Intimate Hymn

by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

English version by Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi
Original Language English, Yiddish

From word to word I roam, from dawn to dusk.
Dream in, dream out -- I pass myself and towns,
A human satellite.

I wait, am hopeful, as one who waits at the rock
For the spring to well forth and ever well on.
I feel as bright as if I tented somewhere in the Milky Way.
To urge the world to feel I walk through lonesome solitudes.

All around me lightning explodes sparks from my glance
To reveal all light, unveil faces everywhere.
Godward, onward to the final weighing
overcoming heavy weight with thirst.
Constantly, the longings of all born call out, "Is anyone around?"
I know each one is HE, but in my heart there writhes a tear;
When of men and rocks and trees I hear;
All plead "Feel us"
All beg "See us"
God! Lend me your eyes!

I came to be, to sow the seed of sight in the world,
To unmask the God who disguised Himself as world--
And yes, I wait to be the first to announce "The Dawn."


- from "Human, God's Ineffable Name," by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, freely rendered by Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi. Available from the Reb Zalman Legacy Project

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This poem speaks to me, especially to the person I was in my late teens and early 20s. It beautifully conveys the push and pull of the heart eager to break open, the soul eager to feel, the inner eye eager to truly see.

Relating to the world in this way can be disorienting, even frightening at first. Peering beneath the facades and behind the world's competitive normalcy, the seeing eye can't help but recognize a terrible ache everywhere present:

All plead "Feel us"
All beg "See us"


Everyone and everything yearns to be noticed, recognized, seen. There is a terrible spiritual hunger at the heart of reality: We all desperately want our existence to be validated in the eyes of another. Not just that we are, but who we are.

The seeker, the visionary, the artist, instinctively wants to be that witness. And so we make ourselves vulnerable in order to see and to feel honestly. But how are we not then overwhelmed by that pleading call coming at us from every direction? Rabbi Heschel gets right to the solution with his prayer--

God! Lend me your eyes!

The solution is to become an open conduit through which the boundaryless Divine can answer. We learn to see honestly, feel honestly, and step out of the way of the immensely honest response ready to pour through.

In this way, God unmasks God. Seeing through you God witnesses God. We complete the divine game of hide-and-seek in each other.

I came to be, to sow the seed of sight in the world,
To unmask the God who disguised Himself as world--
And yes, I wait to be the first to announce "The Dawn."


--

Rabbi Heschel was an important figure in modern Hassidic Jewish spirituality, and he was also a key figure in the US civil rights movement and anti-war movement of the 1960s.

I chose this poem today just as much to honor its translator, Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi. Reb Zalman, as he is often called, is himself a much-beloved spiritual teacher, peace-worker, author, and leader in inter-religious dialog. Although I don't know the details, I have heard that Reb Zalman is unwell. I hope you will join me in sending blessings and good wishes to this great soul.



Recommended Books: Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism The Prophets ABC News Classics: Rabbi Heschel (DVD) Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America
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Intimate Hymn