THE HIDDEN SPARK OF HASIDISM IN MARTIN BUBER’S PHILOSOPHY OF DIALOGUE

by John Taylor

A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the California Institute of Integral Studies in partial fulfillment of the Requirements of the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy and Religion with a concentration in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness California Institute of Integral Studies San Francisco, CA 2009

Reproductions of small portions without economic gain AND with attribution are authorized. Complete copyright is retained by the author. Contact the author at: timetobeme@earthlink.net Your comments and suggestions are welcome

CERTIFICATE OF APPROVAL I certify that I have read The Hidden Spark of Hasidism in Martin Buber’s Philosophy of Dialogue by John Alan Taylor and that in my opinion this work meets the criteria for approving a dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy and Religion with a concentration in Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

___________________________________________________________ Robert McDermott, Doctor of Philosophy, Chair Professor, Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness

___________________________________________________________ Sophia Reinders, Doctor of Philosophy, Marriage and Family Therapist, Professor, East West Psychology

___________________________________________________________ Kenneth Paul Kramer, Doctor of Philosophy Professor Emeritus, Comparative Religious Studies

© 2009 John Taylor

John Alan Taylor California Institute of Integral Studies, 2009 Robert McDermott, Doctor of Philosophy, Committee Chair

THE HIDDEN SPARK OF HASIDISM IN MARTIN BUBER’S PHILOSOPHY OF DIALOGUE ABSTRACT
In the first lines of his classic I and Thou, Martin Buber reveals the two attitudes possible in interpersonal relations. Fundamental differences belong to each attitude. An I-It relation to any person or the world lives in the realm of functionality and manipulation. An I-Thou relationship to another person or the world lives in the open potential of the present moment. In such a relationship Buber sees the potential of the eternal becoming present in the temporal. This dissertation focuses on the life and thought of Martin Buber preceding his writing of I and Thou. It traces the development of his ideas through 1) the mystical thought and the Erlebnis-mysticism (experience based mysticism) of his life from his university career, 2) his studies and Hasidic writings in the early 1900s, and 3) his philosophy of dialogue as presented in I and Thou. The study demonstrates the consistent theme of Buber’s attempt to find the connection of the transcendent to the mundane through engagement in daily activities. Buber’s phrase “hallowing the everyday” can be traced directly to his interpretation of Hasidism, but it equally applies to each of the three stages of his thought: Erlebnis-mysticism, Hasidic teachings, and philosophy of dialogue. In following the common thread of Buber’s life through each of these three stages, it can be seen that his

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philosophy of dialogue depends on a hidden spark of Hasidism for its image of the person and meaning of life.

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Acknowledgements

Einstein said that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. For me it must also be said that these pages stand together because of the love and support of special friends these last few years. They have supported me and sometimes I felt as if they carried me until I could see clearly the value of my own thoughts and ideas. The ideas herein are my own, but this book has come together because of the love and support of many. Chief among them are Rod O’Neal, Linda Gibler, Jake Sherman, and Gregory Mengel. I would not be who I am today but for my relationship with each of you. Thank you. Heather Parrish and Doris Broekema, your supportive love and years of dialogue with me have borne fruit. When it felt I was alone on this path these are the people I turned to for support. Also supportive beyond words for me are Susan Spero, Marjorie Schwarzer, Melinda Adams, and the wonderful staff and students at JFKU. My sincere thanks go to Tony Grazio for exemplary assistance at the office which allowed me to take time off to concentrate on this work. Thanks for believing in me, supporting me, and encouraging me during this project. To my committee chair Robert McDermott I owe much. To Ken Kramer who helped clarify my ideas with insightful questions and loving dialogue, your influence is truly found within these pages, and within my heart. I will continue to learn from your words for years to come. To Sophia Reinders whose gracious wisdom gently revealed so much to me over the years, Namaste—which is to say, I bow to the divine I see through you. To all my friends who encouraged me to believe in myself and

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persevere in this goal, I am indebted. I hope that my life may in turn also support you in your journey. And to Toni DuBois, my unfailing friend these last twenty years, I never dreamed we would both celebrate our Ph.D.s the same year (ok, you were first!).

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Table of Contents

Abstract....................................................................................................................v Acknowledgements................................................................................................vii Dedication...............................................................................................................ix Introduction..............................................................................................................1 Biographical Highlights........................................................................................2 Methodology.........................................................................................................5 Historical Background...........................................................................................13 Mysticism circa 1900..........................................................................................16 Mystical Experience and Religious Language....................................................23 Hasidic Mysticism..............................................................................................25 Buber’s Hasidism................................................................................................26 Mystical Roots of Hasidic Community...............................................................39 Hasidism.............................................................................................................43 Das Zwichenmenschliche (the Between)............................................................46 Philosophy of Dialogue.......................................................................................48 Buber’s Early Mysticism 1899-1904.....................................................................53 Gustav Landauer.................................................................................................53 Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)..............................................................................54 Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) and Jacob Boehme (1575-1624)........................55 Mystical Union?..................................................................................................62 The New Community and Mystical Lived Experience.......................................70 Mystical Language..............................................................................................75 The Implications of Buber’s Mysticism.............................................................81 The Unified Life.................................................................................................83 Buber’s Hasidism...................................................................................................87 The Baal Shem Tov............................................................................................92 Teachings of the Baal Shem...............................................................................96 Hitlahavut—Ecstasy...........................................................................................97 Avoda—Service................................................................................................102 Kavana—Intention............................................................................................107 Creation and Redemption in Hasidism..........................................................108 Shiflut—Humility..............................................................................................111 ix

The Zaddik........................................................................................................118 Redemption.......................................................................................................124 Summary...........................................................................................................131 From Hasidism toward Dialogue.........................................................................133 Mehe and Buber’s Rejection of Mysticism......................................................136 War Spirit..........................................................................................................138 Critique by Landauer........................................................................................140 Toward a Philosophy of Dialogue....................................................................146 Buber’s Philosophy of Dialogue..........................................................................150 Original Relation...............................................................................................157 I-Thou Relationships.........................................................................................161 I-It Relations.....................................................................................................165 I-It Compared with I-Thou................................................................................168 The Between.....................................................................................................171 Distance in Relationship...................................................................................177 The Eternal Thou..............................................................................................180 Hallowing this Life...........................................................................................185 Hallowing Dialogue.............................................................................................193 Heart Searching.................................................................................................194 The Particular Way...........................................................................................195 Resolution.........................................................................................................196 Beginning with Oneself....................................................................................198 Not to be Preoccupied with Oneself.................................................................200 Here Where One Stands....................................................................................202 Meaning Between Persons...................................................................................205 Presence............................................................................................................207 Openness...........................................................................................................207 Reciprocity........................................................................................................208 Distance and Connection..................................................................................208 Wholeness.........................................................................................................209 Intention............................................................................................................209 The Eternal........................................................................................................210 Conclusion........................................................................................................211

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Reference List......................................................................................................213 Appendix A: Additional Works...........................................................................219

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Introduction
The distinction between religion and philosophy has often been disputed. It begins to clear, if at all, only after one spends years living and learning in each realm. For Martin Buber, both religion and philosophy were central issues in his writing. His religion never settled on any dogmatic statements. His philosophy never crystallized into a system of ideas. Both religion and philosophy were always questions for Buber that must be lived rather than codified. He was never able to provide a final word or conclusion for either. Near the end of his life he described his best efforts as “pointing the way,” not to a destination but toward the journey itself. He was primarily concerned with the close connection between one’s relation to one’s fellow person and one’s relation to God. His philosophy of dialogue, brought to the public in I and Thou in 1923, began his continuing and passionate writing on the significance of relationship. His previous interest and study of mysticism faded, but did not disappear, as he found life-giving meaning in understanding the value of relationship in authentic dialogue. Buber found the presence of the eternal refracted in authentic dialogue whenever a person opens the heart and mind to the true otherness of the other. For Buber, authentic relationships manifest a spark of the divine, and in every moment there exists the possibility of evoking the eternal. Buber’s life itself models the realization of eternal presence between intrapsychic experience and interpersonal relationships.

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Biographical Highlights There are several good biographies available on Martin Buber. The short biographical review presented here intends to assist the reader unfamiliar with touchstones of Buber’s life in order to trace the development of his ideas that are presented in this dissertation. Maurice Freidman is considered the most prominent biographer of Martin Buber in English with several biographies in print,1 and Grete Schaeder’s biographical history The Hebrew Humanism of Martin Buber places Buber’s life in a rich context of the changing world around him. Martin Buber was born in 1878 to a wealthy and respected Jewish family. His father Carl’s primary occupation was agriculture. When Martin was three years old, his mother disappeared; he did not see her again for thirty years. In retrospect Martin called this his first “mis-meeting.” Without a mother, Martin was sent to live with his grandparents, Solomon and Adele Buber. His grandfather owned significant properties, including mines and farms. He spent his time as a businessman and interpreter of rabbinic literature. Solomon Buber was well respected for his published interpretations of scripture. Martin’s grandmother insisted on private tutors for him, emphasizing language and humanities studies, at which Martin excelled. Although raised in a practicing Jewish household, after his bar-mitzvah, at which he lectured on a philosophical text of Frederick Schiller rather than interpreting a section of the Hebrew Scripture, Buber left the traditions of Judaism behind in favor of humanism during his university studies.

Friedman, Maurice S. Martin Buber: The life of dialogue, 1955. Buber’s Life and Work, 1981. Encounter on the narrow ridge: A life of Martin Buber, 1991.
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In 1897, Buber, fully supported by his father and grandparents, studied literature, the history of art, and philosophy for two semesters at the University of Vienna. In 1898 he identified himself as a Zionist, which proved to be a shortlived stage of his life. He also studied at the University of Leipzig and in the summer of 1899 at the University of Zurich. In 1899 at a Germanics seminar at the University of Zurich, he met Paula Winkler, whom he later married. By 1899 Buber was involved in the New Community where he met Gustav Landauer, who encouraged Buber to change his university studies from literature and art history to philosophy and mysticism. In 1904 Buber presented his dissertation entitled “The history of the problem of individuation” to the University of Vienna and was awarded his doctoral degree. By 1906 Buber had disavowed the fragmenting politics of the Zionist movement and had already spent years studying Hasidism,2 resulting in the publication of his Teachings of Rabbi Nachman in1906 and Legends of the Baal-Shem in 1908. His compilation of mystical writings, collected while researching for his dissertation, was published as Ecstatic Confessions in 1909. As a spokesman for modern Judaism since his college days, and as an editor for the Jewish journal Der Jude, he published many of essays throughout his early years on a wide variety of Jewish issues, including the preface to Die Gesellschaft (The Society) in 1906, in which he first used the term “between.” His novel Daniel, considered a stepping-stone from his earlier
Hasidism refers to several unrelated groups of Jews whose commitment was to the realization of piety in their relation to the divine in this earthly life. Buber specifically uses it to refer to the followers of the Baal Shem Tov (1710-1760), a charismatic Jew of Eastern Europe. The term is derived from the Hebrew hesed which Buber defines as “gracious one” with direct reference to the loving-kindness of God toward all His creation. It also is translated “pious” though not in a specifically religious sense. see Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, 212.
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mysticism toward his philosophy of dialogue, was published in 1913. In 1914 his significant conversation with a solider named Mehe occurred, and became the symbol of his transition in his subsequent writings. For Buber, this conversation marked a transition from the practice of reverie and mystical experience to the authentic encounter with the person at hand, discussed throughout his philosophy of dialogue. His lectures and publications concerning the Great War (1914-1918) demonstrate a significant change of attitude, pivoting around the conversation he had with Landauer in 1916. At the beginning of the war, he supported the idealistic potential for social change exemplified by personal engagement in battle. After Landauer critiqued his published thought on the war in 1916, his writings express more awareness of the personal terror of war, rather than his earlier metaphysical statements about the conflict. By 1918 notes on an outline exist for a work he planned to write entitled The Confronted and the Between. Themes in his notes suffice to identify the final work as the 1922 series of lectures “Religion as Presence.” After significant reorganization and re-writing, this lecture series was published as I and Thou in 1923. Although he expected to explore new ideas in his future writings, his 1938 emigration from Germany to Palestine rekindled his Hasidic roots. In 1948 he published six essays he gave as a series of lectures to a group of spiritual retreatants as The Way of Man: According to the Teachings of Hasidism. In 1958 he continued publishing on Hasidism in Hasidism and Modern Man, and his Hasidic novel For the Sake of Heaven. The Origin and Meaning of Hasidism

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followed in 1960. Hasidism remained a major influence on his life, his thinking, and his philosophy of dialogue. Methodology This dissertation approaches Martin Buber’s writing with a dialogical methodology. Within the realm of the theoretical, I take an interpretive relation to his writings to bring forward new insight. In so doing I stand within the tradition of scholarship which includes Martin Buber’s interpretation of Hasidism and Gershom Scholem’s subsequent interpretation of Kabbalah.3 Martin Buber approached the Hasidic texts from within his Jewish heritage and his sympathy with mysticism. He published these legendary stories to evoke not only their Jewish sensibility, but also to rekindle an engagement with spirit in each reader. Gershom Scholem’s commitment to objectivity in historical research brought him to the same period of Jewish history with an entirely different purpose. Scholem declared that Buber’s preference for legends as primary source material "reveals a methodological principle of approach which I consider more than questionable."4 He concluded his critique of Buber by saying that if we are to understand the actual phenomenon of Hasidism "we shall, I am afraid, have to start all over again."5

Literally translated, kabbalah means “what has been received through tradition.” It refers to the mystical theology of Judaism which seeks to set in balance the physical and spiritual worlds. see Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, 213 and Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, 1.
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Scholem, “Martin Buber’s Hasidism,” 308. Scholem, “Martin Buber’s Hasidism,” 316.

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Within the realm of the relational, Buber’s primary goal was not the understanding of Hasidism per se, but his encounter with the eternal truth he found present in the Hasidic teachings. His engagement with the Hasidic teachings and the truth they reveal grew to become a dialogue with the text itself, and became his method of interpretation of the texts. He anticipated the hermeneutic principle of Hans Georg Gadamer, who in his book Truth and Method, describes scholarly research as “a conversation with the text” from which the reader emerges transformed.6 Though this line of thought is distinctly reminiscent of Buber’s contribution of the philosophy of dialogue, Gadamer relies not on Buber, but on Plato to make his point.7 Steven Kepnes follows Gadamer’s insight with his hermeneutic interpretation of Buber and Scholem to appreciate that each author extracts from Hasidism that which is necessary to highlight the spiritual wisdom appropriate to demonstrate his point. Kepnes finds room for both interpretations, declaring that neither author is exempt from preconceptions, nor is it desirable to be.8 Following Gadamer and Kepnes’ dialogical hermeneutic, I embrace the approaches of both Buber and Scholem, even though in tension with each other, as appropriate responses to Hasidism. Focusing on Buber’s Legend of the Baal Shem, I demonstrate the unique personality of this text which expects each reader to position him or herself in a relationship of participation. This prepares the way

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Gadamer, Truth and Method, 245ff. Kepnes, “A Hermeneutic Approach,” 92. Kepnes, “A Hermeneutic Approach,” 92.

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for a similar investigation of Buber’s seminal work, I and Thou, from which his philosophy of dialogue grew. My interpretive method also embodies my conversation with the text, and allows the text to change me in the process. Rather than seek a historically accurate understanding of the times of the Baal Shem, as did Rosman in Founder of Hasidism, I follow Buber’s dialogical engagement with the text responding to it ever anew. Working with Buber’s thoughts has required the analysis of my own culture and language with an openness that demanded personal change as a response. Authentic dialogue is not possible without authentic listening, and I have worked to listen carefully to the text. Buber hoped that by bringing the legends of the Baal Shem to the modern world he could stir up the spark of Jewish religiosity—“a life that bears witness to God, that, because it is lived in His name, transmutes Him from an abstract truth into a reality.”9 Through every person the mystical reality of otherness brings into actuality encountering the eternal. Approached authentically, dialogue has become more present in my life because of my encounter with Buber’s writings. This dialogue has affected my life in ways recognized, and unrecognized. My dialogue with the text as a method of study brings a flexibility to research that allows the writing to be more than just ink on page, or sage historical ideas; it allows the text to speak and require a response. This relationship with the text allows the humanness of the author to influence the reader through his writings long after he is gone. Such a connection with the author brings to life an I-Thou relationship between the text and reader. Only after such an encounter with
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Buber, On Judaism, 12.

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Buber’s ideas—only after an experience of I-Thou which reveals the eternal Thou —can a comparison of the mystical content of I and Thou be juxtaposed to Buber’s early Hasidic works. Within the context of a lived relationship to Buber’s writings an examination of the mystical themes and the daily life experiences described by Buber leads to a more authentic understanding of his writings. From this perspective it becomes apparent in both Buber’s early writings and his later philosophy of dialogue that the transcendent and the immanent are potentially present in the details of daily life, when we open our hearts and eyes. Undoubtedly, applying this methodology to the entire corpus of Buber’s writings would find that he consistently strove to genuinely encounter others presence throughout his lifetime, but I have limited myself to his early mysticism, Hasidic writings, and his philosophy of dialogue. I do not address his later writings on educational pedagogy, which would not easily fit in either a manipulative I-It relation or the mutual reciprocity of an I-Thou relationship. Buber describes the role of teacher and student as a managed relationship in which the teacher remains responsible for guiding the thinking of the student, and thus not an interaction of equals. I also omit his psychological conversations and writings, albeit quite interesting in their own right and significant in their correspondence to Rogerian therapy and influential to other psychotherapeutic modalities. After moving to Jerusalem his writings on politics and the formation of the Israeli nation continue his theme of openness and dialogue as is evidenced in his proposal to include both Palestinian and Jew in any new government. His ideas were not well accepted and limited the role he was allowed in Israeli

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politics, though he continued to be in conversation with individuals within the government throughout his lifetime.

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To lay a foundation of understanding Buber’s lifelong search for a bridge connecting the transcendent and the mundane, I first look at publications describing mysticism that were popular in that time. William James sets the academic description of mysticism; Evelyn Underhill the popular. Both were well known writers in their day whose books have stood the test of time. The Historical Background chapter attempts to frame a contemporary understanding of mysticism when Buber was at the university, and provides a conceptual background for his engagement with mysticism The following chapter, Buber’s Early Mysticism, outlines Buber’s youthful enthusiasm with mysticism as represented by his dissertation, friendship with Gustav Landauer, and his role in the New Community. He was at that time very interested in mysticism and its role in human life. He intended even at this early stage to live a life grounded in a practical mysticism. The next chapter, Buber’s Hasidism, begins with his relationship to the Zionist movement souring. At this time in his life a new stage begins. He returns to his Jewish heritage to study the Baal Shem Tov and the Hasidic movement of Eastern Europe from 1750-1810. As a result of years of study, Buber publishes the first interpretation/translation of Hasidic legends for modern European Jews.

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His Hasidism brings to light the primary themes of Hasidic Judaism which entranced him so much that he said that its blood flowed through his veins. The short chapter From Hasidism toward Dialogue sets out the transition in Buber’s metaphysical outlook during the era of the Great War. Though he records a single conversation with a single soldier to be the impetus of his transformation, history reveals a far more nuanced and complex transition. Buber’s relationship with Gustav Landauer during the tumultuous war years had profound impact on Buber’s ideas and subsequent writings. The next chapter, Buber’s Philosophy of Dialogue, initiates a third stage. At first the basic concepts within Buber’s philosophy of dialogue are presented without reference to Hasidism. His primary words I-It and I-Thou, and the concept of the eternal Thou shed light into Buber’s philosophical thinking in I and Thou. The Hallowing Dialogue chapter finds that Buber returned to study and write on Hasidism revealing—and herein lies the ultimate focus of the study—the hallowing10 of dialogue. Buber’s interest never left Hasidism. The primal concepts of relationship that began in his early Hasidic writings and matured in his philosophy of dialogue reappear even more directly as spiritual teachings concerning relationship and finding meaning in life. The final chapter, Meaning Between Persons, identifies six core characteristics of Buber’s lifelong attempt to bind the sacred and profane in

Buber uses the term “hallowing” not in the customary denotation of setting something aside for sacred use, but instead, by reverently using it, to reveal its inherent sacred dimension.
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personal relationships. The dissertation concludes with a summary of these central concepts which remained consistent from his early Hasidic writings through his philosophy of dialogue. * * * * *

In the second English translation of I and Thou, Walter Kaufmann expresses his dissatisfaction with the translation of the German Du to the English Thou. He states, Thou and You are not the same. Nor is Thou very similar to the German Du. German lovers say Du to one another, and so do friends. Du is spontaneous and unpretentious, remote from formality, pomp, and dignity. What lovers or friends say Thou to one another? Thou is scarcely ever said spontaneously. Thou immediately brings to mind God.11 For me, neither You nor Thou is an adequate translation of the German Du. You remains too common a usage, without any assumption of respect or even recognition, as in “Hey, you!” when chasing after a thief on the street. This You has no place in Buber’s I-Thou relationship. With equally inappropriate inferences Thou implies a reverence not often visible in interpersonal relationships. In English people are more likely to coin nicknames for one another to demonstrate intimacy in relationships. Most often in my experience the intimacy of Thou is said without words. You lacks this intimacy. Thou includes a reverence of the other which is critical to Buber’s thoughts. As Kaufmann reminds, Buber’s central desire is to make the secular sacred.12 For me, Thou comes far closer than You to representing this potential relationship between

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Buber, trans., Kaufmann, I and Thou, 14. Buber, trans., Kaufmann, I and Thou, 23.

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persons. Thou reminds that the divine can exist in how we relate to each other. Thou implies a reverence of the other, and in so doing invites the eternal Thou into each relationship. Because I find Thou more consistent with the Buber’s central theme, I prefer Thou as the translation of Du and will use Thou throughout this dissertation.

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Historical Background
In his more than sixty years of writing, Martin Buber's work always exhibited a consistent relationship to the Hasidic Jews of the eighteenth century. Hasidism has its roots deep in the mystical tradition of Kabbalah, but in the eighteenth century brought forth a unique communal enthusiasm which exercised a profound impact on most European Jews. This Hasidic Judaism forms the foundation and enduring influence of Buber's thinking, even when unmentioned in the text. Grete Schaeder sees in Buber’s earliest writings on Hasidism the seminal ideas that would become his famous theory of dialogue expressed in I and Thou.13 Though Buber continued writing about Hasidism throughout his career, after World War I a theme of relationship began to arise in his work and ultimately became his philosophy of dialogue. Buber was the first significant writer to popularize Hasidic Judaism. His interpretation stood unchallenged for almost forty years until near the end of his career when Gershom Scholem began to critique the historical accuracy of Buber's Hasidism. Scholem argued that Buber’s source material—the myths and legends—were an inaccurate depiction of Hasidic beliefs. Scholem argued that Buber distorted Hasidism in order to more easily illustrate his message.14 A public disagreement continued until Buber's death and beyond. Many authors have brought their experience and perspective to this conflict of opinion in an attempt to resolve it. Some authors, such as Grete Schaeder, significantly agree with
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Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 55. Scholem, “Martin Buber’s Hasidism,” 308.

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Buber while others, particularly Rivka Schatz-Uffenheimer, support Scholem's critique.15 Michael Oppenheim brings a conciliatory position.16 Steven Kepnes brings new scholarly methods to the conversation, citing Heidegger, Gadamer, and Jung to understand the dynamics of this argument.17 Kepnes explains that Buber applied his own methodology of dialogue to the Hasidic texts he translated. In so doing, Kepnes opens a new facet of relationship between text and reader in Text as Thou. Moshe Idel explores the original documents of Hasidism, revising many of Scholem’s sources with very different findings.18 Disputing Scholem, Idel finds a significant record of Jewish mystical union exists in the Hasidic literature. As the understanding of the historical documents of Hasidism grows more detailed and more complex, Idel finds both mythical and magical activities to be normative in Hasidic literature. In his search for the historical Baal Shem, Moshe Rosman offers the most historically detailed understanding of the life and time of the Baal Shem available in print.19 He digs into city records and discovers a well established and respected Baal Shem paying tax in the prosperous and politically enlightened city of Miedzyboz. His research offers new insight into the Jewish communities and a significant re-definition of the title Baal Shem. Martina Urban recently published her study identifying a “hermeneutics of renewal” in Buber’s presentation of Hasidism. She also highlights his incomplete and often
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Schatz-Uffenheimer,”Man’s Relation to God” 404. Oppenheim, “The Meaning of Hasidut”, 410. Kepnes, “A Hermeneutic Approach,” 92. Idel, Hasidism, 29. Rosman, Founder of Hasidism, 4.

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inadequate representation of the Hasidism of history.20 According to Urban, Buber often omits as much significant information about the practices of the Hasidim as he includes, and thus biases the history in order to lay the foundation for the “rediscovery of Judaism as a spiritually meaningful mode of being.”21 Throughout the recent research Buber’s early depiction of Hasidism weathers the storm of controversy and remains afloat, but with an understanding that he did not present the whole picture of Hasidism, only enough to support his purpose—to rekindle the soul-force of Judaism to see God in each created thing and reach toward God through each pure deed. In this dissertation I describe Buber’s lifelong interest in the presence of the eternal in immanent events in three stages: 1) his early Erlebnis-mysticism (experience based mysticism), in which transcendent reverie plays a significant role; 2) his study of Hasidism, and the ethical mysticism revealed in Hasidic tales; and 3) the mystical presence in his philosophy of dialogue. Through all three stages there runs a common thread identifying the role of the person in encountering the eternal in potentially any aspect of daily living. In his early writings the emphasis lies on the intrapersonal, the transcendent reverie, and experiencing each moment. In his philosophy of dialogue the emphasis transitions to the relationships between persons. To understand the similarities in these three stages of development in Buber’s thinking and the distinction of the role of the

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Urban, “Hermeneutics of Renewal,” 19ff. Urban, “Hermeneutics of Renewal,” 52.

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person in each, a short historical review will explore the human capacity for mystical experience that Buber explored throughout his life. Mysticism circa 1900 William James’ Gifford lectures of 1901-1902, published as Varieties of Religious Experience set the standard for understanding the human religious consciousness at the turn of the century. Looking broadly at religious experience he suggests our normal consciousness, rational consciousness a we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.22 Evelyn Underhill, in Mysticism later argues that though our capacity to perceive the world appears immutable, that capacity is not fixed but quite flexible. Should our perceptive capacity change, the world we experience would change in parallel. Her research on Christian mystics led her to report “mystics claim that in their ecstasies they change the conditions of consciousness, and apprehend a deeper reality.”23 Having canvassed the literature of mysticism, albeit with a distinctively Christian bias, Underhill described the mystical experience as: a gradual and complete change in the equilibrium of the self. It is a change whereby that self turns from the unreal world of sense in which it is normally immersed, first to apprehend, then to unite itself with Absolute Reality: finally, possessed by and wholly surrendered to this Transcendent Life, [the mystic] becomes a medium whereby the spiritual world is seen in a unique degree operating directly in the world of sense. In other words, we are to see the human mind advance from the mere perception of phenomena, through the intuition—with occasional contact—of
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James, Varieties, 305. Underhill, Mysticism, 31.

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the Absolute under its aspect of Divine Transcendence, to the entire realization of, and union with, Absolute Life under its aspect of Divine Immanence.24 The mystic bridges the chasm—the apparent separation—of self and other in the unitive state. According to Underhill, the mystic is the meeting-place between two orders. On the one hand he knows, and rests in, the eternal world of Pure Being present to him in his ecstasies, attained by him in the union of love. On the other, he knows—and works in—that “stormy sea,” the vital World of Becoming which is the expression of Its will.25 Bridging the gap between being and becoming, between the transcendent and the mundane, between self and other, and between passivity and activity, lies at the core of the unitive experience. It has also been called the journey of return to the source. For the mystic, this journey is a hunger of both heart and intellect for ultimate truth.26 Underhill also asserts that mystics consider this unitive experience to be the only secure path to knowledge of reality. Yet knowledge is a misleading word here. Mystics may or may not (typically not) return from the unitive experience with any objective information, but perhaps with a kind of insight which William James calls noetic. At the very least, they return with an assurance of divine love for them and for every individual. What mystics know from such experiences, they know without the intellect, but they know it undeniably. James asserts that mystical knowledge can only be considered authoritative for those who achieve it firsthand; yet the transformed lives of the

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Underhill, Mysticism, 174. Underhill, Mysticism, 36. Underhill, Mysticism, 72.

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mystics authenticates the validity of alternative states of consciousness and our relationship to something more than our senses perceive.27 The mystical goal is to know reality, not through the senses or rational thought, but through direct experience. The mystical literature records that when such experience occurs mystics often describe their experiences as the dissolution of self and its absorption into an undifferentiated oneness. It is an experience of all things without a particular perspective, without the definition of a self from which to view all other things. Without this sense of separated self, the whole world expresses itself as a single thing—the One. In such a state of consciousness the multitude of things rationally perceived as separate are perceived as a single expression. Admittedly, the word expression implies some thing or person behind the manifestation that does the expressing, which may be an inaccurate or incomplete implication. The question of whether or not there is something more behind the experience delivers the description of the experience into the hands of language and interpretation rather than remaining a pure experience. In such a description, language fails. Meister Eckhart defines this something more behind the unitive experience—the reality behind the multiplicity—as the Godhead, which he sees as different from the creative God. Ruysbroeck describes that same reality as “Tranquility according to His essence, activity according to His nature: perfect stillness, perfect fecundity.”28 Because the unitive experience is a personal rather than an objective experience each person senses it in uniquely personal

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James, Varieties, 414. Underhill, Mysticism, 37.

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ways. Intellectual understanding does not predominate in this non-rational consciousness. To achieve this unitive state of consciousness, mystical traditions almost universally describe the need to set aside the ego, to eliminate sensory input, and to silence all thoughts. Mysticism implies the abolition of individuality; of that hard separateness, the “I, Me, mine” which makes of man a finite isolated thing. It is essentially a movement of the heart, seeking to transcend the limitations of the individual standpoint and to surrender to ultimate Reality; for no personal gain, to satisfy no transcendental curiosity, to obtain no other-worldly joys, but purely from an instinct of love.29 The state of self-dissolution and unity with the One is not usually attained through a simple or quick process. Underhill sees that process as a journey involving a series of states that oscillate between pleasure and pain that may ultimately result in the unitive experience.30 The journey begins with a primary break from dependence on the sensory-intellectual world assumed to be true reality. This developing consciousness culminates in a life lived in closer and deeper dependence on the divine: “a conscious participation, and active union with the infinite and eternal.”31 Dionysius the Aeropagite in the fourth century similarly said that “heavenly Truth is accessible only through unceasing and absolute renunciation of
Underhill, Mysticism, 71. In the early twentieth century it was acceptable to refer to humanity in the singular word man. Recognizing the inappropriateness of this omission of the feminine, I have attempted to include men and women in my use of the words person and individual. When using direct quotations, I have retained the inappropriately gendered original language.
29 30

Underhill, Mysticism, 168. Underhill, Mysticism, 4.

31

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the self and all things.”32 Mysticism is the only science, in that word’s original meaning as a method of knowing, to postulate the existence of the Absolute and an essential human relationship to the Absolute. Indeed, the lives of the great mystics throughout history manifest this essential relationship to the Absolute and reveal possible steps toward its attainment. Inherent in mysticism is the undeniable, yet improvable certainty that “the spirit of man, itself essentially divine, is capable of immediate communion with God, the One Reality.”33 This journey toward ultimate oneness appears in all cultures. The various descriptions throughout the world have significant similarities and illustrative differences which suggest the experience to be both universal and at least to some degree culturally determined. The experience of oneness can also be found in non-religious settings as well. In the third century BCE, Plotinus reports his experience of it in these words: No doubt we should not speak of seeing, but instead of seen and seer, speak boldly of a simple unity. For in this seeing we neither distinguish nor are there two. The man … is merged with the Supreme, one with it. Only in separation is there duality. This is why the vision baffles telling; for how can a man bring back tidings of the Supreme as detached when he has seen it as one with himself.34 Even though the experience of oneness may be found in all cultures, its description and interpretation varies from culture to culture. Although there is no universal uniformity, there are consistently recurring themes. For example, Plotinus, famous for his description of the mystical state as “the flight of the alone
32

Rolt, Dionysius the Aeropagite, 191. Underhill, Mysticism, 23. Plotinus, Enneads 6.9.11.

33

34

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to the Alone” also describes it as “a liberation from all earthly bonds, a lift that takes no pleasure in earthly things.” Eckhart agrees with Plotinus’ use of flight and aloneness as a metaphor of the soul’s journey to God. Eckhart describes his experience saying, The human spirit scales the heaven to discover the spirit by which the heavens are driven…. Even then it presses on further into the vortex, the source in which the spirit originates. There the spirit in knowing has no use for number, for numbers are of use only in time, in this defective world. No one can strike his roots into eternity without being rid of the concept of number…. God leads the human spirit into the desert, into his own unity which is pure One.35 In this account Eckhart abandons time and space as relative concepts that are appropriate only to the mundane world and irrelevant to the unitive mystical experience. Even more directly he says that Nothing hinders the soul’s knowledge of God as much as time and space, for time and space are fragments, whereas God is one! And therefore, if the soul is to know God, it must know him above time and outside of space; for God is neither this nor that, as are these manifold things. God is One!36 Eckhart takes this mystically won knowledge and uses it in his sermons as the basis of a revelation of God’s desire for everyday human behavior. From his mystical experience he extracts the insight that the aspiring soul needs to step outside of time and space in its relationship to all things so that nothing can separate it from the ever-present love of God. Concerning space, Eckhart claims, that as heaven is equidistant from earth at all places, so likewise every soul ought to be equidistant from every earthly thing and behave the same in love or
35

Meister Eckhart, 118. Meister Eckhart, 131.

36

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suffering, abundance or lack, regardless of attraction or connection to worldly items and events. The soul “should be as dead, or dispassionate.”37 Concerning time, Eckhart teaches that the soul must lose itself and consciousness of all temporal things to experience the consciousness of God. In losing itself, the soul finds itself again in God knowing itself and all else in divine perfection.38 Eckhart’s interpretation of his mystical experience offers a divine meaningfulness to daily life. The unitive experience does not ultimately separate the mystic from daily life, but supports finding greater meaning in daily living. The unitive experience is not of this world, but it brings something back into this mundane world. Eckhart is very clear in the unitive capacity of the human spirit. Yet statements like these draw the enmity of dogmatic religious traditionalists in all times. Despite such opposition, Eckhart’s view that the divine is the source and ground, sharing essential qualities with the human spirit, continues to influence believers. In the mystic view, the divine spirit has the capacity to permeate the human spirit because both are expressions of the divine source. Jacob Boehme, a Christian mystic of the sixteenth century whose writings appeared in Buber’s dissertation and influenced his thought during his college years, describes the shared unity of essence between God and human being through the metaphor of iron and fire. Behold a bright flaming piece of iron, which of itself is dark and black, and the fire so penetrates and shines through the iron, that it
37

Meister Eckhart, 130. Meister Eckhart, 131.

