacity he has on that particular day -- and if he has used the capacity of that day to the full, he has done enough. This is not a mere act of faith; it is an entering into the life that has to be lived on that day with all the active fulness of a created person. This activity is within man's capacity; uncurtailed and not to be curtailed, the capacity is present through all the generations. God concedes the might to abridge this central property of decision to no primordial "fall," however far-reaching in its effects, for the intention of God the Creator is mightier than the sin of men. The Jew knows from his knowledge of creation and of creatureliness that there may be burdens inherited from prehistoric and historic times, but that there is no overpowering "original sin" which could prevent the late-comer from deciding as freely as did Adam; as freely as Adam let God's hand go, ~he late-comer can clasp it. We are dependent on grace; but we do not do God's will when we take it upon ourselves to begin with grace instead of beginning with ourselves. Only our beginning, our having begun, poor as it is, leads us to grace. God made no tools for himself, he needs none; he created for himself a partner in the dialogue of time, and one who is capable of holding converse.

In this dialogue, God speaks to every man through the life which he gives him again and again. Therefore man can only answer God with the whole of life -- with the way in which he lives this given life. The Jewish teaching of the wholeness of life is the other side of the Jewish teaching of the unity of God. Because God bestows not only spirit on man, but the whole of his existence, from its "lowest" to its "highest" levels, man can fulfil the obligations of his partnership with God by no spiritual attitude, by no worship, on no sacred upper story; the whole of life is required, every one of its areas and everyone of its circumstances. There is no true human share of holiness without the hallowing of the everyday. Whilst Judaism unfolds itself through the history of its faith, and so long as it does unfold itself through that history, it holds out against that "religion" which is an attempt to assign a circumscribed part to God, in order to satisfy him who bespeaks and lays claim to the whole. But this unfolding of Judaism is really an unfolding, and not a metamorphosis.

To clarify our meaning, we take the sacrificial cultus as an example. One of the two fundamental elements in biblical animal sacrifice is the sacralization of the natural life: he who slaughters an animal consecrates a part of it to God, and so doing hallows his eating of it. The second fundamental element is the sacramentalization of the complete surrender of life. To this element belong those types of sacrifice in which the person who offers the sacrifice puts his hands on the head of the animal in order to identify himself with it; in doing so he gives physical expression to the thought that he is bringing himself to be sacrificed in the person of the animal. He who performs these sacrifices without having this intention in his soul makes the cult meaningless, yes, absurd; it was against him that the prophets directed their attack upon the sacrificial service which had been emptied of its core. In the Judaism of the Diaspora, prayer takes the place of sacrifice; but prayer is also offered for the reinstatement of the cult, that is, for the return of the holy unity of body and spirit. And in that consummation of Diaspora Judaism which we call Hasidic piety, both fundamental elements unite into a new conception which fulfils the original meaning of the cult. When the purified and sanctified man, in purity and holiness, takes food into himself, eating becomes a sacrifice, the table an altar, and man consecrates himself to the Deity. At that point, there is no longer a gulf between the natural and the sacral; at that point, there is no longer the need for a substitute; at that point, the natural event itself becomes a sacrament.

The holy strives to include within itself the whole of life. The law differentiates between the holy and the profane, but the law desires to lead the way toward the messianic removal of the differentiation, to the all-sanctification. Hasidic piety no longer recognizes anything as simply and irreparably profane; "the profane" is for Hasidism only a designation for the not-yet-sanctified, for that which is to be sanctified. Everything physical, all drives and urges and desires, everything creaturely, is material for sanctification. From the very same passionate powers which, undirected, give rise to evil, when they are turned toward God, the good arises. One does not serve God. with the spirit only, but with the whole of his nature, without any subtractions. There is not one realm of the spirit and another of nature; there is only the growing realm of God. God is not spirit, but what we call spirit and what we call nature hail equally from the God who is beyond and equally conditioned by both, and whose kingdom reaches its fulness in the complete unity of spirit and nature.

The second focus of the Jewish soul is the basic consciousness that God's redeeming power is at work everywhere and at all times, but that a state of redemption exists nowhere and at no time. The Jew experiences as a person what every open-hearted human being experiences as a person: the experience, in the hour when he is most utterly forsaken, of a breath from above, the nearness, the touch, the mysterious intimacy of light out of darkness; and the Jew, as part of the world, experiences, perhaps more intensely than any other part, the world's lack of redemption. He feels this lack of redemption against his skin, he tastes it on his tongue, the burden of the unredeemed world lies on him. Because of this almost physical knowledge of his, he cannot concede that the redemption has taken place; he knows that it has not. It is true that he can discover prefigurations of redemption in past history, but he always discovers only that mysterious intimacy of light out of darkness which is at work everywhere and at all times; no redemption which is different in kind, none which by its nature would be unique, which would be conclusive for future ages, and which had but to be consummated. Most of all, only through a denial of his own meaning and his own mission would it be possible for him to acknowledge that in a world which still remains unredeemed, an anticipation of the redemption had been effected by which the human soul -- or rather merely the souls of men who in a 'specific sense are believers -- had been redeemed.

With a strength which original grace has given him, and which none of his historic trials has ever wrested from him, the Jew resists the radical division of soul and world which forms the basis of this conception; he resists the conception of a divine splitting of existence; he resists most passionately the awful notion of a massa perditionis. The God in whom he believes has not created the totality in order to let it split apart into one blessed and one damned half. God's eternity is not to be conceived by man; but -- and this we Jews know to the moment of our death -- there can be no eternity in which everything will not be accepted into God's atonement, when God has drawn time back into eternity. Should there, however, be a stage in the redemption of the world in which redemption is first fulfilled in one part of the world, we would derive no claim to redemption from our faith, much less from any other source. "If you do not yet wish to redeem Israel, at any rate redeem the goyim," the Rabbi of Koznitz used to pray.

It is possible to argue against me that there has been after all another eschatology in Judaism than that which I have indicated, that the apocalyptic stands beside the prophetic eschatology. It is actually important to make clear to oneself where the difference between the two lies. The prophetic belief about the end of time is in all essentials autochthonous; the apocalyptic belief is in all essentials built up of elements from Iranian dualism. Accordingly, the prophetic belief promises a consummation of creation, the apocalyptic its abrogation and supersession by another world, completely different in nature; the prophetic al· lows the "evil" to find the direction that leads toward God, and to enter into the good, the apocalyptic sees good and evil severed forever at the end of days, the good redeemed, the evil unredeemable for all eternity; the prophetic believes that the earth shall be hallowed, the apocalyptic despairs of an earth which it considers to be hopelessly doomed; the prophetic allows God's creative original will to be fulfilled completely, the apocalyptic allows the unfaithful creature power over the Creator, in that the creature's actions force God to abandon nature. There was a time when it must have seemed uncertain whether the current apocalyptic teaching might not be victorious over the traditional prophetic messianism; if that had happened, it is to be assumed that Judaism would not have outlived its central faith -- explicitly or imperceptibly, it would have merged with Christianity, which is so strongly influenced by that dualism. During an epoch in which the prophetic was lacking, the tan nairn, early Talmudic masters, helped prophetic messianism to triumph over the apocalyptic conception, and in doing so saved Judaism.

Still another important difference separates the two forms of Jewish belief about the end of days. The apocalyptists wished to predict an unalterable immovable future event; they were following Iranian conceptions in this point as well. For, according to the Iranians, history is divided into equal cycles of thousands of years, and the end of the world, the final victory of good over evil, can be predetermined with mathematical accuracy. Not so the prophets of Israel. They prophesy "for the sake of those who turn" (Bab. Talmud, Berakot 34b). That is, they do not warn of something which will happen in any case, but of that which will happen if those who are called upon to turn do not turn.

The Book of Jonah is a clear example of what is meant by prophecy. After Jonah has tried in vain to flee from the task God has given him, he is sent to Nineveh to prophesy its downfall. But Nineveh turns -- and God changes its destiny. Jonah is vexed that the word for whose sake the Lord had broken his resistance had been rendered void; if one is forced to prophesy, one's prophecy ought to stand. But God is of a different opinion; he will employ no soothsayers, but messengers to the souls of men -- the souls that are able to decide which way to go, and whose decision is allowed to contribute to the forging of the world's fate. Those who turn cooperate in the redemption of the world.

Man's partnership in the great dialogue finds its highest form of reality at this point. It is not as though any definite act of man could draw grace down from heaven; yet grace answers deed in unpredictable ways, grace unattainable, yet not self· withholding. It is not as though man has to do this or that "to hasten" the redemption of the world -- "he that believeth shall not make haste" (Is. 28:16); yet those who turn cooperate in the redemption of the world. The extent and nature of the participation assigned to the creature remains secret. "Does that mean that God cannot redeem his world without the help of his creatures?" "It means that God does not will to be able to do it." "Has God need of man for his work?" "He wills to have need of man."

He who speaks of activism in this connection misunderstands the mystery. The act is no outward gesture. "The ram's horn, which God will blow on that day," so runs an haggadic saying, "will have been made from the right horn of the ram which once took Isaac's place as a sacrifice:' The "servant" whom God made "a polished shaft" to hide apparently unused in his quiver (Is. 49:2), the man who is condemned to live in hiding -- or rather, not one man, but the type of man to whom this happens generation after generation -- the man who is hidden in the shadow of God's hand, who does not "cause his voice to be heard in the street" (Is. 42:2), he who in darkness suffers for God's sake (ibid.) -- he it is who has been given as a light for the peoples of the world, that God's "salvation may be unto the end of the earth" (Is. 49:6).

The mystery of the act, of the human part in preparing the redemption, passes through the darkness of the ages as a mystery of concealment, as a concealment within the person's relation to himself as well, until one day it will come into the open. To the question why according to tradition, the Messiah was born on the anniversary of the day of the destruction of Jerusalem, a Hasidic rabbi answered: "The power cannot rise, unless it has dwelt in the great concealment .... In the shell of oblivion grows the power of remembrance. That is the power of redemption. On the day of the Destruction, the power will be lying at the bottom of the depths and growing. That is why on this day we sit on the ground; that is why on this day we visit the graves; that is why on this day was born the Messiah."

Though robbed of their real names, these two foci of the Jewish soul continue to exist for the "secularized" Jew too, insofar as he has not lost his soul. They are, first, the immediate relationship to the Existent One, and second, the power of atonement at work in an unatoned world. In other words, first, the non-incarnation of God who reveals himself to the "flesh" and is present to it in a mutual relationship. and second, the unbroken continuity of human history, which turns toward fulfilment and decision. These two centers constitute the ultimate division between Judaism and Christianity.

We "unify" God, when living and dying we profess his unity; we do not unite ourselves with him. The God in whom we believe, to whom we are pledged, does not unite with human substance on earth. But the very fact that we do not imagine that we can unite with him enables us the more ardently to demand "that the world shall be perfected under the kingship of the Mighty One."

