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SPEAKING OF LOVE - Three mediations on speech and existence from the perspective of Judaism


SPEAKING OF LOVE COVER

 

"O you who linger in the garden,

a lover is listening;

Let me hear your voice".

(Song of Songs, 8:13)

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ISBN: 978-1-922229-66-3   Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 116
Genre: Non Fiction


Cover: Clive Dalkins

 

 

 

Author - Kim Halik
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published:  2015
Language: English


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Dedication

 

To my mother, Eva.

Survivor of Bergen-Belsen

and the Nazi Catastrophe, 1933-1945

 

You who were blessed

With the gift of Orpheus

A wounded heart

To heal the hearts of others.

 

 

And Libby

This profound friendship which we discover

in the secret capable of taking place between us,

that knows itself as an infinite relation

through the difference, sometimes the silence, of speech.

 

Preface

  

What’s in a word?

 

Do you know why you were unable at the time to know ‘the meaning of love’? Because one only knows it when one loves and is loved.

Franz Rosenzweig[1]

 

Anyone who wants to discuss the word love faces a dilemma. There’s probably no word which is so well-worn and used in such a tremendous variety of contexts and with such varying nuances. People say they love football, fried fish, their friends, and their children[2]. We misunderstand love, however, if we reduce it to a particular kind of human emotion or sentiment. Love is part of our human reality, but at the same time, it has an uncanny way of turning reality upside down. Genuine love is an event that works to perfect our humanity. To know love means actually loving, and being loved. Love is relationship, and relationship means being connected to others. Yet is love the only way I can be connected? Isaiah there something else in the sphere of life that also connects me to people? When I speak to someone, I am in relation. The connection created by a spoken word is distinctive, because through it, “one person enters into emotional solidarity with another person . . ”.[3]

What gives the human word its potency? No other living being in the universe has the ability to speak. Yet we misunderstand the significance of speech if we think it is merely communication. It’s well known that certain mammals engage in very sophisticated forms of communication with each other. What makes the speech of humans distinctive is that, beyond being a medium for the transmission of a particular verbal content, it enables a person to express themselves. Words reach deep down, bringing up into the light of day what would otherwise remain completely hidden. Speech reveals and externalises. Our words remind us that being human means having an inner life.

The German philosopher, Hegel, once observed that what is familiar is not known, exactly because it is familiar. We think we know what words like love mean; we think it obvious that love and spirituality should be connected in some way, but try and say something sensible about the subject and see how quickly it all degenerates into a series of clichés. To an extent, that stands to reason, because things like love and spirituality really are self-evident. In which case, why should it be important to think or even speak about them? Only because if we don’t find a way to speak about them sensibly and on our own account, we’ll find our own thinking and speaking has been replaced by a thought and a speech that, in not caring at all for what we really think and feel, proceeds to dictate to us our very own thoughts and feelings. I’m talking about psychology.

 

*          *          *

 

Presenting itself as a highly developed language of personal existence, psychology claims to be able to encompass any kind of real object, emotion, feeling or experience. Regardless of the subject matter – God, the universe, love, childhood development, knowledge or happiness – it always seems to have a ready answer.[4] People generally believe psychology provides a language which enables them to share their deepest thoughts, feelings and emotions with others. Language, however, is not just a neutral medium for communication. It plays a part in framing our thoughts and emotions (for instance, in some languages, certain ideas and notions never even arise). This is particularly evident when it comes to psychology, which works wholly in terms of received meanings. The language of psychology supplies the individual with a ready-made schema of the emotional life, an entire phraseology which “thinks and speaks”[5] for the individual. In this way, it very subtly and effectively determines what a person can and cannot think and feel. But then, how could anyone possibly know their true thoughts and emotions? With their mouths continually stuffed full of empty clichés and stock-standard phrases, it’s not long before people start to believe there could be nothing more to life than what the phrase says.[6]

Psychology claims to put people in touch with their feelings. However, the reality is that it merely pays lip-service to the notion of an inner life.[7] Fostering ersatz emotion in place of real feeling, histrionics and manipulative behaviour in place of probity and directness, psychology makes straightforward and emotionally honest relations with others difficult. In the long run, people end up being more isolated and alone than ever. As far as love is concerned, the problem is particularly serious because in this area the meanings are already acutely over-determined. The last thing we need are yet more psychological clichés about the meaning of love. Indeed, what more could possibly be said about it? And anyway, has not the very word itself, by now wholly drained of meaning, become “banal and base” from the onslaught of clichés and phrases? This is where we must work very deliberately and determinedly to restore the “original power and meaning”[8] of language. This is not as difficult as it may sound. It all depends on us.