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gives light. Now, the iron does not cease to be; it is iron still: and the source of the fire retains its own propriety: it does not take the iron into it, but it penetrates (and shines) through the iron; and it is iron then as well as before, free in itself: and so also is the source or property of the fire. In such a manner is the soul set in the Deity; the Deity penetrates through the soul, and dwells in the soul, yet the soul does not comprehend the Deity, but the Deity comprehends the soul, but does not alter it (from being a soul) but only gives it the divine source (or property) of the Majesty.39 As this account suggests, mystics who experience unitive states with the divine need to describe them in a manner understandable and acceptable to their community. The more emotional and less philosophical mystics such as St. Teresa, immediately and completely interpret their experience within the language of Christian tradition. It is only the more philosophically aware mystics, such as Eckhart or Boehme, who provides a more subtle interpretation of their experience and offer descriptions of mystical union in new or different metaphors. Mystical Experience and Religious Language Every culture or group in the process of forming community within its members establishes what is acceptable practice in that community. This differentiation empowers as well as limits the individual. Religious authority in general has a vested interest in sustaining tradition, and therefore guards against and punishes heresy. Each tradition employs unique rituals with symbolic meanings to express their belief. Therefore, two mystical persons from different religious traditions might describe largely similar mystical events in very different language, each account reflecting its particular tradition. Additionally, experiences largely accepted within a tradition define the normative results of
39

Underhill, Mysticism, 421 from The Threefold Life of Man, chap 6, 88.

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religious practice, building an expectation of what a future practitioner might encounter. Expectation, as well as language descriptive of previous experience by others, colors every future experience—or at the very least, it colors the interpretation of those experiences. This is especially true of any mystical experience that by its nature strains the power of words to express. Mystics must always take care to describe their experience within the bounds of their tradition, or risk the charge of heresy. For example, consider one of Eckhart’s descriptions of the unitive experience: “If I am to know God directly, I must become completely He and He I: so that this He and this I become and are one I.”40 Church authorities saw Eckhart’s claims of identity with God like the one above as heretical statements that stand outside true Christian belief. For such statements, Eckhart was ultimately convicted of heresy one week after his death, and excommunicated from the Church. Eckhart’s statements of unity with the divine, because they were unacceptable for contemporary authorities of the Vatican, resulted in his excommunication from the Catholic Church. History of theology, without regard to religious authority, has judged Eckhart as one of the most valuable Christian medieval mystics, based on the numbers who have benefitted from his writings.41 Hasidic Mysticism The Jewish tradition may be the most stringent of all in their disavowal of union between human and divine. The gulf that separates the created from the
40

Meister Eckhart, 131. McGinn, Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart, 20.

41

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Creator is never breached in Hebrew Scriptures, where to be in the presence of the Lord was to risk death. In Exodus, the founding story of the Hebrew nation’s relationship with God, God said to Moses “I will show you my glory, but you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live.”42 Even the mountain upon which God revealed himself to Moses and gave the Ten Commandments was declared sacred, upon which no person should walk under penalty of death.43 With such a stringent beginning the concept of union with God remained impossible in the received Hebrew tradition. Because culture and expectation influence the religious record, we cannot know if complete union did, or did not, happen among the Jews, but only that if it did, it would not have been acceptable to call it complete union with God.44 Buber’s Hasidism From his earliest publications, scholars questioned the historicity of Buber’s presentation of Hasidism. The diary entries and correspondence of Michael Berdyczewski, a colleague and contemporary historian of Judaism, record a different view of Hasidism than Buber presented to European society.45 In April 1908, shortly after the publication of the Legends of the Baal Shem, Berdyczewski wrote to Buber:

42

Exodus 33:19-20. Exodus 19:12.

43

Idel documents unitive mystical experiences in Kabbalah and Hasidism, and claims syncretism with other belief systems in Hasidism: Between ecstasy and magic.
44 45

Cutter, “The Buber and Berdyczewski Correspondence,” 200.

25

Your legends gave me pleasure, and although I now incline toward more realistic literature, they kept me under their spell as much by what is immanent in them as by what they say directly. Had they appeared under your own aegis, I could stop here, since I do not like to criticize people to their face. But since you have given your tales a sense of historical background, I will not refrain from saying that in my view you have not entirely done justice to that background…. But the Chassidic [sic] sources should have been subjected to more sorting and sifting. Yet what I object to even more is that you occasionally have introduced into the tales touches of your own that do not in reality belong there.46 The continued conversation between Buber and Berdyczewski makes explicit Buber’s intention to bring forth the message of the creative role of the human in the redemption of the world, rather than a purely historic depiction of Hasidism. Buber continued his work with the Hasidic figures in his publications The Great Maggid and His Succession (1921), The Hidden Light (1924) and Hasidism (1948).47 In the preface to his most honored Hasidic text The Tales of the Hasidim (1946) he explains that until his immigration to Israel in 1938 he had thought his studies of Hasidism complete, but once in Jerusalem he began them anew. In these books he told the stories of the Baal Shem and those who followed in his footsteps as leaders of the community. Gershom Scholem, considered the most respected and influential scholar of Judaism of the twentieth century, years after Buber’s original publications about Hasidism initiated an academic critique of Buber’s scholarship on Hasidism. His disagreement directly addressed the historicity and authenticity of Buber’s ideas focusing on the source material of Buber’s tales, and the questionable historicity of Buber’s use of the concept of devekut—cleaving to
46

Cutter, “The Buber and Berdyczewski Correspondence,” 174.

These essays were published in English in Hasidism and Modern Man (1958) and Origin and Meaning of Hasidism (1960).
47

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God. In 1941 Scholem established himself as a Kabbalah scholar with his Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. In 1961 he published his article “Martin Buber’s Hasidism: A Critique,” which decisively changed Hasidic studies. By revealing traditional Kabbalah practices of the Hasidic Jews which Martin Buber had popularized as unique and original, Scholem undermined Buber’s claims for the uniqueness of Hasidism. He wrote that Buber “combined facts and quotations as suits his purpose, which is to present Hasidism as a spiritual phenomenon and not as a historical one.”48 In 1963 (German, 1967 English) the series Library of Living Philosophers published a collection of essays about Martin Buber’s work, and his reply to his critics. Though many significant essays are included in this work, by brilliant thinkers and scholars such as Gabriel Marcel, Charles Hartshorne, Immanuel Levinas, Emil Fackenheim, Emil Brunner, Nahum Glatzer and others, the single essay which took up the question of Buber’s interpretation of historic Hasidism was written by Rivkah Schatz-Uffenheimer, a student of Gershom Scholem, entitled “Man’s Relation to God and World in Buber’s Rendering of the Hasidic Teaching.” She sees in Buber’s Hasidism “the closing of the chasm between God and world,”49 which for her was an inaccurate depiction of the Hasidic worldview. In 1966 Grete Schaeder, inspired by her personal friendship with Buber during the last five years of his life, published The Hebrew Humanism of Martin Buber. She responded to many of the critiques leveled against Buber. She

48

Scholem, “Martin Buber’s Hasidism,” 306. Schatz-Uffenheimer,”Man’s Relation to God,” 404.

49

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understood Buber's concept of myth, as he borrowed the definition from Plato: "a narrative of some divine event described as corporeal reality."50 As such, all Jewish history is mythical, despite Scholem’s critique that mythical sources are unacceptable as history. On this point and others, Schaeder clearly demonstrates that although Scholem’s critiques stood the test of factuality, they misunderstood the context which gave significance to Buber’s writings. Thereafter the scholarly conversation broadens its focus on Hasidic literature and finds value in both Buber and Scholem’s writings. Michael Oppenheim examines the role of the concept of God in their writings. In Buber he finds a call and response of God and human, a God with whom humanity has an historic role and relationship. In Scholem’s writings Oppenheim finds an acosmic God, a non-personal God outside of time and space, as described in the theosophic system of the Kabbalah. In Kabbalistic thought successful transcendence of the material world destroys the lived dialogue of I and Thou between God and human. God becomes the “object of an ecstatic contemplation”51 rather than the historical God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In 1987 Steven Kepnes crafted a hermeneutic approach to the two authors to accommodate their respective purposes. In understanding the question that Buber and Scholem each posited when they approached the text, Kepnes highlights the fact that Buber (as he himself admits) understood the Hasidic texts personally and re-authored them, rather than translating them. In so doing, Kepnes

50

Buber, On Judaism, 95. Oppenheim, “The Meaning of Hasidut”, 410.

51

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brings to attention Buber’s relation to the text as a “Thou.” Scholem disavowed any personal relationship with the text per se and relies on history to understand the text. In so doing, he approached a more objective knowledge of Hasidic times and culture. Yet Kepnes questioned why Scholem's "objective" approach to Hasidic texts is more appropriate than Buber's romantic approach. Citing contemporary theorist Hans-Georg Gadamer, Kepnes argued that it is not only impossible for a historian to shed preconceptions, in this case to look at history "objectively" and "scientifically," but that it is "often not desirable to do so."52 In Gadamer's words, scholarly research may be described as "a conversation with the text," from which the reader emerges transformed.53 Though this line of thought is distinctly reminiscent of Buber's contribution of the philosophy of dialogue, Gadamer relies not on Buber, but Plato to make his point. Kepnes concluded that Scholem's contribution would have been stronger if he had acknowledged his own interpretive role and that Buber should have made use of the historical-critical methods which could have more firmly established his presentation of the Hasidic teachings. In 1988 Laurence Silberstein applied modern literary criticism to the Buber-Scholem controversy concluding that both writers were appropriate to their intentions and made valid use of the historical literature, though for irreconcilable purposes. In Kabbalah: New Perspectives (1988), Moshe Idel intends to overturn contemporary knowledge concerning Kabbalistic mysticism. In original Hasidic

52

Kepnes, “A Hermeneutic Approach,” 92. Gadamer, Truth and Method, 245.

53

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documents, he finds undeniable discussion of the moment of unio mystica— mystical union with God, which Scholem had said could never exist in Jewish mysticism. With this insight Idel bridged the ideological chasm separating Jewish mysticism from other worldwide expressions of mysticism and compared Jewish mysticism with other mystical traditions. With this and other points that undermine Scholem’s argument with Buber, Idel reestablishes the validity of Buber’s presentation of Hasidism. The Hasidism popularized by Buber, and subsequently discredited to some degree by Scholem, may be the clearest example in Jewish history of a Jewish community that embraced mystical union with God. In Hasidic literature the descriptive words for mystical union become the terms devekut (cleaving to God) and Ayin (attainment of the Nothing).54 Moshe Idel’s research into Hasidic mystical and magical55 practices supports Buber’s interpretation and reveals that Hasidic mysticism “envisions the union of man with the divine much more strongly than … was emphasized by Buber.”56 Buber’s retelling of Hasidism emphasized the devotional aspects of their faith. “In the Jewish tradition, Buber accepts the separation between God and man, yet he also emphasizes the presence of God throughout the world, where people struggle and hope.”57

54

Idel, Hasidism, 29.

Idel uses the word magic primarily to describe the role of the mystic in bringing blessing from God back to the community because of an increase of spiritual power gained during the mystical experience.
55 56

Idel, Hasidism, 240. Bertman, “Buber: Mysticism without loss of identity,” 82.

57

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The idea that unitive mystical experiences exist within Judaism, specifically within the Hasidic Judaism that Buber popularized, has been proposed by scholars only in the last two generations. Previous to this short period of acceptance of the unitive characteristic as applicable in Jewish mysticism, all Jewish mysticism was considered different than the unitive mysticism found worldwide. Because of the scriptural injunctions against union with God, the uniqueness of the language of Jewish mysticism, and the profound scholarship of Gershom Scholem in his widely acclaimed analytical study of Jewish mystical trends, scholars have accepted that the unitive mystical experience was not found within the Jewish tradition. Although Buber popularized the movement now known as classical Hasidism, Scholem rose to be known as the leading scholar of Jewish mysticism, and therefore an authority on the movement. In their writings about Hasidism, both Buber and Scholem acknowledged that a profound and unusual spirit inflamed a certain population of Jewish people around 1750. As Scholem said, In Hasidism, within a geographically small area and also within a surprisingly short period, the ghetto gave birth to a whole galaxy of saint-mystics, each of them a startling individuality. The incredible intensity of creative religious feeling, which manifested itself in Hasidism between 1750 and 1800, produced a wealth of truly original religious types which, as far as one can judge, surpassed even the harvest of the classical period of Safed.58 Scholem begins his groundbreaking work, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, with an examination of the historical development of religion and its characteristics. He identifies that human religious experience has gone through
Scholem, Major Trends, 337.

58

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several stages, each of which he considers a temporary development of human religiosity. In the first stage, humans represent the world to be full of gods commonly encountered in daily life, and lack any chasm between humanity and God, demonstrating no need for any ecstasy or non-normal experience. In the second stage, also void of any mysticism, the institution of religion emerges, particularly in the great monotheistic religions that provide direction to human social interaction. Humanity becomes aware of a fundamental duality, and of our individual separation from the divine. For Scholem, only after the structural developments of this second stage did mysticism develop as the voice that crosses the chasm between human and divine. As he says Mysticism is a definite stage in the historical development of religion and makes its appearance under certain well-defined conditions. It is connected with, and inseparable from, a certain stage of the religious consciousness. It is also incompatible with certain other stages which leave no room for mysticism in the sense in which the term is commonly understood.59 Mysticism brings the voice of the divine across the chasm that separates the human from God. Mystics strive to reconnect the human to the divine—a connection that the institution of religion has broken—but on a new plane where mythology and revelation meet in the human soul.60 For Scholem, mysticism typifies the “romantic period of religion.”61 Jewish mysticism attempts to interpret the religious values of Judaism in mystical terms that bring the meaning of the tradition into the understanding and experience of every Jew, making myth and
59

Scholem, Major Trends, 7. Scholem, Major Trends, 8. Scholem, Major Trends, 8.

60

61

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analogy primary tools in the quest.62 Scholem’s use of a mystical interpretation of the Exodus is an excellent example. Thus the exodus from Egypt, the fundamental event of our history, cannot, according to the mystic, have come to pass once only and in one place; it must correspond to an event which takes place in ourselves, an exodus from an inner Egypt in which we are all slaves. Only thus conceived does the Exodus cease to be an object of learning and acquire the dignity of immediate religious experience.63 Scholem’s interest in Hasidism is primarily historical, seeing it as the most recent expression of the larger history of Jewish mysticism which is intertwined with Kabbalah.64 Buber’s approach to Hasidism, in contrast, is primarily phenomenological and concerned with determining the helpful characteristics of religious enthusiasm to support a modern lifestyle. Scholem’s analysis of Jewish mysticism interprets as much as it clarifies Jewish mystical history, and in so doing achieves a unique place for Jewish mysticism in the history of mysticism worldwide. Unfortunately, Scholem does not pay significant attention to the important distinction between experience and interpretation.65 A generation later, Moshe Idel reviewed the mystical texts of Hasidic Judaism and returned with a completely different conclusion than Scholem’s. Revisiting many of the sources Scholem used, Idel determined that “there are many instances in Hasidic mysticism where extreme experiences can be designated as unio mystica experiences.”66 It appears that neither Buber’s nor
62

Scholem, Major Trends, 10. Scholem, Major Trends, 19. Idel, Hasidism, 5. Stace, Teachings of the Mystics, 222. Idel, Hasidism, 223.

63

64 65

66

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Scholem’s account represent an un-interpreted Hasidism. Nonetheless, Buber, Scholem, and Idel all agree that classical Hasidism arose not from doctrine, but from “direct, spontaneous religious experience.”67 Hasidic mysticism encounters the world as the container of the sparks of the divine and teaches that right relationship to all aspects of creation redeems the world. Hasidic Judaism emphasizes the love of God rather than the traditional emphasis on knowledge of scripture. It also places a greater value on the attainment of mystical experience than any other form of Judaism except ecstatic Kabbalah.68 The admixture of an emphasis on both love and the value of mystical experience resulted in the elevation of the practice of devekut—cleaving to God. With enthusiasm and intention, a Hasid could elevate her spirit towards God. “It is important to note,” Idel asserts, that it is no accident that Hasidism as a mystical phenomenon was concerned with devekut, understood in some sources as unio mystica, and that, theologically, pantheism was preferred by this type of mystical thought. These two concepts had already been integrated in the paradigm of ecstatic Kabbalah as two correlative concepts. It is possible to unite with God because He permeates all of existence, and this continuous diffusion of the divine facilitates the mystical encounter.69 One demonstration of this cleaving to God is in the act of prayer. Rabbi Moshe Eliaqum Beri’ah, the son of the Maggid [Preacher] of the city of Koznitz, said that “by his dedication to God,” his Rabbi Meshullan Zusha

67

Scholem, Major Trends, 347. Idel, Hasidism, 86. Idel, Hasidism, 18.

68

69

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totally divested himself from this world when he ascended in order to cleave to God, to such an extent that he was actually close to annihilating his existence.70 The concept of annihilation of the individual that commonly appears in Hasidism is not new to the Hasidic masters of the eighteenth century. Without contest, scholars agree that the concept of annihilation and nothingness refers to God in his pre-cosmic form. The mystical goal of attaining to nothingness means a return to a state of union with God in the midst of the nothingness out of which all creation arose. Nothingness is at once the most simple and most complex of mystical thoughts. To achieve nothingness, according to Idel “Man has to obliterate his illusion of separate existence, which is the experience of his normal state of consciousness, and recognize his total dependence upon the Nought.”71 Allowing for varieties of cultural expressions, this has amazing resonance with the concept of abolition of self found in mysticism around the world. Eckhart, for example, states that only God can claim self-existence, and that it is obligatory that every creature testify that it would not exist, except that God willed all creation.72 Ruysbroeck similarly states that to experience God mystics must immerse themselves in a wayless abyss of fathomless beatitude, where the Trinity of the Divine Persons possess Their Nature in the essential Unity. . . . There all light is turned to darkness; there the three Persons give place to the Essential Unity, and abide without distinction in fruition of essential blessedness.73

70

Idel, Hasidism, 131. Idel, Hasidism, 140. Underhill, Mysticism, 5. Stace, Teachings of the Mystics, 162.

71

72

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The many profound similarities between the nothingness of the Hasidic mystics, the self-negation of Eckhart, and the dark wayless abyss of Ruysbroeck demonstrate that they describe through differing vocabularies a potentially and significantly similar experience. They all agree that the road to that essential unity and undifferentiated experience of all things depends on the renunciation of the self. As Underhill observes, “the stripping off of the I, Me, the Mine, utter renouncement, or ‘self-naughting” . . . is an imperative condition of the attainment of the unitive life.”74 So for the Jewish mystic, as realized in Hasidic literature, ultimate worship of God is not described as the unio mystica of other faiths, but the cleaving to God and the attainment of nothing. Hasidic nothingness cannot logically imply the cessation of the physical self, but was nonetheless for centuries a goal of the Kabbalistic practice within Judaism. The incorporation of the practice of attaining to nothingness in Hasidism as a method for cleaving to God in order to return to the community with spiritual power flowed directly from the teachings and example of the Baal Shem and the Hasidic masters that followed him. By achieving personal nothingness a Hasid was able to realize the divine spark within and thereafter act more fully as an agent of God. Let us ponder the significance of the word nothingness. It is not the obliteration of personality, its reduction to nothingness, or the awareness of its nullity; rather it is the dissipation of the egocentered consciousness and the discovery of the divine within man. In other words, by using the term nought, the Hasidic masters refer, at least in some cases, to the disentanglement of the limited, accidental element from the core, the divine spark, which is able to
Underhill, Mysticism, 425.

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become the locus of the infinite power. By discovering the divine within man, the mystic draws toward him the divine source.75 The Hasidic masters were unique persons whose individuality found its fulfillment, not its annihilation, in daily living. Rather than minimizing the individuality of the person, the annihilation of the ego through the Hasidic practice of nothingness unleashed an amazing array of unique individuals who understood their abilities as God’s gift to the community, and fully shared this gift without judgment. This annihilation of the ego was respected as a necessary step in the achievement of the fulfillment of their individuality in submission to the divine. In this “self unification,” as Buber refers to it, the person becomes a gateway for the power of God’s spirit to be present in the community. The experience of dissolution of the ego refers to an extinction of the individual similar to the undifferentiated perception common in the unitive state. The achievement of nothingness unifies the individual with the supernal nothing—the emanative source of everything. According to the Hasidic tradition, such self-annihilation makes manifest the expansion of an individual’s potential by the resolving of the ego, which allows the mystic to connect more clearly with the divine and return to transmit spiritual power to the community.76 The Zaddik77 served as the mystic in the classical Hasidic community. The community acknowledged the Zaddik as
75

Idel, Hasidism, 114. Idel, Hasidism, 115.

76

literally a proven one, or perfected person. In Hasidism, for which the Baal Shem was the best exemplar, the Zaddik is the person in whose life and being the Torah is embodied. For a complete definition see Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, p. 221.
77

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spiritual leader, not because of education, though that was expected of every Jew, but because of accomplishments in the spiritual realm, which brought benefit to the community in the form of spiritual and material assistance.78 Idel describes the mission of the Zaddik as a “reconnaissance expedition” that through the annihilation of the self and cleaving to God transforms the person and results in the ability to return from the spiritual realm as a transmitting agent of divine influx into the community.79 According to a statement of the Hasidic Rabbi Levi Yizhaq of Beridchev, the mystic’s attainment of nothingness benefits the mystic in invisible but significant ways. There are those who serve God with their human intellect and others whose gaze is fixed as if on Nought, and this is impossible without divine help . . . He who is granted this supreme degree, with divine help, to contemplate the Nought, his intellect is effaced and he is like a dumb man . . . but when he returns from such a contemplation to the essence of intellect, he finds it full of influx.80 The Zaddik’s ability to cleave to the nothing subsequently blesses and transforms the world and his followers through his insightful advice and spiritual understanding. Though the act of encountering the divine nothing may in that moment appear passive, it engenders and supports an active spiritual community. This divine nothingness “is a ‘creative void’ or ‘creative nothingness’ that engenders an even stronger communal activism than was possible before the experience.”81 It appears that in Hasidism the solitary mystical experience was expected to benefit the community. Because they believed that the spiritual plane
78

Idel, Hasidism, 20. Idel, Hasidism, 121. Idel, Hasidism, 117. Idel, Hasidism, 132.

79 80

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was the source of all blessing in the material world, a Zaddik who could cleave to God on the spiritual plane would ensure the divine presence in the material world. Mystical Roots of Hasidic Community Despite the repudiation of unitive mysticism by Jewish theology in general, the Zaddikim continued their practice of attaining nothingness in experiences of cleaving to God for the benefit of the Hasidic community. According to Idel, Hasidic masters would in most cases consider the mystical experience as a stage on the way toward another goal, namely the return of the enriched mystic who becomes even more powerful and active in and for the group for which he is responsible.82 In this way, mystical experience brought a fresh wave of the spirit of God into the community, exactly what the Baal Shem Tov ultimately desired. This same goal was shared by Buber when he re-shaped the tales of the Hasidim into a modern form in the twentieth century. The Zaddikim83 accepted the dissolution of ego, and became aware of their personal insignificance and participation in the process of becoming a tool of God. The Zaddikim traveled a demanding path to become spiritually powerful teachers and examples for the community of the Hasidic Jews. Hasidic Judaism centered around these Zaddikim, these Hasidic saints. To those whose gaze is fixed on nothing, God grants the supreme experience of service to God. Without their intellect at play during these mystical experiences, Zaddikim returned from their contemplation of the divine to find their intellect

82

Idel, Hasidism, 209. plural of Zaddik.

83

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filled by divine blessing.84 With these righteous men as their leaders, personality took the place traditionally occupied by ritual and law, and community arose around them. As Scholem describes this, “The opinions particular to the exalted individual are less important than his character, and mere learning, knowledge of the Torah, no longer occupies the most important place.”85 The community grew around these Hasidic saints because they were able to bring to the community the presence of God and its benefits. Idel agrees: By cornering the weight of the consequences of the mystical experience on the welfare of the community or the group, the Hasidic model narrowed the scope of its final achievement. . . . The birth of a child by a previously barren woman, recovery from what seemed to be a fatal illness, and so forth are more concrete than the reestablishment of relations in the divine realms.86 The Zaddikim were successful in serving the needs of the community through the power they achieved from their mystical experiences. Hasidic mysticism grounded itself in the needs of the community and the belief in the power of God to meet the needs of the Jewish people. Hasidic mysticism embraced every aspect of daily life to embody the spark of the divine, and in so doing it transformed daily life for Hasidic Jews. Stace notes that Christian mysticism had a highly similar purpose. Mystical union with God brings with it an intense and burning love of God which must needs overflow into the world in the form of love for our fellow-men; and that this must show itself in deeds of charity, mercy, and self-sacrifice, and not merely in words.87
84

Idel, Hasidism, 117. Scholem, Major Trends, 344. Idel, Hasidism, 210. Stace, Teachings of the Mystics, 26

85

86

87

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Eckhart taught that “In the unity of contemplation, God foreshadows the harvest of action. In contemplation, you serve only yourself. In good works, you serve many.”88 In the same sermon Eckhart quotes St. Thomas Aquinas as saying: The active life is better than the contemplative, for in it one pours out the love he has received in contemplation. Yet it is all one; for what we plant in the soil of contemplation we shall reap in the harvest of action and thus the purpose of contemplation is achieved.89 The essence of the contemplative life in Christian mysticism intends much the same benefit to the Christian community that the Hasidic mysticism provided for the Jewish community. For Jew and Christian alike, the true benefit of mystical experiences lies not in the intrinsic value of the experience itself in which the individual feels at one with the world, but in the transformation of those mystics to walk with their neighbor on whatever path is at hand; to live in the world knowing the essential connectedness of each person and thing with the divine, while in the same breath recognizing the cosmic insignificance of the ego. Acknowledging that all of humanity shares in the spark of the divine admits that a personal mystical experience does not improve the intrinsic value of that person. Mystic experience makes one more aware of their connection to the nothing, and impels participation in the difficulties of daily living with a transformed perspective and increased power. It empowers living at a greater depth, not a lifedenying asceticism or monasticism, a point that Underhill expresses well:
88

Meister Eckhart, 111. Meister Eckhart, 111.

89

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To go up alone into the mountain and come back as an ambassador to the world, has ever been the method of humanity’s best friends. This systole-and-diastole motion of retreat as the preliminary to a return remains the true ideal of Christian Mysticism in its highest development.90 Mysticism, both Christian and Hasidic, stretches the mystic, not only upward toward the divine, but also outward toward the community, demonstrating an alternative way of living that honors each person as embodying a spark of the divine. For without the constant reminder of the divine potential of every person, the effects of self-importance run rampant on the planet. The aspects of selfishness—greed, arrogance, hierarchy, ego-domination and power—run amok on the planet and result in war, poverty, and evil. Mystics of every tradition can be seen demonstrating and encouraging another way; a way of selflessness and community. The path of mystical experience does not lend itself to every person. Other experiences are equally necessary, but the encouragement and exhortation of the mystics remains necessary as well. Mysticism, for all its various descriptions and practices, shows a way for humanity to be more human with an alternate awareness of our capacity and our role in the wholeness of the world. Hasidism Before the nineteenth century, Hasidism generated no significant interest among Jewish scholars. Mysticism and emotionalism, which were the accepted descriptions of Hasidism, held no attraction for Jewish scholars such as Heinrich Graetz, Abraham Geiger, and Leopold Zunz.91 The wave of Jewish nationalism in the late nineteenth century sparked a romantic desire for Jews to reconnect with
90 91

Underhill, Mysticism, 172. Scholem, “Martin Buber’s Hasidism,” 305.

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their roots. In 1906, Buber published the Tales of Rabbi Nachman and in 1908, the Legend of the Baal Shem. These two books brought a new awareness to western Jews of the enthusiasm of the Hasidic Jews of Galacia (eastern Poland and western Ukraine) between 1750 and 1810. These books relate the legends which describe the life of Israel ben Eliezer, honorifically known as the Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name) and his great-grandson Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav. The Baal Shem began as a wandering miracle worker and teacher of ecstatic living, acknowledging the everyday gifts of God's spirit in the natural world, until he settled in the growing village of Miedzyboz and was honored with the title Doctor Baal Shem.92 He offered hope to a community of Jews continually disempowered by political and economic hardship. The hope he offered sparked an enthusiasm that spread throughout the Jewish world. In less than fifty years, approximately half of all European Jews had modified their traditional rabbinicbased lifestyle to incorporate his teachings. As the Baal Shem Tov never recorded any of his teachings, the legends we have derive from his followers who recorded them after his death in 1760. The legends and tales are about the spiritual journey of Jews in the eighteenth century, and as such they are somewhat foreign to a twenty-first century person. The original writings reflect a worldview that preceded the arrival of the eighteenth century European Enlightenment. They embraced a spiritual world where dubbyuks (demons) and angels were common. All of their history was seen as the story of God interacting with them: a people with a special relationship to the divine. Through their relationship to community and creator, each Jewish person had a role in the redemption of the universe.
92

Rosman, Founder of Hasidism, 152.

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Prayer and ritual were normal daily practices and formed the center of their daily lives. Buber brought these stories to light in part because of his heritage— having met modern Hasidim during his childhood when visiting the village of Sadagora with his grandfather, in the 1880s. Subsequently, he reported that when he read the words of the Baal Shem in 1904 he was overpowered in an instant with the eternal message of religious experience. I experienced the Hasidic soul. The primally Jewish opened to me… man’s being created in the image of God I grasped as deed, as becoming, as task…. At the same time I became aware of the summons to proclaim it to the world.93 This calling became the impetus for Buber's long term effort to make the spiritualethical teachings of Hasidism accessible to the modern reader. Buber saw in the Hasidic teachings a clear expression of the core of religious experience. In Hasidism and Modern Man Buber identifies four primary themes of the Hasidic community: ecstasy, service, intention, and humility.94 Ecstasy describes the heartbeat of awe that suffuses the soul wrapped in the divine —a lover so fully committed that nothing else exists. Ecstasy is "above nature and above time and above thought."95 Such is a description of a Hasid in the intensity of his devotion. Complementary to such ecstasy, every Hasid also lives in community to serve God in time and space. The highest service is not related to

93

Friedman, Encounter on the Narrow Ridge, 39. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 74-122. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 77.

94

95

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the act done, but the quality of heart from which any act arises. Therefore, service to community reveals itself as the other face of ecstasy before God. The intention to elevate every profane act into the realm of the holy, Buber writes, "is the mystery of a soul directed to a goal: redemption."96 The ultimate intention of every Hasidic Jew is the redemption of the world, by which they mean the return of the Jewish people and the Shekinah (the approachable yet protective nature of God which eternally lives with the Jewish people) from their present exile into the full presence of God. Every person in the community has a role in this redemptive process. Each community member is valued for bringing into being a unique and valued experience of God. The more purely each community member acknowledges his or her unique relationship with God, the more clearly they see their value to the community. "To feel the universal generation as a sea and oneself as a wave, that is the mystery of humility."97 The value of self-as-individual and self-as-community-member develops concurrently as each individual finds his or her meaning and relationship with God. Buber brought these teachings of Hasidism forward because he saw in them the possibility of overcoming the separation between the sacred and the profane. Buber believed Western society needed to hear this message.98

96 97

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 98-99. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 112-113. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 38.

98

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Das Zwichenmenschliche (the Between) While Buber’s personal writings focused on the ethical and spiritual, his profession as an editor kept him involved on a much broader spectrum of issues. His activities as editor of Der Jude, an intellectual magazine focusing on Jewish issues, brought him the invitation to edit a collection of monographs in 1906. In the editor’s introduction to the first of the series titled Die Gesellschaft (The Society) Buber’s first written thoughts on the concept of the between find expression.99 At this time his ideas were predominantly based on the sociological training of his university years and reveal little of the insight that was to become foundational to his philosophy of dialogue. Buber intended the collection of monographs to address the problem of the interhuman in its forms, structures, and actions. The forms—super and subordination, groupings, class organizations, and all types of economic and cultural associations—have their ultimate significance in their ability to bring individuals into social relations. The structures—values, methods of production, social aspects of culture, etc.—aggregate the psychic energy of the society and enculturate the individual. The actions—economic, social, and cultural behaviors recorded in history—express the psychic energy in rhythm, tempo, and intensity. None of these facets of the interhuman depart far from the social-psychological

translated by Mendes-Flohr and published as the Appendix in From Mysticism to Dialogue, 127-130. Several source documents significant to illustrate the ideas of Buber’s early years have not been published, either in German or English. Paul MendesFlohr and Grete Schaeder have excavated the Martin Buber archives to make parts of Buber’s dissertation, his lecture to the New Community in 1901, and his 1906 editor’s preface to Georg Simmel’s Die Gesellschaft (The Society) accessible. I rely upon the translations presented by the authors for these documents.
99

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process, yet the entire process lies not in the individual, but between the person in a relation to others. As Buber expressed it: Das Zwischenmenschliche is that which occurs between (zwischen) men; in some ways it is not unlike an impersonal, objective process. The individual may very well experience das Zwischenmenschliche as his “action and passion,” but somehow it cannot be fully ascribed or reduced to personal experience. For das Zwischenmenschliche can only properly be apprehended and analyzed as the synthesis of the “action and passion” of two or more individuals: the “action and passion” of one are intertwined with those of another, each finding in this abiding tension opposition and complementarity.100 In his short introduction we can observe the yet incompletely formed idea of the individual in relation. At this time he expressed his understanding of human relationships through rational analysis. It is interesting to note that even this early in his career the emphasis was not on the individual, but on the tension of relationship between the individual and others in the society. Philosophy of Dialogue Midway between Buber’s mystical writings on the Hasidic belief in the redemptive power of human action and his writings on his philosophy of dialogue stands the transitional book Daniel: Dialogues on Realization, written in 1913. As Maurice Freedman notes “Daniel, better than any other single work, enables us to understand the significance of the transition Buber made from his early mysticism to his later philosophy of dialogue.”101 In Daniel the dialogues revolved around self-definition through the concepts of “direction,” “becoming,” and “lifeMendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 127, quoting Buber’s Introduction to Die Gesellschaft.
100

Friedman, in the introduction to Martin Buber’s Daniel: Dialogues on Realization, ix.
101

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experience.” These dialogues remain centered on the individual discovery of personal wholeness. Daniel concludes without an understanding of the other. In Daniel the journey of life is more a journey of self than of relationship. The character Daniel says “True unity cannot be found, it can only be created. He who creates it realizes the unity of the world in the unity of his soul.”102 Daniel ends with an individual in tension with the world as a test of being, but not authentic relationship. In his reflections on significant events in his life, Buber describes one morning of the summer of 1914 as his “conversion experience.” After a particular conversation with a young soldier he realized that, though he was present to the conversation, he neglected to truly connect with the soldier because he had spent the previous hours in “religious enthusiasm” and was not fully present to the man who had come to see him before he was shipped out to the war’s front line. When Buber learned of the soldier’s death shortly thereafter, the significance of this mis-meeting penetrated him. Buber described that event as the primary catalyst which caused him to give up the “religious” as transcendent. From that moment forward religion became not the transcendent, but the immanent of daily life —“everything, simply all that is lived in its possibility of dialogue.”103 This disillusion with mysticism caused a fundamental reformulation of Buber’s understanding of the function of religion. Buber admits he began work as early as 1916 on a book concerning this theme; manuscript references can be

102

Buber, Daniel, 141. Buber, “Autobiographic Fragments,” 26.

