AN ANTHOLOGY OF THOUGHT & EMOTION... Un'antologia di pensieri & emozioni

GOD SEARCHES FOR MAN...

Described as "one of the most compelling books about being human that has ever been written", I managed  to retrieve some digitalised pages of Abraham Joshua Heschel's great opus, God in Search of Man (1955), and now wish to post them here, just for my "digital" memory...
GOD In Search of Man
A Philosophy of Judaism

By Abraham Joshua Heschel
 


PART 3: RESPONSE

Chapter 28: A Science of Deeds

THE SUPREME ACQUIESCENCE

Knowledge of God is knowledge of living with God. Israel's religious existence consists of three inner attitudes: engagement to the living God to whom we are accountable; engagement to Torah where His voice is audible; and engagement to His concern as expressed in mitsvot (commandments).

Engagement to God comes about in acts of the soul. Engagement to Torah is the result of study and communion with its words. Engagement to His concern comes about through attachment to the essentials of worship. Its meaning is disclosed in acts of worship. 

If God were a theory, the study of theology would be the way to understand Him. But God is alive and in need of love and worship. This is why thinking of God is related to our worship. In an analogy of artistic understanding, we sing to Him before we are able to understand Him. We have to love in order to know. Unless we learn how to sing,. unless we know how to love, we will never learn how to understand Him. 

Jewish tradition interprets the words that Israel uttered at Sinai, "all that the Lord has spoken, we shall do and we shall hear" (Exodus 24 :7), as a promise to fulfill His commands even before hearing them, as the precedence of faith over knowledge. "When at Sinai Israel said we shall do and we shall hear (instead of saying, we shall hear and we shall do), a heavenly voice went forth and exclaimed, "Who has revealed to My children this mystery, which the ministering angels enact, to fulfill His word before they hear the voice."l 

A heretic, the Talmud reports, chided the Jews for the rashness in which he claimed they persisted. "First you should have listened; if the commandments were within your power of fulfillment, you should have accepted them; if beyond your power, rejected them." Indeed, Israel's supreme acquiescence at Sinai was an inversion, turning upside down the order of attitudes as conceived by our abstract thinking. Do we not always maintain that we must first explore a system before we decide to accept it? This order of inquiry is valid in regard to pure theory, to principles and rules, but it has limitations when applied to realms where thought and fact, the abstract and the concrete, theory and experience are inseparable. It would be futile, for example, to explore the meaning of music and abstain from listening to music. It would be just as futile to explore the Jewish thought from a distance, in self-detachment. Jewish thought is disclosed in Jewish living. This, therefore, is the way of religious existence. We do not explore first and decide afterwards whether to accept the Jewish way of living. We must accept in order to be able to explore. At the beginning is the commitment, the supreme acquiescence. 

A LEAP OF ACTION

In our response to His will we perceive His presence in our deeds. His will is revealed in our doing. In carrying out a sacred deed we unseal the wells of faith. As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness (Psalms 18 :15). 

There is a way that leads from piety to faith. Piety and faith are not necessarily concurrent. There can be acts of piety without faith. Faith is vision, sensitivity and attachment to God; piety is an attempt to attain such sensitivity and attachment. The gates of faith are not ajar, but the mitsvah is a key. By living as Jews we may attain our faith as Jews. We do not have faith because of deeds; we may attain faith throogh sacred deeds.

A Jew is asked to take a leap of action rather than a leap of thought. He is asked to surpass his needs, to do more than he understands in order to understand more than he does. In carrying out the word of the Torah he is ushered into the presence of spiritual meaning. Through the ecstasy of deeds he learns to be certain of the hereness of God. Right living is a way to right thinking. 


The sense of the ineffable, the participation in Torah and Israel, the leap of action – they all lead to the same goal. Callousness to the mystery of existence, detachment from Torah and Israel, cruelty and profanity of living, alienate the Jew from God. Response to the wonder, participation in Torah and Israel, discipline in daily life, bring us close to Him.

