Start with Wonder

Marc Chagall’s “Isaiah”

An excerpt from Mordecai Yosef Leiner of Izbica, Mei Hashiloach, Parshat Tazria.

[In the Yotzer Or blessing of the morning prayers] we bless God for being “the One Who makes new” and “the One who constantly renews Creation each day.” But if God renews creation each day, the renewal itself becomes routine, and so what is new? But it is like this: God makes the routine new in that it brings wonder to those who look for God in all things and ask, “Who created these?” (1). This is like Abraham our father, for the world existed for years before Abraham came into the world, and not a single person was amazed at the world, and no one asked about Who directed it. But in Abraham’s heart there was such great wonder that God appeared to him, as in the midrash: “Abraham was like one who wandered from place to place, and saw a palace on fire (or: shining with light) and said, ‘Could it be that this palace has no one watching over it? Who is the master of this palace?’ Then the master of the palace peered out and said, ‘I am the master of this palace.’ (2) When God saw that Abraham was not seeking scientific knowledge but rather wanted to know truly “Who created these?” in order to serve that creator, and was willing to abandon all pleasures of this world to do so, then God had no choice but to reveal Himself to him and show him that He was the master of the palace.


1) Isaiah 40:26   2) Bereishit Rabbah 39:1

Jeff says…

The Torah never says why God chose Abraham; God simply appears out of nowhere and says, “Go!” The Izbicer here identifies a simple reason: Abraham was open to wonder. Wonder is different from wanting to know about something, which can have an aspect of selfishness in the desire to control; wonder is selfless, leading us to give ourselves over to something bigger, not to use something else for our own needs. When this wonder fades, true religion goes with it. The world may be made new each day, but if we don’t see it with new eyes, even that becomes routine. The Izbicer, like his teacher Menahem Mendel of Kotzk, was constantly at war with the kind of religion that actually comes between us and God. Another “student” of the Kotzker, Abraham Joshua Heschel, would write in our own time and in our own language about the same idea, what he called “radical amazement”:

“Wonder or radical amazement is the chief characteristic of the religious man’s attitude toward history and nature. One attitude is alien to his spirit: taking things for granted, regarding events as a natural course of things. To find an approximate cause of a phenomenon is no answer to his ultimate wonder. He knows that there are laws that regulate the course of natural processes; he is aware of the regularity and pattern of things. However, such knowledge fails to mitigate his sense of perpetual surprise at the fact that there are facts at all. Looking at the world he would say, ‘This is the Lord’s doing, it is marvelous in our eyes’ (Psalms 118:23).”

In even stronger language he wrote:

“Among the many things that religious tradition holds in store for us is a legacy of wonder. The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted. Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin.”

(From Between God and Man)

This entry was posted in Mordecai Yosef Leiner of Izbica/ Mei Hashiloach, Parsha, Tazria. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Start with Wonder

  1. leanna says:

    I love the way you’re breaking things down even more with your “Jeff says…” section. Thank you! I’m going out to the world with fresh eyes for the day.

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