103

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found as early as 1918. In 1922 at the Freies Jüdisches Lehrhaus he presented a lecture series entitled Religion As Presence, immediately preceding the publication of his book I and Thou, and addressing significantly the same content, but organized differently. The lectures began from a more metaphysical perspective reminiscent of mystical “rungs of ascension.”104 The lectures indicate that Buber’s transition from his earlier mystical experience was gradual. He responds to the idea of religion as sociological function which has transferred God to the It-world. As Rivka Horowitz notes, in his Religion as Presence lectures, “Buber abandons his earlier advocacy of ‘experiencing God’ and denounces the pursuit of moments of psychological or mystical ecstasy.”105 Buber states that “Truth is not in mystical union, for one can never achieve complete union, but in encounter.”106 In this statement we find a clear, yet not complete, indication of Buber’s transition from mysticism to dialogue. In 1923 Buber rewrote the lecture series to become the seminal work which began his writings on a philosophy of dialogue. His book I and Thou established the departure from his Hasidic writings in that it based itself not in a mystical religious experience but in an existential understanding of the present. The book begins in minimalist and poetic statements about the individual and the two possible relationships: "I-Thou" and “I-It.” Neither I-Thou nor I-It represent compound ideas, but primary orientations. Constantly basing his insights from his experience in daily living, Buber explores the depth of personal relationship to
104

Horowitz, Buber's Way to "I and Thou,” 10. Horowitz, Buber's Way to "I and Thou." 12. Horowitz, Buber's Way to "I and Thou," 12.

105

106

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reveal an "eternal Thou" in the center of every personal relationship. In his explication of relationships Buber sees a close connection between relationships among people and the individual’s relationship to the eternal. Any authentic dialogue we have with another reflects and embodies our dialogue with the eternal Thou.

50

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Buber’s Early Mysticism 1899-1904
Buber’s passion for mysticism can be seen in his college years when he not only studied mysticism, but was also actively involved in a community based on the belief that mystical reality could be found in daily living. The threads of mysticism are present in his friendship with Gustav Landauer, his university and personal studies, and his participation in the Neue Gemeinschaft (New Community). Beginning with the foundational relationship with Landauer this chapter reviews the pervasiveness of Buber’s mystical orientation at this early stage of his life. Gustav Landauer Meeting Gustav Landauer in 1899 at the age of 21 significantly influenced Buber’s life. Maurice Friedman describes Landauer’s influence as the decisive relationship in Buber’s adult life, with the exception of his wife, Paula. Landauer “undoubtedly encouraged” the redirection of Buber’s university studies from science and art history to Christian mysticism.107 Landauer also translated Meister Eckhart, whose writings had significant impact on Buber’s mysticism. Landauer also introduced Buber to the New Community, which was a community based on a mystical understanding of the meaning of human life. Throughout his twentyyear relationship with Buber, Landauer acted as a path breaker for Buber, constantly pressing Buber to be more concrete in his ideas. Landauer critiqued the social implications of Buber’s thoughts, specifically challenging Buber’s interpretation of the Great War in 1916, which led to a personal conflict between
107

Friedman, Martin Buber’s Life and Work, 77.

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the two men and resulted in a metamorphosis of Buber’s ideas in the direction of his philosophy of dialogue. Landauer’s translation of Meister Eckhart made an impact on Buber, and Buber’s first Hasidic publications, years later, resembled Landauer’s translation of Eckhart in style.108 Both men were engaged together and separately on the task of understanding the meaning of life by grounding their mysticism in the concrete of daily living. Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) In his essay “What is Man?” Buber acknowledges since 1900 I had first been under the influence of German mysticism from Meister Eckhart to Angelus Silesius, according to which the primal ground of being the nameless, impersonal godhead, comes to “birth” in the human soul.109 He attributes to Eckhart, more than any other mystic, the certainty of the selfrevelation of God through the unfolding of the cosmos, specifically in human individuals. Eckhart wrote that “man is of divine race and of God’s kin.”110 Only in humanity is the “birth of Christ in the soul” possible.111 Walter Stace accords this phrase of Eckhart’s to be a reference to an introvertive mystical consciousness.112 For Eckhart, this event happens in the “core of the soul,” or the “essence of the soul,” which he says is “the central silence, the pure peace, the

108

Friedman, Martin Buber’s Life and Work, 77. Buber, Between Man and Man, 184-5. Meister Eckhart, 60. Meister Eckhart, 97. Stace, Teachings of the Mystics, 140.

109

110

111

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abode of the heavenly birth.”113 Eckhart says that “this birth is impossible without a complete withdrawal of the senses.”114 For Stace, this complete withdrawal of the senses described by Eckhart is “nothing but the pure self, the pure unity of the ego when emptied of all multiplicity.”115 The complete emptiness of the self precedes and prepares for the mystical birth of Christ in the soul. Eckhart said that all things have essence or substance only in so far as they are themselves God.116 The divine spirit expresses itself in all nature, and knows itself through the human soul. Humanity therefore plays a central role in the unfolding of the universe, which Eckhart considers the self-revelation of God. Not humanity as a collective, but individuals play the central role. The ability of an individual for selfknowledge is the beginning of knowledge of the divine. The deity is ultimately unknowable, yet the inherent yearning within the individual is to know and be known, to return into the God from which all arose. Being and knowledge are one, and all that takes place in the world is in its deepest essence a knowing process. The procedure of the world forth out of God is a process of knowledge, of selfrevelation,—the return of things into God is a process of knowledge, of higher and higher intuition. The ideal existence of all that is real is truer than the corporeal existence which appears in space and time.117 The individual, brought forth out of the mind of God, knows the world and then abandons all that knowledge in the supra-rational knowledge of God. Both the
113

Meister Eckhart, 86. Meister Eckhart, 118. Stace, Teachings of the Mystics, 141. Windleband, A History of Philosophy, 336. Windelband, A History of Philosophy, 335

114

115

116

117

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self-expression of God, in the human search for knowledge, and the return to God, in supra-rational quest for union, find expression in Eckhart. Buber reports that his encounter with the teachings of Eckhart developed in him “the thought of the realization of God through man; man appeared to me as the being through whose existence the Absolute can acquire the character of reality.”118 Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) and Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) Through his studies of mysticism, Buber recognized that the question of the nature of God was at the same time the problem of individuation.119 His mystical studies are reflected in his dissertation submitted to the University of Vienna in 1904 entitled “Zur Geschichte des Individuationsproblems (Nikolaus von Cues und Jakob Böhme),” which translates as “Towards a History of the Problem of Individuation (Nicholas of Cusa and Jacob Boehme).” In his dissertation Buber traces a line beginning with Cusa through Paracelsus and Valentin Weigel to Jacob Boehme discussing the unfolding of the unique personality as each individual’s path towards the divine. Beginning with Cusa’s basic concepts of “enfolding” (complicatio) and “unfolding,” (explicatio) Buber describes in his dissertation how for Cusa, the manifest world emanates from the divine ground. In his dissertation Buber used Cusa’s writings to describe the degrees of participation of all beings in God, demonstrating that not the depersonalizing but rather the personalizing process leads things to God.120 A
118

Buber, Between Man and Man, 184. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 58. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 56.

119

120

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fifteenth-century Catholic cardinal, Cusa described every being as divine and an emanation from an indivisible origin whose unity and wholeness are not impaired by this radiation or unfolding.121 Buber overlooked the Christian dimension of Cusa’s writings to focus on individuation from a secular perspective. In his dissertation Buber uses Cusa’s concept of the unfolding of individuality as the expression of God’s self-revelation in the world. Buber saw Cusa as a new voice, one that countered Eckhart and his medieval concept that the abandonment of individuality was necessary in the search for God. Buber stated that the intentional participation in the uniqueness of personal individuality is the path to God. For Cusa, as well as for Buber, every individual is inherently unique. Not only individuals but all things express God to the extent that they express their unique characteristics.122 One of the first scholars to examine Buber’s dissertation, Grete Schaeder relates that in his dissertation Buber demonstrated that the degree to which something participates in God is at first inchoate, only gradually developing from potentiality to actuality.123 In the act of individual expression, all beings—human and otherwise—embody at least some small aspect of God while participating in the whole. Buber wrote in his dissertation that even more than Cusa, Boehme emphasizes that God’s actualization is an endless process, “a ceaseless becoming.”124 In Buber’s dissertation Boehme’s God remains the principle of
121

Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 55. Friedman, Martin Buber’s Life and Work, 80. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 56. Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 60.

122

123

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individuality. Each individuated being in a microcosmic manner contains all of God.125 Buber cited Boehme’s metaphor of all living things as an organ where each pipe emits its unique tone with only the one stream of air in all the pipes. Buber relates that for Boehme, as for Cusa, because God is wholly in every thing, each thing bears all things latent within itself. “God remains the dynamic principle of individuation in nature, the ‘eternally productive power,’ so that ‘everything is in the process of creation.’”126 In his dissertation Buber records that Boehme was primarily concerned not with an abstract notion of God but with the actual form of the godlike in reality, or as Schaeder restates it, “Boehme was primarily concerned with the question of ‘the hidden God.’”127 Every being strives to realize the hidden God, or God-form, implicit in it, and the struggle of contradiction within the manifest world only serves to enhance the peculiar individuality of each thing.128 Buber explores in his dissertation that two contradicting truths must be accepted as expressions of one divine being. He states that this dilemma held central ground for Boehme. Boehme’s God can be seen in all things as the dynamic process of individuation. The individual self-expression on the immanent level is, on the transcendent level, God’s self-revelation. The unfolding of the unifying principle hidden within the individuation of each being and the unfolding of the cosmos are both the

125

Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 60. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 58. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 60. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 58.

126

127

128

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actualization of God.129 Schaeder sees in Buber’s dissertation that for Boehme, the world is not “creation completed in a single act,” but rather, “a constant unfolding of God, a self-revelation in which man, consciously or unconsciously, participates.”130 Buber finds in Boehme a God who includes all things, the multiplicity of which defies rational comprehension as unity. For Boehme it is “an irrational unity” that strives to be actualized. Boehme’s idea of God remains the dynamic principle of individuation.131 The process of individuation as God becoming, as the universe unfolding, is not only a personal self-actualization in time and space, but Boehme perceives in it a quality of eternity.132 This concept of the eternal selfbecoming of God expresses itself in both microscopic and macroscopic forms. On the microscopic level, it can be seen as the unfolding of the individual growing into their unique potential within a community. On the macroscopic level it can be seen as the unfolding of the cosmos as the expression of God. At either level it includes both harmony and conflict. The conflict of beings engaged in selfactualized expression leads to a theoretical problem in the self-becoming of God. Buber discusses this in his dissertation writing, “It may be that this selfpersistence leads also to strife, but it is precisely this fact that is the source of all actualization, as well as becoming.”133 Boehme resolves this when he discerns a
129

Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 60. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 60-61. Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 60. Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 59. Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 59.

130

131

132

133

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“countertendency toward reconciliation, a tendency derived from the universal urge to return to the primal unity of the protocosmic God.”134 This countertendency away from annihilation toward reconciliation tempers ruthlessness and furthers the self-actualization process. In so doing, Boehme describes a more authentic path of self unfolding of human and cosmos. In his essay “Dialogue,”135 Buber described his own transcendent experiences, which “transported him beyond the framework of time and space and liberated him from the world’s tortured embrace.”136 These “godlike joyous hours” were an experience of “an Otherness that is not part of the structure of life” and an abandonment of relationship to the world. “Rapture, illumination and ecstasy reign in a timeless realm that knows no causal nexus.”137 Through personal participation, Buber knew from supra-rational experience that each person, consciously or unconsciously participates in the constant unfolding of God through their acts of creation. God continues to create the world through us. Based on the teaching of Eckhart, Cusa, Boehme, and his own personal experience, Buber believed the spark of the divine expresses itself in the essence of the soul of each individual. Heaven and earth are bound to one another through the indwelling divine spark. They are not two separate worlds, but two expressions of one reality. At this time, there arose in Buber

134

Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 60. Buber, Between Man and Man, 13. Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 25. Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 25.

135

136

137

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the thought of a realization of God through man; man appeared to me as the being through whose existence, the Absolute, resting in its truth, can gain the character of reality.138 For Buber, this participation in the divine unfolding, though similar to Eckhart’s medieval mysticism, best expresses its truth through Hasidism because Eckhart’s path required “separation, renunciation, unbecoming; man must leave himself and all creatures if he would receive the sonship of God: only in complete poverty of spirit can God’s work be accomplished in the world.”139 Buber recognized that Hasidism did not demand the “un-becoming” that medieval mysticism required. Moreover, in 1904 in a flash of insight while reading the writings of the Baal Shem Tov Buber realized man’s being created in the image of God as deed, as becoming, as responsibility. And this primally Jewish reality was a primal human reality, the content of human religiousness…. I recognized the idea of the perfected man. At the same time I became aware of the summons to proclaim it to the world.140 With this core insight, Buber clearly distances himself from Eckhart’s medieval concept that the goal of every soul was the negation of the self as an obstacle on the way to perfection in God. “For the medieval mystic the individual was only the bearer of a life experience encompassing the transcendent.”141 Although both Buber and Eckhart realized that the divine expresses its essence within each
138

Buber, Between Man and Man, 185. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 74.

139

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 59. Maurice Friedman, the original translator of this work, originally translated the phrase as “as deed, as becoming, as task” but has revised it to “responsibility” to more correctly convey Buber’s intention, as communicated to me by Kenneth Kramer during personal conversation October 10, 2008.
140 141

Friedman, Martin Buber’s Life and Work, 79.

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individual thing, even at this early stage of his life, Buber maintained that the fulfillment of that individuality, not the negation of it, was the path of the divine self-revelation of God. Buber’s mysticism was not one based on a duality of God and world, spirit and matter, or transcendent and immanent, but a mysticism centered in the unity of God as expressed within the world. Mystical Union? There is no doubt that Buber experienced hours spent in a state of otherworldly splendor, but an adequate description of those hours, like all mystical experience, is beyond the capacity of words. In his 1909 introduction to Ecstatic Confessions, Buber analyses the mystical experience. In preparation for his written presentation of the mystical experience, Buber discusses the perception of the material world in normal consciousness, acknowledging that we give the name “world” to the bundle of perceptions we experience. I give the bundle a name and say “world” to it, but the name is not a unity that is experienced. I give the bundle a subject and say “I” to it, but the subject is not a unity that is experienced. Name and subject belong to the commotion, and mine is the hand that reaches out—into empty space.142 Most of daily life is lived within the commotion we call the world. But Buber sees the possibility of perceiving a calm that exists unrelated to the commotion, not in the world, but through the world. The soul that can burst through the commotion and escape from it “is the soul that received the grace of unity.”143 For such a soul, the divine meaning of human life becomes a present lived reality, which for Buber
142

Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 1. Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 1.

143

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is possible because “the commotion is, after all, only the outside of an unknown Inward which is the most living thing of all.”144 Buber sees that the interpretation of the external world by any individual includes the phenomenon of projection, which he describes as “the placing outside of something inward,”145 This is demonstrated in its purest form with the experience of ecstasy, which Buber describes as the unification of the self with itself, not with God. In this idea Buber gives a modern voice to the traditional definition of transcendence, changing it from one of mystical union with God to unification of the self with itself. And he adds that because our culture has taught us that such ecstasy is not possible within the fallen nature of the human being, we project it outward onto our idea of God. For Buber, mystical union, when considered the unification of the self, demonstrates the highest capability of the human soul and because it is the most inward, is understood as something from outside by the participant.146 Buber declares that the experience of union is not union with God, but a unification of the self. This “most inward of all experiences is what the Greeks call ek-stasis, a stepping out.”147 Yet within the experience of ecstasy is neither a movement of inward nor outward. Rather, the structures I and world dissolve in the moment and consciousness remains aware of neither. When bringing back to the consensual realm that which was experienced, words fail; nonetheless, divine meaning is established. This meaning allows resolution of issues that were
144

Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 1. Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 3. Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 3. Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 2.

145

146 147

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previously irresolvable, as if the experience had removed a log jam from a river, which now can flow more freely. But because culture and tradition do not define this experience as personal unification one hangs it on God … and creates around the experience of unity a multiform mystery. The elementary notion in this mystery is a union – more or less corporeally imagined – with God. Ecstasy is originally an entering into God, enthusiasmos, being filled with God.148 Because of this experience, or at least during this experience, the ecstatic person is no longer a fragmented self, but has attained a state of interior unification, in which subject and object are one in the singular embrace of the primal “I.” Now the contents of its experience and the subject of its experience, world and I, have flowed together.149 The experience of ecstasy, therefore, is the lived experience of the unity of the self—an experience that is outside of time and space as they are normally perceived in the consensual world. And because speech exists to describe that same consensual, external world, it cannot capture or declare this lived experience. Nevertheless, in this ecstatic person there arises a need to declare this unity as available to all, to make known this perception of a reality more real than the consensual world. As Buber describes it, the mystic desires “to tow the timeless into the harbor of time; he wants to make the unity without multiplicity into a unity of all multiplicity.”150 To do so requires more than speech. It requires

148

Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 4. Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 53. Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 11

149

150

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myth, imagery, and metaphor, for ordinary language cannot adequately convey the experience. Buber asserts every person to contain in the depth of their soul a “primal self” which lies undiscovered. When in mystic experience the self learns of its divine source and its connection to all through that source, Buber calls it the “unified soul.” Through self-realization the primal self becomes the unified soul. The unification of the soul of the individual has cosmic significance: it accomplishes God’s way in the world.151 The unified soul has a unity that is not relative and is “not limited by the other; it is limitless, for it is the unity of I and the world”152 It is a unity of inner and outer, an experience that is not achieved without the grace of the mystery presenting itself to the seeker as much as the seeker presents him or herself to the search. But when that internal unity is experienced, it is undeniable and imperturbable. In this unity, the “world-I” is realized. From the peace of a unified soul the individual, seen as a part of the whole rather than a separated piece of the commotion of the objective world, perceives a connectedness to reality that bestows a unifying effect on the world. The unity exists in the person, not in any specific activity or inactivity. Indeed, Buber asserted that this unity is a “prepersonal unity hidden beneath all personal change.”153 It is a lived unity, which cannot be found, only achieved in one’s life.154 As Mendes-Flohr summarizes this phenomenon,
151

Bergman, “Martin Buber and Mysticism,” 300. Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 6. Friedman, Martin Buber’s Life and Work, 92. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 103.

152

153

154

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The oneness attained in ecstasy is not a relative unity; it is not, Buber emphasizes, an impassioned unification of the self with but an aspect of the world. Rather, the oneness is absolute, in experiencing the unity of his I the ecstatic has experienced the primal unity of the world.155 Genuine deeds flow out of this lived unity and establish unity in the world, and as Buber puts it, “To create unity out of the world is our never-ending work.”156 Any conception of mysticism that involves turning away from the world to embrace God, was for Buber, “irresponsible.” The dividing of life into two realms of being (the transcendent and the mundane) was for Buber an false segmentation. Yet Buber admits that in his earlier years he did enjoy the ecstatic suspension of time and space in religious reverie. Eventually, the more mature Buber saw this unity as the unification of the soul. According to Friedman, The consequence of a compelling but “irresponsible” interpretation is the duality that rips life asunder into the everyday creaturely life and the “deified” exalted hours. The experience of ecstasy leads the mystic to regard everyday life from then on as an obstacle or at best a mere means to recapturing the moment of ecstasy. It is precisely this “exalted form of being untrue,” as Buber later called it, that characterized Buber’s own ecstasy and the divided life it produced.157 With personal knowledge of the rupture inherent in mystical union with the transcendent, Buber worked toward a merging of the transcendent and immanent. His essay With a Monist expresses his struggle with the mystical perspective of reality and his desire to experience the world as world, with all its depth and intensity.
155

Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 64. Buber, “With a Monist,” 28. Friedman, Martin Buber’s Life and Work, 92.

156

157

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The mystic manages, truly or apparently, to annihilate the entire world, or what he so names—all that his senses present to him in perception and in memory—in order, with new disembodied senses or a wholly supersensory power, to press forward to his God. But I am enormously concerned with just this world, this painful and precious fullness of all that I see, hear, taste. I cannot wish away any part of its reality. I can only wish that I might heighten this reality.158 Buber’s intense living-into-the-moment style of life, characterized as an Erlebnis experience by the New Community, is only possible for one who pursues life fully in the present moment. “The world cannot be known but through response to the things by the active sense-spirit of the loving man.”159 But the ultimate result of reality lived fully, and the mystical knowledge arrived at by mystical union are barely distinct. In the divine plan of the universe every individual who engages the world from their heart can acquire a universal insight. Every genuine deed is the deed of one who loves. Every genuine deed is the result of contact with a loved thing and flows into the universe. Every genuine deed establishes unity in the world out of a lived unity. Unity is not a quality of the world, but its task. To create unity out of the world is our never-ending work.160 This engagement with the material world from the heart, which Buber sought to realize in living daily life as a sacrament, embraces common ground with the mystic who realizes God through momentary annihilation of the world. In October 1910 at the German Society for Sociology, Buber had a public conversation with Ernst Troeltsch in which he described mysticism not as the

158

Buber, “With a Monist,” 28. Buber, “With a Monist,” 28. Buber, “With a Monist,” 28.

159

160

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sociological category that Troeltsch’s lecture had presented, but as “a psychological category” that may likewise be designated religious solipsism. It is an absolute realization of [individual] religiosity, achieving both an apprehension of one’s self and an ‘apperception of God.’161 Buber presented mystics as individuals who seek a personal experience solely in inward isolation. Buber declared that the unio mystica experience of medieval Christian mysticism negates community because it is experienced only in the preconceptual, wordless inner experience of the individual. Religion forms another category entirely and is social in its foundation and expression.162 In these comments, Buber did not adequately admit the interconnection between mystics and community in Christian mysticism. As Buber would later come to view mystical insight sourced in personal experience historically refreshes the community from which the mystic separated to seek the experience of God. Buber’s focus on the event of mystical union, rather than the life of the mystic in toto, inappropriately reduces the historical value of the mystic to the community. Buber’s statement to Troeltsch in 1910 contradicts his previous writings, such as The Life of the Hasidim (1908), in which he specifically describes avodah (service) as the outward expression of the inward hitlahavut (ecstasy).163 It would have been more reasonable to expect Buber to connect the unio mystica, with the service to community as his previous and subsequent
Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, p. xvii. From the editor’s translation of Buber’s comments published in Verhandlungen des ersten deutschen Soziologentages von 19-23. Oktober 1910 (Tubingen: Schriften der deutschen Gesellschaft fur Soziologie, 1911), 206-7. 162 Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 81.
161 163

Buber, “The Life of the Hasidim,” 84.

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writings accomplished. Instead he focused only on the moment of union without its subsequent service to community in his public discussion. Indeed in 1914 he would reiterate in his essay With a Monist that the unified life, a phrase he would commonly use to describe the result of mystic experience, flows into the world as deed. A more “responsible” conversation about mysticism would include multiple facets, including not only the experience itself but also its extension, which is the changed behavior of the mystic and the changed relation to the community. In the momentary experience of mysticism, there is little or no socialization: mystics rarely have shared experiences of God. Nonetheless, all mystics return to their community in some way improved because of the revelation they experienced. Whether or not the difference admits to the power of words or is even observable by others, the mystic has changed. It is the nature of revelation to change the participant. The New Community and Mystical Lived Experience During his years at University of Berlin (1899-1901), Buber’s mysticism was directly influenced by his relationship with Landauer. Landauer introduced Buber to the New Community, where Landauer, as a founding member, presented lectures. Buber felt the resonance shared among his mystical studies and the New Community in their expectation of lived mystical experience (Erlebnis). Each moment of the world is endowed with an independent, unique value. Thus, one should live each moment without regard to any teleological system of norms and, correspondingly, respond to the uniqueness of the moment. Every sequence of the eternal flux requires a unique response. Having so lived, one finds one’s life to be in accordance with reality at its deepest and truest level.164
164

Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 50.

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This engagement with each moment as unique and significant “renders each day a divine sacrament”165 and the New Community dedicated itself to this ideal. The New Community built upon philosophic and mystical concepts to create a fresh picture of the world in which the individual’s authentic response gives divine meaning to both individual and cosmos. The New Community defined this momentary-yet-eternal event as Erlebnis, a category denoting affective, experiential knowledge. The knowledge of Erlebnis is in direct contrast to rational knowledge provided by Erfahrung, which is based on sense data and experience. Compared with Erfahrung, Erlebnis constitutes a higher form of knowledge, a noumenal knowledge. The Neue Gemeinschaft affirmed Erlebnis as a sensus numinosus: Erlebnis provides one with access to a transcendent, sacred reality. Each Erlebnis, which varies in content with the flux of becoming, is unique; thus if the individual responds to each Erlebnis with the uniqueness of his or her person, both the Erlebnis (residing in the “I” of the individual) and the corresponding moment of the eternal flux are realized as one. This oneness, bearing man beyond individuation, engenders a noumenal-cum-sacred consciousness.166 This elevation of lived experience (Erlebnis) to a valued way of knowing contradicts Kant’s denial of the human ability to know the das Ding an sich (the thing in itself) and opened the doors to a reconceptualization of the human being’s role in the cosmos. As Julius Hart, one of the founders of the New Community, said:

Buber, “Alte und neue Gemeinschaften”, unpublished lecture (1901) Martin Buber Archives 47/B translated in Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 59 n 81.
165 166

Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 50.

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Why do you seek the thing-in-itself and then declare it inscrutable, unfathomable? You are the thing-in-itself! You are God – the hub of the universe – the center of the sun – the core of matter – substance! He who appreciates this and knows – unshakably know this—he has overcome time and space, and has become the universe, indeed eternity. His I has become the great axis about which infinity spins.167 A lived Erlebnis experience makes possible a connection of the individual to the world that offers a new way forward. This noumenal knowing is not a function of Kantian a priori mental structures, but results from a “wholeness of being” that lives in each moment and is never completed. Each Erlebnis experience, therefore, offers a connectedness to the cosmos not permitted in Kantian philosophy or the merging of self with God as practiced in medieval mysticism. According to Buber and other members of the New Community, living each moment while aware of its flux and its eternal essence elevates life to a sacrament. Buber argues that a world view expecting the divine in daily activity extends these blessed moments and endows all of life with the meaning derived from this experience of unity. “Existence has become a work of art . . . a new kind of art which creates from the sum of everything an integrated totality, and renders each day a divine sacrament.”168 This concept of life as sacrament, with evanescent mystical moments found in daily living, resembled the sense of community Buber had experienced at the Hasidic gatherings with his father years earlier.169 In his 1901 lecture at the
167

Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 58.

Buber, “Alte und neue Gemeinschaften”, unpublished lecture (1901) Martin Buber Archives 47/B translated in Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 59 n 80.
168 169

Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 20.

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New Community, Buber associated the feeling of community (which he defines as the unity of the “I” and the world) to those moments when one is overwhelmed by the feeling of the sacred.170 Perceiving the sacred in the mundane activities of daily life was at the core of the concept of Erlebnis. In Erlebnis experiences we “know” beyond our participation in the sensorium of the world “a feeling of coessentiality, of blissful, blessed fusion with all things in space and time.”171 This sense of lived truth Buber also perceived in the founders of great religions. Moreover, Buber’s own experience of this unity “compelled him to acknowledge the imperious claims of the spirit, and it gave him the basic components of what has been called his ‘existentialism’”172 In the moment of mystical union, boundaries disappear and the participant feels no distinction between self and other. Landauer speaks of this mystical union as the Welt-Ich (World-I), which is both the summit of individuation and beyond it. An individual’s fullest selfexpression knowingly joins with God’s self-expression as the unfolding of the world. “I am the cause of my own person,” says Landauer, “because I am the world. I am the world when I am totally myself.”173 This belief of life as sacrament establishes the lineage of the teachings of Meister Eckhart, Cusa, and Boehme that Buber, and other members of the New Community studied. The New Community was committed to living in such a way
170

Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 57.

Buber, “Alte und neue Gemeinschaften”, unpublished lecture (1901) Martin Buber Archives 47/B translated in Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 59 n 77.
171 172

Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 102. Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 57

173

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as to bring about the birth of God in the soul, yet without the Christian beliefs of their forebears. Within the tradition of the mystics they revered, the New Community celebrated the singularity and uniqueness in each person and each moment as an expression of the eternal. The members of the New Community embraced the constant flux in the world, and its eternal significance, as the pathway in which each human could facilitate and participate in the divine. The constant flux that is the world expresses itself in the particular conjunction of processes that result in a singular, unique human being. “Elements of this process coalesce within the individuated being and then, in time, disperse to rejoin the eternal flow.”174 This relation with infinity imbues individual human beings with “infinite worth” as part of the flux of the ever-becoming universe and summons all individuals to realize their unique potential most fully as a dual expression of their individuality and the self-actualization of God. Buber’s use of Eckhart, Cusa, and Boehme to support the ideologies of the New Community suggests a modernization of the mystical ideas that were not present in the writings of Eckhart, Cusa, or Boehme. The New Community extended the original mystical ideas and applied them to intentional daily living to find daily life as a sacrament. Buber’s elimination of the centrality of Christ in preference for a universal non-dogmatic spirituality demonstrates his attempt to bring the wisdom of the mystics into modern times. Despite his modernization of the mystical ideas of Eckhart, Cusa, and Boehme, Buber considers his ideas consonant with the older mystical writings. The common quest of the mystics he
Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 59.

174

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studied and the ideals of the New Community reveal Buber’s personal need to find a divine unity within the plurality of human experience. The mystics of history, the New Community and Buber shared the belief that the divine was approachable by humanity. The New Community and Buber saw this potential in the engagement of the world, rather than the negation of it. For Buber and the New Community, through lived experience, the gap between the immanent and the transcendent could be bridged. The need to bridge this gap, to reclaim the full potential of human life, remains with Buber throughout his career. It appears again in another form in his Hasidic writings, and develops further nuance and sensitivity to human relationships in his dialogic writings. But it is here in his relation with the New Community during his youth that Buber’s most speculative ideas find voice. His experiences refine his ideas, but his essential quest to bridge the gap between the divine and the mundane remains, albeit in a more refined form, throughout all his writings. Mystical Language The process of individual human beings becoming fully themselves participates in the journey of God’s self-expression as the universe. God, expressed through individuals or the universe, dwells in a state of potential. In the grace of mystical union the mystic recognizes this sameness in both person and universe during the dissolution of the boundaries of self. When definitions of self and other fail, the mystic sees no distinction between each part of existence, perceiving existence as one self with no part of it separate from any other. Each part appears as a part only when rationally considered in its singularity. Perceived 73

from the perspective of the mystic, each part is an expression of the whole; the whole is contained in it, yet the whole is not fully expressed in any single part of the cosmos. Each part is the whole expressing itself in yet another unique expression. No words adequately express this mystical participation in the whole, yet every being proceeds out of this wholeness. It cannot be adequately described. To speak of it denies as much as it explains because all description is inadequate. Nonetheless, the profundity of the mystic experience demands expression. As soon as they spoke—as soon as they talked to themselves, in the usual prelude to speech—they were already in chains, in bounds; the unbounded ones do not speak even to themselves, in themselves, because there are no boundaries within them either: no multiplicity, no duality, no more Thou in the I. They speak, and already they are betrayed to language, which is adequate to everything, only not to the ground of experience, which is oneness. They say, and already they say the other thing.175 Silence is the only authentic expression of this knowing that knows without the intellect. Based in the experience of the unity of all multiplicity, this supra-rational knowledge remains inexpressible; yet the mystical experience births knowledge beyond words. It offers a reality that is experienced as more real than the physical, yet inaccessible to most. In order to speak of what they experienced in moments of mystical unity, mystics speak their truth best in the images and symbols of myth and metaphor. And even though each mystic has a unique experience within their chosen tradition, there appears through history an underlying commonality to all mystical experience. This myth of the unity of all material things runs through all ages and religions. According to Buber, the myth of unity that becomes multiplicity, because it wishes to look and be looked at, recognize and be recognized, love and be
175

Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 7.

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loved and, while remaining a unity itself, comprehends itself as multiplicity; the myth of I that begets a Thou; of the primordial self which transforms itself to world, and of the divinity which transforms itself into God. Is the myth proclaimed by Vedas and Upanishads, Midrash and Kabbala, Plato and Jesus, not the symbol of what the ecstatic has experienced?176 The mystic embodies a lived experience of that reality, yet, being human, cannot sustain the experience. Destined to fall back into the chaotic sensorium we call world, the mystic strives to understand the experience of unity that gives a depth of meaning to normal life. Because of the unspeakable reality in which they participate, mystics yearn for unity. When lifted out of the commotion of the world and into the divine, a union with that which is greater than the self overrides the awareness of personal individuality. A knowledge beyond speech or vision penetrates the soul—knowledge more certainly known than that described by speech or seen by the eyes. “Being lifted so completely above the multiplicity of the I, above the play of the senses and of thought, the ecstatic is also separated from language, which cannot follow him.”177 Language lies in the realm of the rational. Words convey ideas between individuals but are inadequate to fully express the inward experiences within an individual. Language is a function of community. “Ecstasy,” says Buber, “stands beyond the common experience. It is unity, solitude, uniqueness: that which cannot be transferred. It is the abyss that cannot be fathomed: the unsayable.”178 Yet mystics must speak. The reality of this experience appears more profound than the material world and demands
176

Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 10. Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 5. Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 6.