What commitments must precede the experience of such meaning? What convictions must persist to make such insights possible? Our way of living must be compatible with our essence as created in the likeness of God. We must beware lest our likeness be distorted and even forfeited. In our way of living we must remain true not only to our sense of power and beauty but also to our sense of the grandeur and mystery of existence. The true meaning of existence is disclosed in moments of living in the presence of God. The problem we face is: how can we live in a way which is in agreement with such convictions?

THE DEED IS THE RISK

How should man, a being created in the likeness of God, live? What way of living is compatible with the grandeur and mystery of living? It is a problem which man has always been anxious to ignore. Upon the pavement of the Roman city of Timgat an inscription was found which reads: "To hunt, to bathe, to gamble, to laugh, that is to live." Judaism is a reminder of the grandeur and earnestness of living. 


In what dimension of existence does man become aware of the grandeur and earnestness of living? What are the occasions in which he discovers the nature of his own self? The necessity to diagnose and to heal the condition of the soul? In the solitude of self-reflection the self may seem to be a fountain of beautiful thoughts and ideals. Yet thought may be a spell, and ideals may be worn like borrowed diadems. 

It is in deeds that man becomes aware of what his life really is, of his power to harm and to hurt, to wreck and to ruin; of his ability to derive joy and to bestow it upon others; to relieve and to increase his own and other people's tensions. It is in the employment of his will, not in reflection, that he meets his own self as it is; not as he should like it to be. In his deeds man exposes his immanent as well as his suppressed desires, spelling even that which he cannot apprehend. What he may not dare to think, he often utters in deeds. The heart is revealed in the deeds. 

The deed is the test, the trial, and the risk. What we perform may seem slight, but the aftermath is immense. An individual's misdeed can be the beginning of a nation's disaster. The sun goes down, but the deeds go on. Darkness is over all we have done. If man were able to survey at a glance all he has done in the course of his life, what would he feel? He would be terrified at the extent of his own power. To bind all we have done to our conscience or to our mind would be like trying to tie a torrent to a reed. Even a single deed generates an endless set of effects, initiating more than the most powerful man is able to master or to predict. A single deed may place the lives of countless men in the chains of its unpredictable effects. All we own is a passing intention, but what comes about will outlive and surpass our power. Gazing soberly at the world man is often overcome with a fear of action, a fear that, without knowledge of God's ways, turns to despair.

OUR ULTIMATE EMBARRASSMENT

The seriousness of doing surpasses the sensitivity of our conscience. Infinite are the consequences of our actions, yet finite is our wisdom. When man stands alone, his responsibility seems to vanish like a drop in the ocean of necessity. It is superhuman to be responsible for all that we do and for all that we fail to do, to answer for all the causalities of one's activities. How should we reconcile infinite responsibility with finite wisdom? How is responsibility possible? 


Infinite responsibility without infinite wisdom and infinite power is our ultimate embarrassment. 

Not things but deeds are the source of our sad perplexities. Confronted with a world of things, man unloosens a tide of deeds. The fabulous fact of man's ability to act, the wonder of doing, is no less amazing than the marvel of being. Ontology inquires: what is being? What does it mean to be? The religious mind ponders: what is doing? What does it mean to do? What is the relation between the doer and the deed? between doing and being? Is there a purpose to fulfill, a task to carry out?

"A man should always regard himself as though he were half guilty and half meritorious; if he performs one good deed, blessed is he for he moves the scale toward merit; if he commits one transgression, woe to him for he moves the scale toward guilt." Not only " " the individual but the whole world is in balance. One deed of an :\fi individual may decide the fate of the world. "If he performs one good deed, blessed is he,for'he moves the scale both for himself and for the entire world to the side of merit; if he commits one transgression, woe to him for he moves to the side of guilt himself' and the whole world."2

A META-ETHICAL APPROACH

What ought we to do? How ought we to conduct our lives? These are basic questions of ethics. They are also questions of religion. Philosophy of religion must inquire: why do we ask these questions? Are they meaningful? On what grounds do'we state them? To ethics" these are man's questions, necessitated by the nature of human existence. To religion, these are God's questions, and our answer to them concerns not only man but God. 