We feel salvation happening, and we feel the unsaved world. No savior with whom a new redeemed history began has appeared to us at any definite point in history. Because we have not been stilled by anything which has happened, we are wholly directed toward the coming of that which is to come.

Thus, though divided from you, we have been attached to you. As Franz Rosenzweig wrote in the letter which I have already quoted: "You who live in an ecclesia triumphans need a silent servant to cry to you whenever you believe you have partaken of God in bread and wine, 'Lord, remember the last things.'"

What have you and we in common? If we take the question literally, a book and an expectation.

To you, the book is a forecourt; to us, it is the sanctuary. But in this place, we can dwell together, and together listen to the voice that speaks here. That means that we can work together to evoke the buried speech of that voice; together, we can redeem the imprisoned living word.

Your expectation is directed toward a second coming. ours to a coming which has not been anticipated by a first. To you the phrasing of world history is determined by one absolute midpoint, the year one; to us, it is an unbroken flow of tones following each other without a pause from their origin to their consummation. But we can wait for the advent of the One together, and there are moments when we may prepare the way before him together.

Pre-messianically, our destinies are divided. Now to the Christian, the Jew is the incomprehensibly obdurate man, who declines to see what has happened; and to the Jew, the Christian is the incomprehensibly daring man, who affirms in an unredeemed world that its redemption has been accomplished. This is a gulf which no human power can bridge. But it does not prevent the common watch for a unity to come to us from God, which, soaring above all of your imagination and all of ours, affirms and denies, denies and affirms, what you hold and what we hold, and which replaces all the creedal truths of earth by the ontological truth of heaven which is one.

It behooves both you and us to hold inviolably fast to our own true faith, that is to our own deepest relationship to truth. It behooves both of us to show a religious respect for the true faith of the other. This is not what is called "tolerance"; our task is not to tolerate each other's waywardness, but to acknowledge the real relationship in which both stand to the truth. Whenever we both, Christian and Jew, care more for God himself than for our images of God, we are united in the feeling that our Father's house is differently constructed than all our human models take it to be.
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Re: The Writings of Martin Buber, edited by Will Herberg

Postby admin » Thu Jul 02, 2015 8:17 pm



Judaism is not merely being a nation. It is being a nation. but because of its own peculiar connection with the quality of being a community of faith, it is more than that. Since Jewry has a character of its own. and a life of its own. just like any other nation, it is entitled to claim the rights and privileges of a nation. But we must never forget that it is. nevertheless. a res sui generis, which, in one very vital respect. goes beyond the classification it is supposed to fit into.

A great event in their history molded the Jews into a people. It was when the Jewish tribes were freed from the bondage of Egypt. But it required a great inner transformation to make them into a nation. In the course of this inner change, the concept of the government of God took on a political form, final for the time being. that of the "anointed" kingdom. that is. the kingdom as the representative of God.

From the very beginning of the Diaspora, the uniqueness of Judaism became apparent in a very special way. In other nations. the national powers in themselves vouch for the survival of the people. In Judaism, this guarantee is given by another power which, as I have said. makes the Jews more than a nation: the membership in a community of faith. From the French Revolution on, this inner bond grew more and more insecure. Jewish religion was uprooted. and this is at the core of the disease indicated by the rise of Jewish nationalism around the middle of the nineteenth century. Over and over again, this nationalism lapses into trends toward "secularization," and thus mistakes its purpose. For Israel cannot be healed, and its welfare cannot be achieved, by severing the concepts of people and community of faith, but only by setting up a new order including both as organic and renewed parts.

A Jewish national community in Palestine, a desideratum toward which Jewish nationalism must logically strive, is a station in this healing process. We must not, however, forget that in the thousands of years of its exile, Jewry yearned for the Land of Israel, not as a nation like others, but as Judaism (Tes sui genesis), and with motives and intentions which cannot be derived wholly from the category "nation." That original yearning is back of all the disguises which modern national Judaism has borrowed from the modern nationalism of the West. To forget one's own peculiar character, and accept the slogans and watchwords of a nationalism that has nothing to do with the category of faith, means national assimilation.

When Jewish nationalism holds aloof from such procedure, which is alien to it, it is legitimate in an especially clear and lofty sense. It is the nationalism of a people without land of its own, a people which has lost its country. Now, in an hour rife with decision, it wants to offset the deficiency it realized with merciless clarity only when its faith became rootless; it wants to regain its natural holy life.

Here the question may arise as to what the idea of the election of Israel has to do with all this. This idea does not indicate a feeling of superiority, but a sense of destiny. It does not spring from a comparison with others, but from the concentrated devotion to a task, to the task which molded the people into a nation when they attempted to accomplish it in their earlier history. The prophets formulated that task and never ceased uttering their warning: if you boast of being chosen instead of living up to it, if you turn election into a static object instead of obeying it as a command, you will forfeit it!

And what part does Jewish nationalism play at the present time? We -- and by that I mean the group of persons I have belonged to since my youth, that group which has tried, and will continue to try, to do its share in educating the people -- we have summoned the people to a turning, and not to conceit, to be healed, and not to self-righteousness. We have equipped Jewish nationalism with an armor we did not weld, with the awareness of a unique history, a unique situation, a unique obligation, which can be conceived only from the supernational standpoint and which -- whenever it is taken seriously -- must point to a supernational sphere.

In this way, we hoped to save Jewish nationalism from the error of making an idol of the people. We have not succeeded. Jewish nationalism is largely concerned with being "like unto all the nations," with affirming itself in the face of the world without affirming the world's reciprocal power. It too has frequently yielded to the delusion of regarding the horizon visible from one's own station as the whole sky. It too is guilty of offending against the words of that table of laws that has been set up above all nations: that all sovereignty becomes false and vain when in the struggle for power it fails to remain subject to the Sovereign of the world, who is the Sovereign of my rival, and my enemy's Sovereign, as well as mine. It forgets to lift its gaze from the shoals of "healthy egoism" to the Lord who "brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and Aram from Kir" (Amos 9:7).

Jewish nationalism bases its spurious ideology on a "formal nationalistic theory which -- in this critical hour -- should be called to account. This theory is justified in denying that the acceptance of certain principles by a people should be a criterion for membership in that people. It is justified in suggesting that such a criterion must spring from formal common characteristics, such as language and civilization. But it is not justified in denying to those principles a central normative meaning, in denying that they involve the task -- posed in time immemorial -- to which the inner life of this people is bound, and together with the inner, the outer life as well.

I repeat: this task cannot be defined, but it can be sensed, pointed out, and presented. Those who stand for that religious "reform" which -- most unfortunate among the misfortunes of the period of emancipation! -- became a substitute for a reformation of Judaism which did not come, certainly did all they could to discredit that task by trying to cram it into a concept. But to deny the task its focal position on such grounds i, equivalent to throwing out the child along with the bath water. The supernational task of the Jewish nation cannot be properly accomplished unless, under its aegis, natural life is reconquered. In that formal nationalism disclaims the nation's being based on and conditioned by this more than national task; in that it has grown overconscious, and dares to disengage Judaism from its connection with the world and to isolate it; in that it proclaims the nation as an end in itself, instead of comprehending that it is an element, formal nationalism sanctions a group egoism which disclaims responsibility.

It is true that in the face of these results, attempts have been made from within the nationalistic movement to limit this expanding group egoism from without, and to humanize it on the basis of abstract moral or social postulates rather than on that of the character of the people itself, but all such efforts are bound to be futile. A foundation on which the nation is regarded as an end in itself has no room for supernational ethical demands because it does not permit the nation to act from a sense of true supernational responsibility. If the depth of faith, which is decisive in limiting national action, is robbed of its content of faith, then inorganic ethics cannot fill the void, and the emptiness will persist until the day of the turning.

We, who call upon you, are weighed down with deep concern lest this turning come too late. The nationalistic crisis in Judaism stands in sharp. perhaps too sharp, relief in the pattern of the nationalistic crises of current world history. In our case, more clearly than in any other, the decision between life and death has assumed the form of deciding between legitimate and arbitrary nationalism.


A land which a sacred book describes to the children of that land is never merely in their hearts; a land can never become a mere symbol. It is in their hearts because it is in the world; it is a symbol because it is a reality. Zion is the prophetic image of a promise to mankind; but it would be a poor metaphor if Mount Zion did not actually exist. This land is called "holy"; but it is not the holiness of an idea, it is the holiness of a piece of earth. That which is merely an idea and nothing more can not become holy; but a piece of earth can become holy.

Dispersion is bearable; it can even be purposeful, if there is somewhere an ingathering, a growing home center, a piece of earth where one is in the midst of an ingathering and not it! dispersion, and whence the spirit of ingathering may work. its way into all the places of the dispersion. When there is this, there is also a striving common life, the life of a community which dares to live today because it may hope to live tomorrow. But when this growing center, this ceaseless process of ingathering is lacking, dispersion becomes dismemberment. From this point of view, the question of our Jewish destiny is indissolubly bound up with the possibility of ingathering, and that is bound up with Palestine.

You ask: "Why should they not, like the other nations of the earth, make that country their national home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?" Because their destiny is different from that of all the other nations of the earth; it is a destiny, in truth and justice, which no nation on earth would accept. Because their destiny is dispersion -- not the dispersion of a fraction and the preservation of the main substance as in the case of other nations -- it is dispersion without the living heart and center; and because every nation has a right to demand the possession of a living heart. It is different, because a hundred adopted homes without one that is original and natural make a nation sick and miserable. It is different, because although the well-being and the achievement of the individual may flourish on stepmotherly soil, the nation as such must languish. And just as you, Mahatma, wish not only that all Indians should be able to live and work, but also that Indian substance, Indian wisdom, and Indian truth should prosper and be fruitful, we wish the same for the Jews. For you there is no need of the awareness that the Indian substance could not prosper without the Indian's attachment to the mother soil and without his ingathering therein. But we know what is essential; we know it because it is denied us, or was so' at least up to the generation which has just begun to work at the redemption of the mother soil.