177

178

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expression. Mystical experience of unity in the divine and the resulting service to humanity are joined together in the mystic’s message to the community. The human potential described by the mystic is beyond normal experience and requires equally unusual language. But it attempts to describe a reality in which each person already unknowingly participates. As Buber says: The ecstatic’s will to say is not mere impotence and stammering; it is also might and mastery. He wants to create a memorial for ecstasy which leaves no traces, to tow the timeless into the harbor of time; he wants to make the unity without multiplicity into the unity of all multiplicity.179 Words simply cannot contain or adequately express this experience. Silence is the proper container. But silence does not convey what the mystic experiences in that moment of union. Struggling with a message that must be told, and the inability to speak of it directly, the one who has experienced this ecstasy speaks in images, dreams, and visions. “He speaks, he must speak, because the Word burns in him…. He does not lie who speaks of unity in images, dreams, visions, who stammer [sic] of unity.”180 The contradiction between this lived experience (Erlebnis) and the commotion of normal life is the contradiction between ecstasy, which memory cannot contain, and the desire to save it for memory.181 Mystical expression strains speech beyond the possible. For Buber, speech is the primary act of the spirit.182 When mystics speak, their language is filled with images and feelings that direct the listener towards a
179

Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 10. Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 9. Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 9. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 89.

180

181

182

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truth the listener has already experienced. Mystics speak in poems and metaphors because simple prose invokes the rational mind and does not have the capacity to evoke the images that poems and metaphors possess. Poets are the guardians of the mythical view.183 Of all the poets and writers of the early twentieth century, Schaeder considers Rainer Marie Rilke to be the writer who has most in common with Buber’s “life feeling.”184 Buber’s high regard for poetry embodying the most truth that words can convey appears to have been influenced by his teacher, Wilhelm Dilthey, who wrote: there is no formula that contains the truth, that every religious dogma and every scientific explanation of the world’s structure are symbols for something whose real nature no myth, no dogma, and no concept can fathom or express . . . it is the artist, speaking only in images and symbols, who seems to possess the most truthful language.185 Poetry illumines the darkness beyond words. Poetry evokes the personal remembrance of that “life feeling” and authenticates the message which cannot directly be spoken. It authenticates that inarticulate knowing by arousing in each listener an awareness of meaningfulness in personal experiences, which otherwise might have passed unexplored. Its truth is personal because it reminds or evokes truth from past personal experiences in a new light. When well written, poetry challenges our perspective, enlightens our life, takes us to the edge of our emotional being, and offers us a new opportunity to live.

183

Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 105. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 94.

184

Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 69 translated from Die grosse Phantasiedichtung (Gottingen, 1954) 3.
185

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The poetical word illumines the depths of the mystical life: it proclaims ecstasy as the symbol of the divine primal unity, the tension of the soul between the universe and nothingness, and makes its way through nothingness to unity; at the same time it signifies the being of the soul in God and its human otherness.186 Poetic writing such as Buber’s works consistently contain, gives voice to an ecstatic dimension not available to straight, rational prose. It is this dimension of ecstasy that myth strives to describe. “Myth testifies to a sense of the intuitive apprehension of the Absolute.”187 It is an eternal function of the human spirit. Myth apprehends the divine in human experience. Buber adopted Plato’s definition of myth: “an account of a divine occurrence as sensuous reality.”188 While this definition of myth supports the Jewish understanding of their history as the unfolding story of their relationship with God, by including the sacred experiences of all humans Buber’s definition is larger than the Jewish understanding. For Buber, at the foundation of every myth is an “elementary relation-phenomenon.”189 Buber sees any historical event which grows to mythic proportion an elementary relation between the participant and a phenomenon. Any experience that gives birth to a myth reveals the transcendent present in the
Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 81. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 92.

186

187

188

Buber. On Judaism, 95. I cannot find this exact language in Plato, but a very close text exists in the Republic, Part 2, 17. as found at http://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/ancient-greece/plato/plato-politeia-2.asp? pg=17 on Monday May 26, 2008. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 93. An elementary relationship phenomenon is an unmediated experience which illuminates the relationship between the human and the divine—described by Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy as a numinous experience. For example, Moses’ dialogue with God through the burning bush, whether historical in any scientific way, was a phenomenon that, for Moses, was a divine communication.
189

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immanent. For Buber, myth is not otherworldly, but rather “a revelation of the ultimate reality of being,”190 expressed through daily living and revealing the connectedness of all of life. It reveals an “experience of the ecstatic”191 using language that allows the non-mystic to approach. It symbolizes the primal experience of the universal mind as a living, inner experience.”192 The Implications of Buber’s Mysticism Both the New Community and Buber affirm that Erlebnis experiences access another mode of human knowing, a numinous capacity that develops only when individuals respond to life in the fullness of their person. This unique response to life acknowledges and deepens both the transitory nature and the eternal nature of personal existence. Heraclitus noted that the entire world is constantly changing. The flux surrounding us is constant. In responding from our unique identity to each event we encounter, we can experience both moment and self as one. “This oneness, bearing man beyond individuation, engenders a noumenal-cum-sacred consciousness.”193 This new consciousness was the goal of the New Community and was central to Buber’s formulation of mysticism in which a personal wholeness emerges in the dissolution of the boundaries of self and the universal. “All wholeness is God’s image and likeness; and when man chooses with his whole soul, a mystery takes place: ‘unified man partakes of
190

Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 11. Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 11. Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 11. Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 51.

191

192

193

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God’s essence.’”194 This 1910 statement by Buber could have been directly lifted out of the teachings of the New Community. Thus far we have looked at Erlebnis experiences one by one, in which each event becomes an opportunity to pierce the rational with embodied knowledge. We must also look at Erlebnis experiences as a continuum of events in the flux of unity. As Buber described it, “The world is not, as phenomenal knowledge would have it, a plurality of fixed, discrete beings. Rather, as a constant flux, it is, in essence, a unity.”195 Each discrete moment has within it the potential of the eternal unity, but only in the lived experience of the participating individual. Without responding to the uniqueness of a particular moment from the wholeness of essential uniqueness, that moment remains in the fragmented world of subject and object. But in responding from personal wholeness to the uniqueness of that moment, a transformation occurs and unifies subject and object in that moment. In this mystical interpretation of the moment it is not I acting among separate phenomenal objects, but a merging of the part into the whole, in which self and world are one. Landauer’s Welt-Ich (World-I) arises. And as this kind of experience is experienced again, it becomes foundational to my participation in the world, and changes the world in which I live. An Erlebnis experience transforms not only the moment, but the trajectory and therefore subsequent experience as well. Buber argues in his 1901 lecture at the New Community that
Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 100. The quoted phrase she ascribes to Buber’s “Teaching of the Tao” in On Judaism, 37. Unfortunately “Teaching of the Tao” was published in Pointing the Way.
194 195

Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 50.

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the ideal is to extend this Erlebnis experience from these blessed, but infrequent moments to the everyday and to endow all of life with a new meaning derived from the experience of the ‘”endless unity of becoming.”196 In his lecture to the New Community Buber describes the pioneering efforts of the community as an important venture not only for the individual seeking meaning, but also important at the universal level. A few of us want to live the ideal—to extend the inner commonality to particularity. I believe they will be able to live it. According to the ideal, they will live . . . the meaning of the universe, the endless unity of becoming.197 This new way of living, a life based in the experience of each moment possessing transcendent potential, was the goal of Buber and his colleagues in the New Community. Seeing the world as a flux allows a new flowering of the human spirit, not dragged down by tradition and culture. Seeing each moment as part of the divine whole transforms the contradictions of individual events to a pattern that makes the whole better. All pieces work together towards the divine selfunfolding at both the individual and the universal level. What looks like two individuals in conflict, becomes two parts of the whole working together to ensure a more profound expression of the divine. “In light of the eternal flux of the world, multiplicity and unity cannot be considered as antinomies but rather as dialectical coefficients.”198 This new perspective constellates a new way of being in the world, not just in singular moments, but as a continuum throughout each
196

Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 58.

Buber, “Alte und neue Gemeinschaften,” unpublished lecture (1901) Martin Buber Archives 47/B translated in Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 59.
197 198

Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 56.

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individual life and consequently throughout society. This new way of being is precisely the redemption of culture envisioned by Gustav Landauer, Martin Buber, and the members of the New Community. The Unified Life Buber’s mysticism included a social commitment to a different way of being in the world. Though his association with the New Community was not long lived (he actively participated only during the years he was a student in Berlin), the conviction that mystical insight provides a deeper meaning to daily life remains constant throughout his life and writings. Though he experienced moments of transcendent reverie, at no time did he accept the goal of self annihilation traditionally associated with some medieval Christian mystics. Selfannihilation was for Eckhart and others, the path to God. In Judaism the path to God is communal as much as individual, and the goal of that path remains the redemption of the people of God, not the redemption of godly individuals. Erlebnis experiences reshape the individual to see their embeddedness in the world and in society more clearly, and empower them to work toward the sanctification of themselves within the world. The mystical way forward always has social implications in the ideas of Martin Buber. Not through ”un-becoming” or by turning one’s back on the world does man prove himself worthy of being God’s coworker, but rather through sanctification of the world and by actively participating in its work and by assuming responsibility for the fate of creation.199

199

Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 75.

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Whether through the influence of the mystics he read so thoroughly in his college years, or through his association with the social mysticism of the New Community, from his earliest writings and lectures Buber accepted that mysticism fulfilled itself in social change. The individual human beings most able to impact their society accept their uniqueness and individuality as the expression of God’s creativity, and understand their connection to the divine through their unique characteristics and abilities. Those individual persons who approach the everchanging world in the present moment from the fullness of self enter into the divine expression unfolding in that moment and rightly see themselves in that moment as part of the divine unfolding—not separate from the moment but unified with it. In separateness there is no knowing. Only the unseparated man knows, for only the one in whom there is no separation is not separate from the world, and only he who is not separate from the world can know it. Not in the standing opposite, in the dialectic of subject and object, only in the oneness with the all is there cognition. The oneness is the cognition.200 Genuine life is unified life only in each present moment. In each moment of personal unity, each person creates unity in the world. “The oneness of the world is only the product and reflection of the oneness of the completed human being.”201 Buber’s understanding of mystical interaction with the world is both transcendent and immanent. Authentic unfolding at the personal level becomes the unfolding of the universe at the cosmic level. Human awareness of the correspondence between the micro-level of individual significance and the macro200

Herman, I and Tao, 89. Friedman, Martin Buber’s Life and Work, 88.

201

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level of cosmic significance becomes participation in the realization of God in the unfolding of the universe. This is where authentic personal encounter with life as divine sacrament replaces the rituals of tradition for Buber. “God wants to be realized—not through ‘religion’ but through every individual who in his own sphere does what is right, unifying, and formative, and who ‘loves the world to the end of unconditionality.’”202 In this engagement with life at the most personally authentic level, lived truth arises. “This lived truth demands nothing. It only proclaims itself.”203 As Schaeder summarizes Buber’s idea “This fulfillment is the genuine, the unified life.”204 This concept of a “unified life” has its roots in the mystical teachings Buber studied. Similar concepts can be found in Eckhart, in the potential of God “wholly in every thing” of Nicholas of Cusa, and in the “being-at-one with the world” that Buber found in Boehme. Buber’s concept of a unified life appears in his writings on Taoism. It is also found in relation to the Hasidic concept of the divine spark found in every aspect of the cosmos, which will be discussed in the next chapter. It also shows itself in Buber’s pre-war lectures on Jewish renewal at the Prague Bar Kochba student union. This concept of a unified life is without doubt one of the central concepts building toward the experience of the eternal Thou, which can be glimpsed during an I-Thou relationship in Buber’s philosophy of dialogue. While the concept of a unified life has its source in Buber’s

202 203

Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 99. Buber, “Teaching of the Tao,” 31. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 99.

204

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mysticism, its presence in daily life is a recurring theme that finds increasingly nuance expression in his philosophical writings.

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Buber’s Hasidism
Martin Buber’s primary childhood years were spent on the estate of his grandfather in Galacia.205 Solomon Buber was a well-known and respected Midrash scholar. In addition, he owned land and businesses. He spent his time managing his holdings and studying Jewish law. Martin was tutored at home by private tutors, primarily in language studies. Buber’s grandmother Adele thought that a humanistic education centered around language studies would best prepare her young grandson for his role in the world. In this environment, Buber was an isolated child with few friends and spent much of his time playing thought-games. One game of his youth he recounts in his Autobiographical Fragments required an imaginary soldier to relay a message to another and then another, but each solider spoke a different language. He reflected on how the message was inflected by the translation from one language to the next. His grandparent’s love of language, education, and scholarship defined normalcy for Buber’s childhood years. After his ninth year, Martin spent memorable summers on the estate of his father, Carl Buber, in Bukovina. Unlike his scholarly parents, Carl was very successful at his agricultural career. His progressive desire to understand and support the rhythms of nature in his agricultural practices demonstrated to Martin a unique appreciation of the soil, the plants, and the animals that populated the
Buber’s mother ran away with a Russian officer when he was four, not to be seen again for almost 30 years. Since it was unthinkable that a single father would raise his son unassisted, Martin was sent to live with his grandfather, Solomon, and grandmother, Adele, until Buber was 14 when his father brought him back into the city to live with his new wife. From age nine on, Buber spent summers with his father at his father’s estate in Bukovina.
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world. One summer Carl and Martin visited the nearby village of Sadagora, the seat of a dynasty of Zaddikim where Martin first encountered Hasidism.206 In his Autobiographical Fragments, Buber describes how through his childish perceptive abilities during this encounter with Hasidism he understood, not as thought, but as image and feeling, the value of community, and the need for belonging. The prayer house of the Hasidim with its enraptured worshippers seemed strange to me. But when I saw the rebbe striding through the rows of the waiting, I felt, “leader,” and when I saw the Hasidim dance with the Torah, I felt “community.” At that time there rose in me a presentiment of the fact that common reverence and common joy of the soul are the foundations of genuine human community.207 Buber’s more significant relationship to Hasidism began at the age of 26 when in 1904, while reading the words of the Baal Shem Tov (translated Master of the Good Name, abbreviated Besht) his heart opened to the eternal meaning of the Hasidic stories. In Buber’s words, I experienced the Hasidic soul. The primally Jewish opened to me . . . man’s being created in the image of God I grasped as deed, as becoming, as task. And this primally Jewish reality was a primal human reality, the content of human religiousness. . . . The image out of my childhood, the memory of the Zaddik and his community rose up and illuminated me: I recognized the idea of the perfected man. At the same time I became aware of the summons to proclaim it to the world.208
In the present-day Hasidic sect of Judaism, the Zaddik (plural Zaddikim) acts as mediator through whose intercession each Hasidic Jew hopes to attain the satisfaction of their needs. The founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov, embodied the “high faith of the first Hasidim, that fervent devotion which honored in the Zaddik the perfected man in whom the immortal finds its mortal fulfillment.” (Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” p. 19).
206 207

Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 20; Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 59.

53.
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Because of this insight into the “perfected man,” Buber spent the next few years distancing himself from his public role as an advocate of a cultural Zionism in the Zionist political movement. Instead, he redirected his efforts toward understanding the soul of the Hasidic teachings. During this time, he published The Tales of Rabbi Nachman (1906) and The Legend of the Baal Shem (1908). Rather than strictly translate the tales published in these books, he took them into his soul and re-authored their stories. Buber describes his translations in this manner: I do not report the development and decline of the sect [Hasidism]; nor do I describe its customs. I only desire to communicate the relation to God and the world that these men intended, willed, and sought to live. . . . I have received it from folk-books, from notebooks and pamphlets, at times also from a living mouth, from the mouths of people still living who even in their lifetime heard this stammer. I have received it and have told it anew. I have not transcribed it like some piece of literature; I have not elaborated it like some fabulous material. I have told it anew as one who was born later. I bear in me the blood and the spirit of those who created it, and out of my blood and spirit it has become new. 209 According to Buber, his attempt at a literal translation fell flat, inadequate to communicate the meaning of the story successfully.210 He found that only when he told the stories from out of himself, to paraphrase Buber, did they effectively communicate the profound human message he found in them.211 He reports, however, that he remained essentially faithful to Hasidic teachings. His primary desire was “to communicate the relation to God and the world that these men

209

Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, ix-x. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 63. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 61.

210

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intended, willed, and sought to live.”212 Buber believed these books spoke to the modern need for a Jewish social identity. Buber described Hasidism as a “genuine religious movement” that did not offer solutions, but equipped humanity to live “from the strength of the mystery” of life. For Buber, genuine religion shows the path of engagement with the world, rather than an exit from the tension of life.213 Buber felt Hasidism offered insight into the eternal needs of the human soul. Hasidism included a message that, if embodied, would reinvigorate each person’s relationship to their fellow humans, the world and God. Buber saw in society at that time the symptoms of a disease of aimlessness and inauthentic living, of “forgetting for what purpose we are on earth.”214 He wanted to press beyond those symptoms to authentic living, which he found more clearly in Hasidism than anywhere else. One no longer knows the holy face to face; but one believes that one knows and cherishes its heir, the ‘spiritual,’ without allowing it the right to determine life in any way.215 The Hasidic teaching of holy intercourse with all existing beings opposes an ethereal spirituality or any dogmatic creed by demanding the perception of God in every aspect of the cosmos.216 The years Buber spent gathering and re-authoring the Hasidic tales had a deep impact on him, which his life and writings continually reflect.
212

Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, ix. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 116. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 22. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 39. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 40.

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Buber characterizes the primary teaching of Hasidism as a direct encounter with the world—a mysticism that hallows community and everyday life.217 “The task of man, of every man, according to Hasidic teaching, is to affirm for God’s sake the world and himself and by this very means to transform both.”218 God constitutes the essential being of all things—in God, all are one.219 Buber embraced the mysticism of Hasidism because, like his other mystical interests, it emphasizes an engagement with the world through a way of being. Like Erlebnis experiences, Hasidism can be lived only in the present moment and requires the full engagement of each individual’s intention and action, and binds the transcendent world to the immanent reality of human experience. What began for Buber as the study of Hasidism and a reconnection with his Jewish heritage ultimately grew beyond his original goal and became “a question of the claim of existence itself.”220 Hasidism demands personal responsibility for individual action with attention to the results implicit in every act. Hasidism makes a sacrament of living by observing sacred potential in every profane act when undertaken with appropriate intention. The human role joins with the divine will, but retains its own choices and responsibilities. The “infinite ethos of the moment” is clearly pronounced by Hasidism.221 Hasidic study cannot be
217

Friedman, Maurice in the editor’s introduction to Hasidism and Modern Man, Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 127. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 78. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 23. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 116.

10.
218

219

220

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undertaken for the sake of study alone. It requires that the student learn the teaching and walk the path in their inwardness as well as with each footstep every day, thereby mirroring the internal and external structure of the Hasidic world.222 Man cannot approach the divine by reaching beyond the human; he can approach Him through becoming human. To become human is what he, this individual man, has been created for. This, so it seems to me, is the eternal core of Hasidic life and of Hasidic teaching.223 The mode of life, rather than any new teaching, constituted the essential uniqueness and value of Hasidism for Buber.224 The mutuality of human and world, of human and God, and of God and world, shines in Hasidism. Hasidism calls each human into a responsible relationship with human and non-human others with an awareness that choices today evoke the future for the community. The Baal Shem Tov The name “Baal Shem Tov” (or “Baal Shem”) is an honorific phrase that translates as “master of the good name.”225 Although others had been known by such a title, the life of Israel ben Eliezer defined it for Hasidism. Israel was born in a small village near the beginning of the eighteenth century. Few verifiable facts about his life exist. He wrote down none of his teachings. Legend has it that as a young man he was taught the mystical meanings of the scriptures by the prophet Ahiya of Shilo who had lived at the time of Solomon and came down

222

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 25. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 42. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 24. abbreviated Besht.

223

224

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from heaven to instruct him.226 Buber extols the Baal Shem as the founder of a “realistic and active mysticism” that preserves the immediacy of relationship, guards the concreteness of the absolute, and demands the involvement of the whole being within the Jewish communal tradition.227 The teachings of the Baal Shem and the stories about him that we have were written by his followers. Because Buber uses Hasidism to identify the perennial themes of human existence in a larger-than-physical world, the validity of details about the Baal Shem are not central to Buber’s writings. Buber uses the perennial themes of human existence rather than the personal, historical details of the life of the Baal Shem to bring forward a living relationship to the world that is his central concern. Buber sees in Hasidic legends the latest form of Jewish myth encapsulating the fundamental relationship between God, human, and world. The Jewish myth, as retold in Hasidic legends, includes creation, redemption, and the role each human plays in the unfolding expression of the divine plan. The legend is the myth of I and Thou, of the caller and the called, the finite which enters into the infinite and the infinite which has need of the finite. The legend of the Baal-Shem is not the history of a man but the history of a calling. It does not tell of a destiny but of a vocation. Its end is already contained in its beginning, and a new beginning in its end.228 The vocation of the Baal Shem was his relationship to his fellow creatures— human, animal, plant, mineral, and spirit. That same vocation begins anew in each person who hears the call.
226

Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, 209.
227

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 180. Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, xiii.

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The Baal Shem was the founder of a community that Buber acknowledges lived only six generations, dying with Rabbi Nachman in 1810. In those short years the “unenlightened” Polish and Ukrainian Jewry brought forth the greatest phenomenon in the history of the spirit, greater than any individual genius in art and in thought: a society that lives by its faith.”229 The Baal Shem did this without imparting new theological concepts. Rather, his vitality was his living connection with both this world and the world above.230 His success in unifying heaven and earth was so profound that he was reputed to possess spectacular abilities. The legends surrounding the Baal Shem tell of a man who was aware of the future as his own breath, who saw from one end of the earth to the other and felt all the changes that took place in the world as something that happened to his own body.231 He was the one man who understood and spoke the language of each animal.232 He knew about every man’s life, and the lives of all the creatures, and loved each.233 He ascended into the upper world at will.234 His skills penetrated into the land of the dead as well as the living, and at least one time he brought the dead back to life for the sake of justice for the living.235 Even
Buber, Origin and Meaning, 27. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 25. Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, 20.
232

229

230

231

Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, 185. Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, 131.

233

234

Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, 204.
235

Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, 76-77.

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the holy land of Palestine knew him personally, and called for him to come and usher in redemption.236 He bore in his blood the soul of King David.237 And his soul’s distress caused great anxiety in heaven.238 He was not limited by place and time.239 Yet he was not without sin.240 The Baal Shem lived his faith in service to his community. His service also attained legendary proportion. By day he serves the creatures. Messengers come travelling on the winds, petitioners ascend from the ground. Surging together from the mouth of all living things, the voice of their suffering pushes forward to him. He receives the call and bestows the answer. Incessantly he gives his gift, his powerful comfort. Under the touch of his finger the wounds of the world are healed. By day he serves the creatures. But at evening his soul frees itself. It does not wish to rest with its indolent comrades. It slips off place and duration like a pair of manacles. Pushing off from the land with its feet, it assays flight, and heaven admits the emancipated soul.241 His mode of life, rather than his teaching, was the Baal Shem’s greatness. He did not so much know the Torah as he embodied it. And his love of God and love of humanity connected him to every person. He served the community as the example, living his life celebrating the world as God’s mode of revelation.

236

Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, 83. Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, 88. Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, 76. Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, 98. Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, 148. Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, 79.

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Teachings of the Baal Shem Buber identifies four primary themes that describe the authentic characteristics of the teachings and life of the Baal Shem: Hitlahavut – ecstasy, Avoda – service, Kavana – intention, and Shiflut – humility.242 Through these four themes, Buber idealizes the characteristics of the model Hasid: a man with his heart set towards God and his hands in service to the community. In so doing, he oversimplifies Hasidism almost to a caricature of the historical movement. But he employed figurative language to engage the reader through the imagination toward a spiritual renewal. These four characteristics attempt to describe any person in the community in relationship to God. When the community identified someone as accomplished in godliness, the title Zaddik was applied. Though not always a rabbi, a Zaddik was always devout and well educated in Torah. At least one woman was identified as a Zaddik. In the early period of Hasidism, Zaddikim led their communities by example and were typically teachers by occupation. In later periods of Hasidism, the title of the Zaddik became inherited and the spiritual responsibility of the role degenerated into an institutional dynastic seat. After the death of Rabbi Nachman in 1810, Buber describes the “dynastic Zaddikim” as mediators, rather than models, and as figureheads in institutional Hasidism who lacked the authentic characteristics of the Baal Shem.243 Buber’s idealization of Hasidism in his early writings has been much discussed because of its lack of historically verifiable sources. Depending

242

Buber, Legend of the Baal Shem, 17. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 51.

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significantly on Israel Yoffe’s 1814 Shivhei Ha-Besht (The Stories of the Baal Shem) first published over 50 years after the death of the Baal Shem, the legends cannot be accepted as true in any modern sense.244 Scholem critiqued the sources Buber chose as the wrong places to understand Hasidism. Idel, more recently, found a middle road that allowed an understanding of Hasidism that respects Buber’s use of Hasidic sources to engender spiritual renewal in modern Jews, while also appreciating the historical-critical critique of Scholem. More recently, Urban has described Buber’s intentional misuse and simplification of Hasidic teachings as a successful attempt at a “hermeneutic of renewal.”245 Hitlahavut—Ecstasy Hasidism describes Hitlahavut, or ecstasy, as a state of the soul in which the human relation to the physical world reconstructs itself. Gershom Scholem describes ecstasy as an ascetic process resulting in the “annihilation of the world” during communion with God.246 Buber describes it as an unfolding—the opposite of asceticism. Instead of restraining a soul, Buber’s idea of ecstasy reveres that joyfulness which expresses itself in “a self-fulfilling soul which flows into the Absolute.”247 “Hitlahavut soars beyond all limits. It enlarges the soul to the all. It

This text is full of historical-critical problems. Rosman reports that the publisher’s personal correspondence acknowledges that he personally edited the text, and included stories not confirmed to be from the Baal Shem. The book is generally considered to have a historical basis, but has also been found to have non-contemporary ideological purposes and is not necessarily a reliable historical guide.
244 245

Urban, “Hermeneutics of Renewal” 52. Scholem, “Martin Buber’s Hasidism,” 313. Buber, Tales of Rabbi Nachman, 10.

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narrows the all down to nothing.”248 “In ecstasy all that is past and that is future draws near to the present. Time shrinks, the line between the eternities disappears, only the moment lives, and the moment is eternity.”249 “Above nature and above time and above thought—thus is he called who is in ecstasy.”250 Hasidic ecstasy is a state of engagement with the present moment so that everything else subsides from perception. It can be focused either inward or outward, but is always a single-pointed concentration. It can express itself in action toward God—silent contemplation—or action toward the world, such as the Hasidic dance. It demonstrates a selfless state of awareness. Buber describes it as “an experience which grows in the soul out of the soul itself, without contact and without restraint, in naked oneness.” 251 This most inward of all experiences is a stepping out of the normal perceptual world into what some mystics describe as a greater, or transcendent, reality. For Buber, it is the reality of a soul unified within itself because of its selfless relationship to God and others. This inwardness prepares a Hasid for the outward appreciation of God in all aspects of daily life. In most systems of belief the believer considers that he can achieve a perfect relation to God by renouncing the world of the senses and overcoming his own natural being. Not so the Hasid. Certainly, ‘cleaving’ unto God is to him the highest aim of the human person, but to achieve it he is not required to abandon the external and internal reality of earthly being, but to affirm it in its true, Godoriented essence and thus so to transform it that he can offer it up to God.252
248

Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 23.
249

Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 20. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 19.

250

251 252

Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 2. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 126.

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Ecstasy has ramifications inward and outward, transcendent and immanent, personal and communal. Ecstasy engages the soul of the person and enflames the heart, which reconfigures relationships with others, the world, and the divine. Although ecstasy is an ascent to the infinite, in Hasidism “the heaven of today is the earth of tomorrow.”253 To find divine value in the world of today is to work to create a heavenly tomorrow. Heaven, for the Hasidim, does not exist only at the end of time as in much Protestant thought; rather, the kingdom of God is to be built out of the present world. Hasidism sees in God’s plan for each Jew both the opportunity and the responsibility to co-create a heavenly world here and now. Hasidic ecstasy reorients the vision each participant has of every aspect of life. To the man in ecstasy the habitual is eternally new. A Zaddik stood at the window in the early morning light and trembling cried, ”A few hours ago it was night and now it is day—God bring up the day!” And he was full of fear and trembling.254 Ecstasy brings God’s design into focus, even in the poverty of their villages, where Jews were allowed only the most subservient jobs. By fostering the personal experience of ecstasy, the energy and vitality of the Baal Shem brought the implicit beauty of life back into the daily life of the Jewish community. Ecstasy was an ascent to the infinite while always cherishing this physical world. Ecstasy raises everything corporeal to spirit. And in the midst of ecstasy is holiness.255 Hasidism taught that rejoicing in the world—accomplished with the
253

Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 19. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 18. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 18.

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whole being—leads to rejoicing in God.256 It also taught that without passion in this life, there could be no passionate appreciation in the life to come. If a man has fulfilled the whole of the teaching and all the commandments, but has not had the rapture and the burning [ecstasy], when he dies and passes beyond, paradise is opened to him, but because he has not felt rapture in the world, he also does not feel it in paradise.257 In Buber’s depiction of Hasidism there is no opposition to asceticism, but acknowledgment that the proper relationship between an individual and God should be based in the ecstatic joy of living. Asceticism has its place, but only as a short term practice in order to emphasize the normal joy in life of daily service to God and community. Rabbi Mendel of Kotz, for example, was known for his ascetic practices, but in the moment of meeting the Baal Shem his entire focus shifted from personal ascetic practices to service of the community. In Hasidism, ascetic practices can serve the soul, so long as they do not become the nature of the soul. Celebrating and taking joy in the life God has given are more valuable than self-denial as a path toward holiness. Because living within the joy inherent in life is considered the norm, asceticism could not be a Hasidic lifestyle but only a practice meant to intensify the soul. Never should asceticism gain mastery over a man’s life. A man may only detach himself from nature in order to revert to it again and, in hallowed contact with it, find his way to God.258

256

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 143. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 17. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 143.

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But ecstasy is not the destination of a soul approaching God. It is a path. Ecstasy is a personal, active path towards God, and the path of the Baal Shem and his followers. As an active path, it can be focused either outward or inward. When focused outward, ecstasy can become jubilant praise, or dance. When focused inward ecstasy can manifest as the silent, mystical union between God and individual and can fully express itself without activity. This mystical union can be felt as the complete loss of the self and independent being. This inward focused ecstasy is considered by some of the Hasidim as the highest expression of ecstasy. Expressed as complete silence this inward ecstasy is described as a very high holiness; if one enters it, one becomes detached from all being and can no longer become inflamed. Thus ecstasy completes itself in its own suspension.259 Ecstasy is an intensification of the drawing-near to God, but in God’s presence no expression—not even ecstasy—is necessary. By detaching themselves from external expression Holy men who draw near to God see and comprehend God in truth, as if there were “now the nothing as before creation. They turn the something back into nothing. And this is the more wonderful: to raise up what is beneath.”260 This inward ecstasy is described as a return to the world before the cosmos was created, when God alone existed. This inward ecstasy is embracing God without regard to time and space. Yet Hasidism acknowledges that an outward focused ecstasy—“to raise up what is beneath,” i.e. engagement with physical reality—is a greater spiritual practice than an internal ecstasy. “To raise up what is beneath” one must sustain proper relationship with each aspect of daily
259 260

Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 21. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 23.

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living, to be in service to the community and the cosmos as an expression of God. Ecstasy was held in high regard, not only the mystical interior relationship with God, but more importantly the ecstatic and “lifted up” Hasidic community. Avoda—Service Avoda (service) is seen as the social result of the ecstasy. Service and ecstasy are not two, but one; they are both the expression of the personal relationship to God: ecstasy manifests internally, service manifests outwardly. Ecstasy is exuberant in its expression of the gratefulness to God for his personal grace, while service to the community expresses that same relationship to God acknowledging his presence in the community. “Hitlahavut (ecstasy) is embracing God beyond time and space. Avoda (service) is the service of God in time and space” in the ritual prayers.261 The same relationship to God, when focused on the individual, can manifest as ecstasy, when focused with the community manifests as prayer. The service of each person in the communal prayers becomes the other face of ecstasy and its fulfillment, because the relationship with community demonstrates the same relationship to God that is found in mystical ecstasy. Hitlahavut is silent since it lies on the heart of God. Avoda speaks, ”What am I and what is my life that I wish to offer you my blood and my fire? Hitlahavut is as far from avoda as fulfillment is from longing. And yet hitlahavut streams out of avoda as the finding of God from the seeking of God.262 The intense relationship between an individual and God—ecstasy—is reflected in the relationship between that individual and the community—service. In Hasidism
261

Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 23. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 24.

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there is no cleavage between the earthly and the heavenly deed.263 “For all, above and below, is one unity.”264 Love of God, sourced in intimate relationship to God, reveals itself in service within the community of fellow Jews, therein enacting the unification of the above and the below in community. Not only do the lower need the higher, but the higher also need the lower. Here lies another distinction between the state of ecstasy and the state of service. Hitlahavut is the individual way and goal. . . . Here there is no human community, neither in doubt nor in attainment. Service, however, is open to many souls in union. The souls bind themselves to one another for greater unity and might. There is a service that only the community can fulfill.265 In Hasidism, life is built around community. Even ecstasy and prayer are never solely about the individual, but always work to the advantage of the community through the individual. Every intentional act is regarded as service to God; service which reclaims the divine in the ordinary, and builds up the community of the faithful. In Judaism generally, and in Hasidism specifically, each soul is considered to be a serving member of God’s creation, and the goal of that service is to bring forth the Kingdom of God. “No soul has its object in itself, in its own salvation,”266 but in the redemption of the entire community, a community defined by Hasidism to include both human and all non-human participants. These men whose utterances not infrequently throw more light on the paradoxical nature of the mystical consciousness than anything before them, became—supreme paradox!—the advocates of the
263

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 87. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 27. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 29. Buber, “The Way of Man,” 165.

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265

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simple and untainted belief of the common man, and this simplicity was even glorified by them as the highest religious value. . . . The fact is that from the beginning the Baal Shem, the founder of Hasidism, and his followers were anxious to remain in touch with the life of the community; and to this contact they assigned an especial value. The paradox which they had to defend —the mystic in the community of men.267 An experience of ecstasy brings to life and awareness the indwelling presence of God. The Hasid who experiences such ecstasy in life returns that ecstasy into the community through service. Such a person “lives with God” and serves God in time and space as an undivided soul having resolved aspects of inner and personal separation.268 Every service consecrated to God by such an undivided soul brings the spirit of God into the community. In this way, the Hasidic inflection of the mystical aspiration achieves an important balance between an individual mystical ardor and ascetic impulse and a relational embeddedness centered on community service. Whoever combines ecstasy (implying spiritual passivity) with service (implying spiritual activity) is thereby thought to have “conquered the primeval duality” of the world of Spirit and the world below and destroyed all separation.269 The unification of the duality of spiritual world and physical world allows the cosmic reunion of God and world, as before the creation when there was nothing but God. As Gershom Scholem describes such people, Mystics who had attained their spiritual aim—who, in Kabbalistic parlance, had discovered the secret of true devekuth (cleaving to God)—turned to the people with their mystical knowledge, their “Kabbalism became ethos,” and, instead of cherishing as a mystery
267

Scholem, Major Trends, 346. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 79. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 32.

