LIVE Elul Discussion, Week 4

There are a lot of things to see that we pass over every day — about ourselves, about those we love, about those we aren’t smart enough to love, and most of all about God and the clues of his recently having passed near . . .

Part of the definition of repentance is repenting not only of deeds but of falling short, not only of transgressing but also of failing to achieve what we could. We could see more about ourselves. We could better understand loved ones. We could notice and care about those we don’t notice.

And we could see more of God, experience more, seek something higher and deeper.

This is the last Wednesday night live Elul discussion for 5771 (2011). Tonight: thinking more deeply about God, realizing more of the heights so we know how much more repenting we have to actualize. Abraham Joshua Heschel and Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, will give us some heights to ponder, some overlooked means of finding the beatific vision. And the Wisdom of Solomon (author unknown) has a practical method to consider.

HOW IT WORKS: I will post a few texts and some of my reflections as a discussion starter. Discussion will happen in the blog comments until 10:00 p.m. Eastern time. Use the refresh icon on your browser to read as new comments come in.

IF YOU’RE A FIRST-TIME COMMENTER: WordPress will ask you to register. Sorry, but I can’t prevent that. And I will have to approve your first comment. But I will be doing that during the hour of discussion and your comment will appear.

IF YOU WANT TO JUST LURK: Please at least say hello and make a short comment. It will be more fun for all if most people at least say something.

RULES: This is discussion about repentance, mussar, High Holidays, and God. Anti-Jewish comments, rudeness, comments of excessive length, and similar misdemeanors will get you deleted. But I expect the best of those who show up and I doubt there will be any unpleasantness.

HESCHEL on deceiving ourselves about faith:

We often assume it is God we believe in, but in reality it may be a symbol of personal interests that we dwell upon.
God in Search of Man, ch. 1, “Self-Understanding of Judaism.”

HESCHEL on honesty with ourselves:

Rabbi Bunam of Przyscha used to give the following definition of a hasid. According to medieval sources, a hasid is he who does more than the law requires. Now this is the law: Thou shalt not deceive they fellow-man (Levit 25:17). A hasid goes beyond the law; he will not deceive even himself.

HESCHEL on seeing God in our surroundings:

The feeling caused by the sublime is astonishment . . . the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other . . . In contrast, the biblical man in sensing the sublime is carried away by his eagerness to exalt and praise the maker of the world.

Cry out unto God, all the earth,
Sing of the Glory of his Name,
Make his praise glorious;
Say unto God: how sublime are your works! (Psa 66:2-3)
-ibid., ch. 3, “The Sublime.”

[I’ll type more quotes in the comments since I’m running late . . . ]

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61 Responses to LIVE Elul Discussion, Week 4

  1. Derek Leman says:

    What we lack is not a will to believe, but a will to wonder.

    Awareness of the divine begins with wonder.

    –Heschel, God in Search of Man, ch. 4, “Wonder.”

  2. Derek Leman says:

    There is the man who fears the Lord lest he be punished in his body, family, or in his possessions. Another man fears the Lord because he is afraid of punishment in the life to come. Both types are considered inferior in Jewish tradition. Job, who said, ‘Though he slay me yet I will trust him,’ was not motivated in his piety by fear but rather by awe, by the realization of the grandeur of his eternal love.

    Fear is the anticipation and expectation of evil or pain . . . Awe, on the other hand, is the sense of wonder and humility inspired by the sublime or felt in the presence of mystery . . . that is why awe is compatible with both love and joy.
    -Heschel, ch. 7, “Awe.”

  3. Derek Leman says:

    Heschel says yirat Hashem should not be translated fear of God, but awe of God, and gives many reasons.

  4. Derek Leman says:

    He points out many things we could see around us that give the vision of God, but which we overlook constantly.

    What are things that should reveal God’s nature to us?

  5. Derek Leman says:

    Comment on anything related to repentance or High Holidays. I’d love to see some mussar quotes or thoughts on repentance. My interest tonight is concentrated on seeing more of God so we know more what to repent for and toward this year.

    What is the difference between repenting from and repenting toward?

    • TheRosebudHome says:

      repenting from:
      things i fall short in because of my laziness or casualness, i did exactly what i would not do, because of convenience or just plain lack of attention.

      repenting toward:

      leaving the past behind and pressing forward to the goal of Adonai , Messiah.

      i say this because it is what He has shown me and is most recently walking me through … it may very well be noted as i have “procrastinated”
      knowing what to do, and not getting it done.

      It hurts deeply because as much as i proclaim my complete AWE of Him, i have treated Him casually!