But .painfully urgent as it is, this is not all; for us, for the Jews who think as I do, it is indeed not the decisive factor. You say, Mahatma Gandhi, that to support the cry for a national home which "does not much appeal to you," a sanction is "sought in the Bible." No, that is not so. We do not open the Bible and seek a sanction in it; rather the opposite is true: the promises of return, of reestablishment, which have nourished the yearning hope of hundreds of generations, give those of today an elemental stimulus, recognized by few in its full meaning. but effective in the lives of many who do not believe in the message of the Bible. Still this, too, is not the determining factor for us who, although we do not see divine revelation in every sentence of Holy Scripture, yet trust in the spirit which inspired those who uttered them. What is decisive for us is not the promise of the land, but the demand, whose fulfilment is bound up with the land, with the existence of a free Jewish community in this country. For the Bible tells us, and our inmost knowledge testifies to it, that once, more than three thousand years ago, our entry into this land took place with the consciousness of a mission from above to set up a just way of life through the generations of our people, a way of life that cannot be realized by individuals in the sphere of their private existence, but only by a nation in the establishment of its society: communal ownership of the land (Lev. 25:23). regularly recurrent leveling of social distinctions (Lev. 25:13), guarantee of the independence of each individual (Exod. 21:2), mutual aid (Exod. 23:4f.), a general Sabbath embracing serf and beast as beings with an equal claim to rest (Exod. 23:12). a sabbatical year in which the soil is allowed to rest and everybody is admitted to the free enjoyment of its fruits (Lev. 25:2-7). These are not practical laws thought out by wise men; they are measures which the leaders of the nation. apparently themselves taken by surprise and overpowered. have found to be the set task and condition for taking possession of the land. No other nation has ever been faced at the beginning of its career with such a mission. Here is something which there is no forgetting. and from which there is no release. At that time. we did not carry out that which was imposed upon us; we went into exile with our task unperformed; but the command remained with us. and it has become more urgent than ever. We need our own soil in order to fulfil it; we need the freedom to order our own life -- no attempt can be made on foreign soil and under foreign statute. It cannot be that the soil and the freedom for fulfilment are denied us. We are not covetous. Mahatma: our one desire is that at last we may be able to obey.

Now you may well ask whether I speak for the Jewish people when I say "we." No, I speak only for those who feel themselves entrusted with the commission of fulfilling the command of justice given to Israel in the Bible. Were it but a handful, these constitute the pith of the people, and the future of the people depends on them; for the ancient mission of the people lives in them as the cotyledon in the core of the fruit. In this connection, I must tell you that you are mistaken when you assume that in general the Jews of today believe in God and derive from their faith guidance for their conduct. Contemporary Jewry is in the throes of a serious religious crisis. It seems to me that the lack of faith of present-day humanity, its inability truly to believe in God. finds its concentrated expression in this crisis of Jewry; here all is darker, more fraught with danger, more fateful than anywhere else in the world. Nor is this crisis resolved here in Palestine; indeed, we recognize its severity here even more than elsewhere among Jews. But at the same time, we realize that here alone it can be resolved. There is no solution to be found in the lives of isolated and abandoned individuals, although one may hope that the spark of faith will be kindled in their great need. The true solution can only issue from the life of a community which begins to carry out the will of God, often without being aware of doing so, without believing that God exists and that this is his will. It may issue from the life of the community, if believing people support it who neither direct nor demand. neither urge nor preach. but who share the common life. who help. wait. and are ready for the moment when it will be their turn to give the true answer to the inquirers. This is the innermost truth of the Jewish life in the land; perhaps it may be of significance for the solution of this crisis of faith not only for Jewry but for all humanity. The contact of this people with this land is not only a matter of sacred ancient history; we sense here a secret still more hidden. You. Mahatma Gandhi, who know of the connection between tradition and future, should not associate yourself with those who pass over our cause without understanding or sympathy.

But you say -- and I consider it to be the most significant of all the things you tell us -- that Palestine belongs to the Arabs, and that it is therefore "wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs."

Here I must add a personal note in order to make clear to you on what premises I desire to consider your thesis.

I belong to a group of people who, from the time Britain conquered Palestine, have not ceased to strive for the concluding of a genuine peace between Jew and Arab.

By a genuine peace. we implied. and still imply. that both peoples together should develop the land without the one imposing its will on the other. In view of the international usages of our generation. this appeared to us to be very difficult, but not impossible. We were, and still are. well aware that in this unusual -- yes, unprecedented -- case, it is a question of seeking new ways of understanding and cordial agreement between the nations. Here again we stood, and still stand, under the sway of a commandment.

We considered it a fundamental point that in this case two vital claims oppose each other, two claims of a different nature and a different origin which cannot objectively be pitted against one another and between which no objective decision can be made as to which is just, which unjust. We considered, and still consider. it our duty to understand and to honor the claim which is opposed to ours, and to endeavor to reconcile both claims. We could not and cannot renounce the Jewish claim; something even higher than the life of our people is bound up with this land, namely, its work, its divine mission. But we have been and still are convinced that it must be possible to find some compromise between this claim and the other, for we love this land and we believe in its future; since such love and such faith are surely present on the ·other side as well, a union in the common service of the land must be within the range of possibility. Where there is faith and love, a solution may be found even to what appears to be a tragic opposition.

In order to carry out a task of such extreme difficulty -- in the recognition of which we have to overcome an internal resistance on the Jewish side too, as foolish as it is natural -- we were in need of the support of well-meaning persons of all nations, and hoped to receive it. But now you come and settle the whole existential dilemma with the simple formula: "Palestine belongs to the Arabs."

What do you mean by saying that a land belongs to a population? Evidently you do not intend only to describe a state of affairs by your formula, but to declare a certain right. You obviously mean to say that a people, being settled on the land, has so absolute a claim to that land that whoever settles on it without the permission of this people has committed a robbery. But by what means did the Arabs attain to the right of ownership in Palestine? Surely by conquest, and in fact a conquest with intent to settle. You therefore insist that as a result their settlement gives them exclusive right of possession, whereas the subsequent conquests of the Mamelukes and the Turks, which were conquests with a view to domination, not to settlement, do' not constitute such a right in your opinion, but leave the earlier conquerors in rightful ownership. Thus, settlement by conquest justifies for you a right of ownership of Palestine, whereas a settlement such as the Jewish -- the methods of which, it is true, though not always doing full justice to Arab ways of life, were even in the most objectionable cases far removed from those of conquest -- do not justify in your opinion any participation in this right of possession. These are the consequences which result from your axiomatic statement that a land belongs to its population. In an epoch when nations are migrating, you would first support the right of ownership of the nation that is threatened with dispossession or extermination; but were this once achieved, you would be compelled, not at once, but after a suitable number of generations had elapsed, to admit that the land "belongs" to the usurper....

It seems to me that God does not give any one portion of the earth away, so that the owner. may say as God says in the Bible: "For all the earth is mine" (Exod. 19:5). The conquered land is, in my opinion, only lent even to the conqueror who has settled on it --and God waits to see what he will make of it.

I am told, however, I should not respect the cultivated soil and despise the desert. The desert, I am told, is willing to wait for the work of her children; she no longer recognizes us, burdened with civilization, as her children. The desert inspires me with awe, but I do not believe in her absolute resistance, for I believe in the great marriage between man (adam) and earth (adamah). This land recognizes us, for it is fruitful through us; and precisely because it bears fruit for us, it recognizes us. Our settlers do not come here, as do the colonists from the Occident, to have natives do their work for them; they themselves set their shoulders to the plow, and they spend their strength and their blood to make the land fruitful. But it is not only for ourselves that we desire its fertility. The Jewish farmers have begun to teach their brothers, the Arab farmers, to cultivate the land more intensively; we desire to teach them further. Together with them, we want to cultivate the land -- to "serve" it, as the Hebrew has it. The more fertile this soil becomes, the more space there will be for us and for them. We have no desire to dispossess them; we want to live with them. We do not want to dominate them, we want to serve with them.....


Ideologies, programs, or political orientation are not the true response of a generation to the situation it finds itself in, of a generation which, at long last, wishes to respond to that situation. Such a response must express itself in life, in the language of active life, and in the break-through of this live answer, it begets the new type of man. The halutz, the Palestinian pioneer, is the most striking example of the new Jewish type, and the most distinct goal of national education. In him, we see how the supernational task has been converted into a living urge, into a vital personal endeavor and creative power, even though the individual is frequently unaware of the supernational character of what he is doing.

We cannot understand the true halutz unless we learn to recognize him as a personification of the union of national and social elements. The social element is evinced by the very fact that he wants to participate in the rebirth of his people in the home of his people, and through his own labors. He wants to devote his entire self to physical labor, for he wishes to participate as a worker, and only as a worker -- not as one who directs the work. of others. And this personal ambition is closely connected with his ambition in regard to his objective: the goal of both ambitions is the "working society in Palestine," that is, the social synthesis of people, land, and labor. But here there is more in the connotation of the word "society" than society per se. It implies the will to realize the human community in a formal society, that is, a union of persons living together, a union founded on the direct and just relations of all to all.

The halutz does not draw this will to realize this ideal out of himself, or out of his era, or out of the Western world; nor does he derive it from the occidental socialism of his century. Whether or not he knows it, whether or not he likes it, he is animated by the age-old Jewish longing to incorporate social truth in the life of individuals living with one another, the longing to translate the idea of a true community into reality. The new type is a result of the development of very early traits. What we call "Israel" is not merely the result of biological and historical development; it is the product of a decision made long ago, the decision in favor of a God of justice and against a god of instinctive egoism. It was a decision in favor of a God who leads his people into the land in order to prepare it for its messianic work in the world, and against a god who dwells in various spots in the land of Canaan, lurking in brooks and trees, and whispering to all comers: "Take possession and enjoy!" It was a decision for the true God and against Baal. Nowhere else was the destiny of a people so bound up with its original choice and the attempts at realization of that choice. The unsuccessful function of the prophets was to remind the people of this ancient bond.

Hasidism was the one great attempt in the history of the Diaspora to make a reality of the original choice and to found a true and just community based on religious principles. This attempt failed for a number of reasons, among others because it did not aim for the independence, for the self-determination of the people; or to state it differently, because its connections with Palestine were only sporadic and not influenced by the desire for national liberation. The political corruption which invaded the Hasidic movement was the result of this deficiency. For in order to get the state to grant it religious self-determination, Hasidism sacrificed the wholeness and purity of its life, and so its integrity was corroded. This tragi-comical end of a great social and religious venture was followed by a period of theorizing on the task of translating ideal into reality. But finally the Jewish national movement, either consciously or unconsciously, took up the age-old social message, and impelled by it, set up as the goal of national education the pattern of the new type of man, of the man who can translate ideas into life. who along with the national idea will satisfy the longing for a just communal life.

In the meantime, however, Judaism has had to face a grave crisis of faith, perhaps the most ominous development in the religious crisis of the man of today. In most instances, the halutz has become estranged from the much deteriorated structure of Jewish religion. He even rebels against it. He takes over the ambition to realize the ideal of a society, but in a secular form, without the bond of faith. If he is at all aware of the religious bond, he usually rejects it, separates it from the social will, and makes that will autonomous. But this means that at a certain point of his consciousness, which is of basic importance for the national movement, the new type of man has no connection with the earliest tradition of his people, that is, with the original choice of Israel.

I say "of his consciousness," and not "of his existence." For we have seen that certain traditional forces influence the character and life of the halutz, even though he may be unaware of it. But in consciously severing himself from his earliest tradition, he is resisting these forces and working counter to them.