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the most personal of all experiences, undertook to teach its secret to all men of good will.270 The greatest saints of early Hasidism are also its most popular teachers. Their stories inspire the community member to see beyond the material level in order to perceive the divine within each aspect of creation. And when viewed in this way, all of creation celebrates the divine and supports the community in the goal of becoming the Kingdom of God on this earth. All creation has inherent in it a spark of the divine, which, when rightly engaged by intentional human action, redeems each spark to fulfill its original purpose. Being eaten is the rightful purpose of food. To eat food is to celebrate God for his provision. A flower expresses the beauty put in it by God. To fail to appreciate such beauty devalues God’s presence in the blossom. All of creation, not merely human artifact, is engaged in service to the community. But without the awareness of the divine presence in each event, each event unfolds incompletely. Actively acknowledging the divine in each moment transforms the moment into something more than it was before. The individual or community expresses gratefulness, a joy, a trust in the mystery of life and its divine unfolding. The participation in the mystery brings a depth to life which Buber called “hallowing.” Hallowing every moment of life is considered perfecting service to God. Perfect service is described as conquering the primeval duality of world and spirit by bringing ecstasy into the heart of service. Persons who perform perfect service “dwell in the kingdom of life, and yet all walls have fallen, all

270

Scholem, Major Trends, 342.

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boundary-stones are uprooted, all separation is destroyed.”271 In perfect service, no specific action can be mandated or disallowed because the source of all action is the soul in service to God. To the question, “What is important?” Buber answers in Hasidic voice, “What one is engaged in at the moment.”272 Each person has a personal and unique way to serve God that requires all that person’s time and ability. The more perfect service occurs when individuals live so close to God that they “attain to the Nothing,” and come to see the world as God sees it so that they can serve God fully in the uniqueness of the present moment.273 Attaining to the Nothing is a phrase that describes the abyss between this world and the state of the cosmos before creation. The same phrase also describes the union of the individual soul with God, as if before the creation of the world when nothing else but God existed.274 Knowing the nothingness and extreme creativity available in the Nothing, the mystic serves God through serving humanity. Such a soul who has experienced ecstasy sees God in all beings and things. Such a soul loves all things and people as an expression of God. Living fully in the present moment epitomizes perfect service. The ecstasy of union with God and the service to the community complement each other, and neither can happen without the other in Hasidism. Ecstasy fulfills itself in service, the primeval duality is conquered and the soul of the person is brought into wholeness.

271

Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 31. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 170. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 31. Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 84.

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Kavana—Intention In both ecstasy and service, intention (kavana) is central. Buber describes intention as the mystery of a soul directed to a goal. . . . But there are no goals, only the goal. There is only one goal that does not lie: redemption. Kavana is a ray of God’s glory that dwells in each man and means redemption.”275 Each aspect of the present world shows the not-yet-completed state of God’s creation. For Buber, to sustain kavana—intention—is to work toward the redemption of God’s world in every activity. But Scholem, Idel, and Urban would require a stronger linkage of kavana to the specific act of prayer. They see the authentic Hasidic meaning of the word to be specific mental intent when reciting ritual payers to invoke the powers of the spiritual world in the redemption of this physical world. Buber’s omission of this aspect of kavana reveals his simplification towards essential concepts of Hasidic thought in order to achieve his goal of reinvigorating an omnipresent spirituality to daily life. Redemption in Hasidism, the ultimate goal of kavana, may be broadly understood as returning the world to God’s original plan, but its proper understanding begins with the creation story. Creation and Redemption in Hasidism In Hasidic teaching, the world exists because it was spoken out of the mouth of God.276 In the first chapter of Hebrew Scriptures “God said, … and it

275

Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 33. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 49.

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was so.” Indeed, God created many worlds before the present one.277 In the original cosmos, God alone existed. In order to create any other thing, God first “restricted himself” by which act “becoming” arose out of the absolute.278 This act of self-restriction was required in order for something other than God to exist. God created the first cosmos with such purity that material vessels could not contain his glory and shattered. The shards of those pre-existent worlds became the sparks and shells of this world279 in which God’s glory remains in an unfulfilled state. Kabbalah, the source of Hasidic mysticism, explains the existence of the world because God, though nondual and infinite within Himself, “wanted to allow relation to emerge; because He wanted to be known, loved and wanted.”280 The sparks which fell down from the primal creation into the covering shells and were transformed into stones, plants, and animals, they all ascend to their source through the consecration of the pious who works on them in holiness, uses them in holiness, consumes them in holiness.281

Buber briefly describes the purpose of the worlds before this one in a Hasidic pre-creation story. According to the Midrash Genesis Rabbah I.5 and I.32 God created and cast away many worlds before He created this one; it is to this that the verse refers, “Then God saw all that He had made: indeed, it was very good.” Only the Kabbalah gives the pre-creation a greater meaning than that of a gradual perfecting. With “the breaking to pieces of the vessels,” i.e., the chaotic pre-worlds that could not bear the divine fullness, the “holy sparks” have fallen into the “shells.” Indeed, “they fell in order to be raised: for the sake of man’s working on redemption those worlds existed and ceased to be.”
277 278

Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, 77. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 101. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 118. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 36.

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Humanity works toward the redemption of the world “to raise and purify the holy sparks that are imprisoned; from stone to plant, from plant to animal, from animal to speaking being. . . . That is the basic meaning of the service of each Jew in Israel.”282 No thing exists without a divine spark within.283 In leading the divine spark to its highest potential and greatest use, each Hasid elevates mundane things and actions to participate in the cosmos by expressing their highest potential. The Baal Shem teaches that no encounter with any being or thing is without a hidden significance. Every person, animal, tool, and even the soil itself contains a spark of the divine that depends upon human intervention to help it towards its pure form.284 In each activity, and more precisely, in the intention (kavana) held during each activity, every Hasid works toward the redemption of the world. Even eating, when done with the intention of receiving the sustaining gift of life, redeems the food eaten. Redemption of each activity comes from working with the greatest care not only for the finished product, but also for the tools, the environment, the animals, and all that is included in the web of life. The Baal Shem taught that each man has specific responsibility to his “servant, his animals, his tools” because each “concealed sparks that belong to the roots of his soul and wish to be raised by him to their origin.”285 All individuals, therefore, are connected at their personal root from before birth to the tools, possessions, and
282

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 187. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 49. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 173. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 188.

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relationships that are their responsibility to redeem by wise usage during this lifetime. Because the divine spark within each person relates to the soul-sparks of the divine in each daily interaction, Hasidism binds the ethical to the religious in our participation in the cosmos. For Buber, redemption is the intention (kavana) of every Hasidic activity. It binds the sacred and the profane because every action is potentially both—the intention of the actor determines the ultimate character of each activity. Hasidism requires no mortification of human urges. Activities of daily life can be hallowed, if lived with holy intention (kavana).286 In each activity holiness can be expressed. There is no single path to God. “Whatever you do may be a way to God, provided you do it in such a manner that it leads to God.”287 Any action can be decisive and it has the power to redeem the sparks of the divine, if done with holy intention (kavana).288 Awareness of the divine in every aspect of the world and a humble relationship with that divinity redeems the relationship and the actors in it. He who prays and sings in holiness, eats and speaks in holiness, in holiness takes the prescribed ritual bath and in holiness is mindful of his business, through him the fallen sparks are raised and the fallen worlds redeemed and renewed.289 The Baal Shem teaches that God is in each created thing as its primal essence. Yet this presence of God can only be perceived with the strength of the

286

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 32. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 141. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 52. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 38.

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human soul. If this spark is liberated through holy living, then the divine can be perceived and received by any person in every place and at all times.290 Thus the will of the Hasidic teaching of kavana (intention) is twofold: that enjoyment, the internalizing of that which is without, should take place in holiness and that creation, the externalizing of that which is within, should take place in holiness. Through holy creation and through holy enjoyment the redemption of the world is accomplished.291 The whole planet shares in God’s plan for both creation and redemption in Judaism because God created the world including His divine spark in every shell of physical matter. That each divine spark shall return home to rest again in God and conclude its wandering is God’s plan for the redemption for the world. God’s plan for the Jews is to live life in holiness in order to redeem this world. Shiflut—Humility The fourth theme Buber uses to describe Hasidism is shiflut—humility. Urban states that Hasidism defines a humble person as “one who lowers himself, diminishes his value to a point, where he totally ceases to think of himself and transcends his own being to become a vessel for the divine vitality.”292 Buber again idealizes and simplifies the concept in his portrayal of Hasidism to make it more easily approachable. Buber begins his interpretation of shiflut by linking it to the teachings of Rabbi Nachman who said that God never does the same thing twice. Everything that exists is unique: God intends it so.293 Because God creates
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Buber, Tales of Rabbi Nachman, 12. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 40. Urban, “Hermeneutics of Renewal,” 47. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 41.

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each person uniquely, each individual “is engraved in the heart of the all and lies for ever in the lap of the timeless as he who is constituted thus and not otherwise.”294 The presence of the timeless within each person pervades Buber’s concept that the eternal can be known through the personal. Hasidism values all persons for the goodness each uniquely contains. Each individual is seen as an expression of the present moment, unique in all of time and space. The past experiences and the inherent abilities of each person combine to be a unique expression in each moment. No other person, at any other time, could be exactly what each individual is right now, and this bears a spark of the divine. The purpose of each person’s life is to unfold the essential goodness that is uniquely available for that person to become. The unfolding of the potential perfection inherent in each human begins with the realization that the external world, in significant ways, is an expression of the inner world. At first, a man should himself realize that conflict situations between himself and others are nothing but the effects of conflict situations in his own soul; then he should try to overcome this inner conflict, so that afterwards he may go out to his fellow men and enter into new transformed relations with them.295 Beginning with oneself, creating a right relationship with God begins to yield a transformed relationship with others and expresses an appreciation of the divine handiwork in each aspect of the cosmos. Those who truly perceive their essence will not be swayed by the opinions of others. “He who becomes so entirely individual that no otherness any longer has power over him or place in him has

294

Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 41. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 156.

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completed the journey and is redeemed and rests in God.”296 The transformation of every individual contributes to the transformation of the world. Such a perspective enables genuine people to develop, though not to perfection. There is no template for a perfect person in Hasidism. Instead, each person is a never-tobe-repeated event. To understand our personal value requires our understanding of God’s divine spark within each of us, as well as within all other creatures. For Hasidism, the intention to see the divine in every aspect of creation and daily living forms the foundation, ecstasy the inspiration, and service the activity of understanding God. Such an intention arises only in those individuals who understand God as God-within-humanity, residing in loving relationship to the cosmos. Such “perfected” persons acknowledge that their divine uniqueness must also be true of every other. When perfected persons feel the other as part of their self and their self as part of the other, humility arises.297 For “in him who is full of himself there is no room for God.”298 Humble people both understand their own unique possibility, and see similar unique potential within every other person in their web of relationships. Without preference to self or other, a humble person enacts the will of God in daily life. The humble person honors each other person for what that person brings. “In each man there is a priceless treasure that is in no other. Therefore, one shall honor each man for the hidden value that only he and none of his comrades has.”299 An ultimate respect for person and cosmos radiates
296

Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 41. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 43, and Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 43. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 45.

297

113.
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from this humility. The presence of God in each aspect of creation reveals a divine life force in every particle of creation. A humble person acknowledges that a spark of the divine resides in every thing and person. There is no thing in the world in which there is not life, and each has received from his life the form in which it stands before your eyes. And lo, this life is the life of God.300 In Hasidism loving the world and all its inhabitants is a primary force. For Buber, one of the Hasidic solutions to life’s problems is “to love more.”301 Indeed, many stories are told in which the solution to a problem is not to work harder for some change, but to love more. When a father asked what he could do about his son’s estrangement from God, the Baal Shem replied: “Love him more,”302 which is to say, accept that the divine uniqueness in the son will unfold according to God’s plan, which may not be presently visible. When there was insufficient room in the carriage for all the passengers, the Baal Shem said, “We will just have to love each other more to make room.”303 As Rabbi Raphael expresses the same idea, “Excess in love is necessary in order to make up for the lack in the world.”304 In this love there lies a deep trusting that the divine in each aspect of the universe will express itself as it should. With this trust is an acknowledgement that no one person is more important than another; all are expressions of the divine. This

300

Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 46. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 47 Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 47. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 141.

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Buber, Origin and Meaning, 141.

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engenders an acceptance of the other as equal to the self, and diminishes the distinction between self and other. This results in humility with respect to the other because they also express the divine. This humility in love is comprehensive and extends to all the living “without selection and distinction.”305 This kind of humble love arises from a depth greater than the individual and expresses a knowledge much more profound than any one person could know. Such love “exists in reality between the creatures, that is, it exists in God.”306 In seeing the self as a unique expression of a divine spark and all others in the world as created equally, the humility that emerges sets in motion a love that results in community. The individual sees God and embraces Him. The individual redeems the fallen worlds. And yet the individual is not a whole, but a part. And the purer and more perfect he is, so much the more intimately does he know that he is a part and so much the more actively there stirs in him the community of existence. That is the mystery of humility.307 Hasidism teaches that each person can approach the divine only through community, because it is only within both the human and the larger community that human beings find themselves in relationship with the world. God cannot be known outside of the knowledge and experience of the world.308 Community is the carriage of God’s majesty, and shared love holds the community together.309
305

Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 45.

Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 47; Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 119. italics in original.
306 307

Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 42. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 23. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 118.

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In honoring and developing unique talents and skills, each person develops God-given gifts. Hasidism expects each individual to receive these gifts from God, and return them to the community of God. More fully developed gifts given to the community offer God’s blessing to the community. Gifts need to be both given and received to bear fruit. It is in the community that the giving of the gift benefits both the giver and the receiver. The humble person, knowing the other as equally expressing the divine spark, does not take on helping another member of the community as a task, but as joyous opportunity to circulate their God-given gifts. Such helpfulness is not a “willed and practiced virtue. . . but an inner being, feeling and expressing. Nowhere in it is there a compulsion, nowhere a self-humbling, a self-restraining, a self-resolve.”310 To help one another is no task, but a matter of course, the reality on which the life together of the Hasidim is founded. Help is no virtue, but an artery of existence.311 Mutual dependence weaves the community together and allows the full expression of the uniqueness of each individual. “Living with the other as a form of knowing is justice. Living with the other as a form of being is love.”312 The humble person who lives in community as the expression of God’s plan “realizes with his deed the truth that all souls are one; for each is a spark from the primordial soul, and the whole of the primordial soul is in each.”313 For such a

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Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 115. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 48; Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 120. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 45. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 49.

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soul, the world reveals a welcoming cosmos and participation in life is a joyous celebration of God’s design. Thus the humble man, who is the loving man and the helper . . . knows that all is in God and greets His messengers as trusted friends. He has no fear of the before and the after, of the above and the below, of this world and the world to come. He is at home and never can be cast out. The earth cannot help but be his cradle, and heaven cannot help but be his mirror and his echo.314 The Zaddik Central to every Hasidic community is the Zaddik, a title that translates to “righteous man”, to which Buber adds “the proven one.”315 The term Zaddik has significant history in the Hebrew Scriptures and Kabbala, but for Hasidism is best exemplified by the Baal Shem Tov and his immediate successors, who ultimately embodied and shaped the definition of the term. For Hasidism, the Zaddik is a person whose life and being embody the Torah.316 The Zaddikim (plural of Zaddik) not only lead the community with their teachings, they embody the teachings.317 The Zaddikim function as the social and spiritual center of the Hasidic learning community by serving the community as leaders in prayer and guides in instruction, by giving themselves to their disciples who often live in their household, and by offering comfort, advice, and counsel to body and soul for those who travel from near and far to visit them, especially on sacred holidays. Each Zaddik serves from his personal strengths. Zaddikim are humble men and
314

Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 49. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 221. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 221. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 129.

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women who know their value in God’s eyes as equal to every other creation of God, and who acknowledge that each person “can bring down an overflowing blessing on all the world through their words and actions.”318 As a perfected person, each Zaddik fulfills the very same role that every human can—“the rightful subject of the act in which God wants to be known, loved, and wanted. In him the ‘lower,’ earthly man realizes his archetype, the cosmic primordial man who embraces the spheres.”319 Each Zaddik stands as example and assistant to every Hasid by merging the profane and the sacred in a vision of a unified world. In the Zaddik’s vision, there is nothing corporeal that cannot be raised to spirit. And to raise everything to spirit is the primary function of a Zaddik. “Thus he is the helper in spirit, the teacher of world-meaning, the conveyor to the divine sparks. The world needs him, the perfected man; it awaits him, it awaits him ever again.”320 Without this vision of the Zaddik, the world appears as dead earth, having no expression of the divine spark, or at least no expression obvious to the ordinary person. The Zaddik offers by his presence and his deeds an example of greatness and holiness, “but they are not models which we should copy.”321 Each Zaddik understands that the vitality of the divine spark exists always in the present moment. The mission of bringing the transcendent into the present, of seeing the sacred in the profane acts of everyday life, requires an immediate relationship to the divine. The Zaddik supports all others in the realization that
318

Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 42. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 129. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 69. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 138.

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God’s path is different for each. It is in this difference that expression of the divine appears in the present time. And because God’s path is different for each person, we are only truly fulfilled and realizing God’s plan when we are most fully expressing our unique self. As Rabbi Susya said, “In the world to come I shall not be asked: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ I shall be asked: ‘Why were you not Susya?’”322 Only in being Susya, and not allowing himself to be externally or historically defined, can Susya fulfill God’s divine plan. Likewise, the Zaddikim understood that each person had a personal path to God within the Jewish tradition. There is not a single path to God, but many; each person’s path toward God reflects that person’s uniqueness. Each Zaddik embodied this blend of the personal and the divine. Just as our fathers founded new ways of serving, each a new service according to his character: one the service of love, the other that of stern justice, the third that of beauty, so each of us in his own way shall devise something new in the light of teachings and of service, and do what has not yet been done.323 It does not require great men, or great accomplishments, for an individual to bring unique gifts to the community. It is the engagement with the here-and-now of life that evokes a response from each individual. This response expresses the unique talents and abilities of that individual. Regardless how small, accomplishments have real value “in that we bring them about in our own way and by our own efforts.”324 Each personally authentic activity is an outgrowth of the uniqueness of
322

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 140. The Zaddik of Zlotchov, quoted in Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 139. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 139.

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each unique person. No other could perform the same act with the same level of personal integrity and authenticity. One Zaddik, known as the Seer of Lublin, when asked “one general way to the service of God,” replied: It is impossible to tell men what way they should take. For one way to serve God is through learning, another through prayer, another through fasting, and still another through eating. Everyone should carefully observe what way his heart draws him to, and then choose this way with all his strength.325 Each person is a new creation in the world. The unfolding of that unique potential hidden within each person is as divine as the unfolding of the universe. Moreover, that uniqueness contributes significantly to the community. The Baal Shem said “each man is called to bring something in the world to completion. Each one is needed by the world.”326 The Zaddik acted as embodiment and guide for their disciples and the community at large in the practice of hallowing all aspects of life. Each Zaddik lived in the community as a visible expression of the Torah, not merely a teacher of the Torah. The life of the Zaddik demonstrated the complete life. The Zaddik’s life expressed both the individual relationship with God and the historical relationship of God with the Jews—the Torah, blending both into the ever-present expression of the divine in the everyday. This complete life, or perfected life, was never accomplished by living according to Jewish law, though Hasidism certainly has its ritual behaviors in addition to the many laws of the Torah. Rather than adherence to the law, the Hasidic goal of life was to

325

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 138. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 141.

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move ever upward to come to the root of all teaching and all command, to the I of God, the simple unity and boundlessness where command and law sink down and are as if destroyed.327 This simple unity requires a joining of heart and hand, of what one believes and what one does. It was not for the Zaddik alone, but for every Hasidic Jew to bring every aspect of life into relationship to God. Unifying a life embraces all parts of life, acknowledging “no essential distinction between sacred and profane spaces, times, and actions. At each place, in each hour, in each act, in each speech the holy can blossom forth.”328 This Hasidic practice of unification impacts not only the person, but the whole world. This “unification of the separated means just the unification of God with the world, which continues to exist as world, only that it is now, just as world, redeemed.”329 By one person’s life becoming one the whole world becomes one. “In the Hasidic message the separation between ‘life in God’ and ‘life in the world,’ the primal evil of all ‘religion,’ is overcome in genuine, concrete unity.”330 The unification of an individual is most clearly seen in the act of prayer. Although prayer embodies the ecstatic union of a person in selfless absorption with the presence of God, prayer is not an action of a subject engaging an object. Rather, prayer “is in no way ‘subjective’ at all, but a subjective-objective event, an event of meeting, it is the dynamic form of the divine unity itself.”331 As the
327

Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 19. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 31. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 85. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 99. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 133.

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Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz said, “The people imagine that they pray before God. But this is not so. For prayer itself is the essence of divinity.”332 The unified individual, like prayer, brings the divine into the present moment by way of authentic concern. As each individual finds their fulfillment in authentic presence, the community, and the world, takes a step closer to the kingdom of God—a time and place on earth in which the will of God is manifest in each individual and the community. Hasidic wisdom embraces the value of each individual as a unique self. While each has a different role to play in history, the value of one is no greater than that of another in the eyes of God. Each individual has particular talents necessary for the completion of the community that are fully revealed only in the uniqueness of that particular individual. Before this great significance of being on an equal footing one to the other, the differences in value between men fade. Not only is there in each man a particle of God from above, in each there is one unique to him, not to be found elsewhere. “In everyone,” says Rabbi Pinhas, “is something precious that is in no other.” The uniqueness and irreplaceability of each human soul is a basic teaching of Hasidism. God intends in His creation an infinity of unique individuals, and within it he intends each single one with exception as having a quality, a special capacity, a value that no other possesses; each has in His eyes an importance peculiar to him in which none other can compete with him, and He is devoted to each with an especial love because of this precious value hidden in him.333 According to the Hasidic teachings, the simple as well as the wise bring value to the community. Each person participates in God’s plan, but God’s plan is not something external that must be learned; it is as internal as the essence of the

332

Buber, Origin and Meaning, 139. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 250.

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individual, as internal as songs are to birds, and as flowing downhill is to water. According to Hasidism, God’s plan is that all individuals live to their fullest potential. Each person should “search his own heart, choose his particular way, bring about the unity of his being”334 Each individual can only begin in the current moment by intentionally engaging in the journey of life to find God’s plan, which is also the journey of their own personal fulfillment. That journey must go deeper than casual existence. The journey to find the unique, authentic self for the Hasid requires both the complete development of the self, and the complete abandonment of the self. To “unify the soul” is to see beyond the ego, beyond the tasks of daily living, and to engage our full potential within the complex network of relationships that both shape us and that we in turn shape.335 The place to begin is oneself. The unified person becomes God’s vessel for the redemption of not only that individual, but also the community, and the world. Redemption The theme of redemption appears throughout Hasidic tales. The possibility of redemption begins in the creation story. When God spoke the world into being the divine spark became encased in a shell, or materialized in the physical world. Embedded in every person or thing is a spark of the divine, which desires to rejoin the infinite wholeness that is God. Hasidism follows the esoteric Kabbalah tradition in considering the indwelling presence of God in the world—the divine feminine, the Shekinah—to be joined with the world in its present unredeemed
334

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 162. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 158.

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state. As unredeemed, the Shekinah dwelling in the world is also God suffering for the world.336 God has fallen into duality through the created world and its deed: into the being of God, Elohim, which is withdrawn from the creatures, and the presence of God, the Shekinah, which dwells in things, wandering, straying, scattered. Only redemption will reunite the two in eternity. But it is given to the human spirit, through its service, to be able to bring the Shekinah near to its source, to help it to enter it.337 The Shekinah is God’s Word that has entered into creation and dwells with God’s people.338 In Hasidic teachings, it is the task of every person to purify the sparks found in every thing through reverent relationships. This purification of the sparks through intentionally reverent relationships hallows each present event. This hallowing of every activity raises each spark to return to its origin.339 In Hasidic teaching, only humanity has the power to raise the divine sparks back to their origin.340 This intention of raising the sparks unites each created being with its divine purpose, which ultimately returns them to their pre-created origin. It is important to note, however, that nowhere in this creative and redemptive scheme is there a dualism attempting to transcend reality. Instead, as Buber summarizes the situation, “the unification of the separated means just the unification of God with the world, which continues to exist as world, only that it is now, just as

336

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 220. Buber, Legends of the Baal Shem, 26-27. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 220. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 84. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 84.

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world, redeemed.”341 Holy living transforms relationships with people, plants, animals, and the entire world. Redemption binds the person and world together just as the Shekinah is bound to God’s people. As the world is redeemed, the suffering of the people and of the Shekinah ends. In Hasidic belief, each redemptive act of every individual manifests divine redemption.342 Only in an intentional relation to the world does any human have an authentic relationship with God and take part in the redemption of the world. “Thus it is held that the love of the living is love of God, and it is higher than any other service.”343 In Hasidism, the love of God is expressed in the loving service of others. Conversely, without loving God’s people, how can a person declare a love of God? This love of God, expressed as loving service to the community becomes the redemption of a yet unredeemed world. That the world is yet unredeemed is obvious in Hasidism. The story is told that when someone unintentionally blew the shofar announcing the presence of the Messiah from the Jerusalem mound, the Rabbi briefly looked out the window. Seeing that the world was unchanged, he quickly announced, “The Messiah is not yet.” The condition of the world demonstrates the need for redemption. Nothing in the world is of itself evil because it carries within it a spark of God from creation and has the potential to be a vessel of holy living.344 All people who are intentionally bound to the world through service to their neighbors (human,
341

Buber, Origin and Meaning, 85. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 86. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 117. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 87.

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animal, or plant) are thereby in service to God, bringing the possibility of redemption to the entire world. Through actions directed toward the well-being of all members of the world, redemption occurs, resulting in the Kingdom of God. The passion that enflames the ecstatic prayers of a Hasid manifests itself in the humble service of right relationship with others, which is nothing less than the redemption of the world.345 Redemption in Hasidism, therefore, takes place every moment.346 According to the Hasidic creation story, fragmented sparks of the divine exist within physical matter in order that humanity may have a primary role to play in the redemption of the world. At the same time, Hasidism acknowledges the choice that every human has in this redemptive scheme. In some religious teachings, the divine creates the world and also bears ultimate responsibility for creation’s concluding goal, whether that conclusion be redemption or destruction. Not so in Hasidic Judaism. Instead, according to Buber, Hasidic teaching is wholly based upon the double-directional relationship of the human I and the divine Thou, on the reality of reciprocity, on the meeting. From man, from ‘below’ the impulse toward redemption must proceed. Grace is God’s answer.”347 Human responsibility shares the weight of the future of the world. God from above initiates the drama. Each Hasid engages the task at hand to continually create a more loving world. In response, God provides his grace to make it possible. In Hasidism, there is no apocalyptic rebuilding of the world. The work
345

Buber, Origin and Meaning, 112. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 11. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 122.

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done today paves the way for heaven tomorrow. God could have created a different world in which the work of humankind was unimportant, but God intentionally chose instead to create this world, a world in which the work of every human can profoundly change the future of the world. “God wills to need man for the work of completing His creation.”348 For Hasidism, there is no separation between the plan of God and the actions of humanity. They are not two separate events, but one. God’s grace joins human action to create His world. The choices of each member of the community in each moment made in service to the community and therefore also to God, bring about the redemption of Gods’ creation. Thus the lived moment of man stands in truth between creation and redemption; it is joined to his being acted upon in creation, but also to his power to work for redemption. Rather he does not stand between the two but in both at once; for as creation does not merely take place once in the beginning but also at every moment throughout the whole of time, so redemption does not take place merely once at the end, but also at every moment throughout the whole of time.349 All human beings stand free to choose their individual actions in each moment. By choosing to express their uniqueness in who they become, by choosing to respect all their relationships with the world, and by choosing to create a future that honors others, such individuals choose God. Because God intends it to be so, humanity embodies the power to draw from the divine realm to bring the ideal into the material world.350 It is through this human capability, therefore, that God
348

Buber, Origin and Meaning, 1. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 105. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 175.

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continues to create. As Buber expresses this profound Hasidic insight, “God wants to come to His world, but he wants to come to it through man,” and only when humanity chooses to let Him in.351 In the world as it exists, God leaves the power of choice with each individual. Humanity’s ability to fall signifies its ability to ascend: to the same extent that humanity can bring ruin on the world so it can work for its redemption.352 The astounding consequence of such a plan is that while God created the world, its fate now rests with humankind.353 One of the unique religious teachings of Hasidism is that personal salvation is not the highest aim. The object of Hasidic devotion is the redemptive impact each individual can have on the world. “Judaism regards each man’s soul as a serving member of God’s Creation which, by man’s work, is to become the Kingdom of God.”354 Because every human action has an impact on both others and the future, it carries infinite responsibility.355 God’s plan of redemption for his creation is carried out by the hands of humanity. This plan is as much about shaping the individuals who do this work as it is about the work being done.356 As Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Ladi said. “What concern of ours, if they exist, are the upper worlds! Our concern is in this lower world, the world of corporeality, to let the

351

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 35. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 130. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 123. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 165. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 68. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 50.

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hidden life of God shine forth.”357 In Hasidism, redemption takes place in the here and now, not in the future, distant by even a day. The path toward redemption begins with oneself, honors the other, and serves with love. Hallowing the world begins in the depths of each person, where choice takes place.358 To work toward a holy world begins deep within each person. Once begun, that work results in significantly more holiness present in the person and a bit more holiness present in the world. Hasidic teachings of creation begin with sparks of God within all matter, acknowledges the presence of the Shekinah with His people in their suffering, and empowers the actions of each individual to be the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth. This doctrine leaves no room for any fundamental distinction between one world “above” and another “below.” Such distinctions are but two descriptions of one world. Hasidism professes the two worlds are one, and the unification of the two in every aspect of life becomes the human mission.359 The process of hallowing this world is also the process of seeing and living in a way that supports being open to a greater possibility. This is the ultimate purpose: to let God in. But we can let Him in only where we really stand, where we live, where we live a true life. If we maintain holy intercourse with the little world entrusted to us, if we help the holy spiritual substance to accomplish itself in that section of Creation in which we are living, then we are establishing, in this our place, a dwelling for the Divine Presence.360

357

Buber, Origin and Meaning, 181. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 31. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 174. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 176.

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The Kingdom of God begins when all is holy. The current world demonstrates a preliminary stage of this hallowing process; “it is the not-yet-hallowed.”361 Creation reaches completion only with the purification of all souls. Summary Buber identifies these four themes as the primary characteristics of Hasidism. Buber’s writings describe not only the religious impulse of the heart of the Baal Shem but an inherent spiritual impulse of all humanity. Hasidism describes a God-infused universe in which every human plays a unique and significant role. God expresses Himself both through the natural world and through revelations experienced by persons who share them with the community. In the inwardness of ecstasy, a glimpse of the glory of God and the unity of the human occurs. Service to others becomes the fruit of ecstasy and evidence of the personal transformation. The wisdom attained from ecstasy supports the primary intention of Jewish history—the redemption of all God’s creation—by bringing forth the fullness of creation’s potential. In humility, every person who sees the inherent spark of the divine in both self and other builds community around the shared reality. In the Hasidic life, to serve the community becomes joy because both individual and community embrace the divine spark in all beings. Life becomes a responsible celebration. This unexpected joyfulness of life-with-God was what set the teachings of the Baal Shem apart, and what caused Hasidism to spread so widely in the nineteenth century. Hasidic teaching witnesses and creates a world that honors God in all things. Unlike teachings fashioned for participation

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Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 29.

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in a transcendent world, Hasidism lives in communal activities and flourishes in the public forum. The simple as well as the wise become whole, unified persons. Every person plays a role in God’s redemptive plan, because redemption, like creation and revelation, is an ongoing process. The kingdom of God grows out of the redemption of today. Both creation and redemption depend upon the choices and actions of each human. Each human acts as a ladder between heaven and earth that facilities the ascent of communal prayers and the descent of God’s blessing. Righteous persons carry the prayers of others along with their own intention in prayer. The Hasidic life is highly spiritual, describing a reality unavailable to the rational mind. It spiritualizes daily activities. Much like his earlier mysticism, Hasidism for Buber exhibits a rising above traditional lifestyles to realize a greater meaningfulness of life. In seeing divine potential within every possible activity, the human power to acknowledge the divine spark in all things transforms the profane into the sacred. Every moment, every relationship, every action, and every being has the potential to be sacred and to serve God, because every aspect of the cosmos is inspirited by the sacred.

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From Hasidism toward Dialogue
From his earliest speeches and writings, Martin Buber strove to describe a life grounded in an additional way of knowing—in lived experience (Erlebnis). Based on the teachings he encountered through his academic relationship with Wilhelm Dilthey, his involvement with the New Community, and his profound friendship with Gustav Landauer, Buber and his contemporaries understood an Erlebnis experience to be “an elementary and immediate relation” having epistemological value.362 Along with rational knowing, they considered Erlebnis as “a primary faculty of knowing the nonlogical, dynamic events of the human spirit.”363 Indeed the attitude toward life presented by Erlebnis experience played a dominant role in Buber’s approach to the mystical content of life. Buber believed that life could be lived at a greater depth of engagement. The more intentionally one engages life by intensely embracing the present moment and its unique and eternal meaning, the more profoundly one enters into unity “with the primal experience of the world Spirit.”364 In Mendes-Flohr’s words, “by heightening his Erlebnis, one achieves both a unity with his inner-self and the cosmic spirit: in the realization of his inner I he becomes ‘the I of the world.’”365 Moreover, Cosmic unification meant the proud feeling of bearing world tension . . . so that all contradictions in the soul are made fruitful
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Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 17. Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 17. Flohr, “The Road to I and Thou,” 202. Flohr, “The Road to I and Thou,” 202.