"What ought I to do?" is according to Kant the basic question in ethics. Ours, however, is a more radical, a meta-ethical approach. The ethical question refers to particular deeds; the meta-ethical question refers to all deeds. It deals with doing as such; not only what ought we to do, but what is our right to act at all? We are endowed with the ability to conquer and to control the forces of nature. In exercising power, we submit to our will a world that we did not create, invading realms that do not belong to us. Are we the kings of the universe or mere pirates? By whose grace, by what right, do we exploit, consume and enjoy the fruits of the trees, the blessings of the earth? Who is responsible for the power to exploit, for the privilege to consume? 

It is not an academic problem but an issue we face at every moment. By the will alone man becomes the most destructive of all beings. This is our predicament: our power may become our undoing. We stand on a razor's edge. It is so easy to hurt, to destroy, to insult, to kill. Giving birth to one child is a mystery; bringing death to millions is but a skill. It is not quite within the power of the human will to generate life; it is quite within the power of the will to destroy life. 

In the midst of such anxiety we are confronted with the claim of the Bible. The world is not all danger, and man is not alone. God endowed man with freedom, and He will share in our use of freedom. The earth is the Lord's, and God is in search of man. He endowed man with power to conquer the earth, and His honor is upon our faith. We abused His power, we betrayed His trust. We cannot expect Him to say, Though thou betrayest me, yet will I trust in thee. 

Man is responsible for His deeds, and God is responsible for man's responsibilty. He who is a life-giver must be a lawgiver. He shares in our responsibility. He is waiting to enter our deeds through our loyalty to His law. He may become a partner to our deeds. 

God and man have a task in common as well as a common and mutual responsibility. The ultimate embarrassment is not a problem of solitary man but an intimate problem for both God and man. What is at stake is the meaning of God's creation, not only the meaning of man's existence. Religion is not a concern for man alone but a plea of God and a claim of man, God's expectation and man's aspiration. It is not an effort solely for the sake of man. Religion spells a task within the world of man, but its ends go far beyond. This is why the Bible proclaimed a law not only for man but for both God and man. 

For Thou wilt light my lamp (Psalms 18:29). "The Holy One said to man: Thy lamp is in My hand, My lamp in Thine. Thy lamp is in Mine – as it is said: The lamp of the Lord is the soul of man (Proverbs 20:27). My lamp is in thine hand, to kindle the 1m perpetual lamp. The Holy One said: If thou lightest My lamp, I will light thine."3

THE PARTNERSHIP OF GOD AND MAN

Just as man is not alone in what he is, he is not alone in what he does. A mitzvah is an act which God and man have in common. We say: "Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His mitsvot." They oblige Him as well as us. Their fulfillment is not valued as an act performed in spite of "the evil drive," but as an act of communion with Him. The spirit of if: mitzvah is togetherness. We know, He is a partner to our act.


The oldestform of piety is expressed in the Bible as walking with God. Enoch, Noah, walked with God (Genesis 5:24; 6:9) "It has been told thee, 0 man, what is good, and what the Lord doth require of thee: only to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God" (6:8). Only the egotist is confined to himself, a spiritual recluse. In carrying out a good deed it is impossible to be or to feel alone. To fulfill a mitzvah is to be a partisan, to enter into fellowship with His Will. 

