Page 15 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 23

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r ie dm a n
— M
art in
u ber
religion for just the same reason. “Its true English name is, per-
haps: presentness.”2
According to his own testimony, Buber brought Hasidism into
the Western world against its will and because of the need of the
hour. This need he saw in the form of the crisis of Western man
recognized a century ago by Kierkegaard “as an unprecedented
shaking of the foundation of man as man.” What particularly
marks this crisis is the dualism which separates ideas, ideals, and
culture from ordinary life. The spirit is hedged off so that one's
ideas and ideals may make no claim on personal existence. “No
false piety has ever attained this concentrated degree of inau-
thenticity.” Hasidism points the way to the overcoming of this
dualism through the hallowing of the everyday:
The wretchedness of our world is grounded in its resistance
to the entrance of the holy into lived life. The spirit was
not spun in the brain; it has been from all eternity, and life
can receive it into human reality. A life that does not seek
to realize what the living person, in the ground of his
self-awareness, understands or glimpses as the right is not
merely unworthy of the spirit; it is also unworthy of life.
To open life to the spirit does not mean to trade in the material
for the spiritual or to attain spiritual perfection. It means to
bring one's life to wholeness in the sight of God, to become holy
in the measure and manner of one’s personal ability:
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.3
Buber's Use of Hasidic Tales
More important for the contemporary image of man than
Buber’s interpretation of Hasidic teaching are his book
The Way
of Man,
which uses Hasidic tales as a starting point, his mas-
terly retelling of Hasidic tales in the form of “legendary anec-
dotes,” and his chronicle-novel
For the Sake of Heaven.
It is
The Tales of the Hasidim
that led the German-Swiss novelist
and poet Hermann Hesse to nominate Buber for the Nobel
Prize in literature as enriching “world literature with a genuine
treasure as has no other living author,” while the usually critical
2 Martin Buber,
Hasidism and Modern Man,
ed. & trans. with an Editor’s
Introduction by Maurice S. Friedman (New York, Horizon Press, 1958) , Book
V, p. 180 f.
Ib id .,
pp. 38-40, 43.