Apr 07 2017

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – The Word Most Precious

Published by at 9:55 am under Poetry

The Word Most Precious
by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

English version by Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi

Each single moment greets my life,
A message clear from timelessness.
All names and words recall to me
The word most precious: God!

Pebbles twinkle up like stars,
Silent raindrops echo true,
What all creation echoes too,
My Father, Teacher, word from You.

My All, Your Name is my safe refuge.
Without Your nearness I am naught,
So lonely, saddening, is that thought.

All I possess, is just this word —
If forgetfulness would snatch a name from me
Let it be mine not Thine,
So screams in dread that heart of mine.

With every word I nickname You,
I call you ‘Woods’ and ‘Night’ and ‘Ah’ and ‘Yes,’
With all my instants weaving sacred time
A bit of ever-always is my gift to You.

Would that for Eternity
I could celebrate a holiday for You.
Not just a day — a lifetime. Please!
How insignificant my thrift and gift

Of offerings and adoration.
What can my efforts do for You
But this: to wander everywhere and bear
a living witness that shows I care.

– from “Human, God’s Ineffable Name,” by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, freely rendered by Rabbi Zalman M. Schacter-Shalomi. Available from the Reb Zalman Legacy Project

/ Image by skylovekiss /

Each single moment greets my life

It has been too long since we’ve had a poem from the Jewish tradition, so I thought this poem by Rabbi Heschel would set a nice tone as we enter the spring holiday season.

Passover begins this Monday evening. Regardless of spiritual tradition, it’s a good time of year to recognize slavery in its many different forms, both external and internal, and to remember the ways each of us conducts our own personal Exodus toward freedom.

All names and words recall to me
The word most precious: God!

This poem is a beautiful meditation on how the specific — each moment, each word and each object — when approached with attention and presence, is really an echo of the eternal.

With every word I nickname You,
I call you ‘Woods’ and ‘Night’ and ‘Ah’ and ‘Yes,’

Continuously recalling this truth to our awareness, we then can experience the world, not as exiles from the divine, but turning each moment into an encounter with the divine.

Rabbi Heschel’s poem focuses on remembrance of God’s name, so central to Kabbalah, as it is in Muslim zikr, Hindu japa, even echoing in Christian practices of saying the rosary or the Jesus Prayer.

What I really respond to here is the depth of Rabbi Heschel’s understanding what the name of God is. “The word most precious” or the name of God is more than a name we have draped upon the Divine. It is not confined to any single word or combination of words. The true name of God is whatever directs our awareness Godward. Understood this way, anything, any single moment, approached with open awareness can become the name of God, re-introducing us into the Divine Presence.

Pebbles twinkle up like stars,
Silent raindrops echo true,
What all creation echoes too,
My Father, Teacher, word from You.

Recalling this truth becomes a “safe refuge,” maintaining our “nearness” to the eternal.

With all my instants weaving sacred time…

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
More Books >>

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel poetry, Jewish poetry Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Poland & US (1907 – 1972) Timeline

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was born in Poland to a family with respected rabbis on both sides of his family. He received his doctorate at the University of Berlin in the early 1930s. While in Berlin, he received a liberal rabbinic ordination and began to teach Talmud. He also joined a Yiddish poetry group and published several of his poems.

In the late 1930s, Rabbi Heschel was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to Poland. He briefly taught Jewish philosophy and Torah in Warsaw. Aided by an organization that helped Jewish scholars to emigrate, Rabbi Heschel escaped to London just a few weeks prior to the German invasion of Poland. His mother and one of his sisters were killed in the German invasion of Poland, and two other sisters later died in Nazi concentration camps.

Rabbi Heschel came to the United States in 1940, where he finally settled. He began to teach on Jewish ethics and mysticism.

In 1946, he married Sylvia Straus, a concert pianist.

Heschel’s approach looked to the mysticism and inner spiritual practices of Kabbalah, Hassidism, and medieval Jewish philosophy. He also emphasized social justice activism as a natural expression of the teachings of the Hebrew prophets. He played a prominent role in the US civil rights movements and protested the war in Vietnam.

Rabbi Heschel continued to teach, write, and engage in social activism until his death in 1972.

More poetry by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

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