The relation to tradition is a vital problem in all national movements and in every kind of national education. The greatest virtue of a national movement and of national education is that the generations which are growing up are made conscious of the great spiritual values whose source is the origin of their people, and that these values are deliberately woven into the design of their lives. Such values may be compared to waters gathered in a vast basin and thence distributed through thousands of pipes to drench the thirsty fields. The most profound meaning of the concept "national movement" is that a people's truth and ethos which, as abstract qualities. are, one might say, enthroned high above life, now become movement, life in motion. And so the destiny of a national movement depends on whether, and to what extent, it acknowledges the national tradition.

National movements can have three possible relationships to tradition. The first is positive. The adherents of the movement open their hearts to the tide of the elements. absorb, and transform what they have absorbed, in response to the demands of the hour. They allow the forces inherent in the beginnings to shape present-day life in accordance with present-day needs.

The second form of relationship is negative. The impact of the age-old tidings is warded off as neither credible, nor usable, nor timely.

The third approach I should call the fictitious. Those who follow it exalt the works and values of national tradition, regard them as the subject of pride and piety, and point to them with the air of collectors and owners. as though they were coronation robes in a museum. not. of course. suitable apparel for a living sovereign. While they boast of their tradition. they do not believe in it. They teach it in school. but not with the purpose of seriously integrating it into actual life. All that seems necessary to them is to "have" it. Unfortunately. the relationship of our national movement and national education to tradition is mainly a mixture of the second and third forms.

No mere good intentions can work a thoroughgoing change in the status quo. The power to transform life must spring from life itself. Already the halutz and his communes, the kibbutzim, are beginning to feel that something is lacking in the structure of their existence. Somewhere in the life of the week, there is a dead end; somewhere in the web of the work, there is a hole. No one knows just what it is, and certainly no one will name it. There is silence on that score, silence and suffering. I am under the impression that this suffering will increase in the course of the next decade and penetrate consciousness until it breaks the silence.

I do not believe that it is important for the halutz, or the national type of which he is the best representative, to accept en bloc either a ready-made tradition, or one or another part of it. Any such acceptance would be purely arbitrary and would share the fate of all arbitrary actions; it would be wholly unfruitful. One project, in particular, which is bruited about in the country, seems to me quite hopeless: the project of reviving religious forms without their religious content. Forms in themselves are nothing. What value they have accrues to them only through that which has been expressed in them, what has pervaded them as the soul pervades the body. The secret of their origin is the secret of their effectiveness. Once they have grown empty, one cannot fill them with a new, timely content; they will not hold it. Once they have decayed. they cannot be resuscitated by infusion with a spirit other than their own. They will seem only as lifelike as dolls. All such attempts are dilettantish. devoid of reverence and vigor; they are unblessed. A Passover seder which is held to celebrate the national liberation as such will always be lacking in the essential. and that essential can only be gained when we feel that self-liberation enfolds the redemption of man and the world through a redeeming power as the husk enfolds the kernel. The Feast of Weeks is, of course, a nature festival, a festival in honor of a season and its abundance. the festival of the farmer who time and again experiences the miracle that earth gives him so much more than he has given her. But one cannot do justice to this festival by explaining it as a nature symbol. One must also know that nature herself is a symbol. that man can attain to true life only by surrendering himself to the unknown. and that the reward, the manifold harvest, is called revelation. No matter how devotedly the Sabbath is kept, the rite will be threadbare if the joy in a day of rest for everybody is not filled with the divination of a cosmic mystery of work and rest which is reflected in that day. This mystery is figuratively expressed with a childlike ingenuousness -- in the idea that the Creator of heaven and earth "draws breath" after his labors on that day just as well as the "son of thy handmaid." Thus, the breath of relaxation which we draw merges with the breath of the world.

But what shall we do when a generation. like that of today. has become alienated from the religious content of the forms?

We must provide them with a truly national education, and this means that we must convey the primordial utterances of their people to their ears and their hearts. We must surmount the prejudice of this era which claims that those utterances can have interest for us only as literary history, as cultural history, religious history, etc., and that instruction should treat them only as the chief literary creation of the nation, as the source for the study of its ancient culture and the oldest document of its religious beginnings. We must surmount the superstition of the era which seems to hold that the world of faith to which those utterances bear witness is the subject of our knowledge only, and not a reality which makes life worth living. We must keep the younger generation free from the bias that says: "We know all about ourselves and the world, and in any event these utterances can no longer exert an authoritative influence on our lives." This generation must be taught to despise the inflexible self-assurance which says: "I am well prepared. Nothing can happen to change me fundamentally and transform the world before my eyes. I know what I know; I am what I am; tomorrow can be no different than today." This generation must be made receptive to the Unforeseen, which upsets all logical arrangements. Their ears and hearts must be opened to the voice of the mystery which speaks in those utterances. And we should do all this not with the purpose of preparing them to repeat the teachings and perform prescribed rites, but so that they may acquire the power to make the original choice, that -- listening to the voice with that power -- they may hear the message it has for their hour and their work; that they may learn to trust the voice, and through this trust, come to faith, to a faith of their own.


In his essay on the origin of humanism, Konrad Burdach elucidates his subject by quoting from Dante's Convivio: "The greatest desire Nature has implanted in every thing from its beginning is the desire to return to its origin." Burdach accordingly believes that the goal of humanism is "to return to the human origin, not by way of speculative thought, but by way of a concrete transformation of the whole of inner life." The Zionist movement was also moved by the drive to return to the origin of our nature through the concrete transformation of our life. By "return" neither Burdach nor the Zionist movement meant the restoration of bygone forms of life. So romantic an ideal is as alien to our humanism as it was to the earlier. In this connotation, return means reestablishing the original foundation to which we want to return with the material of a fundamentally different world of man, under set conditions of our contemporary existence as a people, with reference to the tasks the present situation imposes on us, and in accordance with the possibilities we are given here and now. As we consider these points, we may well speak of a similarity between European and Hebrew humanism. But on another point, we must reach for a farther goal than European humanism. The concrete transformation of our whole inner life is not sufficient for us. We must strive for nothing less than the concrete transformation of our life as a whole. The process of transforming our inner lives must be expressed in the transformation of our outer life, of the life of the individual as well as that of the community. And the effect must be reciprocal: the change in the external arrangements of our life must be reflected in and renew our inner life time and again. Up to now, Zionist theory has not adequately realized the importance of this mutual influence. The power of external transformation has frequently been overestimated. Such overestimation cannot, of course, be counteracted by confronting it simply with faith in the power of the spirit. Only he who commends himself to both spirit and earth at the same time is in league with eternity.

Zionist thinking in its current forms has failed to grasp the principle that the transformation of life must spring from the return to the origin of our nature. It is true that every thoughtful Zionist realizes that our character is distorted in many ways, that we are out of joint, and expects the new life in our own land, the bond to the soil and to work, to set us straight and make us whole once more. But what a great many overlook is that the powers released by this renewed bond to the soil do not suffice to accomplish a true and complete transformation. Another factor, the factor o( spiritual power, that same return to our origin, must accompany the material factor. But it cannot be achieved by any spiritual power save the primordial spirit of Israel, the spirit which made us such as we are, and to which we must continually account for the extent to which our character has remained steadfast in the face of our destiny. This spirit has not vanished. The way to it is still open; it is still possible for us to encounter it. The Book still lies before us, and the voice speaks forth from it as on the first day. But we must not dictate what it should and what it should not tell us. If we require it to confine itself to instructing us about our great literary productions, our glorious history, and our national pride, we shall only succeed in silencing it. For that is not what it has to tell us. What it does have to tell us, and what no other voice in the world can teach us with such simple power, is that there is truth and there are lies, and that human life cannot persist or have meaning save in the decision in behalf of truth and against lies; that there is right and wrong, and that the salvation of man depends on choosing what is right and rejecting what is wrong; and that it spells the destruction of our existence to divide our life up into areas where the discrimination between truth and lies, right and wrong holds, and others where it does not hold, so that in private life, for example, we feel obligated to be truthful, but can permit ourselves lies in public, or that we act justly in man-to-man relationships, but can and even should practice injustice in national relationships. The humanitas which speaks from this Book today, as it has always done, is the unity of human life under one divine direction which divides right from wrong and truth from lies as unconditionally as the words of the Creator divided light from darkness. It is true that we are not able to live in perfect justice, and in order to preserve the community of man. we are often compelled to accept wrongs in decisions concerning the community. But what matters is that in every hour of decision we are aware of our responsibility and summon our conscience to weigh exactly how much is necessary to preserve the community, and accept just so much and no more; that we do not interpret the demands of a will-to-power as demands made by life itself; that we do not make a practice of setting aside a certain sphere in which God's command does not hold, but regard those actions as against his command, forced on us by the exigencies of the hour as painful sacrifices; that we do not salve. or let others salve, our conscience when we make decisions concerning public life, but struggle with destiny in fear and trembling lest it burden us with greater guilt than we are compelled to assume. This trembling of the magnetic needle which points the direction notwithstanding -- this is biblical humanitas. The men in the Bible are sinners like ourselves, but there is one sin they do not commit. our arch-sin: they do not dare confine God to a circumscribed space or division of life. to "religion." They have not the insolence to draw boundaries around God's commandments and say to him: "Up to this point, you are sovereign. but beyond these bounds begins the sovereignty of science. or society, or the state." When they are forced to obey another power. every nerve in their body bears and suffers the load which is imposed upon them; they do not act lightheartedly nor toss their heads frivolously. He who has been reared in our Hebrew biblical humanism goes as far as he must in the hour of gravest responsibility, and not a step further. He resists patriotic bombast, which clouds the gulf between the demand of life and the desire of the will-to-power. He resists the whisperings of false popularity, which is the opposite of true service to the people. He is not taken in by the hoax of modern national egoism. according to which everything which can be of benefit to one's people must be true and right. He knows that a primordial decision has been made concerning right and wrong. between truth and lies, and that it confronts the existence of the people. He knows that, in the final analysis, the only thing that can help his people is what is true and right in the light of that age-old decision. But if, in an emergency, he cannot obey this recognition of the "final analysis," but responds to the nation's cry for help, he sins like the men in the Bible and, like them, prostrates himself before his Judge. That is the meaning in contemporary language of the return to the origins of our being. Let us hope that the language of tomorrow will be different, that to the best of our ability it will be the language of a positive realization of truth and right, in both the internal and external aspects of the structure of our entire community life.

I am setting up Hebrew humanism in opposition to that Jewish nationalism which regards Israel as a nation like unto other nations, and recognizes no task for Israel save that of preserving and asserting itself. But no nation in the world has this as its only task, for just as an individual who wishes merely to preserve and assert himself leads an unjustified and meaningless existence, so a nation with no other aim deserves to pass away.

