Printer Friendly

Joy: A Buberian Perspective.

This article shows what joy is, according to Buber's thinking, and suggests why joy is missing in many a person's existence today. In his Hasidic writings Buber repeatedly describes joy as a blessed moment of human existence, which can occur in the personal and the communal realms. Hasidism's uniqueness was that its believers actually experienced this blessed moment when they attempted to hallow every deed in their life. In Hasidism this joyful hallowing of everyday life was perceived as combined to and accompanied by a life of dialogue. Thus, despite the fact that in Buber's philosophical writings joy is rarely mentioned, his Hasidic writings describe the existential link between joy and a life of dialogue, of revelation, and of responsibility.

Many people will agree that joy is important to their life and to human existence; some will admit that they have experienced moments of great joy. Joy, however, is not a concept that frequently appears in day-to-day discourse. Very often happiness and pleasure are the concepts used in everyday language, even when people describe joyful experiences. In short, the difference between joy and happiness or pleasure is not clear cut in everyday usage.

This situation is reflected in the definition of joy given in The New Oxford Dictionary. [1] Among other definitions are found: 1. Vivid emotion of pleasure arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction; the feeling or state of being highly pleased or delighted; 2. Pleasurable state or condition; a state of happiness or felicity.

In contrast to this obscurity in distinguishing joy from other pleasurable emotions, Martin Buber's writings seem to provide a partial answer to the questions: What is joy? Why is joy not evident in many a person's existence?

In his Introduction to Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters, and in many Hasidic tales in that volume and also in his other writings about Hasidism, Buber repeatedly describes joy as a blessed moment of human existence. This blessed moment can occur in both the personal and communal realms. In his philosophical writings, however, Buber does not discuss joy at length; indeed, the concept of joy is rarely mentioned. It is especially surprising that joy, which Buber described as most significant to the life of the hasidim, was so infrequently mentioned in his writings that develop the philosophy of dialogue. Furthermore, in my examination of the rather broad field of scholarly studies dedicated to Buber's thinking, I did not discover a discussion that links the joy described in his Hasidic writings to his thoughts on the life of dialogue. In what follows, I present Buber's views on joy and briefly describe some of these links.

Buber views the Hasidism of the eighteenth century in East Europe as a movement that nurtured a true faith in God. Among other things, this genuine faith was expressed in many moments of joy that involved the whole life of the hasid. Buber puts his case for joy forcefully; he explains that precisely in a period of despair, with the appearance of the false Messianic Sabbatian movement,

the test for the living strength of religion had come, for here no mere softening of sorrow, but only a life of fervent joy could aid the Jew to survive. The development of Hasidism indicates that the test was passed. [2]

The link between a life of fervent joy and a life of dialogue is initially revealed in the fact that Hasidism showed its people

the way to God who dwells with them "in the midst of their uncleannesses," a way which issues forth from every temptation, even from every sin. . . .It had nothing to do with pantheism which destroys or stunts the greatest of all values: the reciprocal relationship between the human and the divine, the reality of the I and Thou which does not cease at the rim of eternity (Tales, p. 3).

Thus, Buber states, without weakening the hope for the coming of the Messiah in the future, Hasidism showed the way to a life of perfection that is accompanied by a joy of life in the world, with its difficulties and sorrows. It showed its believers that they can endeavor to participate here and now as partners in establishing a world in which perfection can come into being; to do so they must strive, by daily deeds and through a constant realization of the mitzvot of the Torah, to approach the encounter of I and Thou in which God is present. Buber identifies this joyful doing with an existence that strives to hallow the world. In Hasidism this way of life was grasped as an attempt to eliminate the barriers which separate the sacred from the profane. Daily attempting to realize the passion to hallow each mundane deed is a manner of eliminating such barriers. Indeed, Buber repeatedly emphasizes that Hasidism's uniqueness was that its believers could actually experience the perfection of life, and the joy emer ging from this perfection, by striving to hallow every deed in their life. Hallowing everyday life and joyful life were perceived by the Hasidic sages as linked--in both hallowing and joy a person's full presence emerged. Indeed, a person's full presence can come into being when that person directs all one's being to the everyday reality and tries to hallow it. Full presence may also emerge in moments of joy.

