Spiritual Audacity / Symbols

“Symbols Are Like the Moon, They Have No Light of Their Own”


Even as we employ symbols in the creation of Judaica, remembering the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, the twentieth century theologian and civil rights activist, reminds us of their limitations:

The use of symbols whether in the form of things or in the form of actions is required by custom and convention; the fulfillment of mitzvot is required by the Torah. Symbols are relevant to man; mitzvot are relevent to God. Symbols are folkways; mitzvot are Gods’ ways. Symbols are expressions of the human mind; what they express and their power to express depend on a mental act of man; their significance is gone when man ceases to be responsive to them. Symbols are like the moon, they have no light of their own.

…Ritual acts are moments which man shares with God, moments in which man identifies himself with the will of God. Symbols are detached from one’s being; they are apart from the soul. Yet God asks for the heart, not for the symbol…

(Photo: Almost Full Moon, August 2003 by Ghirlandajo via Wikimedia Commons)