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and the primal polarity of life becomes one: through creative, realizing love, man demonstrates that he was made in the image of God.366 Buber’s early formulation of mysticism based on this concept of Erlebnis was an attempt to overcome the limitations of space and time by active participation in the present moment to disclose the eternal within it. This Erlebnis mysticism “was undoubtedly the dominant concern of Buber’s pre-dialogical thought.”367 After the initial shaping of his mystical thought by his Erlebnis experiences, Buber revisited the faith of his ancestors through the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. Buber’s compilations of the legends and sayings of the Baal Shem Tov show that mystical practices within Hasidism are explicitly built on the esoteric belief that each individual, through the intention expressed in their actions, plays a role in the unification of heaven and earth. These Hasidic practices blend mysticism with communal living and extend mysticism to include an ethos focused on human relationship. In his retelling of Hasidism, Buber showed that internal ecstasy and community service were both service to God. Ecstasy and service were two expressions of one event—a life lived in dedication. Like Erlebnis experiences, Hasidism can be lived only in the present moment and requires the full engagement of each individual’s intention and action, and in so doing binds the transcendent world to the mundane reality of human experience. What began for Buber as the study of Hasidism and a reconnection with his Jewish heritage ultimately grew beyond this original goal to become “a question

366

Avnon, Martin Buber, The Hidden Dialogue, 146. Flohr, “The Road to I and Thou,” 202.

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of the claim of existence itself.”368 Hasidism demands personal responsibility for individual action with attention to the effects implicit in every act. Hasidism makes a sacrament of living by observing sacred potential in every profane act when undertaken with appropriate intention. In such acts, human will joins with divine will while retaining personal choices and responsibilities. In this way, Hasidism proclaims the “infinite ethos” of each moment.369 In addition to ecstasy and service, Buber describes Hasidism with two additional characteristics: intention and humility. A clearly defined, strongly held intention is rare in human life, according to both Buber and the Baal Shem. A person’s intention is crucial for an awareness of the divine potential of any activity. Any act performed as service to God brings to life a divine presence in that very act, but that divine presence becomes known as such only when encountered with an intention that is open to perceiving the divine. This quality of intention transforms not only the life lived, but also the world perceived. When intention reveals the divine potential inherent in every aspect of life, humility arises in response. Self and other lose their distinctiveness in a person who sees the divine presence everywhere equally. An unusual and selfless strength of will arises in the person who can engage in any task, menial or lofty, as service to God. So these four characteristics that typify the ideal Hasidic person—ecstasy, service, intention, and humility—define a practical mysticism that blends the mystical transcendent with the pragmatic daily. In so doing, Hasidism roots

368

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 23. Buber, Origin and Meaning, 116.

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mysticism in daily life with practical and ethical results. Both Erlebnis experiences and Hasidic Judaism were mystical for Buber in their desire to see the world from a perspective that finds eternal meaning in present action. The role of the individual to engage with, respond to, and intentionally participate in life was a consistent characteristic of both types of mysticism in Buber’s works and life. Mehe and Buber’s Rejection of Mysticism According to his earliest written account in the essay “Dialogue” (1929) and published in Between Man and Man, Buber’s move away from transcendent mystical experience was a simple and singular affair. History, however, tells a more complex story. In his own simple version, Buber briefly alludes to his involvement in mysticism when he describes religion as “hours that were taken out” of life and spent in transcendent reverie.370 The ‘religious’ lifted you out. Over there now lay the accustomed existence with its affairs, but here illumination and ecstasy and rapture held, without time or sequence. Thus [my] own being encompassed a life here and a life beyond, and there was no bond but the actual moment of the transition.371 He later described such transcendent experiences as “illegitimate” because of their implicit division of his life into two unrelated segments, the transcendent and the mundane. During transcendent reveries, he was unavailable to the world, living an internal ecstasy that could be shared with no one. He ascribes his stark realization of the inappropriateness of transcendent reverie as the result of a single meeting with a young man named Mehe. Mehe visited Buber with a question. In his later
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Buber, “Dialogue,” 13. Buber, ”Dialogue,” 13.

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account of that visit, Buber reports that he was sociably present “but not in spirit,”372 and although he conversed attentively he failed “to guess the questions” Mehe did not ask.373 Several months later, Buber learned that Mehe had died, not by suicide as some have described, but at the front in the Great War as did thousands of others.374 Nevertheless, Buber concluded that Mehe died “out of that kind of despair that may be defined partially as ‘no longer opposing one’s own death.’”375 Because of that incident Buber says: Since then I have given up the “religious”. . . or it has given me up. I possess nothing but the everyday out of which I am never taken. The mystery is no longer disclosed. . . . I know no fullness but each mortal hour’s fullness of claim and responsibility.376 Exactly what time Buber intends by his comment “since then” is unclear because the meeting with Mehe occurred in July 1914, Mehe’s death was not known until some months later, and Buber’s public disclosure of this experience did not occur for another fourteen years, by which time his philosophy of dialogue was already in the public forum. His American biographer, Maurice Friedman, and his German biographer, Grete Schaeder, propose that Buber judged this event “as a demand that he change

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Buber, “Dialogue,” 13. Buber, “Dialogue,” 14.

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Audrey Hodes in his book Martin Buber: An Intimate Portrait relays an incorrect story that Buber knew Mehe’s death to be suicide.
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Friedman, Martin Buber’s Life and Work, 188. Buber, “Dialogue,” 14.

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his life, that he practice that asceticism that means the giving up of mystical rapture rather than things of this world.”377 “Thus,” Friedman concludes, Buber gave up the much more perfect and satisfying fullness of mystic rapture, in which the self experiences no division within or limit without, for the always imperfect fullness of the common world of speech-with-meaning built up through ever-demanding, ever-painful meetings with others.378 The conversation with Mehe has become a symbol of many things that profoundly influenced Buber during the war years. It did not stand as a single momentous epiphany, but one of many inevitable events during a time of worldwide crisis that influenced significantly how Buber understood the interaction of the national social systems of the day. Indeed, Friedman concludes that afterwards “war and crisis were the ‘normal’ situation for the rest of Buber’s long life.”379 War Spirit Before the war began, Buber was involved in a loosely knit group of intellectuals from several European countries who hoped to foster an international unity that would prevent the impending conflagration. Nonetheless, he viewed the war through the lens of his Erlebnis mysticism and greeted it with enthusiasm.380 In this initial “euphoric” period,381 Buber believed the catastrophic energy of the

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Friedman, Martin Buber’s Life and Work, 189; Schaeder, Hebrew Humanism, Friedman, Martin Buber’s Life and Work, 190. Friedman, Martin Buber’s Life and Work, 190. Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 93. Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 10.

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war would usher in an “eon of realization.”382 The intention that Buber felt was absent in daily life before the war would now be found in the necessity of a response to the war by each individual involved—and every individual was involved. As Buber wrote in a letter dated October 16, 1914 to Dutch pacifist Frederik van Eeden, everyone found themselves released from little events, they have won freedom and completion in sacrifice. They have tossed off the secure, the conditioned, in order to hurl themselves into the abyss of the unconditioned. And this very fact, that they are doing it, is the revelation of the unconditional in an age that seemed lost to it. For that, we have to rejoice in the horrors and bitter anguish of this war, and rejoice tremendously beyond all that. It is a terrible grace; it is the grace of the new birth.383 Buber viewed the war as powered by the arousal of intention in every individual and nation. Millions enlisted to fight for their country. Jews of every nation sought to assist their specific national effort. Buber saw this intensity of commitment as the unification of the soul of each individual, as the overcoming of inner duality.384 To Buber it was of “little ultimate significance”385 that Jews of one nation fought and killed other Jews. At this early stage the most important issue was not so much the final outcome as was the intensity with which each individual engaged the energy and activity of the time. In that same letter to van Eeden, Buber wrote: The experience of these times confirms me in my fundamental view that our connection with the absolute is expressed not in our
382

Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 94. Glatzer, Letters of Martin Buber, 162. Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 97. Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 96.

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knowledge but in our actions. We do not experience the absolute in what we learn, but in what we create. It does not appear within the human being as a What, but as a How, not as something to be thought, but as something to be lived.386 For Buber, the war brought forth in each individual an intense and intentional response, and in that depth of personal engagement with reality Buber found a coming-to-life of spirit. Buber hoped that the collective response would lead to a spirit of renewal, but commitment to the unknown result was required to begin. As Buber argued in his essay “The Spirit of the Orient and Judaism” a force of renewal must emerge from the war: The nation who will lead this renewal is that nation whose life is suffused with Geist and who alone in modern Europe possess a metaphysical creativity which is related to the great Oriental nations—the German nation.387 In so saying, he proposed that only Germany had the spiritual capacity to lead the way out of the war, demonstrating the extent to which Buber’s metaphysical interpretation colored his perception of world events at that time. This same comment also served as the spark that ignited a firestorm between Buber and his long-term friend, Gustav Landauer. Critique by Landauer After years as neighbors in Berlin and almost two decades of friendship, Buber’s published comments prompted Landauer to visit Buber in his new home in Heppenheim, a rural village. Shortly after returning home from this friendly visit Landauer wrote a severely critical letter to Buber on May 12, 1916. In this
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Glatzer, Letters of Martin Buber, 165.

Mendes-Flohr records in his footnotes that this statement was published only in the first edition of the essay. It was removed in all subsequent editions.
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letter, Landauer criticizes the Kriegsbuber, or “War Buber,” for his public writings, specifically his recent article entitled “Watchword” in Der Jude and those passages already mentioned: Your [writings] are very painful to me, very repugnant, and border on incomprehensibility. Object though you will, I call this manner aestheticism and formalism, and I say that you have no right to publicly take a stand on the political events of this present day, which are called the World War; no right to try and tuck these tangled events into your philosophical scheme: what results is inadequate and outrageous.388 Landauer further castigates Buber for his “almost childish simplification” of the widespread Jewish enlistment in the battle,389 and then continues: I feel myself personally disavowed. But I also feel that you are disavowing the thousands and tens of thousands of poor devils who are not at all conscious of a mission but are indeed submitting to compulsion out of a paramount duty (namely, to live), because by so doing they can hope they will be more likely to come out alive.390 Landauer emphasizes that at least some, if not all, of the Jews engaged in battle were not fighting for the expression of the unconditioned, as Buber had argued, but in fact “desire nothing more than to survive the war and return to their families and the tedium of everyday life with wife and children.”391 Landauer states that he has repeatedly met Jews who once venerated Buber, but now speak of him as a traitor to the Jewish people.392 Landauer expressly disavows “loudly,
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Glatzer, Letters of Martin Buber, 188. Glatzer, Letters of Martin Buber, 189. Glatzer, Letters of Martin Buber, 190. Mendes-Flohr. From Mysticism to Dialogue, 100. Glatzer, Letters of Martin Buber, 188.

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clearly, sharply, and sincerely,”393 any of Buber’s logic implying that the actions of Germany would redeem the spirit of the Orient in Western society by battling the “insidious, materialistic tendencies of the West.”394 To declare the war was “a spirit of Europe” creating community was ludicrous to Landauer. “The spirit of Europe,” the spirit of community which you now find in this war is a completely vapid construction. Here is truly no intuitively grasped synthesis but emptiness; you wish to grasp as a unity the chaotic through mere contemplation. . . . You deny precisely that which is most essential through the employment of your vacuous method: you contemplate the everyday and declare it a wonder; you attempt to dovetail it into your schemata. I gladly admit that behind your method stands the wish to behold greatness. But simply from the chaotic to construe greatness does not satisfy the wish.395 Unlike Buber’s sense of a redemptive “spirit of Europe” arising from the war, Landauer saw the “spirit of Europe” as a completely lifeless construct; an error. Instead of building up a new community, the war and its “spirit” were, in fact, tearing everything down.396 Such accusations could not go without response. Unfortunately, no written response to Landauer’s letter is known. Mendes-Flohr reports that Margot Cohn, Buber’s personal secretary during the last years of Buber’s life, distinctly recalls learning that soon after receiving Landauer’s letter, Buber boarded a train for Berlin to speak face to face with his friend. Documents exist describing another meeting between Buber and Landauer that took place from July 11 to July 14,
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Glatzer, Letters of Martin Buber, 191. Flohr, “The Road to I and Thou,” 213. Glatzer, Letters of Martin Buber, 191. Glatzer, Letters of Martin Buber, 189.

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1916, in Berlin.397 No written record of either conversation exists, so that the details of the resolution reached by the two friends remain forever hidden. Resolution must have occurred though, because by October 12, 1916 Landauer wrote to Buber expressing his satisfaction with Buber’s new essay in Der Jude, and his willingness to submit his own writings for a subsequent issue of that magazine.398 Mendes-Flohr suggests that this interaction between Landauer and Buber was “a pivotal factor, among others, in Buber’s turn from mysticism—his Erlebnis-mysticism—to the philosophy of dialogue.399 In Martin Buber: The Hidden Dialogue, Dan Avnon proposes an even more nuanced origin of Buber’s transition from mysticism to dialogue: It is impossible to completely reconstruct the circumstances leading to a person’s replacing one kind of understanding with another. However, there are events that indicate the kind of experience that raises doubt in one’s mind as the veracity of deeply ingrained convictions. In the case of Buber’s transition from an emphasis on the primacy of solitary ecstasy to an appreciation of the function of communal dialogue, three events suggest the kind of circumstances likely to bring about such change. Each of the events occurred in the historical context created by the First World War. Each exemplifies the nature of the shock of self-recognition that led Buber to discard some of his earlier convictions and to revise others.400 Avnon sees three distinct events leading to Buber’s repudiation of mysticism. The first of these three events was the story mentioned earlier about the soldier Mehe who died in the war. The second event was Gustav Landauer’s denouncement of
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Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 101. Glatzer, Letters of Martin Buber, 199. Mended-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 102. Avnon, Martin Buber: The Hidden Dialogue, 37.

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Buber’s published statements about the war. And the third was Buber’s recognition that his Erlebnis-mysticism “had become a barrier between himself and other humans.”401 Colleagues such as Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem “strongly opposed any pure immediate experience which proclaimed the superiority of intuitive ecstatic experience over truths mediated through language.”402 Landauer had also declared that some of Buber’s previous friends now called him a traitor to Judaism. Though Avnon’s insight concerning the third cause of Buber’s transition away from mysticism fits within what is known of Buber’s life, it is not easy to document the reasons for fluctuation in Buber’s relation with his colleagues, and Avnon does not fully substantiate his conclusions.403 Whether or not one accepts Avnon’s account of Buber’s transition, it is clear that after 1916 a new perspective begins to appear in Buber’s writings. Mendes-Flohr summarizes the significant changes in Buber’s subsequent writings as reflecting three new elements: an explicit opposition to the war and chauvinistic nationalism; a reevaluation of the function and meaning of Erlebnis; and a shift in the axis of Gemeinschaft from consciousness (i.e., from subjectivecosmic Erlebnis) to the realm of interpersonal relation.404 In August of 1917, Buber published an article in Der Jude in which he states that men throughout Europe have begun to recognize the war as a horror of their own
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Avnon, Martin Buber: The Hidden Dialogue, 37. Avnon, Martin Buber: The Hidden Dialogue, 37. Avnon, Martin Buber: The Hidden Dialogues, 38. Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 102.

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creation. Buber now sees atonement as an essential element of any response to this madness of war, and now argues that “change in the quality of spiritual life must be preceded by a transformation of the relations between men.”405 The moral dimension of war demands a response that honors not only the creative potential he saw earlier, but also atones for the destruction that has prevailed in so many lives. Rather than rushing into the abyss of the unconditioned as Buber previously advocated in his published statements about the potential of the war, his stand now becomes a reasoned reflection on the destruction of the war and the steps necessary to heal the wounds caused by it. For Buber, healing the wounds of war must begin with admission of personal participation in the acts of war. This admission requires a personal atonement that consists of a reflection on personal participation and a turning toward a new direction. This turning toward a new direction demonstrates that for Buber, ethos, rather than his earlier pathos, assumes priority in his thoughts. Buber’s realization of the personal price paid by so many demanded a basic reevaluation of Erlebnis-mysticism. To an audience in Vienna in May 1918, Buber said that “God, the Unconditioned, should become a reality not only in the realm of Erlebnis,406 but primarily and preeminently in the realm of Leben. He must be realized ‘between’ men.”407 Intrinsically, what really matters is not the “experiencing” of life— the detached subjectivity—but life itself; not the religious experience, which is part of the psychic realm, but religious life

405

Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 104. plural of Erlebnis. Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue, 107.

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itself, that is the total life of an individual or of a people in their actual relationship to God and the world.408 Life is situated in space and time, emphasizing its concrete relation to lived events rather than the transcendent potential of divine meaning associated with Erlebnis. Buber now begins to place the source of personal meaning within relationship, not subjectivity. In a letter to Hugo Bergman dated December 4, 1917, Buber argues that redemption—like life—also happens in space and time, not merely within the ego of the individual.409 In doing so, Buber links his ideas to core doctrinal teachings of the meaning of life of the Hebrew Scriptures. Relationships are required for redemption to be possible. Redemption cannot happen only “within” an individual; it happens through relationships to God and humans and is visible for all to see through an individual’s interactions with others. Toward a Philosophy of Dialogue Buber’s earlier metaphysical expectations of war overlooked any accounting for the atrocities of war. When war became a lived experience his perspective had to change or lose any authentic relationship to reality. The destruction of society opened his eyes to the meaningfulness of life as more important than his original metaphysical schema that emphasized the creative potential of the war. Erlebnis-mysticism had always found divine importance in his personal experience. Buber’s transition toward a metaphysic that finds divine importance in relational experiences is symbolized most clearly in his relation with Mehe, but is also fully observable in his changed response to war after his
408

Buber, On Judaism, preface to the 1923 edition, 8. Glatzer, Letters of Martin Buber, 224-225.

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conversation with Landauer in 1916. These events, and certainly undocumented others, played a significant role in the emergence of a new understanding of life for Buber. Mendes-Flohr observes that Buber’s new understanding of man’s relation to God led him to the conviction that authentic religious devotio must take place in the matrix of everyday life, in the realm of interpersonal relations.410 Mendes-Flohr’s observation confirms the assessment that Buber’s thought transitions to a conviction that individual acts and particular relationships contain the seeds of mysticism; Erlebnis becomes modified to include the other in the mystical moment; transcendent insight gained from mystical experience becomes dialogue. A few years before his death Buber reports that he arrived at the idea of dialog “out of the criticism of the concept of Erlebnis, to which I adhered to in my youth, hence out of radical self-correction.”411 But this correction did not annihilate mystical thought from Buber’s philosophy of dialogue. Indeed, Mendes-Flohr goes so far as to conclude that “the central categories of his mysticism—presence, presentness, immediacy, ineffability—although now radically reinterpreted continue to inform Buber’s philosophical reflections.”412 However, as this exploration of Buber’s later philosophy and its foundational relationship to Hasidism demonstrates, the continuity of mystical elements in his philosophy of dialogue is much stronger and more prevalent than even MendesFlohr’s assessment implies.

410

Mendes-Flohr, introduction to Ecstatic Confessions, xviii. Buber “Replies to My Critics,” 711. Mendes-Flohr, introduction to Ecstatic Confessions, xix.

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Buber’s writings about dialogue remain based in the underlying mystery of the eternal arising between rather than within individuals. His philosophy of dialogue is built on the idea that the world we experience is an expression of spirit, and individuals have the potential, indeed the responsibility, to shape the yet unfinished creation of God. In May of 1918, Buber wrote: The world of true Judaism is the world of a unified life on earth; a unity not of being but of becoming; and not alone in becoming, but a becoming informed by spirit—the human spirit chosen by the divine spirit to be, as the exalted Jewish words proclaim, God’s “partner in the work of creation,” to finish the work begun on the sixth day, and to realize the unconditional where it has not yet assumed definite shape: in the all-embracing and all-determining sphere of community.413 His philosophy of dialogue continues to work in a more nuanced and publicly acceptable fashion toward the goal of evoking the uncreated potential in every human in cooperation with the divine. He looses none of his expectation to discover the divine in daily life, but now finds it in the relationship between persons rather than intrinsic to the individual, as he explicitly states in that same essay. The Divine may come to life in individual man, . . . but it attains its earthly fullness only where having awakened to an awareness of their universal being, individual beings open themselves to one another, disclose themselves to one another, help one another; where immediacy is established between one human being and another. . . . Where this takes place, where the eternal rises in the Between, the seemingly empty space: that true place of realization is community, and true community is that relationship in which the Divine comes to its realization between man and man.414

Buber, On Judaism, 112. originally published as an essay entitled “The Holy Way: A Word to the Jews and to the Nations,” May 1918.
413 414

Buber, On Judaism, 110.

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Buber’s new understanding is that the divine comes to expression—not in a transcendent reality experienced within the interior of an isolated individual— but in the relationship of person to person within a public forum, precisely as expressed in Hasidism. This expression of the divine is no less mystical than his previous Erlebnis mysticism, merely more nuanced in its expression and more reserved in its exuberance so that it may be more recognizable in the life of every reader, thereby engaging each person in the possibility of living a life that is both more immediate and more infinite.

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Buber’s Philosophy of Dialogue
Buber’s 1923 publication of I and Thou is considered to be his seminal statement of his philosophy of dialogue. The roots of this philosophy can be found in his earlier writings, and the fruits continue to ripen throughout his later publications. Two sources in particular provide crucial details and significant insights into the genesis, development, and essential elements of Buber’s philosophy of dialogue. The first and most important source is Buber’s spiritual autobiography, “Autobiographical Fragments”, published in 1954; and the second is Rivka Horowitz’s Buber’s Way to I and Thou: Religion as Presence, which is based on extensive research in the Buber archives. In his “Autobiographical Fragments”, Buber states that the first ideas that would later become his philosophy of dialogue began to appear as early as 1916 in the conceptual plans for a book based on his interpretation of Hasidism.415 At first, he wanted to call the book his Prolegomena to a Philosophy of Religion416 because his original intention was to “reformulate the concept and position of religion.”417 By 1919, Buber had already described Judaism as a reciprocal relationship between the human I and the divine Thou. During the autumn of 1919, he wrote the first draft of I and Thou. At that time, according to his testimony in “Autobiographical Fragments”, he spent the next two years working solely with the legends and tales of Hasidism and read scarcely any philosophy.
Buber, “Autobiographical Fragments,” 33-34. Horowitz, Buber’s Way, 6 Horowitz, Buber’s Way, 11.

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According to Horowitz, Buber’s “activities were part of a larger spiritual asceticism to which he was committed”418 in order to sustain the focus and uniqueness of his own writings at this time. Buber later comments that he had not read the books by Cohen, Rosenzweig and Ebner dealing with much the same problem until after he had completed his draft of I and Thou, although this independence of thought is contested by other documents.419 In his personal search for meaning, Buber re-evaluated the function of religion in modern life and found in the teachings of the Hasidic leader, the Baal Shem Tov, a connection between the divine and the mundane in personal engagement and social awareness which bridged the gap for him. By invitation of his friend, Franz Rosenzweig, the director of the Freies Judisches Lehrhaus in Frankfurt, Buber presented a lecture series from January 15 through March 12, 1922, entitled “Religion as Presence,” at which he orally presented what he intended to become the content of I and Thou before committing it to a final written form. According to Horowitz, The treatment of religion as presence in the lectures is thus an attempt to overcome the narrow rational and functional interpretations of religion that prevailed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In “Religion as Presence,” however, Buber abandons his earlier advocacy of “experiencing God” and denounces the pursuit of moments of psychological or mystical
418

Horowitz, Buber’s Way, 5.

Hermann Cohen’s Religion of Reason from the Sources of Judaism (1919), Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption (1921) and Ferdinand Ebner’s Das Wort und die Geistigen Realitaten (The Word and the Spiritual Realities, 1921) all deal with the concept of a divine Thou involved in human relationship. Though Cohen and Rosenzwieg are Jewish, and Ebner is Catholic, parallels and even linguistic constructions exploring engagement with existential confrontation as the source of life’s meaning can be found in these writings as distinctly as in Buber’s I and Thou. See also Horowitz’s discussion, 6-8.
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ecstasy. . . . Truth lies not in mystical union, for one can never achieve complete union, but in encounter.420 The material in the “Religion as Presence” lectures makes it clear that Buber’s philosophical point of departure was not the coining of the terms I-Thou and I-It, but rather a grappling with religious issues that required abandoning philosophical monism and embracing existential confrontation.421 In the first three lectures of the “Religion as Presence” series, Buber begins by defining religion as something absolute which includes all the possible spheres of life. In evaluating evolution, nationalism, culture, aesthetics, ethics, and logic Buber highlights the boundaries of each of these spheres of thought and finds religion at the edge of each. Deriving religion from any one sphere, or combination of them all, denies the fundamental character of human religion. Buber considers any understanding of the religious impulse that determines that religion is derivative from another human area of concern as an inadequate understanding of human religion. Buber declares in his first lecture that any understanding that degrades religion to a subordinate role and defines life as broken autonomous spheres without integral relationship results in a “suicide of the spirit.”422 “In its place,” Horowitz asserts, Buber “advocates ‘religion as presence’ as the source of meaning for all of life.”423 Buber defines the term “religion as presence” as “‘that which is in itself’; conditioned by no other, it is

420

Horowitz, Buber’s Way, 12 Horowitz, Buber’s Way, 6. Horowitz, Buber’s Way, 23. Horowitz, Buber’s Way, 12.

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neither preceded nor brought into being.”424 Religion presents itself most clearly for Buber in its creative capacity, its connection to the unconditional possibilities of life that can only be expressed in the actual activities of human action. In concluding the first lecture he stated “religion is the greatest revolutionary force in history,”425 because it contains the unpredictable creative mandate of human history and as such, from time to time reveals a deep and necessary freshness into human life that is not derivable from any previous expression of life. For Buber, the source of religious meaning remains in the engagement with the current moment and the potent capacity thereof. His philosophy of dialogue, similar to his earlier Erlebnis mysticism, finds connection with the current moment as the source and meaning of life. The fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth lectures of the “Religion as Presence” series reveal his thoughts which developed to become I and Thou. In these chapters, the familiar themes of Buber’s philosophy of dialogue find their first expression. The world of It and the world of Thou discussed in the fourth and fifth lecture become the basis for Book One of I and Thou. The sixth and eighth lectures outline Buber’s treatment of God as eternal Thou found in Book Three of I and Thou. Though Buber intends to stay grounded in the concrete experiences of life, he describes a transcendent God who cannot be limited, but only encountered in a I-Thou relationship. He says: God is the absolute Thou, which by its nature can no longer become It. When we address as Thou not any limitable thing that

424

Horowitz, Buber’s Way, 13. Horowitz, Buber’s Way, 28.

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by its nature must become an object but the unconditional—Being itself—then the continuity of the Thou-world is opened up.426 Buber recognizes that this experience is available to all persons. Only a few lines later Buber says “There is in truth no God-seeking; rather, one discovers something, beyond all obstacles, that was with one from the very beginning.”427 His “Religion as Presence” lectures are compelling and difficult. They intend to draw the audience to a greater depth of presence in each moment and relationship. He defines experience in the metaphor of a journey on the surface of the world during which each person extracts bits of data that they consider to be their knowledge of the world.428 He equates this surface travel—experience—to an I-It functional relation. Beyond the world of I-It relations, in the realm of I-Thou the world changes its depth, and therefore its meaningfulness for the participant. Buber asks the audience to suppress its normal logical habits and reflect only on personal experience when evaluating his ideas. He guides the audience to bring to memory events in which the qualities of the memory overshadow the events of that memory. In certain moments, the most universal of which is the feeling shared between two people in love, all details fade and the qualities of the event dominate the memory. The exclusivity of the relationship becomes all-present, and dominates the perceptual horizon. He culminates his metaphysical insights by

426

Horowitz, Buber’s Way, 83. Horowitz, Buber’s Way, 83.

427

The world play here is deliberate in German and invisible in English. Experiences=Erfahrungen, surface=befahrt. see Horowitz, Buber’s Way, 56.
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saying: “for me everything religiously actual is fundamentally a matter of the here and now.”429 In his contrast of experiencing the surface of life to a qualitative depth of relationship in the current moment Buber exposes not a hierarchy of experiences but an opportunity to live differently in every experience by bringing into it a different attitude. He does not sanctify specific behaviors but engages every behavior with a new way of living, and in so doing opens up a new opportunity to engage God in daily life. He successfully links relationship with another person to relationship with God and finds both alive only in the present. People have a continuity of relationship with others and feel the need for continuity of relationship with God. Buber’s description of pure relationship—relationship to God—expresses no relation to time; it only lives in a now that has no awareness of time.430 Human desire to remain in relationship attempts to draw out that relationship in time, and institutions of religion arise to secure that relationship. In the codification of that relationship into ritual form, Buber suggests that humanity objectifies God who by His nature cannot become an object. The only authentic relationship with God is the continual entering-into-relationship. In turning from the objectification of God toward continual entering-into-relationship with God, humanity has the opportunity to initiate the kingdom of God. Buber effectively recategorizes how life might be lived in order to find a greater depth of meaning in daily experiences when rooted in relationship to the Absolute.

429

Buber, Autobiographical Fragments, 26. Horowitz, Buber’s Way, 117.

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In the way Buber developed his ideas in the lectures one can discern an order comparable to the progressive rungs of ascension in mystical thought. At its base is the It-world, the world of knowledge, experiencing, and using, without which we cannot live, although living within it is not real living. Over and above it stands the Thou-world, the moments of real confrontation that are the height of human existence and that exist only when rooted in the Absolute Thou.431 Buber’s search for life’s meaning in mystical venues shows through more clearly in the “Religion as Presence” lectures than in the text of I and Thou, but a single motive is shared in both works—the expression of the impenetrable mystery of the finite and the infinite found in human relationship realized in daily life. Buber’s purpose in I and Thou was both the explication of the two-fold relation of human to world and the reconceptualization of the role of religion as an opening to the infinite through authentic relationship. The primary religious function, for Buber, arises in human relationships in the present moment: relationships among all the spheres of existence—nature, humanity, and spirit— and in each of these spheres the primary words I-It and I-Thou describe the twofold directionality of human life. Within the I-Thou relationship, in the presence of grace, a glimpse of the eternal Thou may be evoked. This evocation of the eternal Thou that takes place within I-Thou relationship stands as the foundation of Buber’s experience of meaning in human life. In a subtle way, therefore, Buber’s lifelong goal continues to be the task of understanding the experience of the transcendent in the present moment whether through Erlebnis mysticism, Hasidic Judaism, or the relationship of dialogue expressed in I and Thou.
431

Horowitz, Buber’s Way, 10.

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Buber begins his text I and Thou as if in the middle of a thought. His first words (“To man the world is twofold, in accordance with his twofold attitude”) state a primary proposition without a context. It is one of many examples of poetic license that Buber takes in order to evoke a feeling as well as knowledge. Buber encourages introspection and personal reflection by his habit of presenting linguistic gems that express a primary human experience with little context to assist in understanding their meaning. This style draws his reader into intimate relationship to the text. Indeed, in his postscript to the second edition of I and Thou, in “Replies to My Critics,” and in Philosophical Interrogations, Buber acknowledges the incompleteness of his presentation of his basic thoughts. At some level, Buber requires his thoughts remain incomplete in order to engage the reader and to retain the mystery of the unknown and unknowable in the present moment and present relationship in that moment. In later years, he would describe his method as “pointing the way,” emphasizing that only in the immediacy of the moment can each individual experience authentic encounter. Original Relation In explaining the primacy of relationship in his philosophy of dialogue Buber looks to the development of relationship between persons. For Buber, relationship exists and expresses itself before any cognitive act. His concept of “the inborn Thou,” and its role in both relationship and cognition is clearly articulated in Buber’s explanation of a child’s growth into an understanding of self and other. In part one of I and Thou, Buber clearly draws out the earliest evidence of self and other in the life of an infant as examples of his primary words 155

I-Thou and I-It. As he investigates the chronology of the infant’s ability to enter into these primary relationships he discovers a primal state that precedes the concepts of self or other—a primal state of pure relationship, the inborn Thou. It is simply not the case that the child first perceives an object, then as it were, puts himself in relation with it. But the effort to establish relation comes first. . . . Second is the actual relation, a saying of Thou without words. . . . In the beginning is relation—as a category of being, readiness, grasping form, mould for the soul; it is the a priori of relation, the inborn Thou.432 In the arms of the mother, an infant knows neither self nor other, just the relationship from which existence is drawn. In this original relational event, the infant naturally and silently speaks the word Thou.433 The infant cannot do otherwise. This relationship begins the human experience. The total dependence of an infant both exudes and elicits love. Buber sees the I-Thou relationship that exists between mother and child as the original relationship. Every infant experiences that relationship as original, meaning that this relationship is both ontically and chronologically prior to an awareness of I, Thou, or It. Because it pre-exists any awareness of otherness, Buber labels it “the inborn Thou.” In this way, every infant dwells in the presence of Thou by virtue of the essential nature of human life. In the infant, relationships have yet to evoke either a firm concept of self or an awareness of the other as a separate individual. Genuine understanding of the development of the soul in the child can only be promoted if its cosmic and metacosmic origin is kept in mind. For it reaches out from the undivided primal world which precedes form, out of which the bodily individual who is born into the world, but not yet the personal, actualized being, has fully
432

Buber, I and Thou, 27. Buber, I and Thou, 22.

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emerged. For only gradually, by entering into relations, is the latter to develop out of this primal world.434 After this inborn Thou expresses itself in the dependent love of the child, Buber next perceives the arising of the concept Thou, even before the arising of an awareness of the self in the child. More fully developed in his essay, “The History of the Dialogical Principle,”435 Buber states in I and Thou that “the discovery of the Thou, brings me to consciousness of my I.”436 As Feuerbach had previously expressed, the self defines itself by its contact with other people, things, and ideas.437 Only after sufficient experiences have accumulated does the concept of self take shape. For Buber, this arising of the I within the individual is neither first, nor second, but third in the sequence of the infant’s experience. The inborn Thou is the inherent potential of the infant to experience relationship. The Thou arises later in the infant’s first relationship of connection. And afterwards, in the experience of “I-affecting-Thou and Thou-affecting-I, only after they have been split asunder and the participle has been given the eminence as object”438 does the concept of self and other come into existence. As Buber more fully expresses this complex relationship, The first primary word can be resolved, certainly into I and Thou, but it did not arise from their being set together; by its nature it

434

Buber, I and Thou, 28. Buber, I and Thou, 24-31 and Buber, Between Man and Man, 209-224. Buber, Between Man and Man, 212. Buber, Between Man and Man, 210. Buber, I and Thou, 21.

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precedes I. The second word arose from the setting together of I and It; by nature it comes after I.439 Only with the capacity to identify an other (thing or person) as an object not myself does the intention to use that object become possible for the infant. It is at this point that the I-It relation comes to life. But whenever the sentence “I see the tree” is so uttered that it no longer tells of a relation between the man—I—and the tree—Thou —, but establishes the perception of the tree as object by the human consciousness, the barrier between subject and object has been set up. The primary world I-It, the word of separation, has been spoken.440 For Buber, it is apparent that the reality of the primary words arises out of universal human experience,441 and the sequence begins with the inborn Thou, and ends with the subject-object relation. It is equally apparent, however, that for Buber “the I-It, or subject-object, relation is not the primary one, but is an elaboration of the given.”442 The I-Thou relationship stands as the essential relationship of connection from which personal awareness thereafter arises. According to Buber, therefore, the inborn Thou, the capacity for relationship, pre-exists in each newborn human. This capacity grows as the infant matures by developing the concepts of self and other. But Buber suggests that this ability to understand self and other is subsequent to the Thou. For Buber and others before him,443 it is the Thou of the other that draws out the concept of self,
439

Buber, I and Thou, 22. Buber, I and Thou, 23. Buber, I and Thou, 24. Buber, Knowledge of Man, 24. See Buber’s History of the Dialogical Principle.