The Baal Shem Tov, who established the Hasidic movement, developed a unique teaching which has implications for joy. According to this teaching, which drew upon kabbalist thinking, with God's creation of the various worlds "the sparks of God" fell into all the things that exist in the world. These sparks are still scattered, hidden or neglected, in the things of the world, waiting for man (only men belonged to the Hasidic courts) to raise them up, to release them, and to bring them back to their true and divine origin. Such a release of a divine spark can occur only by a worthy serving of God in the everyday, that is, by deeds that hallow one's daily life in the world. This teaching also emphasized the importance of joy. Joyful doing, the Baal Shem Tov and other Hasidic sages believed, encourages a person to act in every hour, even in the most difficult one, for the sake of raising the divine sparks that are imprisoned in things, and thus to liberate them, and allow them to illuminate. A person who tries to free the sparks may experience joy, because thus one helps, in one's own modest way, to bring more light to the world, a light whose origin is God's blessing and joy. By such doing, Buber adds, the hasid also feels that he is approaching the possibility of the dialogical relationship with God, and nearing a joyful encounter with Him.

Furthermore, by a fervent striving to free the divine sparks a person hallows, purifies, and redeems himself, because by such actions a person directs all his strengths, drives, temptations, sorrows, and contradictions towards the good and towards truth. In short, a striving to hallow daily life is rooted in Hasidism. Such a life, mainly when lived with enthusiastic joy, leads a person to feel at home in the world, to experience an intimate nearness in it. In addition, the more the hasid is devoted to hallowing everyday life--the more he strives to liberate the divine sparks--the more his doing is pious and directed to God. The result of this way of life is that the hasid's personality becomes deeper and more unified, his freedom more elevated; his joy is also loftier, even exalted.

They [the Hasidim] drink to one another, they sing and dance together, and tell one another abstruse and comforting miracle tales. But they help one another too. They are prepared to risk their lives for a comrade, and this readiness comes from the same source as their elation. Everything the true hasid does or does not do mirrors his belief that, in spite of the intolerable suffering men must endure, the heartbeat of life is holy joy, and that always and everywhere, one can force a way through to that joy--provided one devotes one's self entirely to his deed (Tales, p. 10).

Buber also explained that the "simple hasid" needed a "helper," who would guide him to concentrate his entire strength to free the divine sparks and to live his daily life joyfully. The helper was the zaddik, the righteous one, who led the hasidic court. The zaddik helped the simple hasid to become a free person, which required that the hasid unify his body and soul so as to cope with the world as it is, and thus approach the encounter with God and experience the joy that might arise. However, the zaddik also needed the simple hasid. The zaddik had to act as a partner, as one who longs for the simple man to accept him and sometimes guard him, in order that he too would not fall in a difficult hour into spiritual or bodily weariness or weakness.

Thus, by giving himself as a whole person, the zaddik helped and guided, strengthened and encouraged the hasid to hallow his daily life. Here, Buber clarifies, was unfolded Hasidism's most vital and vigorous element, the relationship between those spiritually enthused persons, the zaddikim, and their spiritually enthused disciples.

The teacher helps his disciples find themselves, and in hours of desolation the disciples help their teacher find himself again. The teacher kindles the souls of his disciples and they surround him and light his life with the flame he has kindled (Tales, p. 8).