WAYS, NOT LAWS 

The moral imperative was not disclosed for the first time through Abraham or Sinai. The criminality of murder was known to men before; even the institution to rest on the seventh day was, according to tradition, familiar to Jews when still in Egypt. Nor was the idea of divine justice unknown. What was new was the idea that justice is an obligation to God, His way not only His demand;4 that injustice is not something God scorns when done by others but that which is tqe very opposite of God; that the rights of man are not legally protected interests of society but the sacred interests of God. He is not only the guardian of moral order, "the Judge of all the earth," but One who cannot act injustly (Genesis 18:25). His favorite was not Nimrod, "the first man on earth to be a hero" (Genesis 10:9), but Abraham: "I have chosen him that he may charge his sons and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice" (Genesis 18 :19). The Torah is primarily divine ways rather than divine laws. Moses prayed: "Let me know Thy ways" (Exodus 33:13). All that God asks of man was summarized: "And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee ... but to walk in all His ways" (Deuteronomy 10: 12). 

What does it mean, asked Rabbi Hama, son of Rabbi Hanina, when said: "Ye shall walk after the Lord your God"? (Deuteronomy 13 :5). "Is it possible for a human being to walk after the Shechinah; has it not been said: For the Lord thy God is a devouring fire? But the meaning is to walk in the ways of the Lord. As He clothes the naked so do thou also clothe the naked; as He visited the sick, so do thou also visit the sick; as he comforted mourners, so do Thou also comfort mourners" (Sotah 14a).

THE DIVINITY OF DEEDS

Not particular acts but all acts, life itself, can he established as a link between man and God. But how can we presume that the platitudes of our actions have meaning to Him? How do we dare to say that deeds have the power to throng to Him? that human triteness can become attached to eternity?


The validity of science is based upon the premise that the structure of events in nature is intelligible, capable of being observed and described in rational terms. Only because of the analogy of the structure of the human mind to the inner structure of the universe is man able to discover the laws that govern its processes. What about events in the inner and moral life of man? Is there any realm to which they correspond? The prophets who knew how to take the divine measure of human deeds, to see the structure of the absolute light in the spectrum of a single event, sensed that correspondence. What a man does in his darkest corner is relevant to the Creator. In other words, as the rationality of natural events is assumed by science, so is the divinity of human deeds assumed by prophecy.

Thus beyond the 'idea of the imitation of divinity goes the conviction of the divinity of deeds. Sacred acts, mitsvot, do not only imitate; they represent the Divine. The mitsvot are of the essence of God, more than worldly ways of complying with His will. Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai states: "Honor the mitzvot, for the mitzvot are My deputies, and a deputy is endowed with the authority of his principal. If you honor the mitsvot, it is as if you honored Me; if you dishonor them, it is as if you dishonored Me."5

The Bible speaks of man as having been created in the likeness of God, establishing the principle of an analogy of being. In his very being, man has something in common with God. Beyond the analogy of being, the Bible teaches the principle of an analogy in acts. Man may act in the likeness of God. It is this likeness of acts­ – "to walk in His ways" – that is the link by which man may come close to God. To live in such likeness is the essence of imitation of the Divine.

TO DO WHAT HE IS

In other religions, gods, heroes, priests are holy; to the Bible not only God but "the whole community is holy" (Numbers 16:3). "Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, a holy people" (Exodus 19:6), was the reason for Israel's election, the meaning of its distinction. What obtains between man and God is not mere submission to His power or dependence upon His mercy. The plea is not to obey what He wills but to do what He is


It is not said: Ye shall be full of awe for I am holy, but: Ye shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy (Leviticus 19:2). How does a human being, "dust and ashes," turn holy? Through doing His mitsvot, His commandments. "The Holy God is sanctified through righteousness" (Isaiah 5:16). A man to be holy must fear his mother and father, keep the Sabbath, not turn to idols... nor deal falsely nor lie to one another... not curse the deaf nor put a stumbling-block before the blind... not be guilty of any injustice... not be a tale-bearer... not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor... not hate... not take vengeance nor bear any grudge... but love thy neighbor as thyself (Leviticus 19:3-18). 

We live by the conviction that acts of goodness reflect the hidden light of His holiness. His light is above our minds but not beyond our will. It is within our power to mirror His unending love in deeds of kindness, like brooks that hold the sky.

