The Garments of Torah: Essays in Biblical Hermeneutics

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview
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Characteristic of Martin Buber's literary and religious genius was the way he filtered traditional teachings through the depths of his soul. Much like Rilke, who once spoke of the range of raw living that was necessary "for the sake of a single line," Buber considered it a hermeneutical imperative to hear the words of ancient texts and transform them through the power of a personal and engaged receptivity. Or, to apply to this context a remark he made near the end of I and Thou, in connection with prophetic hearing: "to relate (lauten) means to translate (umlauten)." 1 An example of the correlation between true study and transformed living is expressed in the following vignette.

Rabbi Eleazar said:

When the Lord perceived the unjust deeds of the generation of the

Flood and the generation of the Tower of Babel, He hid the Light of the first day of Creation from them.

—For whom did He hide it?

—For the righteous to come.

—Where did He hide it?

—In the Torah.

—If so, what will the righteous who will find some of the hidden Light in the Torah do?

—They will show it in their way of life.

Anyone familiar with the gnostic and eschatological character of this Hasidic teaching will marvel at Buber's ability to transform a mythic homily on salvific secrets into a dialogical instruction for the here and now. 2 So powerful, in fact, is this discourse that modern man may yet feel a portion of its truth enacted in his heart: a lost ray of creation that tints the dark void; a fleeting fragment of hope, reminiscent of Maimonides' account of the broken witness to revelation that unperfected mortals may

Portions of this chapter were first published in "Martin Buber As an Interpreter of the Bible." Judaism 27 (1978), 184-95, and are included here by permission.


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