Hence, joy in Hasidism reached its completeness and peak only when all the participants joined their personal strengths around one joyful center, the zaddik. By becoming the center or the joining link between the simple people and the life of God's spirit, the zaddik helped them to unify in joy around him or in a communal event. Buber holds that the communal joy in Hasidism was an expression of its most important phenomenon: the "holy community" (Tales, p. 9). In this community participants shared the zaddik's activity not only as individuals, and the zaddik not only acted as a leader, but all merged into a powerful dynamic unit. This dynamic group could come into being only on the foundation of interpersonal relationships of mutual devotion and trust; the establishment of such a foundation was aided by the openness and responsibility that prevailed between joyful persons dedicated to freeing the divine sparks in the everyday. Indeed, the collective joy of the hasidim, as a revelation of the dynamic communit y, expressed the unity of their way. The world of the hasidim became genuinely communal, Buber holds, because in it interpersonal relationships thrived together with the fact that every person, by striving to do what is tight, gave and created a communal form and meaning to the world.

Thus, joy in Hasidism, as Buber described it, was combined to or accompanied a life of dialogue. He states: "The core of hasidic teachings is the concept of a life of fervor, of exalted joy. But this teaching is not a theory.... It is rather the theoretic supplement to a life which was actually lived by the zaddikim and...." (Tales, p. 2).

By learning from the Hasidic movement, as Buber describes it, it is quite evident that today one also can strive to hallow the everydayness and to direct one's deeds to raise and free the divine sparks in the things of the world. Such a life will most probably bring with it joy in life and a more joyful existence.

Someone may ask: Where can I perceive, outside the hasidic community, deeds which raise the divine sparks and bring joy into being? Buber's answer would have been that, at times, you can perceive such possibilities in your own life if you strive to live wholly, authentically, as a dialogical person. He would also probably have agreed that such moments of releasing divine sparks can be found in great literature. Consider an event in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, which suggest that Buber's insights are true for all human beings.

Levin, one of the protagonists of the novel, receives an unreliable report concerning the profits of the hay harvest on one of his estates. The report arouses his suspicions. Have the peasants violated the agreement with him as to the value of their work and the conditions of the sale of the hay? Angry, he rides to the field to inquire. He arrives, but the situation continues to be vague; his suspicions increase. After long and exhausting debates and haggling about his and their rights, he reaches an agreement with the peasants. Tired, Levin sits down to rest on a haycock. Contemplating the field of newly mown hay, he suddenly sees its charm; with surprise he comprehends the working peasants' joy. His elation reaches a peak at the end of the working day, when the women, rakes over their shoulders, walk home behind the hay carts.

One of the women started a song in a harsh, gruff voice and sang it as far as the refrain, when half a hundred powerful voices, some gruff, others shrill, took it up from the beginning again. The singing women were approaching Levin, and he felt as if a thundercloud of merriment were bearing down upon him...the haycocks, the carts, and the whole of the meadow with the faraway fields all seemed to sway and vibrate to the rhythm of that wild, exhilarating, merry song with its loud shrieks, whistling, and whoops of joy. Levin was envious of this healthy merrymaking and he felt like taking part in the expression of gladness in life....All that had been dissolved in the sea of joyous common toil. [3]

Comprehending the joy of these peasants, who dedicate their strength to strenuous daily labor, Levin is engulfed by a profound awareness of his loneliness. He realizes that his life, in contrast to the peasants' simple, respectful life, is tiring, idle, and repulsive. One of his impulses at that moment is to renounce his old life, with the useless knowledge he has acquired and his utterly futile education.

In this encounter Levin, who has read many books and desired to develop a social theory, suddenly comprehends what Buber called the divine sparks, which are hidden in the things that he and the peasants encounter. The freeing of these divine sparks, by comprehending the charm and beauty of the mowed field, by expressing the joy of harvesting a good crop, leads the peasants to sing in joy. Levin recognizes that his joy at comprehending the joy of the laboring peasants emerged only after he stopped relating suspiciously to the peasants and abandoned his daily worries. Note that Levin hears the peasants' singing, and sees the group's joy, and even personally experiences sharing it, only after he opened himself, and related with straightforwardness and trust to what was happening here and now. In Buber's words, Levin lived "a moment of grace." His joy and conversion, which lead him to decide to seek a worthy life, are a testimony to that moment. Put differently, Buber would most probably suggest that Levin's and the peasants' joy arises out of the hallowing of their daily deeds.

