I ASKED FOR WONDER – Abraham Joshua Heschel

Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame.
I asked for wonder, and He gave it to me.*


by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

~ Review by Cindy

Taken from the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel, this collection of short excerpts was complied by Rabbi Samuel Dresner.

In his introduction Rabbi Dresner writes:

– Heschel’s writing is an embarrassment of riches. So compelling are his sentences that a paragraph literally chokes from wealth.

– He [Rabbi Heschel] had the gift for combining profundity with simplicity… startling the mind and delighting the heart…

Covering a wide spectrum of Heschel’s writings, this anthology is oresented in themes:

Reading Rabbi Heschel’s books can at times overwhelm and I have found that most often I can only think on one phrase or sentence at a time. Rabbi Dresner takes the overwhelming richness of Rabbi Heschel’s words and presents them to us in bite size pieces that one can sit and dwell on.

I was delighted that one of my favorites of Heschel’s passages begins this remarkable collection:

The Search for reason ends at the known; on the immense expanse beyond it only the sense of the ineffable can glide.
It alone knows the route to that which is remote from experience and understanding.
Neither of them is amphibious: reason cannot go beyond the shore, and the sense of the ineffable is out of place where we measure, where we weigh.
We do not leave the shore of the known in search of adventure or suspense or because of the failure of reason to answer our questions.
We sail because our mind is like a fantastic seashell, and when applying our ear to its lips we hear a perpetual murmur from the waves beyond the shore.
Citizens of two realms, we all must sustain a dual allegiance: we sense the ineffable in one realm, we name and exploit reality in another. Between the two we set up a system of references, but we can never fill the gap. They are as far and as close to each other as time and calendar, as violin and melody, as life and what lies beyond the last breath.

These words remind me of how much I will miss if I am unwilling to leave the shore.

Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business on great waters;
They have seen the works of the Lord,
And His wonders in the deep.**

A short book, only 158 pages, but a very deep read and one that does stretch you to go beyond the shore.

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* Preface in Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book of Yiddish Poems
** Psalm 107:23-24 – and see also Yesuha’s words in Luke 5:4

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