LIKENESS IN DEEDS

Mitzvot, then, are more than reflections of a man's will or tran­ scripts of his visions. In carrying out a sacred task we disclose a divine intention. With a sacred deed goes more than a stir of the heart. In a sacred deed, we echo God's suppressed chant; in loving we intone God's unfinished song. No image of the Supreme may be fashioned, save one: our own life as an image of His will. Man, formed in His likeness, was made to imitate His ways of mercy. He has delegated to man the power to act in His stead. We repre­ sent Him in relieving affliction, in granting joy. Striving for integrity, helping our fellow men; the urge to translate nature into spirit, volition into sacrifice, instinct into love; it is all an effort to represent Him.

"THE GOOD DRIVE"

To fulfill the will of God in deeds means to act in the name of God, not only for the sake of God; to carry out in acts what is potential to His will. He is in need of the work of man for the fulfillment of His ends in the world. 


Human action is not the beginning. At the beginning is God's eternal expectation. There is an eternal cry in the world: God is beseeching man to answer, to return, to fulfill. Something is asked of man, of all men, at all times. In every act we either answer or defy, we either return or move away, we either fulfill or miss the goal. Life consists of endless opportunities to sanctify the profane, opportunities to redeem the power of God from the chain of potentialities, opportunities to serve spiritual ends. 

As surely as we are driven to live, we are driven to serve spiritual ends that surpass, our own interests. "The good drive" is not invented by society but is something which makes society possible; not an accidental function but of the very essence of man. We may lack a clear perception of its meaning, but we are moved by the horror of its violation. We are not only in need of God but also in need of serving His ends, and these ends are in need of us. 

Mitzvot are not ideals, spiritual entities for ever suspended in eternity. They are commandments addressing everyone of us. They are the ways in which God confronts us in particular moments. In the infinite world there is a task for me to accomplish. Not a general task, but a task for me, here and now. Mitzvot are spiritual ends, points of eternity in the flux of temporality.

ENDS IN NEED OF MAN

Man and spiritual ends stand in a relation of mutuality to each other. The relation in regard to selfish ends is one-sided: man is in need of eating bread, but the bread is not in need of being eaten. The relation is different in regard to spiritual ends: justice is something that ought to be done, justice is in need of man. The sense of obligation expresses a situation, in which an ideal, as it were, is waiting to be attained. Spiritual ends come with a claim upon the person. They are imperative, not only impressive; demands, not abstract ideas. Esthetic values are experienced as objects of enjoyment, while religious acts are experienced as objects of commitments, as answers to the certainty that something is asked of us, expected of us. Religious ends are in need of our deeds


A SCIENCE OF DEEDS 

Judaism is not a science of nature but a science of what man ought to do with nature. It is concerned above all with the problem of living. It takes deeds more seriously than things. Jewish law is, in a sense, a science of deeds. Its main concern is not only how to worship Him at certain times but how to live with Him at all times. Every deed is 'a problem; there is a unique task at every moment. All of life at all moments is the problem and the task.

_________________

NOTES

1. Shabbat 88a. See also the passage from Midrash Hazita, quoted in Man is Not Alone, p. 93.
2. Kiddushin 40b.
3. Leviticus Rabba 31, 4.
4. "The ways of God differ from those of man; whereas man directs others to do a thing whilst he does nothing, God only tells Israel to do and to observe those things which He himself does." Exodus Rabba 30, 9. See Jerushalmi Rosh Hashanah 1,3, 7a.
5. Tanhuma to Genesis 46:28.


Chapter 29: More than Inwardness

[...]

THE LAW

[...] The object of the prophets was to guide and to demand, not only to console and to reassure. Judaism is meanigless as an optional attitude to be assumed at our convenience. To the Jewish mind life is a complex of obligations, and the fundamental category of Judaism is a demand rather than a dogma, a commitment rather than a feeling. God's will stands higher than man's creed. Reverence for the authority of the law is an expression of our love for God. 