But for joy not to be a rare event in a person's life, it does not suffice, as Levin concludes, to abandon one's previous way of life. A person must choose a way of life that is open to such moments of grace. Buber would suggest that one has to try anew every day to free the divine sparks which are hidden in the world. In other words, one must see every day as a new beginning in which divine sparks can be freed. Beginning, Buber holds, is a key-word to every human existence, and especially to a life of joy.

But there is something that he [man] has retained as a creature, something that is given over just to him and expected just from him; it is called the beginning....The world was created for the sake of the beginning, for the sake of making a beginning, for the sake of the human beginning ever-anew. The fact of creation means an ever renewed situation of choice. Hallowing is an event which commences in the depths of man, there where choosing, deciding, beginning takes place. The man who thus begins enters into the hallowing. But he can only do this if he begins just as man and presumes to no superhuman holiness. The true hallowing of a man is the hallowing of the human in him. [4]

One significant link between beginning, as an existential principle that guided Hasidim, and joy is revealed by Buber in the following Hasidic saying.

True Sorrow and True Joy

There are two kinds of sorrow and two kinds of joy. When a man broods over the misfortunes that have come upon him, when he cowers in a corner and despairs of help--that is a bad kind of sorrow, concerning which is said: "The Divine Presence does not dwell in a place of dejection." The other kind is the honest grief of a man who knows what he lacks.

The same is true of joy. He who is devoid of inner substance and, in the midst of his empty pleasures, does not feel and does not try to fill his lack, is a fool. But he who is truly joyful is like a man whose house has burned down, who feels his need deep in his soul and begins to build anew. His heart rejoices over every stone that is laid. [5]

Such a beginning, as fulfilled by a person who is truly joyful, was accomplished by Hasidism. In a period of despair, following the degeneration of the false Sabbatian Messianic movement, its leaders directed their people to a life of true faith and joy in life, by teaching them to see every day as a new beginning in which they could hallow their daily life. Such a hallowing, even of the simplest deeds such as eating, drinking, working, singing, and dancing, stood in stark contrast to the false Messianic hope of a wonderful future being realized immediately, while one waits passively,

Buber emphasizes another aspect of joy in Hasidism, which is also revealed in Levin s encounter with the peasants. Joy which blends with worthy daily deeds is very frequently linked to a life of simplicity and innocence. Seldom will joy accompany reflection, or a state in which a person is engrossed with himself. Indeed, Buber often seems to indicate that joy may become a real possibility only when one chooses a life of simplicity and innocence, when one relates straightforwardly and wholly to the world and to other persons. The leaders of Hasidism recognized the need for simplicity. Buber states: "This naivete, vitality, simplicity, and immediacy form the personal core around which the foundations of the new movement [Hasidism] are laid." [6]

Thus, if persons innocently hallow what they encounter in the everyday, their own life will also be worthier and more joyful. If their way of life is directed to free the divine sparks that are imprisoned in things they encounter, they themselves will be more joyful. Such a way of life, Buber argues, is an elevated freedom, expressed in a whole and unified relationship. Sometimes such a joyful way of life may open the way to dialogue with Others and to the possibility of intimate nearness with the world, of feeling at home in it.

It seems that, unfortunately, many people today ignore the simple naive joy that the Hasidim and Levin experienced. Most probably one reason for this sad situation is that today's capitalist society declares capital accumulation and ostentatious consumerism as a most valuable goal. When such goals prevail, it is nearly impossible to strive to hallow the day-to-day life. Indeed it seems very unlikely that capitalist society can encourage a joyful existence, because when one chooses an existence whose main goal is to accumulate material goods, one's being is never directed toward hallowing or beginning, as Levin and Hasidism's leaders understood it. The possibility of living joyfully vanishes like the Cheshire cat--only its smile remains.