The first thing is to put aside all received meanings and phrases, open ourselves up to words, and then really listen out for what they have to say. Only then does one discover how words, compelling yet ineffable, have the ability to touch us deep within. Words are more than merely neutral labels for things. Not “sound and smoke”[9] but “spirit and fire”, they resonate within us. Words reattach us to the feeling, sensing and emotional beings which we are, just as much as they draw us out of ourselves, thereby connecting us to others.

Humans are peculiar. As much as we are pragmatic, practical and immensely intelligent beings, we are never satisfied with that. We invariably feel a hankering for something beyond the satisfaction of a small circle of physiological needs. In this book, I’ve chosen to refer to this desire for the transcendent by way of a terminology traditional in our culture: God. The reader will notice I use this word quite freely, without scholarly reservations, and certainly without any sort of ironic intent. That’s because I see no good reason why it should be treated as a taboo. The word God stands for an immense reality. Nevertheless, for all its grandeur and mystery, it is still a human word. We’ll have a much better chance of understanding what it means if we allow all our words to take their place in the life which becomes human insomuch as it is a life lived as words spoken and listened to. It is then that we recognise the indispensability of words. As Francois Dominique put it, “for hundreds of thousands of years, language has constituted humankind”.[10] Words are our humanity. Nowhere does this apply more than with the word, love.

As with anything transcendent, love is self-evident. Rather than try to ground love on the basis of a knowledge, it’s enough to testify to its reality. In this respect, my focus on the subject of love is quite completely concrete and practical rather than abstract. Not that this book is a “self-help” manual for those wanting to improve the quality of their intimate relationships. The thrust of my argument is neither psychological nor sociological but ethical. By loving, an individual reaches out to others, finding there a confirmation of their own worth and uniqueness as a human being.[11] To this extent, rather than presupposing society, love is what first makes it possible.



[1]  From a letter to Rosenzweig’s fiancée, quoted in Glatzer, Franz Rosenzweig, 90.

[2] “Undoubtedly the clearest illustration of the helplessness and awkwardness of language, when it comes to expression of the infinite shades of emotion, is the curious word ‘love’. There are countless words for colours, there are scales for music, but for all shades of love we have the one word. ‘I love nice clothes’, says one. And another says, ‘I just love baked potatoes’. We also love our friends, we love our parents, we love our children, and we love love itself. A very extraordinary word, surely” (Levin, The Arena, 111. This work is the third part of Levin’s three-part autobiography).

3 Heschel, The Prophets, Volume 2, 98.

[4] As an immensely efficient and persuasive interpretive apparatus, psychology allows nothing to escape its grasp. To this, see the elaborate discourse on the psychology of crime by which the shrewd police investigator, Porfiry Petrovich, attempts to entrap Raskolnikov, in Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment, 519‑534.

5  The phrase is from the German Romantic poet, Schiller, and is quoted in Klemperer, The Language of the Third Reich, 15. There’s probably never been an age in which certain linguistic habits and ways of speaking are so effective in shaping how we understand the world and ourselves.

6  Again, much of this is a product of laziness. The fact is that nowadays, most people are not prepared to try to think for themselves. Psychology aids and abets this trend, since it aims to console rather than provoke any kind of serious reflection. The vast bulk of popular psychological language oozes with all kinds of anthropological pathos. In this respect, it indulges to the full what is, in contemporary people, a typically vulgar petit-bourgeois trait: sentimentality. In its popular format, psychology is the language of consolation. Here it takes over in a secular form many traits of Christian religiosity.