However, beyond His will is His love. The Torah was given to Israel as a sign of ,His love. To reciprocate that love we strive to attain ahavat Torah [love for Torah]. 

A degree of self-control is the prerequisite for creative living. Does not a work of art represent the triumph of form over inchoate matter? Emotion' controlled by an idea? We suffer from the illusion of being mature as well as from a tendency to overestimate the degree of human perfectibility. No one is mature unless he has learned to be engaged in pursuits which require discipline and selfcontrol, and human perfectibility is contingent upon the capacity for self-control. 

When the mind is sore from bias and presumption, from its inability to halt the stream of overflowing vanity, from the imagination clawing in darkness toward silliness and sin, man begins to bless the Lord for the privilege of serving in £aith and in agreement with His will. Time is never idle; life is running out; but the law ,takes us by our hand and leads us home tb an order of eternity. 

There are positive as well as negative mitsvot, actions as well as abstentions. Indeed, the sense for the holy is often expressed in terms of restrictions, just as the mystery of God is conveyed via negationis, in negative theology which claims we can never say what He is; we can only say what He is not. Inadequate would be our service if it consisted only of rituals and positive deeds which are so faulty and often abortive. Precious as positive deeds are, there are times when the silence of sacred abstentions is more articulate than the language of deeds.8

A SPIRITUAL ORDER

There is a sure way of missing the meaning of the law by either atomization or generalization, by seeing the parts without the whole or by seeing the whole without the parts. 


It is impossible to understand the significance of single acts, detached from the total character of a life in which they are set. Acts are components of a whole and derive their character from the structure of the whole. There is an intimate relation between all acts and experiences of a person. Yet just as the parts are determined by the whole, the whole is determined by the parts. Consequendy, the amputation of one part may affect the integrity of the entire structure, unless that part has oudived its vital role in the organic body of the whole.

Some people are so occupied collecting shreds and patches of the law, that they hardly think of weaving the pattern of the whole; others are so enchanted by the glamor of generalities, by the image of ideals, that while their eyes fly up, their actions remain below. 

What we must try to avoid is not only the failure to observe a single mitsvah, but the loss of the whole, the loss of belonging to the spiritual order of Jewish living. The order of Jewish living is meant to be, not a set of rituals but an order of all man's existence, shaping all his traits, interests, and dispositions; not so much the performance of single acts, the taking of a step now and then, as the pursuit of a way, being on the way; not so much the acts of fulfilling as the state of being committed to the task, the belonging to an order in which single deeds, aggregates of religious feeling, sporadic sentiments, moral episodes become a part of a complete pattern.9 

It is a distortion to reduce Judaism to a cult or system of ceremonies. The Torah is both the detail and the whole. As time and space are presupposed in any perception, so is the totality of life im­plied in every act of piety. There is an objective coherence that holds all episodes together. A man may commit a crime now and teach mathematics effortlessly an hour later. But when a man prays, all he has done in his life enters his prayer.

A THEOLOGICAL EXAGGERATION

Jewish tradition does not maintain that every iota of the law was revealed to Moses at Sinai. This is an unwarranted extension of the rabbinic conception of revelation. "Could Moses have learned the whole Torah? Of the Torah it is said, Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea (Job 11 :9); could then Moses have learned it in forty days? No, it was only the principles thereof (klalim) which God taught Moses."10 


The Rabbis maintain that "things not revealed to Moses were revealed to Rabbi Akiba and his colleagues."11 The role of the sages in interpreting the word of the Bible and their power to issue new ordinances are basic elements of Jewish belief, and something for which our sages found sanction in Deuteronomy 17:11. The Torah was compared to "a fountain which continually sends forth water, giving forth more than it absorbs. In the same sense, you can teach (or say) more Torah than you received at Sinai."12 

In their intention to inspire greater joy and love of God, the Rabbis expanded the scope of the law, imposing more and more restrictions and prohibitions. "There is no generation in which the Rabbis do not add to the law."13 In the time of Moses, only what he had explicitly received at Sinai [the written law] was binding, plus several ordinances which he added for whatever reasons he saw fit. [However] the prophets, the Tannaim, and the rabbis of every generation [have continued to multiply these restrictions].14 

The industrial civilization has profoundly affected the condition of man, and vast numbers of Jews loyal to Jewish law feel that many of the rabbinic restrictions tend to impede rather than to inspire greater joy and love of God. 