Buber' s story, "The Master of Prayer," which he retold from the writings of the Hasidic sage, Rabbi Nachman, provides additional poetic and thoughtful perspectives to my response to the question: Why is joy very rare today for many people?

Most of the events in the story occur after a tempest has mixed all the true elements of the world and kidnapped the true king and the little prince--the joyful child. Without a king and a kingdom, all the people, poor and rich alike, wandered bitterly and hopelessly in the world. With no direction to their life, they began to devote themselves to greed, to the worship of "the doctrine of the divinity of gold." [7] After realizing that they needed a ruler, they gathered to discuss who their king would be. All agreed that their king should be the one who came the nearest to the meaning of life. Yet concerning the meaning of life, opinions were divided. One group believed in wisdom, another in beauty, another death, and another honor. Only one group argued that

[b]eauty would not be at all real without one who rejoices in her; she is nothing other than a thing and image of joy, born mysteriously out of joy, begetting wonderful joy everywhere, embraced by joy; joy is the sun in whose warm light life perfects itself (Nachman, pp. 126-27).

Without a collective agreement, each group went to look for a country and a ruler that accorded to its view. One day the people who swore to find the country where the most joyful person lived, saw a child. The child was running alone, and with an assured spirit was laughing at everything he encountered--the stones, the trees, the animals-- "and its joy nourished itself on the gleam of future things" (Nachman, p. 146). Where, the people wondered, is there a joy like that of the child? Immediately they chose him as their king. When the greedy people arrived, they also were astonished by the joyful child, who ran towards them, but not for the sake of gold. Only after few gold coins fell from their sacks, and the child raised them and joyfully threw them up into the air, only then did they join the child's playful joy. Ashamed of their greed, they threw away their gold and pleaded for help. The ways of the world were reopened, and all the people could return to their single and true task: renewing their strengt h and helping others to purify themselves of any illusion, in order to turn "to the true meaning of life and dedicate themselves to God" (Nachman, p. 148).

The child's simple and innocent joy is an expression of basic trust in the world; he is joyfully open to encounter everyone who is present to him, and to delight in everything that is happening here and now. His joy also expresses his longing and striving ever anew to fulfill an existence overflowing with joy, which "is the sun in whose warm light life perfects itself" (Nachman, p. 127). Need I add that, as the story shows, such joy cannot live with the greed that is often lauded and applauded in capitalist society? Indeed, in Buber's story, the joyful child is the true king, and his country is the Child's country in which the true meaning of life is realized. This life is based on a community of sharing and freedom enlightened by a joyful doing that "nourishes itself on the gleam of future things" (Nachman, p. 146).

To present briefly the affinity between joy and a life of dialogue, consider Buber's ontological distinction between the I-It relation and the I-Thou relation, as described in I and Thou. The book opens with the statement: "The world is twofold for man in accordance with his twofold attitude." [8] This twofold world and this twofold attitude, Buber writes, accord with two basic words that reveal two modes of existence: the I-Thou and the I-It. There is no I as such. When I say I, already I stand within the relation--to the Other, or to things in the world, or perhaps to God. The essential difference between the two relations is that I say Thou with all my being; put differently, when I say Thou I am wholly present to the Other. In contrast, I never say It with all my being; when I say It, I am never totally present to the Other. Buber repeatedly explains that his presentation does not create a dichotomy between the I-Thou and the I-It; rather, it presents a phenomenological description of the two basic attitu des of human existence.

Relating to another person as an It usually means relating to him or her as an object. Buber describes the I of the I-It as a divided being, which does not give itself fully to the relation. Such an I may often arise when I attempt to place myself in the center, as a subject or as an ego. "Egos appear by setting themselves apart from other egos" (I-Thou, p. 112). By setting my ego apart from everything, I strive to accumulate or to acquire as much as possible what exists in the world, for example, wealth, knowledge, pleasures. Furthermore, the realm of the I-It is dominated by utilitarian or scientific concepts: means and ends, causes and results, classification and division. Therefore, when I relate to Others as It, I do not meet these Others as whole beings. I relate to them manipulatively and arbitrarily. Buber argues that constantly living the I of the I-It leads to a self that is steeped in contradiction. In such an existence "the confrontation within the self comes into being, and this cannot be relati on, presence, the current of reciprocity, but only self-contradiction" (I-Thou, p. 119).