 

[7] The medium of cognition is the concept, that of transcendence, the word. Psychology might be very adept at manipulating concepts, but it is entirely deaf to that resonance of transcendence which shines through the word. Isaiah it any wonder, then, that the vast bulk of psychological literature in our age is virtually unreadable? The appalling rape of language perpetrated by the discourse of psychology, a discourse that fills libraries and research institutes with millions of pages of turgid, pseudo-scientific drivel, should be evidence enough of the hostility of psychology to all forms of transcendence.

[8]  Levin, The Arena, 60.

9 The notion that words, conventional names for things, are mere “sound and smoke”, and as such obscure higher, spiritual realities, is the age-old conviction of mysticism: “Call it happiness! Heart! Love! God!/ I have no name/  for it! Feeling is everything / The name is sound and smoke/ Enshrouding heaven’s glow” (Goethe, Faust I, lines 3454‑3458).

[10] ‘We are Free . . .’, in Dobbels, On Robert Antelme’s The Human Race, 168.

[11] “Everything can, at a pinch, be done one-sidedly, but two are needed for love, and when we have experienced this we lose our taste for all other one-sided activities and do everything mutually” (Franz Rosenzweig, from a letter to Edith Hahn, January 16th, 1920. Quoted in Glatzer, Franz Rosenzweig, 90).

 

 

Part 1

 

Words and Spiritual Life

 


 

Just about every religious faith has some role, no matter how marginal, for the spoken word.[1] This is powerfully conveyed in a great variety of religious faiths. For instance, in Judaism and Christianity, the House of God is a place of words spoken and words exchanged. First and foremost, there is prayer – a spoken entreaty to God.[2] But prayer, whether collective or individual, is not the only kind of speech which occurs in the context of worship. There is the devotional liturgical service, in both Judaism and Christianity, made up almost in toto of a recitation of scriptural words.[3] Services usually also feature a sermon – edifying words addressed to the congregation by their spiritual leader. Finally, there is all the chit-chat that goes on before, after and even during the proceedings (the latter especially in the Synagogue![4]).

What is the meaning of all these words? It is very important that they are words spoken. “Every word is a spoken word”, says Franz Rosenzweig[5] – that is, every word is originally part of a body of speaking. Only subsequently is all this speech transmuted into writing. In the case of a sacred language, such as the Bible, the written form is called scripture. We tend to think of the passage from a spoken to a written language as inevitable. More than any other faith, Judaism would appear to confirm this. After all, isn’t it about innumerable words recorded in books? Likewise, are not the Jewish People themselves known as the “People of the Book”? Actually, there could not be a more misleading appellation. It’s no accident that centuries had to pass before the Holy Jewish tradition was committed to writing. Even then it remained permanently open to revision. This results in what is perhaps the most characteristic aspect of Judaism: an ongoing activity of interpretation, re-interpretation and commentary upon sacred writings.

The habit of constantly questioning the meaning of received, sacred texts was first introduced by Rabbinic Tradition just after the first century CE. It goes on to this day. Such a continual working-over of sources is extremely important. It fosters an on-going renewal of the spiritual reality of Judaism.[6] As Leon Wieseltier remarks, “Traditions are not only given, they are also made”.[7] The process of interpretation and commentary is necessary to keep traditions alive, to keep them healthy and endow them with vitality. The predominantly verbal form of scriptural interpretation so characteristic of Rabbinic Judaism does something else, too. It exhumes the word from its scriptural grave, brings it back into the present and makes it speak once more. The interpretative act frees the word from petrifaction. It is thereby an attempt to reverse the inexorable tendency of language to revert to mute signs and inscriptions, for if it ever got to a point where, as Edmond Jabes put it, “the word belongs only to the book” rather than to living speakers, then “we shall all be dead”.[8]

Living rather than dead words, and the only way a word can live is through speech.[9] So even after a spoken word has been transmuted into text, it would be a matter of recovering the spoken-ness of the text. After all, God is only present in “the true, spoken, sounding word”.[10] What is the implication of the fact that when God reveals something to man, this revelation always comes in the form of a spoken word? It is that God wants, above all, to have a conversation with His creature.[11] But why on earth would He be interested in doing that? Surely God has better things to do! I might strike up a conversation with someone because I’m bored or lonely, or perhaps because I wish to know how they feel about something or other. If God knows all our thoughts and feelings He knows everything about us, so then why then should He need to speak with us at all?