By opposing Hebrew humanism to a nationalism which is nothing but empty self-assertion, I wish to indicate that, at this juncture, the Zionist movement must decide either for national egoism or national humanism. If it decides in favor of national egoism, it too will suffer the fate which will soon befall all shallow nationalism, that is, nationalism which does not set the nation a true supernational task. If it decides in favor of Hebrew humanism, it will be strong and effective long after shallow nationalism has lost all meaning and justification, for it will have something to say and to bring to mankind.

Israel is not a nation like other nations, "no matter how much its representatives may have wished it during certain eras. Israel is a people like no other, for it is the only people in the world which, from its earliest beginnings, has been both a nation and a religious community. In the historical hour in which its tribes grew together to form a people, it became the carrier of a revelation. The covenant which the tribes made with one another and through which they became "Israel" takes the form of a common covenant with the God of Israel. The song of Deborah, that great document of our heroic age, expresses a fundamental reality by repeatedly alternating the name of this God with the name of Israel, like a refrain. Subsequently, when the people desire a dynasty so that they may be "like unto all the nations" (I Sam. 8:20), the Scriptures have the man who, a generation later, really did found a dynasty, speak words which sound as though they were uttered to counterbalance that desire: "And who is like thy people Israel, a nation one in the earth" (I Sam. 7:23). And these words, regardless of what epoch they hail from, express the same profound reality as those earlier words of Deborah. Israel was and is a people and a religious community in one, and it is this unity which enabled it to survive in an exile no other nation had to suffer, an exile which lasted much longer than the period of its independence. He who severs this bond severs the life of Israel.

One defense against this recognition is to call it a "theological interpretation," and, in this way, debase it into a private affair concerning only such persons as have interest in so unfruitful a subject as theology. But this is nothing but shrewd polemics. For we are, in reality, dealing with a fundamental historical recognition without which Israel as an historical factor and fact could not be understood. An attempt has been made to refute this allegedly "theological interpretation" by a "religious interpretation," the claim being made that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Judaism of a series of eminent men, as the last of whom Rabbi Akiba is cited, the first being none other than Moses. Remarkable, to what lengths polemic enthusiasm will go! As a matter of fact, it is just as impossible to construct an historical Moses who did not realize the uniqueness of Israel as an historical Akiba who was not aware of it. Snatch from Rabbi Akiba his phrase about "special love" which God has for Israel (Pirke Abot 3:18). and you snatch the heart from his body. Try to delete the words, "You shall be mine own treasure from among all peoples" (Exod. 19:5) from the account of the coming of Israel to the wilderness of Sinai, and the whole story collapses. If such comments as these about Moses have any foundation at all, I do not know on what hypotheses of Bible criticism they are based; they are certainly not supported by anything in the Scriptures.

There is still another popular device for evading the recognition of Israel's uniqueness. It is asserted that every great people regards itself as the chosen people; in other words, awareness of peculiarity is interpreted as a function of nationalism in general. Did not the National Socialists believe that Destiny had elected the German people to rule the entire world? According to this view, the very fact that we say, "Thou hast chosen us," would prove that we are like other nations. But the weak arguments which venture to put, "It shall be said unto them: You are the children of the living God" (cf. Hos. 2:1), on a par with "The German essence will make the whole world well," are in opposition to the basic recognition we glean from history. The point is not whether we feel or do not feel that we are chosen. The point is that our role in history is actually unique. There is even more to it. The nature of our doctrine of election is entirely different from that of the theories of election of the other nations, even though these frequently depend on our doctrine. What they took over was never the essential part. Our doctrine is distinguished from their theories, in that our election is completely a demand. This is not the mythical shape of a people's wishful dreams. This is not an unconditional promise of greatness and might to a people. This is a stern demand, and the entire future existence of the people is made dependent on whether or not this demand is met. This is not a God speaking whom the people created in their own image, as their sublimation. He confronts the people and opposes them. He demands and judges. And he does so not only in the age of the prophets at a later stage of historical development, but from time immemorial; and no hypothesis of Bible criticism can ever deny this. What he demands he calls "truth" and "righteousness," and he does not demand these for certain isolated spheres of life, but for the whole life of man, for the whole life of the people. He wants the individual and the people to be "wholehearted" with him. Israel is chosen to enable it to ascend from the biological law of power, which the nations glorify in their wishful thinking, to the sphere of truth and righteousness. God wishes man whom he has created to become man in the truest sense of the word, and wishes this to happen not only in sporadic instances, as it happens among other nations, but in the life of an entire people, thus providing an order 'of life for a future mankind, for all the peoples combined into one people. Israel was chosen to become a true people, and that means God's people.

Biblical man is man facing and recognizing such election and such a demand. He accepts it or rejects it. He fulfils it as best he can, or he rebels against it. He violates it and then repents. He fends it off, and surrenders. But there is one thing he does not do: he does not pretend that it does not exist, or that its claim is limited. And classical biblical man absorbs this demand for righteousness so wholly with his flesh and blood that, from Abraham to Job, he dares to remind God of it. And God, who knows that human mind and spirit cannot grasp the ways of his justice. takes delight in the man who calls him to account, because that man has absorbed the demand for righteousness with his very flesh and blood. He calls Job his servant and Abraham his beloved. He tempted both; both called him to account, and both resisted temptation. That is Hebrew humanity.
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Re: The Writings of Martin Buber, edited by Will Herberg

Postby admin » Thu Jul 02, 2015 8:18 pm



It is impossible to appreciate the real meaning of "Zion" so long as one regards it as simply one of many other national concepts. We speak of a "national concept" when a people makes its unity, spiritual coherence. historical character, traditions, origins and evolution, destiny and vocation the objects of its conscious life and the motive power behind its actions. In this sense, the Zion concept of the Jewish people can be called a national concept. But its essential quality lies precisely in that which differentiates it from all other national concepts.

It is significant that this national concept was name. after a place and not, like the others, after a people, which indicates that it is not so much a question of a particular people as such. but of its association with a particular land. Moreover. the idea was not named after one of the usual descriptions of this land -- Canaan or Palestine or Eretz-Yisrael -- but after the old stronghold of the Jebusites, which David made his residence, and whose name was applied by poets and prophets to the whole city of Jerusalem, not so much as the seat of the royal fort. however. but as the place of the sanctuary .... Zion is "the city of the great King" (Ps. 48:3), that is, of God as the king of Israel. The name has retained this sacred character ever since. In their prayers and songs, the mourning and yearning of the people in exile was bound up with it; the holiness of the land was concentrated in it; in the Kabbalah. it is equated with an emanation of God himself. When the Jewish people adopted this name for their national concept, all these associations were contained in it/

This was inevitable. for in contrast to the national concepts of other peoples. the one described by this name was no new invention. not the product of the social and political changes manifested by the French Revolution. but merely a continuation. the restatement of an age-old religious and popular reality adapted to the universal form of the national movements of the nineteenth century. This reality was the holy marriage of a "holy" people with a "holy" land. the point of location of which was named Zion.

It has been one of the disastrous errors of modern biblical criticism to attribute this category of the Holy. as applied in the Scriptures to the people and the land. to the sacerdotalism of a later age. for which the claims of public worship were all-important. On the contrary. it belongs rather to the primitive conception of the Holy as we find it in tribes living close to nature, who think of the two main supports of national life. man and the earth, as endowed with sacred powers. In the tribes which united to form "Israel." this concept developed and became transformed in a special way: holiness is no longer a sign of power, a magic fluid that can dwell in places and regions as well as in people and groups of people, but a quality bestowed on this particular people and this particular land because God "elects" both in order to lead his chosen people into his chosen land and to join them to each other. It is his election that sanctifies the chosen people as his immediate attendants. and the land as his royal throne. and which makes them dependent on each other. This is more a political, a theopolitical, than a strictly religious concept of holiness: the outward form of worship is merely a concentrated expression of the sovereignty of God. Abraham builds altars where God has appeared to him, but he does so not as a priest but as a herald of the Lord by whom he has been sent; and when he calls on the name of his Lord above the altar. he thereby proclaims his Lord's royal claim to possession of the surrounding land. This is not the transforming interpretation of a later age, but has its roots in primitive language. analogies of which are to be found among other early peoples. but nowhere in such historical concreteness as here. Here "holiness" still means to belong to God not merely through religious symbols and in the times and places consecrated to public worship. but as a people and a land. in the all-embracing range and reality of public life. It is only later that the category of the Holy becomes restricted to public worship, a process which advances the more the sphere of public life is withdrawn from the sovereign rule of God.

That it is God who joins this people to this land is not a subsequent historical interpretation of events; the wandering tribes themselves were inspired again and again by the promise made to their forefathers. and the most enthusiastic among them saw God himself leading his people into the promised land. It is impossible to imagine a historical Israel as existing at any time without belief in its God or previously to such belief: it is precisely the message of the common Leader that unites the tribes into a people. It is no less impossible to imagine this belief as existing before and outside Israel: it is an absolutely historical belief, the belief in a God leading first the fathers and then the whole people into the promised land at historically determined times for divinely historical purposes. Here is no "nation" as such and no "religion" as such, but only a people interpreting its historical experiences as the actions of its God.

This belief in divine leadership is, however, at the same time the belief in a mission. However much of the legislation that has come down to us in the Bible may be attributed to later literary accretions, there is no doubt at all that the exodus from Egypt was bound up with the imposing of a law that was taken to be a divine charter, and the positive nucleus of all later developments was essentially the instruction to establish a "holy" community in the promised land. For these tribes, divine leadership certainly implied an ordinance concerning the future in the land, and from this basis a tradition and a doctrine were evolved. The story of Abraham. which connects the gift of Canaan with the command to be a blessing. is a most concise resume of the fact that the association of this people with this land signifies a mission. The people came to the land to fulfil the mission; even by each new revolt against it they recognized its continuing validity; the prophets were appointed to interpret the past and future destiny of the people on the basis of the people's failure as yet to achieve the righteous city of God for the establishment of which it had been led into the land. This land was at no time in the history of Israel simply the property of the people; it was always at the same time a challenge to make of it what God intended to have made of it.

Thus, from the very beginning, the unique association between this people and this land was characterized by what was to be, by the intention that was to be realized. It was a consummation that could not be achieved either by the people or by the land alone, but only by the faithful cooperation of the two together; and it was an association in which the land appeared not as a dead, passive object, but as a living and active partner. Just as to achieve fullness of life, the people needed the land, so the land needed the people, and the end which both were called upon to realize could only be reached by a living partnership. Since the living land shared the great work with the living people, it was to be both the work of history and the work of nature. Just as nature and history were united in the creation of man, so these two spheres, which have become separated in the human mind, were to unite in the task in which the chosen land and the chosen people were called upon to cooperate. The holy marriage of land and people was intended to bring about the union of the two separated spheres of being.