In the realm of the I-Thou, the I is revealed as a whole and unified person who relates immediately and straightforwardly to the Other. The I-Thou relation is unmediated. Nothing intervenes between the I and the Thou-no knowledge, no end, no lust, no expectation. "Only where all means have disintegrated encounters occur" (I-Thou, p. 63). These encounters reveal that the I-Thou is essentially a relation of sharing with others, of real reciprocity in which a generous giving and taking occurs. The I-Thou establishes, therefore, the space of true meeting where "I require a Thou to become; becoming I, I say Thou" (I-Thou, p. 62). The I-Thou relation has an original ontological status.

Thus, Buber's description includes a call to create as much space as I can in my life for the I-Thou attitude. If I live solely in the I-It, which, according to Buber, is today quite common, I lose an essential aspect of my humanity. The possibility of the encounter with the Thou vanishes. Furthermore, only if I open myself to the Thou can I, perhaps, find true love and friendship. Relating to the Other as a Thou may also lead to a life of responsibility, of sharing and of striving with others for justice. And, by relating to the Thou, I frequently open myself to the possibility of joy in my life. However, Buber adds, even if I encounter the Thou, I am still condemned to return to the realm of the I-It, which is the realm of order, security, and relaxation.

The I-Thou encounter occurs in a moment of grace. Such may be one of the reasons why in a later essay, "Elements of the Interhuman," Buber distinguishes between the I-Thou encounter and the dialogical relation. He holds that in contrast to the I-Thou encounter, which occurs in a moment of grace, I can strive to relate dialogically. What is more, by choosing a life of dialogue I may open myself to the possibility of encountering the Thou; and influenced by my I-Thou encounters, when and if they occur, I can learn the significance of a life of dialogue.

Dialogue does not mean agreement--a controversy may occur--but what is crucial is that I affirm my partner as a person. Also, a dialogue does not necessarily mean speech--even the most enthusiastic--but a genuine meeting, a generous relation between two persons who are wholly present to each other. Thus, dialogue may occur in a moment of silence, or with stuttered words, or by the exchange of a look. For dialogue to occur,

The only thing that matters is that for each of the two men the other happens as the particular other, that each becomes aware of the other and is thus related to him in such a way that he does not regard and use him as his object, but as his partner in a living event, even if it is no more than a boxing match. [9]

Buber coins two key ontological terms which help him to describe the life of dialogue and the realm of the I-Thou: the between and the relation. The between is that precise and real space within which the whole reciprocity of the one-with-the-other occurs. The relation means that "Man exists anthropologically not in his isolation, but in the completeness of the relation between man and man; what humanity is can be properly grasped only in vital reciprocity." [10] Both the between and the relation reveal the same elemental fact: the I receives its original and whole meaning only in the interhuman, in the realm of the between where the concrete relation to the Thou can occur. Buber adds that only in a dialogical relation is my I revealed not as an individual--an ego or a subject--but as a dynamic and whole personality.

Thus, through the relation the I is revealed as a real movement towards another, who is standing over there waiting for me to give me his or her whole and free self. In the relation I choose that my deed will not be left with me; I share it with a person who will perhaps respond as a partner; and I expect from the other that he or she will choose to relate to me as to a partner. For relation to come into being the most a person can do is to give one's whole being, as the specific situation demands it. Buber describes the between and the relation, which reside in the realm of the unexpectable, using characteristics of both activity and passivity: of longing toward the Thou, of choosing and being chosen, of seeing and being seen, of giving and taking, of sharing and being shared, in short, of full rest and full activity.