In their zeal to carry out the ancient injunction, "make a hedge about the Torah," many Rabbis failed to heed the warning, "Do not consider the hedge more important than the vineyard." Excessive regard for the hedge may spell ruin for the vineyard.15 The vineyard is being trodden down. It is all but laid waste. Is. this the time to insist upon the sanctity of the hedges? "Were the Torah given as a rigid immutable code of laws, Israel could not survive. ... Moses exclaimed: Lord of the universe, let me know what is the law. And the Lord said: Rule by the principle of majority. ... The law will be explained, now one way, now another, according to the perception of the majority of the sages."16 

A great Jewish authority offers the following remarks on our theme: 
How did the generations prior to Sinai attain spiritual integrity? How can we say that the patriarchs stood as high or higher than the community of Israel, since in their time the commandments were not yet given and so all their acts of piety could be voluntary service but not commandments? The Rabbis have taught that his­tory can be divided into three periods: the age of chaos, the age of Torah, and the prelude of the Messiah. The patriarchs lived in an age of chaos during which His holy presence could only be found in a very veiled form. Yet despite the darkness and the barriers they were able to discern seven commandments. He who attains a little under such difficulties is counted as having as much merit as one who attains much in a time of plenty. Whoever was able to perceive and maintain the seven commandments of Noah during the age of chaos did as much as one who keeps all the Torah in a time when God's word was more full. 
The power to observe depends on the situation. So in this age, we are not obligated to fulfill the laws of the Temple, and the little that we do is counted as equal with the observance of those who were able to fulfill the laws that were possible in the time of the Temple. 
In the time of Abraham, it was not amiss to neglect the commandments, for the time for their fulfillment had not yet come. Each word and each deed of the law has its own time in which it can and must be kept.17
____________________

NOTES

8. A.J. Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 15.
9. A.J. Heschel, Man's Quest for God, ch. 4.
10. Exodus Rabba 41, 6. Rabbi Simon ben Lakish did claim that the entire content of the Jewish lore was given to Moses at Sinai, Berachot 5a. However, Maimonides, in discussing the dogma of the Oral Law, maintains merely that the general forms of observing the Biblical laws, such as sukkah, lulav, shofar. tsitsit, originated in Moses, but not the countless details which arise in exceptional cases and which are extensively discussed in rabbinic literature.
11. Pesikta Rabbati, ed. M. Friedmann, Wien, 1880, p. 64b; Numbers Rabba, 19. According to a medieval scholar, everyone who labors in the Torah for its own sake may discover meanings and laws "which were not given even to Moses at Sinai". Alfred Friedmann, Yehiel, the father of Rabbenu Asher, on the study of the Torah, in Louis Ginzberg Jubilee Volume, New York, 1945, (Hebrew), p. 360.
12. Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 21.
13. Rabbi Yom Tov Lipmann Heller, Tosefot Yom Tov, preface.
14. Rabbi Isaiah Horovitz, Shne Luhot Haberit, p. 25b. See Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Pardes Rimonim, 23 sub humra.
15. Genesis Rabba 19, 3.
16. Jerushalmi Sanhedrin IV, 22a. See Pne Moshe, ad locum; also Misdrash Tehillim, ch. 12.
17. Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Shiur Komah, Warsaw, 1885, p. 45f.

Rabbi Heschel and Martin Luther King at the Civil Liberties March