Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Man Is Not Alone is a masterly analysis of faith and the search for authentic religious expression. Abraham Joshua Heschel was most concerned with the act of believing, not the contents of believing, as were many philosophers and theologians. What makes Heschel distinctive among Jewish thinkers is his belief that God needs people as partners in the work of creation.

Heschel’s perspective is that of an interpreter of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and Judaic tradition. He deeply and personally felt the horrors, pain, and sorrow of the Holocaust, which he viewed as a threat to the future of Jews and the traditions of Judaism. He struggled to kindle his contemporaries’ faith in God and to preserve the Jewish perspective. Heschel believed that God needs humanity to do the work of his creation, so he devoted his life to reawakening people’s faith in God and alerting them to their need to do God’s work as his partner. Humanity is endowed with the ability to fulfill what God demands. Sin, in Heschel’s view, is the failure to fulfill one’s obligations to God. He ignites people’s sense of the ineffable, their amazement, and their wonder that the world and they themselves even exist. He urges people to live a pious life.

Man Is Not Alone is a systematic exposition of Jewish ethics, faith, mysticism, and prayer. Heschel said God requires people to act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with him, and revere the Sabbath. Ultimately, religion is not based on people’s awareness of God, but on God’s need of human beings as partners. This means no one is ever truly alone, as God is everywhere.