Are the between and the relation, as key notions of dialogue, also key notions of joy? Buber does not discuss this possible link in his philosophical writings. However, from his description of joy in Hasidism he would probably answer: Yes. The joy of the hasidim was vital for forging the enhancing link between the zaddik and his followers who jointly strove to liberate the divine sparks. This worthy relationship frequently reached its greatest clarity and a sublime peak when it was accompanied by the collective joy emerging in the between established by the zaddik and members of his court.

My assumption as to Buber's answer is strengthened by an additional event that Tolstoy describes in Anna Karenina, in which Levin also experienced joy as a relation that occurs in the between. One day Levin notifies his brother, Koznyshev, that he has decided to mow hay together with his peasants. Koznyshev warns him that although such work is an excellent physical activity, the idea of working together with the peasants seems wrong. However, Levin arises early the next morning to mow anyway. Wielding the scythe as best he can, he soon finds himself lagging behind. As his body becomes accustomed to the rhythm of mowing, the work seems easier; suddenly Levin forgets its difficulty and feels as if the scythe is mowing by itself. Joy wells up in him. He experiences additional joyous moments when the mowers reach the river. Then, "the old man wiped his scythe with a handful of wet grass, ... scooped up some water in his whetstone box, and offered it to Levin. 'Come on, sir, have some of my kvass! Good, isn't it? '" [11] Levin experiences additional joyous moments, when after drinking the water

came the blissful, slow walk with his hand on the scythe, during which one could ... fill one's lungs with air, and look over the whole long line of mowers and what was going on all around in the woods and the fields. The longer Levin went on mowing, the oftener he experienced those moments of oblivion when it was not that his arms swung the scythe, but that the scythe itself made his whole body, full of life and conscious of itself, move after it, and as though by magic the work did itself, of its own accord and without a thought being given to it.... Those were the most blessed moments. [12]

Levin's joy wells up when he gives himself to a relation of generous giving and taking, of dialogue between him and the old peasant. His joy reaches a blessed moment when he chooses to join in, with his whole being, in the collective work. Moreover, this moment of joy is for Levin blessed, or in Buber's words a moment of surprise and grace. Could we not say that in these moments Levin simply and innocently gives himself to the hallowing of his everyday life? Could we not add that Levin's joy emerges in the realm of the between established by his mowing together with and relating dialogically to the peasants?

Buber cautions that the dialogical relation should not be understood as a psychological relation. He holds that every attempt to reduce this relation to a feeling, or to a sentimental or emotional event, empties it and reduces it to an abstraction. He adds that the dialogical relation cannot be understood as devoid of feelings. In a dialogical encounter the feelings are there, but they do not condition it, and do not occupy its center. A genuine dialogical encounter is not directed inward, but rather, toward the Other and the world. Furthermore, feelings are passing and changeable, they are given to scaling and comparison. In contrast, the dialogical relation is an absolute event in which a person's entire being is united and becomes whole in the relationship.

It seems that Buber suggested that these principles are also suitable to joy. Hasidim's fervent and joyful prayers and deeds are termed

reality: the reality of the experience of fervent souls, a reality born in all innocence, unalloyed by intention and whimsy ... and so, whatever we learn from this account is not only a fact in the psychological sense, but a fact of life as well. Something happened to rouse the soul, and it had such and such an effect (Tales, p. 1).

Indeed, I found no Hasidic tale in Buber's writings in which joy was presented as a psychological event. Joy in his writings is time and again described as either combined with or accompanying a real doing in the world, or as an event that occurs in the sphere of the interhuman. Joy often accompanies assuming responsibility: when I respond with my whole being to a call by something or somebody, and I joyfully answer by choosing to do the right deed.

In summary, the link between joy and Buber's philosophy of dialogue is revealed in the following Hasidic tale.