  6. Derek Leman says:

    I could go on typing Heschel quotes all night. But I’ll put in some Augustine now.

  7. Derek Leman says:

    What place is there within me where God can come? How can God come into me, God who made heaven and earth? O Lord my God, is there anything in me that can contain you? In truth, can heaven and earth, which you have made and in which you have made me, contain you? Or because without you whatever is would not be, does it not hold that whatever exists contains you? Since I do indeed exist, and yet would not be unless you were in me, why do I beg that you come to me?
    -Augustine, Confessions

  8. Derek Leman says:

    Really?? Is no one in on the conversation tonight?

  9. David Cook says:

    How many people out there are lurking and enjoying Derek’s quotes besides me?

  10. Rebecca says:

    Hi Derek, well…I am so totally convicted by the first quote from Heschel, and I am now very aware that if I had any wonder and awe it’s probably gone. I have been so consumed with what I don’t have, or by what I am not, or what I do, or don’t do, etc.

    What your talking about reminds of Yeshua’s words about having the faith of a child. Children seem to live in wonderment and awe of everything around them.

    You’ve given me alot to think about…

  11. Derek Leman says:

    David and Rivkah, good to see you.

    I read so much today and started typing too late. I will never type all the quotes that moved me in Heschel and Augustine today.

  12. Eudora09 says:

    Rebecca, I thought about children as well. My thoughts went to the awe and wonder that I felt at the birth of my children. Those were the moments that I felt the greatest sense of awe for the Eternal One. I need to figure out a way to keep that sense of awe with me on a daily basis.

  13. Derek Leman says:

    Bottom line is (though I will still type in a few more) that we have barely begun to search God out and look for signs of him around us. And as we repent this year, we can say that the goodness of God is something we’ve explored too little. The faith we have is too shallow. The depths we’ve gone to are not enough. The pure in heart see God. Why are we not seeing him more?

  14. Kimberly S Lewis says:

    Shalom, everyone, just saw a post on Facebook that the discussion was happening.

  15. Derek Leman says:

    We walk by things all the time that could reveal more of God to us. Children tend to notice little things. David (3 year old) says, “Mommy, why is she crying?” We didn’t notice the woman crying. He is tuned in. We are tuned out.

  16. Carrie McKinney says:

    I want to lurk, but putting my 8 yr old to bed…
    I will come back to read shortly.

  17. adi says:

    I wish I lived in Atlanta so I could sit and listen to Derrek talk over some good food and a bottle of wine..;) Always learning from you…thanks

  18. Derek Leman says:

    Hey, Kimberly, any thoughts on things about God we miss — in creation surrounding us, in the scriptures, in the people we see and know, anywhere?

  19. Derek Leman says:

    Carrie and Adi, thanks for joining us.

    Augustine, “Who will help me, so that you may come into my heart and inebriate it, to the end that I may forget my evils and embrace you?”

  20. Kimberly S Lewis says:

    Derek has a wonderful point; but, as Yeshua said we should be like children in Mattityahu 18:3, we should try and be more meek and refresh our ‘eyes’.

  21. Allison says:

    Lurking and now finally getting a chance to post…sorry it’s been so quiet here, Derek!

    You asked what things reveal G-d’s nature to us. This may sound strange, but to me, one of the main things that reveals G-d’s nature is the human ability to laugh and have a sense of humor. There’s a quote by Stephen Colbert where he says something along the lines of, “It’s impossible to laugh and be afraid of anything ever. If you’re laughing, I defy you to be afraid.” In laughter I feel the wonderful joy and awe of G-d.

  22. Shelly says:

    just showed up to lurk…

  23. Derek Leman says:

    Heschel talks about mystery, the sublime, and wonder. He says mystery is not what we can’t see, but what we see and don’t comprehend (he uses reason as an example — who can understand thought or reason?).

    The sublime is not simply what is large. The sublime is that which we see but are unable to convey.

    Wonder is a chief characteristic of a religious person. It is, according to the prophets, a form of thinking. It is seeing and asking. It is being open.

    • Herbert says:

      Largely we make the mistake of seeing wonder, sublime etc in magnificient, larger than life experiences and objects. Instead if we slow down and start seeing the beauty that is in the small stuff then we see eternity here and now.

      The best example I can think of is relearning to play guitar now. I am unlearning to play fewer notes, slower, focussing on groove than speed, focussing on melody than technique……I think I sound much better when I play like that

  24. Allison says:

    Also, the first Heschel quote you posted about deceiving ourselves about faith is both salient and cutting. I think a lot of people who think they are worshipping G-d are actually narcissistically worshiping themselves. I think that G-d is ultimately unfathomable, so for us to think that we can put Him/Her in a box and make him in OUR image are not really worshipping G-d. They want Him/Her to be as severely limited as they themselves are.

  25. Kimberly S Lewis says:

    Shalom Derek,
    Actually, I’ve been in college and have been in a Geology class, which started me on other research, in looking at our Solar System, all the Galaxies, etc. The consistency in the Laws of Nature everywhere, and just the sheer magnitude of how microscopic in detail creation is and the vast size of it. That HaShem works that kind of dedicated force in everything He does for us; from creating Adam, to Avraham, the prophets, to Yeshua; HaShem is overwhelming in splendor of thoughtfulness. Everything is deliberate and for a purpose, it’s mind boggling.

  26. Derek Leman says:

    Laughter is the music of heaven (the world to come). Sitting at the banquet table with well-aged wine, we will laugh and discover and know with all of our faculties.

    • Allison says:

      Amen to that. 🙂 I don’t dwell on whether there is an afterlife because I want to concentrate on enjoying this life and being a good person in it — but I think that if there IS a heaven, everyone’s just cracking up together up there.

  27. Derek Leman says:

    Kimberly, I take walks in the long forest trails of a park near my house. I walk 3-4 miles five days a week or more. I see so many “rock gardens” in the woods. I think about theories of geology and wonder: what are these rocks? Where did they come from? Why are they arranged the way they are? Would a geology class help me understand them? What does God have to do with these rocks?

  28. Derek Leman says:

    Speaking of rocks, Elizabeth Barrett Browning said something about seeing eternity in a grain of sand.

  29. Derek Leman says:

    Allison, about whether there is a world to come or not:

    “If I find in myself a desire which nothing in this world can satisfy, then I was made for another world.”
    -C.S. Lewis

    • Allison says:

      Interesting Lewis quote…he and I don’t agree on everything when it comes to theology but he was definitely a great writer! And he offers some very good viewpoints.

  30. Allison says:

    You asked about the difference between “repenting from” and “repenting toward.” I’d never even thought about “repenting toward,” but I really like that expression. It seems to me that repenting TOWARD something means not only being sorry for and atoning for our sins, but moving forward in a positive way. To acknowledge our failings and to work on correcting them, and to have both determination and self-compassion in doing so.

  31. Derek Leman says:

    Allison, you said “… the first Heschel quote you posted about deceiving ourselves about faith is both salient and cutting. I think a lot of people who think they are worshipping G-d are actually narcissistically worshiping themselves …”

    We all often and even regularly call “God” what is really our hope, our desire, usually some selfish thing we want. Time and time again we need to purify our vision and say, “Who is it I love, my God, is it really you or an image I am projecting?”

    • Allison says:

      Yes, yes, definitely. I try to ask myself that question but I often forget.

      It reminds me one of my favorite Kurt Vonnegut quotes, from his novel Cat’s Cradle: “She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks he sees what God is doing.”

  32. Shelly says:

    I reread all your first comments. It never made much sense to me to believe in and fear the Almighty because of the damage he could do….I’m much more awestruck on his mercy and his love. I think most of us are attracted to the merciful…the power behind forgiveness and atonement. It seems so much more intense to forgive than to punish. And although I know that there is a punitive aspect to G-d, it is not what I fear. It’s his mercy that brings me to my knees.

  33. Kimberly S Lewis says:

    It has helped me immensely in my study of the Tanakh and Brit’ Hadashah, especially when reading Yeshua and the prophets. You see the thing is, is that HaShem has everything to do with those rocks. You can feel how deliberate everything is, I mean He conscious of everything He created; how it will effect everything, what purpose it serves, how it will contribute to the bio-diversity of every creature. So, when your reading the Tanakh and you realize the journey G-d has taken with us, you know how INVOLVED, HE is.

  34. Carrie McKinney says:

    I identify with the ‘inferior’ fear based faith than the awe struck wonder faith that is much more lofty. What/how to repent if you struggle with deep existing anxiety and depression…..and always feel you can do better and feel like a failure. Maybe that’s a wrong vein of conversation…but it’s where I’m at.

  35. Derek Leman says:

    Allison, about “repenting toward.” This is a new realization I had this year in reading and preparing for the High Holidays. I may repeat it 50 times in my High Holiday sermons.

  36. Herbert says:

    Couldnt agree more with the Heschel quote about awe. I was taught that one of the definition of sin is that of a javelin missing its mark. More than my acts of commission the acts of omission have been lossful. And I can understand that in so many angles – even when it comes to healing and psychology, we always heal by not merely swallowing or accepting the evil that happened to us. Rather we find a greater vision for ourselves which dwarfs the tragedy that we have had to go thro. It is discovery of that sense of awe which is truly regenerating, Yaiy !

    • Kimberly S Lewis says:

      Yes, G-d has intently thinking about how we treat others, He does not want us to forget what has happened to us, He never forgets us as individuals. To love G-d, to love neighbors, to love our enemies; so He would want us to love ourselves, but as He loves. To Samuel, He they rejected me not you, and Yeshua, of course was rejected. So, we are to try and love as He loves and remember our pains, as He remembers His. I don’t think that we need to have greater vision of ourselves, but we do have to have a sober vision of Him, and once we have entered into that Faith, we are given Shalom.

  37. Derek Leman says:

    Carrie, not an inferior vein of conversation at all. A great one.

    Heschel gives specific and compelling reasons why what is usually translated “fear of God” means instead awe. He uses many citations from Job. He also says “awe of God” (usually rendered “fear of God”) is what Judaism considers the hallmark of a believer (whereas Christianity emphasizes belief, Judaism emphasizes yirat Hashem, or awe of God). But Heschel is not arguing against faith. He says faith comes out of yirat Hashem, which is the beginning (not the end) of knowledge.

  38. Derek Leman says:

    Herbert, I love it!! “a greater vision for ourselves which dwarfs the tragedy that we have had to go through.”

    God does not merely bring us to the world to come and make us forget our hurts. He redeems each one. So in the world to come, we will remember, but the memory will be of the hurts made right, redeemed, the harm undone and the greater good revealed. I don’t understand it. So not good at conveying it. I just believe it.

  39. Derek Leman says:

    Here is the quote I promised from Wisdom of Solomon 6:10:

    “They who keep holy the things that are holy will themselves become holy.”

  40. Derek Leman says:

    The meaning of Wisdom of Solomon 6:10 (which Heschel quotes in his chapter on awe):

    Sanctifying something (Sabbath, Rosh HaShanah, communion, reading the Bible, holding a child, whatever) is a choice. It is already holy (because it is in God). We choose to mark it so.

    Those who regularly mark worthwhile things as holy, practice holiness and are made holy. Those who light the candles on Friday night and say the blessing are calling holy what is holy. And we are changed by the practice of truth-telling.

  41. Carrie McKinney says:

    So if emuna comes from awe of Hashem and you feel only a tiny flame of awe that has survived many dark nights of the soul. How can one strengthen the awe and eschew the yetzer hara’s doubts that seem your own. I do better with child like interpretations BTW…Jeff is the Torah scholar in our house, not me. This is amazing I’m even posting on here. Lol

  42. Derek Leman says:

    Well, everyone, it is now 10:00.

    Any last thoughts?

  43. Derek Leman says:

    Carrie, be honest to yourself about your doubts. More to come.

  44. Carrie McKinney says:

    I like that… We are changed by the practice of truth telling…simple and profound

  45. Derek Leman says:

    To be a Hasid (pious one) says Heschel, is to be honest not only with others, but with yourself. Don’t hide from the doubt or hate it. Acknowledge it. Embrace it. Say, “I doubt you half the time, my God, but help my unbelief.”

    more to come…

  46. Carrie McKinney says:

    Yes, I agree with that. Thank you Derek.

  47. Derek Leman says:

    Heschel: “self-deception is the chief source of corruption in religious thinking, more serious than error.”

    “… the doubts of the unbeliever may be more helpful to the integrity of belief than the simple reliance on one’s own faith.”

    more to come …

  48. Derek Leman says:

    Realize that your doubts may have a source, perhaps an untruth. Perhaps God’s hiddenness is unpleasant to you. Perhaps you cannot wait until he comes out in the open. Faith is based on hope, looking to the future as well as the present. Hope is a tricky thing. How certain is hope?

    Consider the alternative. If God is not real, how do you explain so many things?

    Desire in and of itself suggests God, for he is the highest object of desire. Choosing to reject desire is a sad choice. There is no need for certainty or it would not be faith. Look with different eyes. See a different kind of knowledge.

  49. Derek Leman says:

    Carrie, Herman Melville (you know, the guy who wrote Moby Dick) referred to Jesus as the Man of Sorrows. Sadness is holy too. It is a holy reaction to the current reign of death and degeneration. It can be sweet sadness if we hope for redemption.

  50. Derek Leman says:

    Shalom and good night, my friends. Blessings and peace to all and may this High Holiday season take us higher and deeper.

  51. Cliff says:

    “They who keep holy the things that are holy will themselves become holy.”

    Brilliant. Was not home tonight, would have enjoyed being here. Shalom

  52. * says:


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