God goes looking for Adam in the Garden of Eden. He’s aware that something’s gone terribly wrong. He calls out to Adam, “where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). Of course, insofar as God is all-seeing and all-knowing, He doesn’t need to look for Adam at all. And certainly, He would not need to ask where Adam is. God knows exactly where he is hiding. So why does He ask after Adam’s whereabouts? In an attempt to resolve the issue, Rashi, the famous medieval rabbinical commentator on the Bible, suggests God calls out “so that he [i.e., Adam] should not be too startled to respond as he might were He to punish him suddenly”.[12]

How touching! God really cares for the feelings of His creature. He doesn’t want to scare or alarm Adam. After all, imagine how Adam might feel if, all of sudden, without any warning, the blows came raining down from heaven. But surely Adam knows what he’s done. Why else would he and the woman feel ashamed and want to try and hide themselves? Their pitiful attempts to conceal their nakedness show they were already afraid of the consequences of their actions. If that’s the case, then God would not need to worry about forewarning Adam.

To avoid scaring Adam is not at all the reason God calls out. This is not a game of hide-and-seek. Adam is not a child. What concerns God is not that he might get a fright but more that he might be “too startled to respond”. Rendering him speechless is really what God wishes to avoid. God does not call out to Adam merely to warn or inform him of the punishment coming his way; rather, He calls out to him because He wants him to respond. In this sense, God’s gesture really is for Adam’s sake, because if he can respond, if he can bring himself to speak, he will be liberated from fearfulness and that instinct to hide which is characteristic of animals.

So it appears the real reason God calls out to Adam is to awaken in him his humanity, in the form of a capacity to speak. The conversation God desires to have with Adam is really a gesture of recognition that Adam is, at least potentially, a free being able to speak for himself and thus account for himself. A child is not free. They are tied with a thousand invisible strings of dependency to their parents. A child does not “belong to themselves”. However, this is not because they are a slave or the “capitalist property” of their parents; rather, they are enslaved by their own impulses. A child lacks free will, and a parent recognises this insofar as they will take personal responsibility for everything their child does. When a child does something wrong, they often become speechless when questioned. This can be charming, but what’s charming in a child is not so in an adult. God might be our primordial Father, but He does not treat us like little children. Even if He feels in His heart that we are His offspring, He regards us as adults and expects us to behave appropriately.

Before punishing Adam for the sin of eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God makes sure first off that Adam is “not too startled” to be able to respond verbally. It’s not at all the content of Adam’s reply, however, which is of interest to God. He knew exactly what Adam’s intentions were when he committed the act. God did not need to ask him in order to inform Himself.[13] Neither was God interested in hearing his excuses. All He wanted was to hear Adam speak, for it is this capacity for speech that God regards as our most valuable trait.[14]

 

*          *          *

 

When in his moving reflection on the Sistine Madonna of Raphael, Vasily Grossman pictures “the whole vast universe” as the “submissive slavery of inanimate matter”, whereas “Life alone”, in the form of human existence, stands out as “the miracle of freedom”, he pinpoints the ethical exigency of a spoken word.[15] Since worldly being is ruled by a strict determinism, there can be no choice. However, without choice, neither freedom nor morality are possible. Nature is amoral − “beyond good and evil”. The violence of nature stems from the fact that, in the form of iron-clad causal laws, natural things do not have any ability to choose. A rock, ruled by the forces of gravity, cannot decide whether it will or will not fall to the ground. The same could not be said of the human capacity for speech. Recall the famous saying of Proverbs: “Life and death are in the power of the tongue” (18:12). Life and death − in this sense, it is a matter of choice. I can choose how I will speak to others, either kindly or harshly, using words that heal or words that destroy.[16]

So with the word, I can choose, and in being able to choose, I am able to act responsibly. Grounding the freedom to act, the word is the origin of all morality. In contradistinction to the law of the world, governed by the violence of causality, speech, as a uniquely human faculty, is the sole thing that, even as it is in the world, also breaks free of it. The spoken word is the paradigm of a non-violent existence.[17] Speech, essentially pacific, is morality − goodness.