A number of hasidim came to Lublin. Before they set out to the rabbi [the Seer of Lublin], their coachman asked them to give the rabbi, together with the slips of paper with their names written on them, also a slip of paper with his name, so that the rabbi will bless him too. They did as he asked. When the rabbi read the slip of paper with the coachman's name, he said: "This man's name is illuminated by a bright light." The hasidim were astonished. They replied: but this man is naive and ignorant; no one has ever seen him perform a unique good deed. At this moment, the rabbi said, his soul is shining in front of me as pure light. Immediately the hasidim went to look for the coachman; they did not find him in the inn. They went from street to street; suddenly they perceived a merry group of Jews coming toward them celebrating. First the musicians with cymbals and drums, and after them a crowd of dancing and clapping people, and in the middle the coachman who was loud in his rejoicing and merrier than all the others. To their question as to his recent deeds, he answered: After you left me, I thought I should seek a bit of joy. I strolled around the town, and suddenly heard music in one of the houses. Entering, I found myself at the wedding of two orphans. I drank and sang and rejoiced together with all the guests. But after a while, a quarrel arose and with it confusion; it turned out that the bride did not have money to buy a prayer shawl, which custom required, for her future husband. They were close to tearing up the marriage agreement. My heart could not see the bride's shame, so I took out my purse and found there just enough money for the prayer shawl. This is why my heart rejoiced. [13]

The story beautifully describes the link between joy and the between. The coachman's concern for the bride's and the groom's "between," which was suddenly threatened, led him to act so as to bring joy. Through his deed the coachman revealed that each person has a responsibility for raising the divine sparks here and now, so as to bring joy to the world. Indeed, by giving of oneself wholly and passionately, as the coachman did, a person can raise the divine sparks with joy and thus bring joy to oneself and to others. The coachman fully deserved that his name be illuminated with a bright light.

Rivca Gordon is Director of the Foundation for Democratic Education in Israel and a freelance philosopher. Among her publications is Sartre and Evil, co-authored with Haim Gordon.

(1.) The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).

(2.) Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters, trans. Olga Marx (New York: Schocken Books, 1972), p.3. Hereafter cited in the text parenthetically as Tales. In my citations I translate "Du" as "Thou," and not as "You" as Marx has done.

(3.) Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, trans. David Magarshack (New York: New American Library, 1961), pp. 283-84.

(4.) Martin Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, trans. Maurice Friedman (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), pp. 30-31.

(5.) Martin Buber, Ten Rungs: Hasidic Sayings, trans. Olga Marx (New York: Schocken Books, 1970), p. 43.

(6.) Martin Buber, The Origin and Meaning of Hasidism, trans. Maurice Friedman (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 68.

(7.) Martin Buber, The Tales of Rabbi Nachman, trans. Maurice Friedman (New York: Avon Books, 1970), p. 118. Hereafter cited in the text parenthetically as Nachman.

(8.) Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Scribner's, 1970), p. 53. Although Kaufmann translates "Ich-Du" as I-You, and not as I-Thou, I have retained the more commonly used I-Thou even in his translations. Hereafter cited in the text parenthetically as I-Thou.

(9.) Martin Buber, "Elements of the Interhuman," in The Knowledge of Man, trans. Maurice Friedman (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 74.

(10.) Buber, "Elements of the Interhuman," p. 84.

(11.) Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, p. 261.

(12.) Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, p. 261.

(13.) Buber, Tales, p. 309. Olga Marx's translation of this story from the German original is quite faulty. She has made grave mistakes in translating key German words, thus distancing the story from the spirit of Hasidism. Hence, I have changed quite a few words in the translation so as to be faithful to Buber's German presentation, and to the spirit of Hasidism as he described it. For the German version see Martin Buber, Werke, Dritter Band: Schriften zum Chassidismus (Munchen & Heidelberg: Kosel Verlag; Verlag Lambert Schneider, 1963), pp. 430-31.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Purdue University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Jewish philosopher Martin Buber
Author:Gordon, Rivca
Publication:Shofar
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Words:6732
Previous Article:Against Commanding to Believe.
Next Article:David ben Aryeh Leib of Lida and his Migdal David: Accusations of Plagiarism in Eighteenth Century Amsterdam.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |