The Word Most Precious

by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

English version by Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi
Original Language English, Yiddish

Each single moment greets my life,
A message clear from timelessness.
All names and words recall to me
The word most precious: God!

Pebbles twinkle up like stars,
Silent raindrops echo true,
What all creation echoes too,
My Father, Teacher, word from You.

My All, Your Name is my safe refuge.
Without Your nearness I am naught,
So lonely, saddening, is that thought.

All I possess, is just this word --
If forgetfulness would snatch a name from me
Let it be mine not Thine,
So screams in dread that heart of mine.

With every word I nickname You,
I call you 'Woods' and 'Night' and 'Ah' and 'Yes,'
With all my instants weaving sacred time
A bit of ever-always is my gift to You.

Would that for Eternity
I could celebrate a holiday for You.
Not just a day -- a lifetime. Please!
How insignificant my thrift and gift

Of offerings and adoration.
What can my efforts do for You
But this: to wander everywhere and bear
a living witness that shows I care.


- from "Human, God's Ineffable Name," by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, freely rendered by Rabbi Zalman M. Schacter-Shalomi. Available from the Reb Zalman Legacy Project

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Each single moment greets my life

It has been too long since we've had a poem from the Jewish tradition, so I thought this poem by Rabbi Heschel would set a nice tone as we enter the spring holiday season.

Passover begins this Monday evening. Regardless of spiritual tradition, it's a good time of year to recognize slavery in its many different forms, both external and internal, and to remember the ways each of us conducts our own personal Exodus toward freedom.

All names and words recall to me
The word most precious: God!


This poem is a beautiful meditation on how the specific -- each moment, each word and each object -- when approached with attention and presence, is really an echo of the eternal.

With every word I nickname You,
I call you 'Woods' and 'Night' and 'Ah' and 'Yes,'


Continuously recalling this truth to our awareness, we then can experience the world, not as exiles from the divine, but turning each moment into an encounter with the divine.

Rabbi Heschel's poem focuses on remembrance of God's name, so central to Kabbalah, as it is in Muslim zikr, Hindu japa, even echoing in Christian practices of saying the rosary or the Jesus Prayer.

What I really respond to here is the depth of Rabbi Heschel's understanding what the name of God is. "The word most precious" or the name of God is more than a name we have draped upon the Divine. It is not confined to any single word or combination of words. The true name of God is whatever directs our awareness Godward. Understood this way, anything, any single moment approached with open awareness can become the name of God, re-introducing us into the Divine Presence.

Pebbles twinkle up like stars,
Silent raindrops echo true,
What all creation echoes too,
My Father, Teacher, word from You.


Recalling this truth becomes a "safe refuge," maintaining our "nearness" to the eternal.

With all my instants weaving sacred time...



Recommended Books: Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism The Prophets ABC News Classics: Rabbi Heschel (DVD) Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America
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The Word Most