MAN IS NOT ALONE – Abraham Joshua Heschel

Not an emotion, a stir within us, but a power, a marvel beyond us, tearing the world apart.
The word that means more than universe, more than eternity, holy, holy, holy;

we cannot comprehend it.
We only know it means infinitely more than we are able to echo.
Staggered, embarrassed, we stammer and say: He, who is more than all there is,

who speaks through the ineffable, whose question is more than our minds can answer;

He to whom our life can be the spelling of an answer.


Man Is Not Alone

by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

In Man Is Not Alone, Rabbi Heschel expounds on man’s encounter with G-d and man’s response to that encounter. Peeling away the trivial, Rabbi Heschel’s words are a reminder that our Salvation is a who, not a what, and that the foundational reality of our faith is a relationship with G-d.

The pious man is possessed by his awareness of the presence and nearness of God. Everywhere and at all times he lives in His sight, whether he remains always heedful of His proximity or not. He feels embraced by God’s mercy as by a vast encircling space. Awareness of God is as close to him as the beating of his own heart, often deep and calm but at times, overwhelming, intoxicating, setting the soul afire.

Broken into two parts, 1 – The Problem of God and 2 – The Problem of Living, Man Is Not Alone is a colossal read, including topics such as: The Sense of the Ineffable, Radical Amazement, The Presence of G-d, Doubts, Faith, The Meaning of Existence, A Pattern for Living, The Problems of Needs, One G- d. It is far beyond the scope of a simple book review; but I do want to share a couple of nuggets.

In Man Is Not Alone, Rabbi Heschel equates the relationship of G-d and man to an English sentence. When you think of a sentence you think of a subject, a verb – that which the subject does – and an object – that which the subject acts upon. Often G-d is spoken of as if He is the object – the One we worship, the One we serve, the One we praise… but Rabbi Heschel turns us on our head. He says, G-d is not the object, man is. G-d always is the subject.

Thinking of God is made possible by His being the subject and by our being His object. To think of God is to expose ourselves to Him, to conceive ourselves as a reflection of His reality… To the philosopher God is an object, to men at prayer He is the subject. Their aim is not to possess Him, as a concept of knowledge… what they crave for is to be wholly possessed by Him, to be an object of His knowledge and to sense it. The task is not to know the unknown but to be penetrated with it; not to know but to be known to Him, to expose ourselves to Him rather than Him to us… His knowledge of man precedes man’s knowledge of Him, while man’s knowledge of Him comprehends only what God asks of man.

I love how Rabbi Heschel speaks of G-d as passionately in pursuit of a people. We don’t find G-d, G-d finds us. G-d is always the subject and we the object.

Even to the most basic, we love G-d because He first loved us.**

Rabbi Heschel speaks about death and of weaving the temporal into the fabric of eternity:

The greatest problem is not how to continue but how to exalt our existence. The cry for life beyond the grave is presumptuous, if there is not a cry for eternal life prior to our descending to the grave. Eternity is not perpetual future but perpetual presence. He has planted in us the seed of eternal life. The world to come is not only a hereafter but also a herenow.

Our greatest problem is not how to continue but how to return. “How can I repay unto the Lord all his bountiful dealings with me?” [Psalm 116:12]. When life is an answer, death is a home-coming. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” [Psalm 116:14].

…This is the meaning of existence: To reconcile liberty with service, the passing with the lasting, to weave the threads of temporality into the fabric of eternity.

The deepest wisdom man can attain is to know that his destiny is to aid, to serve…This is the meaning of death: the ultimate self-dedication to the Divine. Death so understood will not be distorted by the craving for immortality, for this act of giving away is reciprocity on man’s part for God’s gift of life. For the pious man it is a privilege to die.

What makes Rabbi Heschel’s writings so deeply meaningful is that he lived what he taught with integrity.

Man Is Not Alone is a deeply provocative book and a companion read to God In Search Of Man. Intensely earnest and warmingly sincere, Rabbi Abraham Heschel’s books – including Man Is Not Alone – are loving friends that one is drawn back to, time and time again.

~Review by Cindy

You can click on the link below to purchase Man Is Not Alone from
Man Is Not Alone : A Philosophy of Religion

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*1 John 4:19

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