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and the Thou relationship occurs before any awareness of a personal self. The natural relationship between infant and mother, between infant and loving world, demonstrate an I-Thou relationship before the infant conceptualizes either I, Thou, or other. The innocence of a newborn or small child draws out of others the remembrance, or re-experiencing, of that relational capacity inherent in every human being. Then the infant cries, the young child grows up, the innocence fades, and as the ego strengthens its internal structure, the Thou relationship is relegated to a diminished role. For Buber, the “inborn Thou is both a ‘category of being’ and a ‘model for the soul’.”444 It is a natural, although impermanent state. I-Thou Relationships In a mature human, Buber suggests that there are only infrequent and fleeting moments approximating the infant’s experience of the inborn Thou that are somehow able to penetrate and stir the soul to sensibility, despite the fact that “each of us is encased in an armor which we soon, out of familiarity, no longer notice.”445 Out of such experiences, we recognize a “vague restlessness of the soul”446 that is only fulfilled in relationship, and through embracing relationships the fullness of our potential emerges. The concept of relationship goes far deeper than casual acquaintance. Buber uses the term relationship to discuss an inherent and fundamental function that differentiates our species as distinct from any other. In an essential relation the barriers of individual being are in fact breached and a new phenomenon appears which can appear only in
444

Kramer, Practicing Living Dialogue, 28 and Buber, I and Thou, 27. Buber, Between Man and Man, 10. Hycner, Between Person and Person, 65.

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this way: one life open to another—not steadily, but so to speak attaining its extreme reality only from point to point [moment to moment], yet also able to acquire a form in the continuity of life; the other becomes present not merely in the imagination or feeling, but in the depths of one’s substance, so that one experiences the mystery of the other being in the mystery of one’s own.447 Buber experiences this quality of relationship as part of his definition of humanity. “Man becomes man with the other self. He would not be man at all without the I-Thou relationship.”448 For Buber, the capacity for relationship, not reason, embodies the distinctive human characteristic.449 Every I-Thou relationship is mutual. It confronts an individual who must then also choose it; likewise, the other person in relationship is also confronted and confirmed. “Relation is mutual. My Thou affects me, as I affect it.”450 The Thou relationship is both an act of my will and a gift. It arises through the presence of another, and must be embraced by both individuals reciprocally to become real. In that relationship, all else recedes into the background. The moment is alive, and intensely focused on that which presents itself in that moment. Awareness of time and space, though still existent, withdraws from consciousness. The two partners in relationship meet each other, and in so doing open to an unknown and unforeseeable present moment and glimpse something more within themselves and the other. As Buber says, “every real relation in the world is exclusive.”451 In this act of encounter with another, each partner, open to
447

Buber, Between Man and Man, 170. Buber, Between Man and Man, xviii. Buber, Knowledge of Man, 15. Buber, I and Thou, 15. Buber, I and Thou, 99.

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otherness, and aware of the active presence of the other, both confirms the other and is confirmed by the other. The authentic turning of one person to another includes this confirmation.452 “Of course, such confirmation does not mean approval, but . . . by accepting him as my partner in genuine dialogue I have affirmed him as a person.”453 This affirmation resolves the “vague restlessness” of the soul. The aim of every relationship is contact with the Thou. “Through contact with every Thou we are stirred with a breath of eternal life.”454 Such is the depth of every I-Thou relationship. The I-Thou relationship requires the fullness of the individual to touch the other, as other. An I-Thou relationship arises only in an encounter with a “particular, real person who steps up to meet one . . . as just so and not otherwise in all his wholeness, unity and uniqueness.”455 The uniqueness of the other, in this moment, not as an extension of what has always been known, or might be projected onto the other, shines forth in complete openness and acceptance. Only he who himself turns to the other human being and opens himself to him receives the world in him. Only the being whose otherness, accepted by my being, lives and faces me in the whole compression of existence, brings the radiance of eternity to me. Only when two say to one another with all that they are, “It is Thou,” is the indwelling of the Present Being between them.456

452

Buber, Knowledge of Man, 85. Buber, Knowledge of Man, 85. Buber, I and Thou, 63. Buber, Knowledge of Man, 29. Buber, Between Man and Man, 30.

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In such relationship, the two individuals participate in each other’s lives “in very fact, not psychically, but ontically.”457 That ontic participation in the life of the other changes both individuals. Each person receives from that relationship, not a specific content, but a Presence, and the experience of the full potential of authentic being.458 After such an experience, the admission of personal shortcoming arises naturally and without prejudice, which allows each person to accept human frailty in both self and others, fostering the growth of compassion all around.459 The experience of mutual acceptance in relationship, even momentary, evokes a participation in spirit. For Buber, “Spirit in its human manifestation is a response of man to his Thou. . . . Only in virtue of his power to enter into relation is he able to live in the spirit.”460 Buber finds the spiritual in life not in the transcendence of mundane reality, but within the I-Thou meeting with another when communication is transformed into communion. Entering into relationship requires the whole being. For Buber, entering into relationship “is the act by which we constitute ourselves as human”—an act that must be repeated ever again.461 Kenneth Kramer describes the I-Thou relationship by emphasizing its “interhuman,” relational dimension:

457

Buber, Between Man and Man, 170. Buber, I and Thou, 110. Hycner, Between Person and Person, 135. Buber, I and Thou, 39. Buber, Knowledge of Man, 22.

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Rather than serving as an object of experience, “Thou” points to the quality of genuine relationship in which partners are mutually unique and whole. This living realization is neither subjective nor objective, but interhuman. It emerges from the place that Buber calls the realm of “the between.” . . . This deep bonding is contained neither in one, nor the other, nor in the sum of both—but becomes really present between them.462 This I-Thou relationship includes a lived experience outside the boundaries of the physical self in encounter with the other. It opens the doorway to what Buber calls “the Between.” I-It Relations No human can sustain an I-Thou relationship indefinitely. Inevitably every I-Thou dissolves into an I-It relationship and returns to the realm of space and time; things and events demand attention. The many requirements of daily living draw us out of the interpersonal world of relationships into a world of things and adventures, experiences and accomplishments. Buber says that “it is not possible to live in the bare present,” as I-Thou experiences are lived. The incitements and excitements of the activities of the world seduce us with activities rather than relationships. The comforts of our world tempt us to remain in the known and organized environs of our past accomplishments. Indeed, we function best there. We know our way there. The present that is an outgrowth of the past defines where we are comfortable and at home. Buber states, “it is possible to live in the bare past, indeed only in it may a life be organized.”463 The functional relation of I-It thrives in this known realm. Here there is little risk of the unpredictable,
462

Kramer, Practicing Living Dialogue, 15. Buber, I and Thou, 34.

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unlike within the I-Thou relationship. This I-It realm fulfills the functional needs of life. Buber continues, “without It man cannot live. But he who lives with It alone is not a man.”464 The I-It realm is the functional world in which we live most of our lives to accomplish the necessary duties of daily living, without which we would not survive. The I-It realm is the world of reflection, evaluation, judgment, justification, and association.465 It is the world in which rational thought, planning, and accomplishing reigns. Science is mankind’s “most highly perfected development of I-It, or subject-object, way of knowing.”466 In this I-It world, individuals perceive the world as a separate and independent reality outside their being. The primary connection of man with the world of It is comprised in experiencing, which continually reconstitutes the world, and using, which leads the world to its manifold aim, the sustaining, relieving, and equipping of human life.467 Buber likens “experiencing” to an individual traveling over the surface of the world. The traveler extracts knowledge from experiences, whether from external sensations and activities or from internal insights and thoughts, any experience in which the ego is always the locus of activity.468 Experiencing things and events always resides within the realm of I-It, whether it is the experiencing of an object, another human, an animal, a spirit, or even God, because the act of experiencing
464

Buber, I and Thou, 34. Kramer, Practicing Living Dialogue, 27. Buber, Knowledge of Man, 19. Buber, I and Thou, 38. Buber, I and Thou, 5

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objectifies the other.469 Using things and others remains the modus operandi of the I-It realm. Accomplishments are markers in this realm, and give the satisfaction of purpose and activity. Meaning is found in goals attained, rather than in relationships sustained. In an I-It world, each individual remains external and separate from the interactions in which they engage by controlling the beginning, middle, and end. This I-It interaction distinguishes itself from an I-Thou relationship in which control is yielded by the individual to the relationship naturally and spontaneously.470 Buber reports that “the development of the function of experiencing and using comes about mostly through decrease of man’s power to enter into relationship.”471 To engage the world in an I-Thou relationship, turning is required. The concept of turning in Buber’s philosophy of dialogue comes from the Jewish concept of teshuvah: turning toward God, or repentance. Buber uses it to describe a turning from the aimlessness of modern life, from the I-It relational way of being to an I-Thou relational engagement with the world. Without turning from an I-It relation to an I-Thou relation, the modern soul is overgrown by the activities and accomplishments necessary in society. The machine of society appears to continue forward at rapid pace, without clear leadership or even knowledge of the implied future, and individuals play their part in the headlong rush forward. But to where? When a person succeeds in unifying the actions of hands and heart, a
469

Buber, Knowledge of Man, 12. Kramer, Practicing Living Dialogue, 18. Buber, I and Thou, 43.

470

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internal strength arises within, which is both personal strength and grace. Reinstalling relationships as the center of personal life restores meaningfulness, and the allure of society diminishes. Turning from an ego-centered accomplishment oriented lifestyle to become open to the mystery of the other found in relationships transforms the person and their relation to society. Through turning I-It can be redirected to become I-Thou. Not always and not forever, but with the directional attitude changed, all of life changes. This is the turning which is redemption, for it re-orients life towards the meaningfulness of relationships. This turning changes not just the person, but also the world. Unsustainable as every IThou relationship is, this turning can become a continual decision, a constant awareness to decide in favor of relationship over accomplishment in order to sustain the presence of meaningfulness in daily life. I-It Compared with I-Thou I and Thou begins with the words: “To man the world is twofold, in accordance with his twofold attitude.”472 Buber’s powerful proposition is as poetic as it is unclear without establishing a context. As he develops this theme, it quickly becomes clear that Buber uses the word-pairs I-It and I-Thou to define this “twofold attitude” of every person. It is not the world that is twofold, rather, the human experience.473 There are not two kinds of persons, but two possible poles from which each person expresses their directional attitude in each moment.474 The specific pole at which a person stands can be perceived by the
472

Buber, I and Thou, 31. Buber, I and Thou, 18. Buber, I and Thou, 65.

473

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response to others in that moment. One pole is I-Thou, which Buber describes as “the primary word of relationship,” and “characterized by mutuality, directness, presentness, intensity, and ineffability.”475 The other pole, of course, is I-It. As Buber describes this pole, I-It is the primary word of experiencing and using. It takes place within a man and not between him and the world. Hence it is entirely subjective and lacking in mutuality. Whether in knowing, feeling, or acting, it is the typical subject-object relationship. It is always mediate and indirect, dealing with objects in terms of the categories and connections, and hence is comprehensible and orderable.476 I-It, therefore, is fundamentally different from I-Thou. I-It lives in the world of space and time, in things and functions, in manipulating and accomplishing. Unlike I-Thou, I-It may have lengthy duration. I-Thou finds its source in human experience of a completely different sort; experience that for Buber, demonstrates the spiritual form of natural connection.477 Despite these fundamental differences, however, both primary words signify not a person, but a relationship.478 By speaking either I-It or I-Thou, a person identifies the directional attitude in that moment and invites a future consistent with their expressed, even when unspoken, attitude. Every person oscillates between I-It relations and I-Thou relationships throughout each day. I-Thou acknowledges the delicate balance that may evoke

475

Buber, Knowledge of Man, 12. Buber, Knowledge of Man, 12. Buber, I and Thou, 62. Buber, I and Thou, 3.

476

477

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the infinite capacity within each moment; I-It acknowledges the finite needs of each moment. But this is the exalted melancholy of our fate, that every Thou in our world must become an It. It does not matter how exclusively present the Thou was in the direct relation. As soon as the relation has been worked out or has been permeated with a means, the Thou becomes an object among objects—perhaps the chief, but still one of them, fixed in its size and its limits.479 Conversely, the I-Thou relationship is fluid and always in the present. It brings into existence a fundamentally different reality than an I-It relation. I-Thou is spoken, with or without words, from the whole being of the speaker. The IThou relationship focuses our attention on the relation between the participants. By virtue of the ability to participate in relationship a person is able to live in the spirit.480 By opening up to the otherness of the other, and confirming value as unique and creative in inherent being, the realm of spirit becomes alive, which for Buber, lies not in either participant, but in the quality of the relationship—the Between. The Between As a person encounters another in the authenticity of an I-Thou relationship, a feeling of undeniable bonding radiates, even as both individuals grow in their unique individuality. This unity within diversity reveals a paradox that does not admit explanation by rational thought, but allows another type of knowledge. This other type of knowledge is exposed by a short review of Buber’s understanding of the structure of human thought. The internal picture of the world
479

Buber, I and Thou, 16. Buber, I and Thou, 39.

480

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each person possesses is not the world, but the sum of their experience and memory. In admitting that their internal picture of the world is not the world, the possibility of admitting the existence of an unknown other grows. As this awareness to a potential unknown reality between myself and others grows, the opening which makes possible an I-Thou relationship thrives. When two persons meet and are open to the unlimited potential inherent in each other, an I-Thou relationship manifests in a sharing of the mystery of human relation. The two persons come together in a relationship that appears boundless in that moment. However, as soon as either person begins to reflect upon or label the reality that is occurring, the experience immediately moves out of an I-Thou relationship to a thinking, categorizing I-It relation. Nevertheless, in that initial state of interpersonal sharing with the other, in that moment where space and time appear to disappear, all known boundaries fall away and something eternal, something outside of time, can be glimpsed. Karl Heim describes this by using the metaphor of two infinite, non-parallel lines.481 They have no ending in either direction. At only one point the first line crosses the second. Yet, in that intersection of the two lines, one point exists fully within either line. Now, if we assume that each line possess a capacity for knowledge, as humans do, from inside that single point the trajectory of either line is perceivable. Although the first line cannot travel the trajectory of the second line, from within that point of intersection that first line can glimpse the reality of a different trajectory of infinite possibility. In this way, sharing a single point of encounter with another has the potential to transform
Heim, God Transcendent, 44-96.

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both persons in relationship. A new world may open up. A glimpse of the eternal may present itself through the relationship to the other. He who takes his stand in relation shares in a reality, that is, in a being that neither merely belongs to him nor merely lies outside him. All reality is an activity in which I share without being able to appropriate for myself. Where there is no sharing there is no reality. Where there is self-appropriation there is no reality. The more direct the contact with the Thou, the fuller is the sharing.482 To this sharing, Buber ascribes the source of human meaning. This meaning arises in the Between when a person encounters another as a Thou and in response evokes the further potential of self as well as the other. To the extent that acceptance of the creative unknown is welcome to express itself in each person within this relationship, wholeness of being arises. In relational encounter, each person grows and at the same time acts as the provocateur of growth in the other. Even with limited understanding and ability, each unique person, when in relationship with another person, has the possibility of evoking in the other something heretofore unknown and unexpressed. This relationship to another being, as finite being in touch with the mystery of the other, unlocks the possibility of the experience of the eternal.483 In the sphere between self and other, in an I-Thou relationship, the Between comes into being. In such a relationship spirit “appears in the world and fills it with meaning. Presence is deepened and opens up to the Transcendent.”484

482

Buber, I and Thou, 63. Buber, Between Man and Man, 168. Wood, Martin Buber’s Ontology, 115.

483

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The act of unconditionally accepting both the limitations and potential of the other in an I-Thou relationship opens up the opportunity for the eternal, the unconditional, to arise in human relationship. The unconditional is not present in one, nor in the other, as a part of what they bring, but, as Buber says, it becomes present only in the relationship between the two. The particular quality of an IThou relationship between two incomplete beings creates the opportunity for the appearance of wholeness. In the moment authentic relationship exists, each person opens to the unknowable other at hand, without concern for the eternal, yet the presence of the eternal can be felt in acceptance by the other in that moment, and afterwards, through reflection, it can be remembered. Because of the insight gained in the process of reflection an expectation of the possibility of that previously experienced unconditional reality can be postulated as a possibility for daily life. The possibility does not grant assurance, but offers a depth of life beyond the subject-object relationship in which people commonly engage. It offers depth of relationship as the essence of human life. In effect, the I-Thou relationship builds acceptance of the self which deepens to the acceptance of other as other. Only with the acceptance of another as a unique person can the acceptance of self come to full potential as well. It is in that presence that the self and the manifest Other emerge simultaneously. The self emerges as a manifestation of otherness and discovers itself in that very manifestation. To the extent that the Other is allowed to appear as other, to that extent is the self constituted as self. Total otherness is revealable when one transcends the subject-object relation in a relation of undivided to undivided which Buber terms the I-Thou relation.485
Wood, Martin Buber’s Ontology, 114.

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The experience of the unconditional is not an a priori assumption; it is not as though the transcendent possibility is postulated and then lived into. It is a potential within every human relationship when a person steps into the primary word I-Thou; that is, into the realm of the Between—the realm of spirit—in an encounter with the other. The unconditional engagement of the other opens into the Unconditional engaging the person. Transformation occurs in such a moment. Buber says that we receive a gift, but know not what, or from whom.486 This transition from an unconditional encounter with a limited human to an encounter with the Unlimited itself is, for Buber, based in human experience. Yet this transition from unlimited encounter to encountering the Unlimited depends upon an openness to the wholly unknown potential residing within the other person. For Buber, his experience provides a glimpse of the eternal in human encounter. This glimpse births a faith in something more, but not anything that can be considered objective knowledge. Multiple experiences of this I-Thou relationship join together in memory to create not a pattern, but an awareness of the possibility of its recurrence. Buber calls it “a primal category of human reality,” out of which a knowing without predictability or content takes shape.487 “On the outermost edge of the subjective, on the innermost edge of the objective, on that narrow ridge where I and Thou meet, there is the realm of “Between,”488 a transitory ontological reality that is “ever and again re-constituted in accordance with men’s meetings with one
486

Buber, I and Thou, 110. Buber, Between Man and Man, 203. Buber, Between Man and Man, 204.

487

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another.”489 It is precisely the unfolding of this sphere of the Between that Buber calls the dialogical: persons in immediate relationship engaged with each other. The meaning of the dialogue resides in neither of the dialogical partners, but in both together—in genuine dialogue.490 In genuine dialogue, each person participates with full authenticity; being who he or she is and accepting the other as just who he or she is, without expectation or reserve. The person who comes to dialogue with expectation, intending a specific conclusion, is not in genuine dialogue. Dialogue becomes genuine when both persons turn wholly toward the other with their full presence and attentiveness to the other in a nonjudgmental attitude that is more communion than communication. Buber discusses two kinds of inauthentic dialogue: technical and monologue.491 Technical dialogue engages understanding without concern for the people in the process, and takes place in the necessary realm of I-It. In technical dialogue, dispersing information is the focus, not the sharing of lived encounter. Monologue often appears in this type of conversation. Communication between two people may become monologue when one or both participants forward their own stature or agenda through the conversation rather than reach out to the other in equal exchange. Examples of inauthentic dialogue include 1) debate, in which ideas are expressed without concern for the individuals who listen or whether they understand, 2) conversation in which the impression made on the other is more important than the person spoken to, 3) any type of chat in which one, or both,
489

Buber, Between Man and Man, 203. Buber, Between Man and Man, 26. Buber, Between Man and Man, 19.

490

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partners consider the other as lesser and speaks from a position of presumed authority, and 4) any talk in which one’s self is expressed without receiving equally the other’s self expression.492 Inattention to the other is the keystone of inauthentic dialogue—dialogue that is conversation rather than communion. Genuine dialogue need not be verbal,493 but is open to the immediacy and uniqueness of the encounter of another and “turns to them with the intention of establishing a living mutual relation.”494 But a dialogical relationship is obstructed when either person responds with less than his or her whole being. As Maurice Friedman summarizes Buber’s thoughts: Dialogue is the response of one’s whole being to the otherness of the other, that otherness that is comprehended only when I open myself to him in the present and in the concrete situation and respond to his need.495 Buber’s balanced understanding of dialogue never loses sight of the requirement for individuality of each of the two persons who meet in relationship, even though the meaningfulness of the relationship is not in what takes place within either individual, nor in the two summarily, but between them.496 This relationship between the two requires that whole authentic individuals be present to each other. Though individuality is necessary for authentic relationship, relationship does not occur within an individual, but only between two individuals present to authentic engagement.
492

Buber, Between Man and Man, 19. Hycner, Between Person and Person, 54. Buber, Between Man and Man, 19. Friedman, “Introduction,” in Buber, Between Man and Man, xvii. Buber, Between Man and Man, 26.

493

494 495

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Distance in Relationship Buber’s philosophy of dialogue requires the reality of separation.497 Without separation, relationship becomes union and denies the divine uniqueness of the person. Individuals come into dialogic relationship from the distance of their uniqueness in full acceptance of the otherness of the other. However, it is the relationship, much more than the individual, that functions as the key to Buber’s philosophy of dialogue. Relationship also works as the key to the mystery of meaning in human life as Buber sees it. Relationship, though, cannot be any relationship. Only in an I-Thou relationship does the glimpse of the eternal Thou show itself. Only in relationship to another person can one person become whole. Only in the finite being of a unique living individual coming together in relationship with another finite and unique individual does the possibility of experiencing the infinite open.498 Human life and humanity come into being in genuine meetings. There man learns not merely that he is limited by man, cast upon his own finitude, partialness, need of completion, but his own relation to truth is heightened by the other’s different relation to the same truth—different in accordance with his individuation, and destined to take seed and grow differently.499 Full and authentic individuality is essential to and I-Thou relationship. In admitting personal incompleteness, the acceptance of the incomplete other develops. In the acceptance of other as just what they are, without expectation, a person’s heart opens, and the other occasionally responds likewise. Coming to the
497

Friedman, Touchstones of Reality, 318. Buber, Between Man and Man, 168. Buber, Knowledge of Man, 69.

498

499

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moment as a unique person with certain limitations and gifts. One person acknowledges that the other is also unique with different limitations and gifts; nevertheless, both individuals come with their whole being to the relationship. The distance of difference is impossible to bridge, but the resonance of similarity —limitation itself is a similarity—allows the person to see the mystery of the other as the same mystery of his or her own being. This distance precedes an IThou relationship. Like the line that perceived a different and unlimited trajectory in the intersection with another line, an I-Thou relationship with another person discovers a new way of knowing and being present. The I-Thou relationship opens the possibility of a different world than was previously possible—experience gives way to relation. At the same instant that another way of being is perceived in the other, the confirmation of the uniqueness of self builds in both participants. Confirmation, not union or unification arises in both people. Accepting the divine uniqueness of each person’s life and its authentic expression overcomes the distance between one and the other through relationship.500 In relationship to another, a person becomes whole. As Richard Hycner describes this dialog, The interhuman is that realm by which we are both separate and inrelation. We are as much a part of, as well as apart from, other human beings. Healthy existence is that ever elusive rhythmic balance of separateness and relatedness.501 This relatedness has a twofold movement. It consists of both individuality and relation, both distance and connection. Without distance there could be no
500

Buber, Knowledge of Man, 23. Hycner, Between Person and Person, 8.

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relation. Without connection there could likewise be no relation. Buber sees in the I-It and I-Thou attitudes the two primary metacosmic movements of the world— expansion into being and turning toward connection. Every individual needs both the expansion of their capacity to develop as an individual, and at the same time connection to another to confirm their being. With connection our value is confirmed. In the strengthening freedom of loving acceptance, we risk expansion to our full potential. In relationship, every individual turns to another for connection, and finds in the other a uniquely different experience of the world which confronts and confirms his or her experience and being. But the two motions, expansion into being and turning to connection, are not independent. They exist as a primary rhythmic couplet. The world moves in a rhythm of outward-inward movement. Self and other, I-It and I-Thou, meet in this eternal double movement. For this double movement, of estrangement from the primal Source, in virtue of which the universe is sustained in the process of becoming, and of turning towards the primal Source, in virtue of which the universe is released in being, may be perceived as the metacosmic primal form that dwells in the world as a whole.502 Buber sees this distance and connection in relationship as an example of the irrepressible cosmic creative force, expressed at its height in human relationships.503

502

Buber, I and Thou, 116. Buber, I and Thou, 116.

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The Eternal Thou Buber draws his definition of the eternal Thou from his experiences of the finite or particular Thou found in relationship to another person. The recurring experience of something boundless in the moment of the I-Thou relationship led him to the knowledge of an ever-present potential of boundlessness in human life. The extended lines of relation meet in the eternal Thou. Every particular Thou is a glimpse through to the eternal Thou; by means of every particular Thou the primary word addresses the eternal Thou. . . . The inborn Thou is realized in each relation and consummated in none. It is consummated only in the direct relation with the Thou that by its nature cannot become It.504 The “Thou that cannot become It” cannot be known, only glimpsed. “Each genuinely mutual relationship opens a curtain that separates us from the deepest space in which it is possible to glimpse the eternal address that calls out to us as ‘Thou.’”505 Personal response to the eternal Thou expresses itself in relationship with the other. In that “vague restlessness” of the human soul, in the confirmation of being that comes through an I-Thou relationship with another, a glimpse of that something more that is just beyond the visible changes one person’s perception of the other. In that moment, the partners in dialogue share in the eternal. While the eternal stands always ready to meet us, we cannot find it alone. Connection to the eternal develops only through a relationship with another that validates both self and other as unique and meaningful. A person enters into relationship with others, nature, or spirit, and in that relationship the person both initiates and responds to the other in a dialogue that changes both self and other. Dialogue
504

Buber, I and Thou, 75. Kramer, Practicing Living Dialogue, 134.

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surrounds everyone. Humans are inherently and naturally in relationship with others, nature, or spirit at all times, and to live life fully aware of the significance of those relationships incurs a responsibility that infuses all our actions. A person’s dialogue with another arises directly out of their attitude to life. When a person practices authenticity in an I-Thou relational attitude, that person realizes that participation in life, in the life of another, invokes a sense of profound responsibility for the well-being of the other, and delivers a gift of equal proportion—meaningfulness within their own life. In the same moment that responsibility arises, there also arises an interior knowing that authentic presence is the only real gift any person can bring to relationship, and that authentic presence is always the sufficient gift to bring to any relationship. This authentic presence in relationship to another is, for Buber, an expression of the divine in its immanent form. But he who practices real responsibility in the life of dialogue does not need to name the speaker of the word to which he is responding—he knows him in the word’s substance. . . . A man can ward off with all his strength the belief that “God” is there, and he tastes him in the strict sacrament of dialogue.506 As Buber commented in the postscript of I and Thou, “the most essential concern” of his philosophy of dialogue is “the close connection of the relation to God with the relation to one’s fellow man,”507 which illuminates his statement, quoted earlier, that “the extended lines of relation meet in the eternal Thou.”508 The constant possibility of meeting the eternal in relationship to the other affords
506

Buber, Between Man and Man, 17. Buber, I and Thou, 123. Buber, I and Thou, 75.

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Buber the declaration that “the eternal Thou can by its nature not become It . . . for it can be found neither in nor out of the world.”509 It is only found in relationship and it is an ever-present potential therein. It is not a “thing” in itself, any more than God is an object. “The eternal Thou is a living Presence,” which makes possible every meaningful relationship to the world.510 The meaningfulness of life is found in relationship. In this relationship, Buber says, “Man receives, and he receives not a specific ‘content’ but a Presence.”511 For Buber, this presence includes three inseparable aspects, all of which are concerned with the establishment of meaning: 1) Relation is a mutual connection between the participants that makes life heavy with meaning. 2) Relation confirms meaning, or as Buber states: the question about the meaning of life is no longer there. But were it there, it would not have to be answered…. It does not wish to be explained (nor are we able to do that) but only to be done by us.”512 3) Relation ensures the meaningfulness not of life in general, but specifically the personal meaning of life in its present moment. This meaning is revealed and understood as it is brought forth in action. As Buber puts it, this meaning “wishes to be born by me into the world.”513 This meaningfulness of life is not a knowledge, but a newfound relationship between the person and their world

509

Buber, I and Thou, 112. Kramer, Practicing Living Dialogue, 137. Buber, I and Thou, 110. Buber, I and Thou, 110. Buber, I and Thou, 110.

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highlighting God’s presence in the world through personal choices and actions in response to others. In keeping with this pervasive concern with action in the world, Buber continues to ground his philosophy of dialogue, even his encountering of God, in experience, not transcendent ideas. For Buber, “meeting with God does not come to man in order that he may concern himself with God, but in order that he may confirm that there is meaning in the world.”514 The ultimate significance of relationship with the eternal remains in the temporal. The world where person encounters person, person encounters nature, and person encounters spirit remains the significant realm. For Buber, God cannot be found in the interior transcendence of unitive mysticism, nor can He be met in a complacent performance of religious ritual. These activities remain dependent on a personal internal state without recourse to the real world surrounding us. God who is both “wholly Other” and “nearer to me than my I” can be met only as Thou.515 And meeting a Thou can only occur through relationship to the world. “He who truly goes out to meet the world goes out also to God.”516 The artificial splitting of the cosmos into transcendent God and strictly material, non-divine world diminishes the potential of each human being by denying the divinity immanent in each human. This artificial split ignores the infinite capacity of human creativity in the person and in the community. As Buber said,
514 515

Buber, I and Thou, 115. Buber, I and Thou, 79. Buber, I and Thou, 95.

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‘Here world, there God’ is the language of It; ‘God in the world’ is another language of It; but to eliminate or leave behind nothing at all, to include the whole world in the Thou, to give the world its due and its truth, to include nothing beside God but everything in him—this is full and complete relation.517 Like the Hasidic teachings, Buber’s understanding of full and complete relationship gathers all the cosmos into its concern. From it arises a vision of God expressed and hidden in everything. Each aspect of the cosmos demonstrates the unique unfolding of divine potential in its own way. Each moment connects to the eternal through its uniqueness. Each mountain, valley, and tree; each person on each busy street; each creative act of humankind—all individually and jointly unfold the potential of this world in a way that expresses divine potential. And to the extent that the capacity for full and complete relationship does not arise in human relations, the world unfolds in a twisted, warped manner that requires the eyes of God to see its beauty. The task of humanity, according to Buber, is to enter into relationship in this world and find God therein, to be the eyes and hands of God to those around, and in so doing to live into the meaningfulness of human existence. Hallowing this Life The unification of this world—the profane and the sacred—occurs when a person meets each occurrence in life as holy. Buber said, “If you hallow this life you meet the living God.”518 Life is hallowed by every person who “realizes God anew in the world according to his strength and to the measure of each day.”519
517

Buber, I and Thou, 78. Buber, I and Thou, 79. Buber, I and Thou, 114.

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For Buber, hallowing life is a “finding without seeking, a discovering of the primal, of origin.”520 Finding authenticity as a whole person lies not in the external others with whom encounter arises, but in the quality of encounter itself. In the same way, authenticity does not lie solely in the interior of the person, for without encounter authenticity would never be found within. It is only the otherness of the encountered other that reveals both personal uniqueness and commonalities. In an ever-heightening spiral of awareness, a person and the other come to know themselves in a two-directional knowing. The awareness and understanding of the internal self supports the expansion into the external encounter with the other. In so doing, a person finds her own self while encountering and confirming the other. When done in an ongoing I-Thou attitude, such encounter is the life of dialogue—a life shaped by the concrete reality of lived experience with an openness to the mystery of the other. Actually, pure relation can only be raised to constancy in space and time by being embodied in the whole stuff of life. It cannot be preserved, but only proved true, only done, only done up into life.521 Expression of self as a unique, authentic person who encounters the world as other, yet finds in that otherness a commonality that confronts and confirms the self, demonstrates not only the ongoing cosmic method of creation, but also the necessity of our personal participation in the divine unfolding of the cosmos. The necessity of the unfolding of the uniqueness of the individual in Buber’s

520

Buber, I and Thou, 80.
521

Buber, I and Thou, 114.

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philosophy of dialogue brings to mind his dissertation discussion of the unfolding of the cosmos with human participation at the pinnacle. As Maurice Friedman recapitulates a basic idea of Buber’s writings in his introduction to Buber’s Between Man and Man, the genuineness of man’s existence is seen as dependent upon his bringing all his separate spheres of activity into ”the life of dialogue,” a life in which one does not necessarily have much to do with others but really has to do with those with whom one has to do.522 Friedman’s summary discloses that Buber’s thoughts have moved from the universal to the specific. What was in Buber’s youth a mysticism of individual merging with the divine, has in his later years become grounded in individual existence as a person encountering the mystery contained in another person, and in that encounter the divine reveals itself; not in either person, per se, but in the authentic relationship that contains and pervades them both. Later in Between Man and Man, Buber again refers to the life of dialogue as a unification of the whole person: Nevertheless, he who lives the life of dialogue knows a lived unity: the unity of life as that which once truly won is not ripped asunder into the everyday creaturely life and the ”deified” exalted hours; the unity of unbroken, raptureless perseverance in concreteness, in which the word is heard and a stammering answer dared.523 What had been the mystical reveries of his youth transform into his philosophy of dialogue—the act of encounter of the other. His certainty of the value of mystical union transforms into “perseverance” in the world and an “answer dared.” The

522

Buber, Between Man and Man, xix. Buber, Between Man and Man, 25.

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assurance of mystical union of his youth becomes a holy insecurity of relationship to the other. For Buber, life is functional when lived in the I-It realm and meaningful only when lived in an I-Thou dialogue, whose basic movement is turning towards the other, whether nature, human, or spirit.524 Turning requires a change in attitude toward valuing the uniqueness and mystery of the other, welcoming that uniqueness, and encouraging its full expression. In this turning, Buber finds a way to reach across the chasm separating the sacred and the profane by acknowledging that both are present in relationship. Buber’s attempt to find the connection of the sacred in the profane grows more nuanced than the earlier ideas expressed in his dissertation and early mysticism. This resonance expresses the growth of Buber’s mystical thoughts without denying their source. His dissertation linked the personal individuation with the cosmic unfolding as an expression of God’s self-revelation. Though his philosophy of dialogue avoids the generalities of the universal, it still includes the acknowledgement that the personal unfolding in its authenticity expresses the primary metacosmic twofold directionality of personal wholeness and authentic connection. In the presentness of relationship, Buber finds the evocation of both self and other. His concept that both distance and nearness are involved in relationship grows out of his earlier mysticism that described Cusa’s “unfolding” and “enfolding” of God as that same twofold directionality of divine becoming. In his dissertation, Buber saw the unfolding of the universe as concurrent with the unfolding of the individual. In Boehme, Buber found human choice playing a
524

Buber, Between Man and Man, 1.