This is the theme, relating to a small and despised part of the human race and a small and desolate part of the earth, yet world-wide in its significance, that lies hidden in the name of Zion. It is not simply a special case among the national concepts and national movements; the exceptional quality that is here added to the universal makes it a unique category extending far beyond the frontier of national problems and touching the domain of the universally human, the cosmic, and even of Being itself. In other respects, the people of Israel may be regarded as one of the many peoples on earth, and the land of Israel as one land among other lands; but in their mutual relationship and in their common task, they are unique and incomparable. And in spite of all the names and historical events that have come down to us, what has come to pass, what is coming and shall come to pass between them, is and remains a mystery. From generation to generation the Jewish people have never ceased to meditate on this mystery.

When the national movement of this people inherited the mystery, a powerful desire to dissolve it arose in spite of the protests of the movement's most important spiritual leaders. It seemed to belong to the purely "religious" sphere, and religion had become discredited for two reasons: in the West, because of its attempt to denationalize itself in the age of Emancipation; in the East, because of its resistance to the Europeanization of the Jewish people on which the national movement wanted to base itself. The secularizing trend in Zionsism was directed against the mystery of Zion too. A people like other peoples, a land like other lands, a national movement like other national movements -- this was and still is proclaimed as the postulate of common sense against every kind of "mysticism." And from this standpoint, the age-long belief that the successful reunion of this people with this land is inseparably bound up with a command and a condition was attacked. No more is necessary -- so the watchword runs -- than that the Jewish people should be granted the free development of all its powers in its own country like any other people; that, in fact, is what is meant by "regeneration."

The certainty of the generations of Israel testifies that this view is inadequate. The idea of Zion is rooted in deeper regions of the earth and rises into loftier regions of the air, and neither its deep roots nor its lofty heights, neither its memory of the past nor its ideal for the future, both of the selfsame texture, may be repudiated. If Israel renounces the mystery, it renounces the heart of reality itself. National forms without the eternal purpose from which they have arisen signify the end of Israel's specific fruitfulness. The free development of the latent power of the nation without a supreme value to give it purpose and direction does not mean regeneration, but the mere sport of a common self-deception behind which spiritual death lurks in ambush. If Israel desires less than it is intended to fulfil, then it will even fail to achieve the lesser goal.

With every new encounter of this people with this land, the task is set afresh, but every time it is rooted in the .historical situation and its problems. If it is not mastered, what has al· ready been achieved will fall into ruin. Once it is really mastered, this may become the beginning of a new kind of human society. To be sure, the problem proves to be more difficult every time it is tackled. It is more difficult to set up an order based on justice in the land if one is under the jurisdiction of a foreign power, as after the return from Babylon, than if one is comparatively free to determine one's own way of life, as after the first appropriation of the land; and it is still more difficult if one has to reckon with the coexistence of another people in the same country, of cognate origin and language but mainly foreign in tradition, structure, and outlook, and if this vital fact has to be regarded as an essential part of the problem. On the other hand, there seems to be a high purpose behind the increasing difficulty of the task. Even in the life of the individual, what has once been neglected can never be made up for in the same sphere and under the same conditions; but one is sometimes allowed to make amends for lost opportunities in a quite different situation, in a quite different form, and it is significant that the new situation is more contradictory and the new form more difficult to realize than the old, and that each fresh attempt demands an even greater exertion to fulfil the task -- for such is the hard but not ungracious way of life itself. The same process seems to be true of the life of Israel.


From time to time, I seem to hear a question echoing out of the depths of stillness. But he who asks it does not know that he is asking it, and he to whom the question is addressed is not aware that he is being questioned. It is the question which the world of today, in utter unawareness, puts to religion. This is the question: "Art thou, perhaps, the power that can help me? Canst thou teach me to believe? Not in phantasmagoria and mystagogy, not in ideologies or in party programs, nor in cleverly thought-out and skillfully presented sophisms which appear true only while they are successful or have prospects of success, but in the Absolute and Irrefragable. Teach me to have faith in reality, in the verities of existence, so that life will af· ford some aim for me and existence will have some meaning. Who, indeed, can help me if thou canst not?"

We can take it for granted that the world of today will vehemently deny wishing to ask or even being capable of asking such a question. This world will passionately maintain that religion is an illusion -- perhaps not even a beautiful one -- and will support this contention with a clear conscience, for such is the assuredness of its conviction. In the innermost recesses of the heart, however, there where despair abides, the same question surges timidly upward again and again, only to be immediately repressed. But it will grow in strength; it will become strong.

The question is addressed to religion generally, to religion as such. But where is religion to be found? The question cannot be addressed to the isolated religious individual, for how can he measure up to such a claim at such a moment? It is only to the historic religions -- or to some of them -- that such a question can literally be addressed. But it is neither in their dogma nor in their ritual that the answer may lie; not in the one because its purpose is to formulate beliefs which are beyond conceptual thinking into conceptual propositions, not in the other because its object is to express the relation to the Unlimited by means of steadfast and regular performance. Both have their specific spheres of influence, but neither is capable of helping the modern world to find faith. The only element in the historic religions which the world is justified in calling upon is that intrinsic reality of faith which is beyond all attempts at formulation and expression but exists in truth; it is that which constantly renews the fullness of its presence from the flow of personal life itself. This is the one thing that matters: the personal existence, which gives actuality to the essence of a religion and thus attests to its living force.

Whosoever listens closely to the question of which I speak observes that it is also addressed to Judaism, and indeed that Judaism is included in the foremost ranks of those religions to which the appeal is made. I have recently received communications from many parts of the world from which it can be sensed that clarification and leadership are expected of Judaism. It can be sensed, too, that many of these correspondents are speaking for the many more who remain silent. That the world expects something from Judaism is in itself a new phenomenon. For centuries, the deeper spiritual content of Judaism was either unknown or given scant attention, for the reason perhaps that, during the period of the ghetto, the underlying reality of Jewish life was hardly glimpsed by the outside world, while during the emancipation period, Jews only -- not Judaism -- appeared upon the open scene.

A change seems to be taking place. Why? Is it because of the massacre of millions of Jews? That does not explain it. Or is it because of the establishment of a Jewish State? That does not explain it either. And yet both of these events are basically part of the reason why the real content of Judaism is beginning to become more perceptible. These astounding phenomena of dying and living have at last brought before the world the fact of the existence of Jewry as a fact of particular significance, and from this point Judaism itself begins to be seen. Now the world has gradually begun to perceive that within Judaism there is something which has its special contribution to make. in a special way, to the spiritual needs of the present time. It is only possible to realize this if Judaism is regarded in its entirety. in its whole way, from the Decalogue to Hasidism, in the course of which its peculiar tendencies have evolved in an increasingly comprehensive manner.

This "entireness," these fundamental tendencies and their evolution, are, for the most part, still unrecognized even by the Jews themselves, even by those who are earnestly seeking the pathway of truth. This becomes manifest when we consider those amongst our spiritually representative Jewish contemporaries whose religious needs have remained unsatisfied by Judaism. It is highly characteristic that, in the springtime of modern society, spiritually significant Jews turned to Christianity not for the sake of Christian religion but for the sake of Christian culture. whereas today the sympathies worth noting that spiritual Jews feel for Christianity are rooted rather in a sense of religious lack and a feeling of religious longing.

Let us consider two examples which will make my meaning clear and which will plunge us deeper into our purpose of examining the religious significance of Judaism for the world of today. The one example is afforded by Bergson, the thinker who. like Nietzsche. built up his philosophy on the affirmation of life. but in contrast to Nietzsche, regarded not power, but participation in creation, as the essence of life. Consequently. again in contrast to Nietzsche, he did not fight against religion but extolled it as the peak of human life. The other example is to be found in Simone Weil, who died young. and the legacy of whose writings expresses a strong and theologically far-reaching negation of life. leading to the negation of the individual as well as of society as a whole. Both Bergson and Simone Weil were Jews. Both were convinced that in Christian mysticism they had found the religious truth they were seeking. Bergson still saw in the prophets of Israel the forerunners of Christianity, whereas Simone Weil simply cast aside both Israel and Judaism. Neither was converted to Christianity -- Bergson probably because it went against the grain to leave the community of the oppressed and persecuted; Simone Weil for reasons arising from her concept of religion which, apparently. led her to believe that the Church was still far too Jewish.

Let us examine how Judaism appeared to each of these and how the Judaism which they saw relates to the actuality of the Jewish faith, to that "entireness" which has developed in the course of time and of which, as I have already pointed out, most Jews today still remain ignorant.

The image of Judaism conceived by Bergson is the conventional Christian one, the origin of which lies in the endeavor to depict the new religion as a release from the yoke of the older one. This picture is of a God of justice who exercised justice essentially on his own people, Israel, being followed by a God of love, of love for humanity as a whole. For Bergson, there· fore, Christianity represents a human conscience rather than a social conscience, a dynamic code as opposed to a static code, and the ethics of the open soul as opposed to the ethics of the closed soul.

Simone Weil takes the same line but goes much further. She reproaches Israel with idolatry, with the only idolatry she considers a real one, the service of the collectivity, which she, utilizing a simile of Plato, calls the "Great Beast," Gregariousness is the realm of Satan, for the collectivity arrogates to itself the right to dictate to the individual what is good and what is evil. It interposes itself between God and the soul; it even supplants God and sets itself up in God's place. In ancient Rome, Simone Weil sees the "Great Beast" as the atheistic materialist who worships only himself. Israel, however, is to her the "Great Beast" in religious disguise, and its god the god it deserved, a ponderous god, a god "of the flesh," a tribal god -- ultimately, nothing but the deification of the nation. The Pharisees, whom Simone Weil obviously came to know only through the controversies of the New Testament, are defined by her as a group "who were virtuous only out of obedience to the Great Beast," Everything that was hateful to her in more recent history, such as capitalism and Marxism, the intolerance of the Church, and modern nationalism, was ascribed by her to the influence of what she called the "totalitarianism" of Israel.

Bergson accepted the principle of social life as a transition stage; for Simone Weil, who, by the way, was, for a while, actively associated with the extreme Left, it was the great obstacle. For both, Israel was its embodiment, and both strove to surmount it through Christianity, in which Bergson found the purely human element, Simone Weil, on the other hand, the supernatural.

Seldom has it been so evident as in this instance how a half-truth can be more misleading than a total error. (As far as Simone Weil is concerned, it is, indeed, scarcely a quarter-truth.)

The real definition of the social principle of the religion of Israel is something considerably different from Bergson's conception and something entirely different from Simone Weil's.