“As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak” (1 Kings 22: 14); for the Biblical prophets, the experience of hearing God speak was at the centre of what God’s existence, His life, meant for them. And so, for the prophet, everything pivoted around those words. For the Biblical prophet, nothing else mattered. Their entire existence was lived in the shadow of the Divine Word. In today’s world, this kind of experience will probably be difficult for most people to fathom. But it is possible to bring it up to date.

Consider the following scenario. It’s early afternoon. You’ve spent most of the day at home, alone, studying and reading for your next assignment. Despite being mildly satisfied with your progress, nevertheless you are feeling dispirited, bored and perhaps a little annoyed. What about leaving the house? Perhaps go out and get some fresh air, or tonight, go and meet some friends? Given your mood, getting out would probably be a good idea, but as it stands, even the thought of human contact makes you shudder.

All of a sudden, the phone rings. It’s an old friend. What a pleasant surprise; you chat for a couple of minutes, and then arrange to meet up in a week’s time. A few minutes after hanging up, you realize something has changed. The heavy mood of the day has lifted. You feel different. It’s as if now you are really alive. In this new frame of mind, the notion of going out in the evening seems plausible, even appealing. So what has brought about this change of heart? Nothing really, except for the fact that you spoke to someone. Speaking to your old friend for a few minutes has ‘woken’ you up, brought you back to life. This is actually the power of speech, the act par excellence of a living being, only because when I speak I know I’m alive[18] (it goes without saying that the dead do not speak). A living soul “is full of words” − spoken words, that is. With all this in mind, let us return to the question of God’s existence.

 

*          *          *

 

In the revelation which comes to me as words from God’s mouth − words that carry, as it were, in their invisible, world-enveloping breath, His entire Being − God’s existence speaks to me. He addresses me and speaks to the existence which I myself am from the existence that He is, and as He speaks, I recognize that I exist as He does − as a living, speaking being. Thereby I encounter revelation, God’s speech, as that which is central to His being, from out of my centre, which is my own living-and-speaking existence. But note: God’s words are addressed to my existence, not my experience. Nowadays, people place great emphasis on experience. In the course of living, obviously I do have certain experiences, but they are not the object of my life or the reason I’m alive. One does not live in order to have experiences, although this might be the case for some who lead an altogether superficial kind of existence.[19] Neither are my experiences the cause of my existence. The point here is that experience is not first. Not even belief is first. No, all of these things already presuppose something − that I am alive.

What is it to be alive? I will come to this in due course. For the moment, the important thing to register is that, insofar as I hear God speak, revelation has ‘happened’ to me. What, then, are the preconditions for this happening of revelation? Some would say that first it is necessary to believe. But revelation is not dependent upon a securely confirmed belief. Anyway, isn’t the latter a fiction of conventional moralistic piety? Real individuals are not so easily circumscribed. As Rosenzweig puts it, the “modern person” is “neither a believer nor an unbeliever. He believes and he doubts. And so he is nothing, but he is alive. Better: he has neither belief nor unbelief, but both belief and unbelief happen to him. His only obligation is not to run away from what happens, and, once it has happened, to pay it heed”.[20]

I think Rosenzweig’s message is that it’s irrelevant whether one believes or does not believe. Both belief and the lack of it are part of one’s existential situation. The important thing is the “readiness” to accept that belief or unbelief have happened. Being alive is about living in the moment – being open to what happens in the moment, come what may. Experience, on the other hand, is something people go hunting after. The seeker after experience might argue they are quite open to whatever happens, but generally they have a pretty good idea of what they are looking for. This can lead them to overlook what is happening right in front of their eyes. Indeed, some are so preoccupied with searching for experiences, they never allow anything to actually occur.[21] With such people, even if God did come knocking on their door, He would probably receive the reply, “No, come back another time, I’m busy at the moment with my experience”.[22] What we call experience is part of consciousness. Even if it is nothing like a rational thought process, it nevertheless belongs to the broad sphere of cognition. I’ve already shown how detrimental cognition can be when it comes to revelation.[23] The disparity between cognitive and revealed realities, between experience and revelation, is the key to perhaps the most misunderstood of all Biblical actualities – the miracle.

