“Radical Amazement”

If there is any phrase or teaching of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel that guides my life, it is the phrase “radical amazement.” Rabbi Heschel teaches us that this is should be our goal, to live our lives in radical amazement. The words alone lead me to a sense of euphoria, an elevation in my experience of living. Here is Radical Amazement in Rabbi Heschel’s words (excerpted from God in Search of Man):

Among the many things that religious tradition holds in store for us is a legacy of wonder. The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted. Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin.

Wonder or radical amazement is the chief characteristic of the religious person’s attitude toward history and nature…we know that there are laws that regulate the c
ourse of natural processes; we are aware of the regularity and pattern of things. However, such knowledge fails to mitigate our sense of perpetual surprise at the fact that there are facts at all…

As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Humankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder…

Radical amazement has a wider scope than any other act… While any act of perception or cognition has as its object a selected segment of reality, radical amazement refers to all of reality; not only to what we see, but also to the very act of seeing as well as to our own selves, to the selves that see and are amazed at their ability to see.

The grandeur or mystery of being is not a particular puzzle to the mind, as, for example, the cause of volcanic eruptions. We do not have to go to the end of reasoning to encounter it. Grandeur or mystery is something with which we are confronted everywhere and at all times…

May you seek and find for yourself radical amazement, which will bring you to a week of blessings and a Shabbat of peace.

Rabbi Debbie Israel