It is true, the group which is welded together out of families and tribes under the influence of a common belief in God and becomes a people is understood in Israel as a religious category. But this is not the actual people, not that which the prophet who harangues the people sees assembled around him. The religious character of the people consists emphatically in that something different is intended for it from what it is now, that it is destined for something different -- that it should become a true people, the "People of God." Precisely in the religion of Israel is it impossible to make an idol of the people as a whole, for the religious attitude to the community is inherently critical and postulative. Whoever ascribes to the nation or to the community the attributes of the absolute and of self· sufficiency betrays the religion of Israel.

What, however, does it mean to become a "people of God?" A common belief in God and service to his name do not constitute a people of God. Becoming a people of God means rather that the attributes of God revealed to it, justice and love, are to be made effective in its own life, in the lives of its members with one another; justice materialized in the indirect mutual relationships of these individuals; love in their direct mutual relationships rooted in their personal existence. Of the two, however, love is the higher, the transcending principle. This becomes unequivocally clear from the fact that man cannot be just to God; he can, however, and should, love God. And it is the love of God which transfers itself to man: "God loves the stranger," we are told, "so thou too shalt love him." The man who loves God loves also him whom God loves.

It is not true that the God of the Bible has, as Simone Weil expresses it, "never until the Exile spoken to the soul of man." He has always spoken to the soul of the individual, even in the time of the Decalogue; to whom else, if not to the soul of the individual, can the injunction be given not to covet, that is to say, not to be envious of what is another's? But God speaks to individuals according to their real existence, and this means, in the pre-exilic period, as members of the people into which they are incorporated and from which they are undetachable. The Ten Commandments are not addressed to the collective "You," but all of them to a single "Thou"; this "Thou" means every individual, and as every individual is yet thoroughly embedded in the people, he is thus addressed as a part of it. It is only in the degree to which the individual, in the course of historic reality, discovers himself and becomes aware of himself that God speaks to him as such. But even in the most highly individualized times that "Thou" still concerns every single individual so long as he does not intentionally shut himself away from it.

Bergson's conventional differentiation between Jewish particularism and Christian universalism is equally unfounded. According to Amos, the earliest of the "literary" prophets, who significantly takes as his example the arch enemies of Israel, the wanderings of all peoples are directed by God himself. The prophet states that. not as something new but as something generally known. This is, indeed, a universalism not of individuals but of nations, through which it reaches out to individuals. Within this universalism, however, there is a particularization of vocation: Israel shall begin the work of the materialization of God's justice and love on earth; Israel shall be "the first-fruits of his harvest."

It is not true that Israel has not accorded to spiritual inwardness its rightful place; rather, it has not contented itself with it. Its teachings contest the self-sufficiency of the soul: inward truth must become real life, otherwise it does not remain truth. A drop of messianic consummation must be mingled with every hour; otherwise the hour is godless, despite all piety and devoutness.

Accordingly, what may be called the social principle of Israel's religion is fundamentally dissimilar from any "Great Beast." It is concerned with social humanity, for human society is here legitimate only if built upon real relationships between its members; and humanity is taken in its religious meaning, because real relationship to God cannot be achieved on earth if real relationships to the world and to mankind are lacking. Both love of the Creator and love of that which he has created are finally one and the same.

In order to achieve this unity, man must indeed accept creation from God's hands, not in order to possess it, but lovingly to take part in the still uncompleted work of creation. Creation is incomplete because discord still reigns within it, and peace can only emerge from the created. That is why, in Jewish tradition, he who brings about peace is called the companion of God in the work of creation. This concept of man's vocation as a co-worker with God is emphasized by "Bergson as the goal of that mysticism which he glorifies and which he does not find in Judaism; it is, however, a fundamentally Jewish concept.

Both Bergson and Simone Weil turned away from a Judaism they did not know; in actual fact, they turned aside from a conventional conception of Judaism created by Christianity. But while Bergson was close to true Judaism which he did not know, Simone Weil was remote from it. When she referred to the God of Israel as a "natural" God and to that of Christianity as a "supernatural" God, she failed entirely to understand the character of the former inasmuch as he is not "natural" but is the God of nature as well as the God of spirit -- and is superior to both nature and spirit alike. But even if Simone Weil had known the true God of Israel, she would not have been satisfied, for he turns toward nature, which he dominates, whereas Simone Weil sought flight from nature as well as from society: reality had become intolerable to her, and for her, God was the power which led her away from it. But that is definitely not the way of the God of Israel; such a way would be the very opposite of his relation toward his creation and his creatures. He has placed man in the center of reality in order that he should face up to it. Simone Weil's idea was to serve mankind, and so she again and again took to heavy manual labor on the land, but her soul was always put to flight by reality. And she began with her own reality: she contested the "I"; it was one's duty, she thought, to slay the "I" in oneself. "We possess nothing in this world," she wrote, "other than the power to say I. This is what we should yield up to God, and that is what we should destroy," Such a basic orientation is, indeed, diametrically opposed to Judaism; for the real relationship taught by Judaism is a bridge which spans across two firm pillars, man's "I" and the "I" of his eternal partner. It is thus the relation between man and God, thus also the relation between man and man. Judaism rejects the "I" that connotes selfishness and pride, but it welcomes and affirms the "I" of the real relationship, the "I" of the partnership between I and Thou, the "I" of love. For love does not invalidate the "I"; on the contrary, it binds the "I" more closely to the "Thou." It does not say: "Thou art loved" but "I love thee," The same applies to the "We," about which Simone Weil said: "One should not be I and even less should one be We," Judaism rejects the "We" of group egotism, of national conceit and party exclusiveness, but it postulates that "We" which arise. from the real relationships of its components and which maintains genuine relations with other groups, the "We" which may say in truth: "Our Father."

Simone Weil knew neither the old religion of Israel nor its later way, in which the changed conditions of history brought about a new display of its basic elements. Bergson knew the prophets of Israel, yet without realizing how in their message. the principle of justice which he found in them was complemented by the principle of love; but he knew not the road taken by the Jewish religion, and consequently he did not consider the prophets in connection with the whole of Jewish religious history. The prophets protest against the religious failure of Israel, against the fact that God's demand to create a place on earth for his justice and his love has not been sufficiently complied with -- neither by the people nor by the individuals within it -- at least not in the measure compatible with the strength available and under the prevailing conditions. And the seed of the prophets is springing up; though late, it is sprouting into stronger and stronger growth. In the Diaspora, it is true, a comprehensive realization of the principle of justice could not be aspired to, since that would have required an autonomous national entity, autonomous national institutions, which could only be hoped for with the return to the Holy Land; but the higher, the decisive principle which alone can knit together the relationship to God and the relationship to man -- the principle of love -- requires neither organizations nor institutions but can be given effect at any time, at any place. The will to realization was not, however, confined to the individual. Within the communal form of life adopted in the place of a state -- that is, the local communities -- active love in the guise of mutual help recurs as a basic social element. This structure found its perfection about two centuries ago in Hasidism, which was built on little communities bound together by brotherly love. An inner religious development of the highest significance corresponds to that tendency, the striving to bridge the gulf between love of God and love of man. Again the Hasidic movement succeeded in giving full effect to this striving. It teaches that the true meaning of love of one's neighbor is not that it is a command from God which we are to fulfill, but that through it and in it we meet God. This is shown by the interpretation of this command. It is not just written: "Love thy neighbor as thyself," as though the sentence ended there, but it goes on: "Love thy neighbor as thyself, I am the Lord." The grammatical construction of the original text shows quite clearly that the meaning is: You shall deal lovingly with your "neighbor," that is, with everyone you meet along life's road, and you shall deal with him as with one equal to yourself. The second part, however, adds: "I am the Lord" -- and here the Hasidic interpretation comes in: "You think I am far away from you, but in your love. for your neighbor you will find me; not in his love for you but in yours for him." He who loves brings God and the world together.

The Hasidic teaching is the consummation of Judaism. And this is its message to all: You yourself must begin. Existence will remain meaningless for you if you yourself do not penetrate into it with active love and if you do not in this way discover its meaning for yourself. Everything is waiting to be hallowed by you; it is waiting to be disclosed in its meaning and to be realized in it by you. For the sake of this your beginning, God created the world. He has drawn it out of himself so that you may bring it closer to him. Meet the world with the fullness of your being and you shall meet him. That he himself accepts from your hands what you have to give to the world is his mercy. If you wish to believe, love!

Bergson speaks of an "active mysticism." Where is this to be found, if not here? Nowhere else is man's essential doing so closely bound up with the mystery of being. And for this very reason the answer to the silent question asked by the modern world is found herein. Will the world perceive it? But will Jewry itself perceive that its very existence depends upon the revival of its religious existence? The Jewish State may assure the future of a nation of Jews, even one with a culture of its own; Judaism will live only if it brings to life again the primeval Jewish relationship to God, the world, and mankind.
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Re: The Writings of Martin Buber, edited by Will Herberg

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PART 5: Of Teaching and Learning

1. Teaching and Deed


Among all peoples. two kinds and lines of propagation exist side by side, for quite as continuous as the biological line, and parallel to it, is -- in the words of the philosopher Rudolf Pannwitz -- the line of the "propagation of values." Just as organic life is transmitted from parents to children and guarantees the survival of the community. so the transmission and reception. the new begetting and new birth of the spirit. goes on uninterruptedly. The life of the spirit of a people is renewed whenever a teaching generation transmits it to a learning generation. which. in turn. growing into teachers. transmits the spirit through the lips of new teachers to the ears of new pupils. This process of education involves the person as a whole. just as does physical propagation.

In Judaism, this cycle of propagation involves another and peculiar factor. In Israel of old. the propagation of values itself assumed an organic character and penetrated the natural life of the people. It is true that it does not imitate biological reproduction in guaranteeing the survival of the community as such; it only guarantees its survival as Israel. But can we drown out the voice which tells us that if our life as Israel were to come to an end. we could not go on living as one of the nations? We, and we only, once received both life and the teachings together, and in the selfsame hour became a nation and a religious community. Since then, the transmission of life and the transmission of the teachings have been bound together. and we consider the spiritual transmission as vital as bodily propagation.

The talmudic sages say: "He who teaches the tradition to his fellow-man is regarded as though he had formed and made him, and brought him into the world. As it is said (Jer. 15:19): 'And if thou bring forth the precious out of the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth.''' In this quotation from the Bible, God summons the prophet, who has just begged for help to wreak. vengeance on his foes, to the turning, to the conquest of his own hatred and repugnance, and promises him that if he turns, he will be allowed adequately to fulfil a divine action. And the "forming" and the "making" of the child in the womb (Jer. 1:5; Ps. 139:15) is counted among such divine action. The influence of the teacher upon the pupil, of the right teacher upon the right pupil, is not merely compared to, but even set on a par with, divine works which are linked with the human maternal act of giving birth. The inner turning of the prophet is an actual rebirth, and the educator, who brings the precious ore in the soul of his pupil to light and frees it from dross, affords him a second birth, birth into a loftier life. Spirit begets and gives birth; spirit is begotten and born; spirit becomes body.

Even today, in spite of all deterioration, the spiritual life of Jewry is not merely a superstructure, a nonobligatory transfiguration, an object of pride which imposes no duties. Rather, it is a binding and obligatory power, but one which attains to earthly, bodily reality only through that which it binds to the obligations of Jewish spiritual life. So profoundly is the spirit here merged with the physical life that even the survival of the community in time can be guaranteed only by both operating together.

But if we are serious about the simile of generation, we must realize that in spiritual as well as in physical propagation, it is not the same thing that is passed on, but something which acquires newness in the very act of transmission. For tradition does not consist in letting contents and forms pass on, finished and inflexible, from generation to generation. The values live on in the host who receives them by becoming part of his very flesh, for they choose and assume his body as the new form which suits the function of the new generation. A child does not represent the sum total of his parents; it is something that has never been .before, something quite unpredictable. Similarly, a generation can only receive the teachings in the sense that it renews them. We do not take unless we also give: In the living tradition, it is not possible to draw a line between preserving and producing. The work of embodiment takes place spontaneously; and that person is honest and faithful who utters words he has never heard as though they had come to him. for it is thus -- and not as if he had "created" them -- that such words live within him. Everyone is convinced that he is doing no more than further advancing that which has advanced him to this point; yet nonetheless he may be the originator of a new movement.

That this holds for Jewry is due to the intensity which time and again characterizes the encounters between generations. involving mutual and radical interactions and bringing forth changes in values as though they were not changes at all. In these recurring encounters between a generation which has reached its full development and one which is still developing. the ultimate aim is not to transmit a separable something. What matters is that time and again an older generation. staking its entire existence on that act, comes to a younger with the desire to teach. waken. and shape it; then the holy spark leaps across the gap. Transmitted content and form are subordinate to the tradition of existence as such, and become valid only because of it. The total, living, Jewish human being is the transmitting agent; total, living, Jewish humanity is transmitted. Tradition is concentrated in the existence of the Jew himself. He lives it, and it is he who approaches the new generation and influences it by producing the blend of the old and the new. Israel is inherent in these human beings; they are Israel. Israel is renewed, not by what they say, but by the totality of their existence.

We have already indicated that in our case teaching is inseparably bound up with doing. Here, if anywhere. it is impossible to teach or to learn without living. The teachings must not be treated as a collection of knowable material; they resist such treatment. Either the teachings live in the life of a responsible human being, or they are not alive at all. The teachings do not center in themselves; they do not exist for their own sake. They refer to, they are directed toward, the deed. In this connection, the concept of "deed" does not, of course, connote "activism," but life that realizes the teachings in the changing potentialities of every hour.

Among all the peoples in the world, Israel is probably the only one in which wisdom that does not lead directly to the unity of knowledge and deed is meaningless. This becomes most evident when we compare the biblical concept of hokmah with the Greek concept of sophia. The latter specifies a doled realm of thought, knowledge for its own sake. This is totally alien to hokmah, which regards such a delimitation of an independent spiritual sphere, governed by its own laws. as the misconstruction of meaning, the violation of continuity, the severance of thought from reality.

The supreme command of hokmah is the unity of teaching and life, for only through this unity can we recognize and avow the all-embracing unity of God. In the light of our doc· trine, he who gives life and gives that life meaning is wronged by a teaching which is satisfied with and delights in itself, which rears structures, however monumental, above life, and yet does not succeed in wresting even a shred of realization out of all the outer and inner obstacles we must struggle with in every precarious hour of our lives. For our God makes only one demand upon us. He does not expect a humanly unattainable completeness and perfection, but only the willingness to do as much as we possibly can at every single instant.

Man is a creature able to make spirit independent of physical life, and his great danger is that he may tolerate and even sanction existence on two different levels: one, up above and fervently adored, the habitation of the spirit; the other, down below, the dwelling of urges and petty concerns, equipped with a fairly good conscience acquired in hours of meditation on the upper level.

The teachings do not rely on the hope that he who knows them will also observe them. Socratic man believes that all virtue is cognition, and that all that is needed to do what is right is to know what is right. This does not hold for Mosaic man, who is informed with the profound experience that cognition is never enough, that the deepest part of him must be seized by the teachings, that for realization to take place his elemental totality must submit to the spirit as clay to the potter.

Here dualism is fought with the utmost vigor. "He who studies with an intent other than to act:' says the Talmud, "it would have been more fitting for him never to have been created" (Pal. Talmud, Shabbat 5b). It is bad to have teaching without the deed, worse when the teaching is one of action. Living in the detached spirit is evil, and worse when the spirit is one of ethos. Again and again, from the Sayings of the Fathers down to the definitive formulation of Hasidism, the simple man who acts is given preference over the scholar whose knowledge is not expressed in deeds. "He whose deeds exceed his widsom, his wisdom shall endure; but he whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, his wisdom shall not endure." And in the same vein: "He whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, what does he resemble? A tree with many boughs and few roots. A wind, springing up. uproots it, and overturns it. But he whose deed. exceed his wisdom, what does he resemble? A tree with few boughs. but many roots. Though all the winds in the world come and blow upon it, it cannot be moved." What counts it not the extent of spiritual possessions, not the thoroughness of knowledge, nor the keenness of thought, but to know what one knows, and to believe what one believes, so directly that it can be translated into the life one lives.

I repeat that in Judaism the true value of the deed has nothing to do with "activism:' Nothing is more remote from Judaism than the glorification of self-confident virtue. But Judaism knows that true autonomy is one with true theonomy: God wants man to fulfil his commands as a human being, and with the quality peculiar to human beings. The law is not thrust upon man; it rests deep within him, to waken when the call comes. The word which thundered down from Sinai was echoed by the word that is "in thy mouth and in thy heart" (Deut. 30:14). Again and again, man tries to evade the two notes that are one chord; he denies his heart and rejects the call. But it has been promised that a time will come when the Torah will be manifest as the Scripture present in the hearts of all living men. and the word will fulfil itself in the harmony of heaven and earth. In Jewry, the way which leads to that promised time, the way of man's contribution to ultimate fulfilment, is trodden whenever one generation encounters the next, whenever the generation which has reached its full development transmits the teachings to the generation which is still in the process of developing, so that the teachings spontaneously waken to new life in the new generation.

We live in an age when deeds tend to assert their superiority over the teachings. The present generation universally believes more and more unreservedly that it can get along without the teachings and rely on a mode of action which -- in its own opinion -- is correct. In an address I delivered years ago at a Zionist congress, in memory of our teacher Ahad Haam, I drew attention to the fact that "it is not only the official state politics that it freeing itself from spiritual teachings -- that has, on occasion, happened before -- but the internal popular movement, and national groupings, are also stressing their independence from spiritual teachings, and even regard independence as a warrant of success. And," I went on to say. "they are not entirely mistaken. The conduct of life without the teachings is successful: something is achieved. But the something thus achieved is quite different, and at times the very caricature, of what one is striving for at the bottom of one's heart, where the true goal is divined. And what then? As long as the goal was a pure goal, yearning and hope were dominant. But if in the course of being achieved, the goal is distorted, what then?"

The implied warning I intended for Jewry passed them by almost unnoticed -- as was to be expected. Although we are less able to get along without the teachings than any other community, a widespread assimilation of the errors of the other nations has been rampant among us for a long time. It is not my office to discuss what may happen to other nations because of their denial of the spirit. But I know that we, who believe that there can be no teaching apart from doing, will be destroyed when our doing becomes independent of the teachings.

A Jewish house of study -- that is a declaration of war upon all those who imagine they can be Jews and live a Jewish life outside of the teachings, who think by cutting off the propagation of values to accomplish something salutary for Jewry. A truly Jewish communal life cannot develop in Palestine if the continuity of Judaism is interrupted. Let me reiterate that such continuity does not imply the preservation of the old, but the ceaseless begetting and giving birth to the same single spirit, and its continuous integration into life. Do not let us delude ourselves: once we are content to perpetuate biological substance and a "civilization" springing from it, we shall not be able to maintain even such a civilization. For the land and the language in themselves will not support our body and soul on earth -- only land and language when linked to the holy origin and the holy destination. Moreover, in this crisis of humanity in which we stand at the most exposed point. the Diaspora cannot preserve its vital connection, which has so long defied history's attempt at severance, without recognizing and renewing the power the teachings possess, a power strong enough to overcome all corroding forces. For all that which is merely social, merely national, merely religious, and therefore lacking the fiery breath of the teachings, is involved in the abysmal problematic of the hour and does not suffice to ward off decay. Only the teachings truly rejuvenated can liberate us from limitations and bind us to the unconditional, so that spiritualized and spirited, united within the circle of eternal union, we may recognize one another and ourselves and, empowered by the fathomless laws of history, hold out against the powers moving on the surface of history.

Concerning the words of Isaac the patriarch, "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau" (Gen. 27:22), the Midrash tells this story. Delegates of the other nations were once dispatched to a Greek sage to ask him how the Jews could be subjugated. This is what he said to them: "Go and walk past their houses of prayer and of study ... So long as the voice of Jacob rings from their houses of prayer and study, they will not be surrendered into the hands of Esau. But if not, the hands are Esau's and you will overcome them" (Gen. Rabbah, on 27:22).

The teachings cannot be severed from the deed, but neither can the deed be severed from the teachings! Our tradition assigned quite as much importance to the one danger as to the other. The Talmud tells us that at a gathering of sages the question arose as to which was greater, deeds or teachings. And one of them, who seemed to share our point of view, said that deeds were greater. But Rabbi Akibll said: "The teachings are greater!" And all agreed, saying: "The teachings are greater, for the teachings beget the deed" (Bab. Talmud, Kiddushin 40b). This sounds like a contradiction of the assertions of the importance of action. But after we have more deeply pondered these assertions, we comprehend that the teachings are central, and that they are the gate through which we must pass to enter life. It is true that simple souls can live the true life without learning, provided they are linked to God. But this is possible for them only because the teachings, which represent just such a link to God, have, although they are unaware of it, become the very foundation of their existence. To do the right thing in the right way, the deed must spring from the bond with him who commands us. Our link with him is the beginning, and the function of the teachings is to make us aware of our bond and make it fruitful.

Again we are confronted with the concepts of continuity and spontaneity, the bond of transmission and begetting. The teachings themselves are the way. Their full content is not comprehended in any book, in any code, in any formulation. Nothing that has ever existed is broad enough to show what they are. In order that they may live and bring forth life, generation. must continue to meet, and the teachings assume the form of a human link. awakening and activating our common bond with our Father. The spark that leaps from him who teaches to him who learns rekindles a spark. of that fire which lifted the mountain o( revelation "to the very heart of heaven."
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