Miracles have the reputation of being something extraordinary. And when humanity grows beyond the stage of fairy tales, do miracles then lose their meaning? Does the miracle have its significance purely in a capacity to amaze or astound? Isaiah that all there is to it? A miracle is an event, so to understand what miracles are, it will first be necessary to understand the nature of an event. The latter cannot be reduced to a scheme of knowledge. Of course, one might try to calculate or predict when something will happen, but does that constitute knowing the event?


[1] Whereas a faith that has no role whatsoever for speech – where people do not speak to each other at all – is really a borderline phenomenon. Here I’m thinking in particular of Buddhism.

[2]  Whether the entreaty is said out loud or silently to oneself does not really change its character as prayer. That’s not to say, however, that there are not certain important differences between silent and verbal prayer.

[3]  Even if the part of the verbal element becomes highly formalised in the course of evolution of the liturgy, one shouldn’t think this compromises its basically human character. In Judaism, the spoken aspect revolves around the public reading of the Law. This practice should be understood with respect to an oral tradition that is focused, above all, on the experience of communal learning, insofar as learning together is in Judaism a religious obligation.

[4]     This reflects the fact that, right from the beginning, the Synagogue in Judaism and the Church in Christianity represented an important social hub of the community; “For the ordinary Jew, the Synagogue had been not simply a place of prayer, but also a centre, a club, a social institution for the free discussion of all sorts of worldly questions” (Levin, The Arena, 68).

[5]  ‘Scripture and Word’, in Buber and Rosenzweig, Scripture and Translation, 40.

 

[6] On this theme in relation to Judaism, see Gershom Scholem’s essay, ‘Revelation and Tradition as Religious Categories in Judaism’, in Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism, 282-303 Yet the relationship to God which proceeds through a questioning of sacred texts only emerges because, as revelation, “God has spoken”. From this point onwards, “The relationship to God can only be created through this word which will be questioned, then explicated – only to be questioned further, so as to convince oneself that it has indeed been heard, even before one even considers how to answer it” (Jabes, From the Desert to the Book, 71).

[7]  Against Identity, section 62.

[8]  The Book of Questions, Volume 2, 41.

[9] This is after all the modus operandi of Biblical prophetism. Cf. Enzo Paci: “Language is a complex of signs that involves a life. This life has been present and is now imprisoned in language . . . Language becomes sedimented and is transformed into a dead body which, however, can be revitalised into what it was when it was presence. All of this occurs through the continual sedimentation and the continual awakening, even though it is changed and renewed. This is because it is I as a subject who do all of this. Language becomes my own body which is preserved and transcended. It becomes my linguistic body [Sprachleib]” (The Function of the Sciences, 207).

21 Rosenzweig, ‘Scripture and Word’, in Rosenzweig and Buber, Scripture and Translation, 42.

[11]  When God goes looking for Adam in the Garden of Eden, He calls out ‘Where are you?’, to which the Sages ask, why should God have to ask where Adam is? After all, God can see everything. But even though “[God] knew where he was . . . He nonetheless asked so as to enter into conversation with him . . “. (Rashi Genesis 3:9).

[12] “He nonetheless asked so as to enter into conversation with him so that he should not be too startled to respond as he might were He to punish him suddenly” (Rashi Genesis 3:9).

24  Likewise, God was going to punish him regardless of what he might say. In calling out to him, God is not asking for Adam’s “consent”. The punishment was not going to depend on what kinds of justifications Adam might provide for his actions.