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determining role in the unfolding of God’s creation. In his philosophy of dialogue, while he limits this role to the concrete world of personal experience, it remains intact as the unfolding of God’s intention for humanity. In his earlier mysticism, Buber found the divine expressing itself in the essence of the individual, while in his philosophy of dialogue, the divine expresses itself in the moment of relationship as the eternal Thou. Although Buber’s dialogue limits itself to the concrete, the expression of the divine remains a consistent element in both streams of his thought. His constant search for the bridge between the transcendent and the mundane, not as rejoining that which had split, but as an expression of the original unity of life is also clearly expressed in his Erlebnis mysticism. The lived experience of an Erlebnis moment was for Buber perceiving the sacred in the mundane. His I-Thou relationship also achieves the same lived sacredness in each moment of true relationship. Living life as a sacrament is common to his early mysticism, his Hasidic writings, and his philosophy of dialogue. In each system of thought, the present concrete moment has within it the potential of the eternal unity, but only if invoked by the attitude and actions of the person. All his writings lead toward a unified life. Only from a unified life can wholeness of person arise. Only from a unified life can the meaning of life flow as a lived experience. In addition to dependence on his understanding of mysticism presented in his dissertation and his experience of Erlebnis-mysticism of the New Community, Buber’s philosophy of dialogue also draws directly upon the

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teachings of Hasidism in the relational attitude of I-Thou. The basic movement in Hasidism bridges the perceived chasm between the spiritual world above and the material world below with the Hasidic image of humanity’s role in the divine plan. In Hasidism, the human is the redemptive agent of the divine sparks dwelling within each item of the cosmos. Redemption occurs in human engagement in right relationship with every other being, whether human, animal, or nature. Human beings redeem the world not by any sanctioned or sacred action but by the quality of their engagement in right relationship with the world. Every action brought forth from the whole person redeems the world because it arises out of authentic relationship to the world. As Buber describes the intent of both Hasidism and dialogue, in authentic relationship action is not empty, but purposive, enjoined, needed, part of creation; but this action is no longer imposed upon the world, it grows on it as if it were non-action.525 Hasidism, like Buber’s philosophy of dialogue, focuses on intention and action of an authentic person responding to the potential of the encountered other. In both Hasidism and Buber’s philosophy of dialogue, meaningfulness of human life arises in encounter and response, in relationship to the other. While revering the mystery of the other, the profane can become the sacred. The distinction is inherent to neither the subject nor the object, but resides within the relationship. Hasidism’s openness to the divine has its counterpart in Buber’s philosophy of dialogue in the manifestation of the eternal Thou, which allows the unknown and unknowable to enter into mundane life and transform it. Buber emphasizes in his
Buber, I and Thou, 109.

525

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Hasidic writings that the divine becomes accessible only through relationship to the world. His philosophy of dialogue continues that line of thought through his emphasis on concrete relationship to the communal world in its search for the eternal. Release from the problems of life also cannot ensure a meaningful life in either Hasidic teachings or Buber’s philosophy of dialogue. Authentic encounter with the people and events provides the only surety of meaning, and honest encounter always resides in the neighborhood of mystery. In both Hasidism and living a life of dialogue, being open to the mystery of the moment and allowing space for something eternal to enter into human relationships creates meaning in human life. These relationships include the human and non-human sphere and incorporate even the cosmos. Both Hasidic and dialogic teachings emphasize human actions as the meeting point of the finite and the infinite. Buber called Hasidism a “realistic and active mysticism,” which “preserves immediacy of relationship, guards the concreteness of the absolute, and demands the involvement of the whole person.”526 In both Hasidism and Buber’s philosophy of dialogue, God dwells where man lets him in. Indeed, this openness to the eternal in daily life may be the most significant similarity between Hasidism and dialogue. Buber searched throughout his life for a way to acknowledge that aspect of life which is beyond the rational, but experienced by every human. He sought to ground the description of the whole person beyond the physical, to include the human spirit and creativity. He found the integrity of humanity rooted in relationships. As he matured, his ideas grew more nuanced, less abstract, and more widely respectable because they ever more deeply found
526

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 138.

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their base in the universally shared experiences of human life without constructing a system that limits the experienced mystery of self and other.

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Hallowing Dialogue
In 1948 Buber published “The Way of Man According to the Teachings of Hasidism” in which he presents a series of lectures to a group on spiritual retreat. In this collection of lectures, Buber exemplifies the wholeness of person he describes so clearly in other writings. The value of the fundamental uniqueness of each person, and the potential to experience the mystical content of life in every activity reflects the Erlebnis-mysticism of his university days. The Hasidic teaching story in which the obvious reveals the hidden spark of divine potential retains a central position in these lectures. His constant awareness of the importance of the attitude of openness to the fundamental otherness of every person encountered reflects his philosophy of dialogue. All the important characteristics of the three stages of Buber’s life come together in this collection of lectures. Beginning each of the six short lectures with a Hasidic teaching, he highlights fundamental steps to assist in achieving a meaningful relationship with God through authentic relationships with others. Here we find one of the clearest expressions in all of Buber’s work connecting the transcendent and the mundane —namely hallowing everyday relationship with our whole being. Buber introduces the lectures by contrasting Hasidism with most systems of belief, which according to Buber require a renunciation of the world in order to achieve a relationship with God. Hasidism, unlike the other systems of belief, embraces God through embracing the world. Hasidism acknowledges the transcendence of God, but equally admits his conditioned immanence in the world. According to Hasidic teachings, a divine spark lives within each material

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thing of this world enclosed by its isolating material shell. Only humankind can liberate it and rejoin the spiritual spark with the divine whole. This divine spark also dwells within each human, but in each person selfishness can direct the inner spark toward evil. Each person has equal potential of turning toward God or away. The task God gives to man is to choose. The task of each man, of every man, according to the Hasidic teaching, is to affirm for God’s sake the world and himself and by this very means to transform both.527 Buber sees in Hasidism the uniqueness of its ability to bind the profane and the sacred in every act of human behavior by the intention therein, and to tie the potential sacredness of every human act to personal responsibility for the future. The ability to live in proper relationship with another brings about Buber’s concept of the kingdom of God on earth, based not on divine intervention, but human loving kindness. Heart Searching In the first of the six essays from “The Way of Man”, “heart searching”, Buber retells a story from Rabbi Shneur Zalman interpreting the scriptural story of the first act of relationship between God and Adam while personalizing it for each person present at the telling. God’s first words to Adam were “Where are you?” The interesting twist of the story as the Rabbi and Buber tell it is that the question is asked of every listener in this moment just as profoundly as it was asked of Adam when he was hiding from God in the creation story. Buber suggests not only that each person hides from God, but that in hiding from God
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Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 127.

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each person is hiding from himself or herself. God’s question sets in motion the possibility for honesty to self and other in the act of searching the heart. Buber suggests that in some way every person is asked this question by God. Deep personal reflection and introspection, when engaged not as an act of religious obligation or ritual, but as an act of personal honesty and authentic living, lead to awareness of our system of hiding and possibly the deconstruction of our habits of avoidance. This deconstruction of our habits of avoidance results in authentic encounter with the other in our presence. The Particular Way Each of the six lectures in “The Way of Man” begins with a story from a Hasidic rabbi. In the second lecture Buber begins with the story of Rabbi Baer asking his teacher to “Show me one general way to the service of God.”528 This sets the tone for Buber’s presentation that there is no single way to serve God. Each person has a unique relationship to God because they are unique, and their path toward God reflects their uniqueness. At the same time, God is uniquely available to each person in the way that best expresses that person’s abilities and potential. Whatever stirs the innermost desire of each person expresses the unique path of that person to best find God. The great characters of history are but examples of what can be done, not the limitation of what ought to be done. No tradition or ritual should stop the authentic person from finding the best expression of who they are. In the words of the rabbi:

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Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 138.

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Just as our fathers founded new ways of serving, each a new service according to his character… so each of us in his own way shall devise something new in the light of teachings and of service, and do what has not yet been done.529 In Buber’s telling of this Hasidic teaching, the uniqueness of each person expresses God’s infinite multiplicity. Everything that exists, even inanimate nature, carries within in the spark of the divine. Realizing each person’s unique value liberates the spark of the divine within. There is not one way to God, but one way for each person. That path is unique to each person, and finding it expresses God’s desire while it also expresses the full potential of that person. The Hasidic leaders set examples and provided guidelines pointing the way, but were mindful that the appropriate path for each person would express that person’s uniqueness. Resolution Buber begins this third lecture telling of one Hasidic Jew who fasted from one Sabbath to the next, but on the last day wavered in his intention and was tempted to take a drink of water. Realizing that would mean failure for the whole week, he restrained himself and walked away in pride. Realizing his pride, he determined that it would be better to drink and ruin his achievement than to fall prey to pride. So he returned to the well to drink, only to notice at the last minute that his thirst had passed. Upon entering his teacher’s house as the Sabbath began, his rabbi chided him, describing his efforts as “patchwork.”

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Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 139.

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Buber acknowledges the apparent harshness of the rabbi’s judgment, but reframes it as true insight. Ascetic activities are not fulfilled in their completion, but in their trajectory. Any asceticism undertaken with the accomplishment as the goal misses the true purpose of asceticism. Buber explains that asceticism, occasionally undertaken, is intended to further the person on the path to God, not as a feat to be accomplished. The underlying purpose is more significant than the achievement. Buber explains that “united soul,” one focused not on the activity but on the ultimate goal, can accomplish the activity seamlessly. No person begins with a united soul, but every soul can become unified. The unification of the soul is necessary before undertaking an unusual feat such as the week-long fast in this story. Buber sees in the rabbi’s statement the acknowledgement that the Hasid had undertaken a feat of asceticism greater than his preparation. The rabbi therefore recommends a greater understanding of the capabilities of the individual before beginning an act of asceticism, and at the same time recommending more attention to daily activities and potentials of soul purification therein. Asceticism is but a tool for the unification of heart and mind toward the purpose of serving God. The goal must always remain the purification of the soul, not the achievement of the task. But unification of the soul is never complete. Unification of the soul must happen time and again in every activity engaged. Though never fully achieved, unification of the person is constantly strengthened by every intentional act. As Buber says: Any work that I do with a united soul reacts upon my soul, acts in the direction of new and greater unification, leads me, though by 195

all sorts of detours, to a steadier unity than was the preceding one. Thus a man ultimately reaches a point where he can rely upon his soul, because its unity is now so great that it overcomes contradiction with effortless ease. Vigilance, of course, is necessary even then, but it is a relaxed vigilance.530 Thus the goal of asceticism, and every intentional act, is the building of a unified soul that shines forth in every genuine relationship. With every step toward unification of the soul new abilities arise. Buber uses the story of a rabbi explaining the game of checkers to his students to illustrate the point. The rabbi summarized the three rules of checkers: The first is that one must not make two moves at once. The second is that one may only move forward and not backward. And the third is that when one has reached the last row, one may move wherever one likes.531 Buber appears to say that for a unified soul the rules no longer apply. More correctly stated, the person sees what rules need to be applied and abides from an internal locus of control, not any external set of rules. Beginning with Oneself In the fourth and fifth lectures Buber’s philosophy of dialogue finds its closest connection to these Hasidic teaching stories. The opening tale in this chapter illuminates the Hasidic teaching about the origin of conflict between persons. The short tale of Rabbi Yitzak can be summarized in the two line quote of the Baal Shem Tov: “There is thought, speech, and action. Whoever straightens himself out in regard to all three will find that everything prospers at his hands.”532
530

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 150. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 151. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 155.

531

532

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Buber continues to say: “This story touches upon one of the deepest and most difficult problems of our life: the true origin of conflict between man and man.”533 Conflict can be sociologically explained as among two distressed parties with the issue lying between them and the best possible result found in a negotiated settlement. In a more analytical method, psychology might explain conflict based upon internal unconscious complexes within either or both individuals. Hasidic teachings take a different approach. Hasidism envisions the fundamental structure of each person as a whole and that conflict cannot be properly understood without understanding the implications to the whole person. Every issue within a person lives in vital connection to the whole person. Pragmatically, Hasidism teaches that each person is not an object of examination, but a subject responsible for every action, and called up to realize that conflict situations between self and other reflect conflict situations within the soul. To overcome the external conflict requires engaging the internal conflict. Buber explains that it is human nature to avoid this difficult process and to seek justification in placing blame on the other. Hasidism teaches that in externalizing the conflict the person has devalued their own soul by making it an irresponsible party to the activities of the world. Positively stated, Hasidism teaches the ultimate value and ultimate responsibility of the individual. Acknowledging that personal actions create the world in which we live as a community requires that the person resolve the conflict by beginning with their internal unresolved issues. Any external locus of attention undermines the process of evaluation and impairs

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Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 155.

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the potential resolution of the conflict. The ultimate value of the individual, both self and other, remains the foundation for conflict resolution. But the saying of the Baal Shem discloses an even deeper origin of conflict which includes thought, speech, and action. Buber explains the words of the Baal Shem saying: “The origin of all conflict between me and my fellow men is that I do not say what I mean, and that I do not do what I say.”534 The fundamental source of external conflict is internal inconsistency—precisely what the previous lecture had discussed from another perspective. The internal drive for self-authenticity and unification of the soul discussed in the previous lecture, when incomplete or fruitless, becomes the source for conflict with others externally. Everything depends upon the individual engaging the internal examination begun with God’s question “where are you?” and resolving it in order to have peaceful relationships with others. The accomplishment of this great internal examination goes beyond the examination of the individual ego to a deeper understanding of the self and all its relationships to the world. Not to be Preoccupied with Oneself With all of the inward focusing of the previous four steps toward right relationship with God and other persons discussed in the four previous lectures, finally Buber’s lecture series about Hasidic path begins to focus outward. Almost contradictory at first glance to the immediately preceding lecture, this teaching advocates forgetting about yourself, not in preference to unawareness of self, but in order to focus on what you can do in the world. The preparation described in

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Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 158.

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the first four lectures creates the capacity to focus outward. The goal of life does not lie in preoccupation with the self, but with an active relationship with the world. For this reason Buber provocatively writes: By no means, however, can it be our true task, in the world into which we have been set, to turn away from the things and beings that we meet on our way and that attract our hearts; our task is precisely to get in touch, by hallowing our relationship with them, with what manifests itself in them as beauty, pleasure, enjoyment. Hasidism teaches that rejoicing in the world, if we hallow it with our whole being, leads to rejoicing in God.535 Yet the preoccupation with self can work in a negative direction. A person can experience inadequacies in behavior and berate their efforts or results. But to focus on failure or even to think that our repentance is inadequate and that we should do more prevents us from using the energy and skills we have toward that which can still be accomplished—fulfilling our personal potential and bringing our gifts and abilities to the community. “He who tortures himself with the idea that his acts of penance are not sufficient, withholds his best energies from the work of reversing them.”536 Focusing on our lack inhibits our ability to focus on our abilities. Hasidism sees this as withholding the presence of the kingdom of God on earth. This withholding harms the community as much as the individual. In Hasidic thought, the kingdom of God is not ushered in by the power of God at some point in the future, but by every person redeeming the present moment, thus creating a better future. And entering the kingdom is not a personal event as in Christian salvation, but a communal process. Buber specifically draws out the

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Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 143. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 164.

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distinction that for Hasidism, and Judaism generally, the soul does not have the object of personal salvation, but to become a working member of God’s creation by whose efforts the kingdom of God is manifest in this world. No individual has a place in the kingdom of God without the others who form their community. Here Where One Stands The last of the six lectures describes where one is to begin. Through a tale of a Hasidic Jew being led by a dream to travel to a foreign place, only to be divinely inspired to return home to find his treasure, this story teaches that here where one stands is the place to begin the path towards fulfillment. There is no other place more appropriate, no other time more adequate, no contingent circumstance that must be met before we can begin to live in fulfilling relationship with God and others. There is only here, and there is only now. The great treasure which Buber calls the “fulfillment of existence” can only be found “in the place on which one stands.”537 It is found in the details of daily life, the situation and environment in which a person finds he or she is embedded. No extrication or amelioration of any situation will make life more livable or success more possible than becoming aware of the already present potential within the situation at hand. If through ignorance or neglect we cannot see the possibilities inherent in this place and this moment, it would be unlikely that any change of circumstances would improve our vision. Hasidism embraces the spiritual potential of the present place and time.

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Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 172.

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According to Buber, Hasidism reveals the greatest historical understanding of God’s desire to be present in this world. God’s grace consists precisely in this, that He places Himself into man’s hands. God wants to come to His world, but He wants to come to it through man. This is the mystery of our existence, the superhuman chance of mankind.538 For Hasidism the purpose of humanity is not intrapersonal, but relational. We develop not only our skills and abilities in community with others, but our capacity to be human. When properly developed those skills and abilities can be given as gifts to the others with whom we live. In giving and receiving within our community we define who we are and engage others to do so as well. In such community, God’s spirit dwells in the midst of all, and for Buber this is the ultimate fulfillment of life. In open authentic relationship with others, this Hasidic understanding of God’s intention for human fulfillment can be realized. It is realized in relationship to God through others. This is the ultimate purpose: to let God in. But we can let Him in only where we really stand, where we live, where we live a true life. If we maintain holy intercourse with the little world entrusted to us, if we help the holy spiritual substance to accomplish itself in that section of Creation in which we are living, then we are establishing, in this our place, a dwelling for the Divine Presence.539 For Buber, by hallowing the world, we not only let God in, but as well we become ourselves “humanly holy.”540

538

Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 175. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 176. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 42.

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Meaning Between Persons
As far back as his early Erlebnis-mysticism Buber sought a way to integrate transcendent experiences with daily living. His quest to blend his personal experiences into a way of living that honored both traditional epistemological practices while admitting sources of knowledge available through mystical practices stands out. His relationships with others engaged in similar practices in the New Community, his university studies, and his personal reveries all pointed toward an interpenetration of the transcendent into the mundane. It could even be said that this early direction set the trajectory for his life. His Erlebnis experiences contained many nascent characteristics that would recur in his Hasidic writings and mature in his philosophy of dialogue. Mendes-Flohr records that “the central categories of his mysticism—presence, presentness, immediacy, ineffability—although now radically reinterpreted continue to inform Buber’s philosophical reflections.”541 Though these descriptions apply to Erlebnis-mysticism as an internal participation in the world, they grow in his later writings to include the internal attitude that is expressed in relation to the world. Hasidism became the touchstone that unlocked the fullness of human relationships for Buber. The memory of the community of Hasidic Jews of Sadagora from his youth combined with the teachings of the Baal Shem that touched his soul in 1904 and coalesced into the ethical Hasidic stories that he published as his response to the need he saw in the Jewish community at that time. It was at this time that the pathos of his youth became the constant ethos of the rest of his life through the realization of the fullness of the possibility inherent
541

Mendes-Flohr, “Editor’s Introduction” in Buber’s Ecstatic Confessions, xix.

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in each human through relationship. Hasidism, though ostensibly discussing the relationship of human to God, more subtly teaches the hallowing of human relationships. The four themes Buber used to describe Hasidism return attention to the foundation of their community. The ecstasy of transcendent reverie in the worship of God returned to the community expressed as service to others. Service expresses best in actions toward redemption of the community. The intention of redemption was not individual or singular, but the intention to redeem the holy sparks in all creation—to return the world to its origin in God. In Hasidism humility has none of the traditional connection to meekness or timidity and is redefined as honoring the uniqueness in each living creature for its value, and thereby valuing self and other equally. Living in this humility, life becomes sacred in each moment. Buber’s continued writing on Hasidism, such as his 1948 “The Way of Man” essays, demonstrates that these foundational characteristics of Hasidism remain in his thought and writings long after the publication of his philosophy of dialogue. His philosophy of dialogue is permeated with similar characteristics which find their root in Hasidism. His philosophy of dialogue represents another major step forward in Buber’s thinking, but solidly rests on the principles of human interaction found in his Hasidic publications. They share essential seven characteristics: presence, openness, reciprocity, distance and connection, wholeness, intention, and the spark of the divine.

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Presence The fulfillment of either Hasidism’s ethos or Buber’s dialogue can happen only in the present moment. The present moment is the only time at which a person can make a choice to be available to another. No amount of success in the past can be sufficient to redeem the potential in the present moment. And regret for any failure in the past is likewise an insufficient activity. Only presence to the current moment is adequate to create meaningfulness and progress toward a better future. With the heart and mind joined together to address the concerns of the present while open to the potential of the future, the greatest possibility of the current moment may develop. This current awareness of the possibility of the future is consistent in both Hasidism and dialogue. Like the evanescence of every I-Thou relationship, this awareness by its nature cannot last, but must be constantly re-created in every moment possible. Openness Engaged awareness in the present moment is necessary, but not sufficient in either Hasidism or dialogue. Openness to the unique difference of the other is also required. The acknowledgement of the uniqueness of the other honors their value and engages their abilities. In the openness of acceptance, humans rise to the challenge they encounter. The acceptance of the difference of the other encourages that difference to offer its ability toward building a common future. The acceptance of the uniqueness of the other also builds greater self-esteem. In knowing the other as equal to self, both self and other develop a level of wholeness previously unknown. In a movement from the universal to the 205

individual, the humility of Hasidism evolves into a quality of the dialogical relationship. Without this Hasidic humility and openness to the uniqueness of the other person, any other quality of relationship falls short of the I-Thou relationship of Buber’s philosophy of dialogue. Reciprocity Reciprocity is a necessary ingredient in any authentic relationship. In the give and take of relationship, reciprocity equalizes the dynamic flow between the participants. In both Hasidic and dialogic relationship authenticity requires that participants give to the other without reserve. This vulnerability of authenticity imbues an aura of sacredness to the relationship between the participants. This is not to imply that all must be in constant agreement. Engagement in relationship includes disagreement with the other. Openness to the uniqueness of the other includes the acceptance of disagreement without conflict. The value of each individual’s history, knowledge, and perspective adds to the quality of the relationship when engaged reciprocally. This level of vulnerability and reciprocity creates the ability for each unique individual to be fully present to the other in authentic relationship. Distance and Connection Reciprocity is possible because of both the distance between the participants and the connection between them. Reciprocity acts as a bridge that both share in a dialogue that is more communion than conversation. Distance is necessary for there to be two parties to the relationship. Distance allows each person to bring personal individuality to the relationship for its unique value. 206

Connection allows the values to be shared and each to grow from the encounter with the other. But connection never turns into union. A fundamental individuality and otherness always remains. Despite any depth of relationship, there remains an interior unknowable by the other. Presentness and openness allow the possibility of that unknown interior spark to show through from time to time, but always just a bit. There is always more to encounter in any relationship. Wholeness In an environment of acceptance a person begins to express the wholeness of their being. It can not be demanded, that would force inauthenticity. But when a person feels that acceptance is secure, when they fear no risk of rejection for being who they are, this nurtures a greater participation in life. An authentic wholeness of person finds natural expression. Through acceptance of past actions, and remediation of them when possible or needed, an acceptance of present circumstances allows the disarmoring of the shields people often hide behind. A synergy of reciprocal vulnerability and presentness to the other blends to form authentic relationship between whole persons. Once experienced, this core of mutual acceptance and worthiness never completely disappears. Its residue pervades all further experiences allowing the possibility of greater and more regular authentic relationships between whole persons. Intention The intention to encounter and accept the other as a unique person lies behind the visible relationship. There can be no intention for a specific outcome for the relationship, that would be manipulative and controlling. The intention in 207

Hasidism was for a purity of relationship between man and God that would redeem the world. In dialogue the intention for authentic wholeness of self and other remains, and redemption is redefined to address the present moment. In living this moment in authentic relationship there is no need for redemption of any other, for there is only this moment, and in living it fully every other moment is set right. Intention in dialogical relationship lives without a goal, but with the ultimate goal—full acceptance of the other and wholeness of self. The Eternal In the quality of relationship described in the previous paragraphs something beyond the mundane finds expression. An aspect of human life not contained by objective description comes into being. In the famous phrase of William James, this “something more” transcends every objective experience and exposes the Hasidic spark of the divine in each person and leads the way to Buber’s eternal Thou in his philosophy of dialogue. It is something beyond description, yet experienced now and again by every human being. In Buber’s philosophy of dialogue it is the inborn Thou latent in every human developing into authentic relationship through encounter with another. Hasidism describes it as the spark of the divine redeemed in the actions of each moment, and the kingdom of God manifest in the relationships of people. Authentic relationships happen not only in special sacred moments of ritual and design, but in the everyday moments when encounter with another person blooms into relationship. Authentic relationships transform the profane into the sacred; the mundane merges with the transcendent. 208

Conclusion Both Hasidism and Buber’s philosophy of dialogue emphasize that the meaningfulness of life arises not in the individual, but through relationships. Relationships evoke the potential of every human being. The hard work of realizing and unifying the interior self to become a whole person, becoming aware of the unique otherness of every other person, and accepting that otherness for the uniqueness it brings to every encounter reveals that ultimate human meaningfulness develops between one person and another. This awareness redefines the priorities of life to embrace relationships in preference to accomplishments, which are nonetheless necessary. Life has meaning in who we are and in our authentic relationships to others in our life. The Hasidic teachings concerning relationships result in community just as the principles of Buber’s philosophy of dialogue build community through encounter. In both Hasidism and dialogue the principles of honoring the other allows a shared reality to arise between the individuals that provides both persons with meaningfulness in the present and a potential for the future that deepens the intensity of the experience of this world. This dissertation has shown that Buber’s mystical quest found expression as early as his dissertation and Erlebnis-mysticism. It transformed through his studies of Hasidism to an ethos of daily living. During the Great War Gustav Landauer demanded that he ground his thoughts and writings even more solidly in the reality of experience rather than the metaphysic through which he interpreted the world. Buber records that his engagement with mystical reverie and his

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expectation for a transcendent unitive experience transformed into a continued search grounded in the events of daily life alone. Through the Hasidic teachings which he made popular Buber consistently emphasizes the theme of daily living as the gateway and source to transcendent experience. Grounded in the shared experience of daily living, the Hasidic teachings of persons in community develop the concept that the opportunity to encounter the eternal lies in honoring God’s creation for its inherent divine spark, whether mineral, plant, animal, or human. Buber took this underlying Hasidic appreciation of each individual for their unique worth as the ground from which he developed his philosophy of dialogue. Impelled by an inward necessity Buber wrote I and Thou offering to the world his insight into the twofold directional attitude of each person. Refined and restated through his subsequent writings, Buber never removes from his writings the Hasidic assumption of the divine nature of the individual. The Hasidic relationship to the divine through hallowing the daily becomes in his philosophy of dialogue the potential for the eternal through authentic relationship to humans, nature, and spirit. The parallels are strong because they both deal with the fundamental experience of human life. They bridge the gap between the sacred and the profane by beginning with the daily as the road to the eternal. In so doing Buber identifies that meaningfulness of human life lies between persons who honor each other and the world.

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Urban, Martina. Hermeneutics of renewal: Biblical imagery and tropes of ecstatic experience in Buber’s early interpretation of Hasidism. Studies in Spirituality 15: 19-53, 2005. Windelband, Wilhelm. A history of philosophy. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958. Wood, Robert E. Martin Buber's ontology: An analysis of I and Thou. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1969.

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Additional Works
Alter, Robert. Jewish mysticism in dispute. Commentary 33: 53-59, 1989. Bambach, Charles R. Heidegger, Dilthey, and the crisis of historicism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995. Beek, M. A., and J. Sperna Weiland. Martin Buber: personality & prophet. Amsterdam: Newman Press, 1968. Bergson, Henri. The two sources of morality and religion. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1935. Brenner, Michael. From self-declared messiah to scholar of messianism: The recently published diaries present yourng Gerhard Scholem in a new light. Jewish Social Studies 3: 177-182, 1996. Brunner, Emil. Judaism and Christianity in Buber. In The philosophy of Martin Buber, Ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp and Maurice Friedman, 309-318. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1967. Buber, Martin. Daniel: Dialogues on realization. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964. ———. Eclipse of God: Studies in the relation between religion and philosophy. New York: Harper & Row, 1952. ———. For the sake of heaven: A chronicle. New York: Meridian Books, 1958. ———.Tales of the Hasidim. New York: Schocken Books, 1991. Clement, Olivier. The roots of Christian mysticism: Texts from the patristic era with commentary. Hyde Park, New York: New City Pres, 1993. Copleston, Frederick. A history of philosophy: Mediaeval philosophy. New York: Image Books, 1962. ———.Religion and philosophy. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1974. Colledge, O.S.A. and Bernard McGin, trans. Meister Eckhart: The essential sermons, commentaries, treatises, and defense. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1981. Fackenheim, Emil. Martin Buber's concept of revelation. In The philosophy of Martin Buber, Ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp and Maurice Friedman, 273-296. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1967. 217

Fishbane, Michael and Paul R. Rlohr, eds. Texts and responses: Studies presented to Nahum M. Glatzer on the occasion of his seventieth birthday by his students. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975. Friedman, Maurice. Dialogue and the ‘essential we’: The bases of values in the philosophy of Martin Buber. American journal of psychoanalysis. 20: 2634, 1960. ———. Elie Wiesel’s messianism of the unredeemed. Judaism 38: 310-319, 1989. ———. Encounter on the narrow ridge: A life of Martin Buber. New York: Paragon House, 1991. ———. The interhuman and what is common to all: Martin Buber and sociology. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior 29: 403-417, 1999. ———. Martin Buber: The life of dialogue. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955. ———. Martin Buber and the eternal. New York: Human Sciences Press, 1986. Gellman, Jerome. Buber’s blunder: Buber’s replies to Scholem and SchatzUffenheimer. Modern Judaism 20: 20-40, 2000. Gordon, Haim. The Heidegger-Buber controversy: The status of the I-Thou. London: Greenwood Press, 2001. ———. The other Martin Buber: Recollections of his contemporaries. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1988. Gries, Zeev. Hasidism: The present state of research and some desirable priorities. Numen 34: 97-108, 1987. Hammer, Barry. Resolving the Buber-Scholem controversy in Hasidism. Journal of Jewish Studies 47: 103-127, 1996. Hartshorne, Charles. Martin Buber's metaphysics. In The philosophy of Martin Buber, Ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp and Maurice Friedman, 49-68. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1967. Harvey. Andrew, ed. Teaching of the Christian mystics. Boston: Shambhala, 1998. Haston, Brooks, trans. Fragments: The collected wisdom of Heraclitus. New York: Viking Books, 2001. 218

Hertzberg, Arthur. Storming heaven: The p;lkajd f;akjf ;ajf erils of Jewish Messianism. Reform Judaism 27: 10-17, 1999. Heschel, Abraham Joshua. God in search of man: A philosophy of Judaism. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1955. Horowitz, Rivka. Gnosticism and creation in Buber’s philosophy. Immanuel 12: 135-151, 1981. Idel, Moshe. Kabbalah: New perspectives. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ———. Messianic mystics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998. Idel, Moshe and Bernard McGinn. Mystical union and monotheistic faith: An ecumenical dialogue. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1989. Jung, C. G. Religion and psychology: A reply to Martin Buber. Spring: 196-203, 1973. Kaplan, Mordecai M. Buber's evaluation of philosophic thought and religious tradition. In The philosophy of Martin Buber, Ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp and Maurice Friedman, 249-272. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1967. Kohanski, Alexander S. Martin Buber's philosophy of interhuman relation: A response to the human problematic of our time. London: Associated University Press, 1982. Levenson, Jon D. The hermeneutical defense of Buber’s Hasidism: A critique and counterstatement. Modern Judaism 11: 297-320, 1991. Levinas, Emmanuel. Martin Buber and the theory of knowledge. In The philosophy of Martin Buber, Ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp and Maurice Friedman, 133-150. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1967. Maciejko, Pawelk. Gershom Scholem’s dialectic of Jewish history: The case of Sabbatianism. Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 3: 207-220, 2004. Magid, Shaul. Gershom Scholem’s ambivalence toward mystical experience and his critique of Martin Buber in light of Hans Jonas and Martin Heidegger. Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 4: 245-269, 1995. ———. Hasidism on the margin: Reconciliation, antinomianism and messianism in Izbica/Radzin Hasidim. Jewish Quarterly Review 96: 276-282, 2006.

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Marcel, Gabriel. I and Thou. In The philosophy of Martin Buber, Ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp and Maurice Friedman, 41-48. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1967. Matt, Daniel C. The essential Kabbalah: The heart of Jewish mysticism. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1995. Mendes-Flohr, Paul. Martin Buber’s conception of God. in Divided passions: Jewish intellectuals and the experience of modernity. Ed. Paul MendesFlohr, 237-282. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991. Mendes-Flohr, Paul. Ed. Martin Buber: A contemporary perspective. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2002. Rome, Sydney and Beatrice Rome, ed. Philosophical interrogations: Interrogations of Martin Buber, John Wild, Jean Wahl, Brand Blanshard, Paul Weiss, Charles Hartshorne, Paul Tillich. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964. Rosman, Moshe. Founder of Hasidism: A quest for the historical Ba’al Shem Tov. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1996. Rosenthal, Gilbert S. Messianism reconsidered. Judaism 40: 552-568, 1991. Rotenstreich, Nathan. The right and the limitations of Buber's dialogical thought. In The philosophy of Martin Buber, Ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp and Maurice Friedman, 97-132. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1967. Scholem, Gershom. Kabbalah: A definitive history of the evolution, ideas, leading figures and extraordinary influence of Jewish mysticism. New York: Meridian, 1978. ———. On Jews and Judaism in crisis: Selected essays. Ed. Werner J. Dannhauser. New York: Schocken Books, 1976. ———. On the Kabbalah and its symbolism. Trans. Ralph Manheim. New York: Schocken Books, 1965. Silberstein, Laurence J. Modes of discourse in modern Judaism: The BuberScholem debate reconsidered. Soundings 657-681, 1988. Underhill, Evelyn. Practical mysticism. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1915. Walters, James, W. Martin Buber & feminist ethics: The priority of the personal. Syracuse University Press, 2003.

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Wood, Robert E. The self and the other: Towards a reinterpretation of the transcendentals. Philosophy Today 10: 48-63, 1966. Wheelwright, Philip. Buber's philosophical anthropology. in The philosophy of Martin Buber, Ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp and Maurice Friedman, 69-95. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1967.

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