[14] But in this sense, God really is asking for Adam’s consent. In The Star of Redemption, Franz Rosenzweig suggests an even more astonishingly corollary of God’s questioning after Adam: that God discovers Himself by asking after the creature He has only just created, thus going beyond the ‘interior monologue’ which characterizes His own existence during the process of creation. In the first stages of creation, God’s self is not yet an authentic I, “for it has not yet encountered a You facing it . . . It is only when the I recognizes the You as something outside it, that is to say, when it grows from monologue to genuine dialogue, that it becomes . . . an emphatic I, an I that obviously speaks for itself . . “. (Galli trans., 188‑189). The problem is that, at this point, the human is not yet ready to be confronted. God will have to wait for Abraham, who, instead of hiding, confidently responds to God’s “where are you?”, with a forthright “Here I am”.

26 ‘The Sistine Madonna’, in Grossman, The Road, 172. Grossman’s essay was written in 1955. Grossman had seen Raphael’s painting when it was exhibited publically in Moscow, before being returned to the Zwinger Gallery in Dresden.

[16]  This is the difference between the Hebrew word dabber, which means speaking in “harsh tones”, and emor, a speech of “gentle words. Compare also Sarah Kofman, in her meditation on Robert Antelme’s narrative of imprisonment and torture, The Human Race, and her remark that Antelme’s affirmation of the shared character of humanity is founded not on the “denial of differences” but on “a shared power to choose, to make incompatible though correlative choices, the power to kill and the power to respect and safeguard . . “. (Smothered Words, 70).

 

[17] Does not the same apply to the Jewish People? They are at once inside and outside the world. Whereas the Nations embody, in Edomite fashion, the “craft of the sword”, either in the form of political power or the technological prowess that harnesses the forces of nature, Israel alone has the “craft of the voice” (i.e., their strength is through prayer). On this, see Rashi to Numbers 20:16, 20:18, 22:4, and 22:23: “. . . the weapon of the non-Jewish nations of the world is the sword, and he comes against them with his mouth, which is the craft [of Israel]”. Also: “His wars are not carried out with weapons. Rather, He does battle using His Name”. Rashi continues: “As David said to Goliath before doing battle with him, ‘you come to me with a sword, with spear, and with javelin, and I come to you with the name of Hashem, Lord of Hosts’” (Rashi to Exodus 15:3); “Some rely upon chariots and some upon horses, but for us, upon the name of Adonoy our God, we call” (Psalms 20:8). Likewise, the Sages admonish the Torah scholar not to “shout or shriek while speaking” but “speak gently to people”. Judaism is the “immensity of this unarmed speech” (Robert Antelme, ‘On Maurice Blanchot’s The Writing of the Disaster’, in Dobbels, On Robert Antleme’s The Human Race, 52).

[18]  “ . . .  − it was now out of the question for him to speak to anyone about anything ever again. The effect on him of this tormenting thought was so powerful that for a split second he almost lost consciousness altogether . . . ” (Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment, 279, italics in the original).

[19] Leon Wieseltier puts it succinctly: “The ideal of epiphany, the thirst for what Americans call ‘peak experiences’: all this is a little cowardly, an attempt to escape the consequences of living in time. Of course, the epiphany may arrive; but after the epiphany, there will arrive the moment after the epiphany. And there will occur, in the most quotidian way, an experience of eschatological disappointment” (Kaddish, 69).

[20]  Rosenzweig, ‘Scripture and Luther’, in Glatzer, Franz Rosenzweig, 257.

 

[21] In this case, experience is like a solid wall that blocks out everything, God included.

[22] The other problem with experiences is that they tend to be disposable. Most people devour experiences in the same way that they consume food. It’s often said that we are irrevocably changed by our life experiences, but that is generally only the case with those which are truly life-shattering. In the main, the majority of them are lived through and then forgotten within a day.

[23] As Rosenzweig put it, “Experience, no matter how deeply it may penetrate, discovers only the human in man, only worldliness in the world, only Divinity in God. And only in God, Divinity, only in the world, worldliness, and only in man, the human” (‘The New Thinking’, in Philosophical and Theological Writings, 116-117).

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