“Wherever you are, I believe the heart does go on..”


The susceptibility to wounding of all beings thrown into this uncertain and unsecured existence takes on a terrible poignancy, a haunting pathos. The Daemonic tenderness for the passing of the goodness, beauty, virtue, of everything passing is a sharp aching.

When the hope in any afterlife is undone, when the meaning and point of this life is spent and wrecked, ‘the heart goes on.’ This is passion.


According to Hasidism, Four False Ways to pursue the Jewish religious path of having to accept being ‘thrown into the world’ are already evident from the time of Moses [Exodus, 14, 13-15].

[1] Isolation from the world= pillar hugging in the Temple; a purity that is too purist, too non-involved in the world; too indifferent to the fate of the world and too concerned with one’s own [present and especially future] bliss; harshness toward people= they could join what we are in, and get the benefits, so if they stay outside, they will suffer the consequences of that wrong road of living, and therefore it is their fault.

[2] Subservience to ‘the way things are’ in the world, keeping your head down= making religion private rather than public, focusing on religious issues that are individual not collective, within the person not between persons; keep to religious rules rather than having any genuine ethical concern for the way people are getting hurt in the world; ‘what can I do?’; worldly power and threat, the fallen way of everything, is far too big to fight and impossible to overcome, therefore to ‘not rock the boat’ of what is afoot in this dangerous situation is best. ‘I cannot do anything..’ Thus, ‘I will do nothing; anything for a quiet life..’

[3] Militaristic ass-kicking of the world= of fellow Jews as well as non-Jews, both of whom are religiously wrong; putting the world to rights; aggressivity in religion; self-righteousness rampant.

[4] A spiritualising other-worldliness= we can do nothing in action to relieve the suffering world, so all we should do is pray; prayer and other spiritual practices, even if confined to ourselves, radiate outward, and make a spiritual difference, even if no material difference is evident.

These 4 positions can be given more nuancing, and each can be identified by a host of names, but they are perfectly recognizable from the present day, in conventional ways of religion and in new age ways of spirituality.

[1] indifference to neighbour and world, dressed up as fidelity to all the many things of religion which easily take up all our time and energy;

[2] cowardice toward neighbour and world, dressed up as humility and modesty, but really manifesting a crushed spirit;

[3] rivalry and judgementalism toward neighbour and world, a competitive urge to out-do them religiously, and a tyrannical tendency to bully and oppress what cannot be won;

[4] fear of and hostility toward neighbour and world, out of the desire not to be limited or besmirched by ‘otherness’, thus a secret but fundamental preoccupation with ‘self.’

Or, to sum it up.

[1] RITUALISM= to avoid contaminating contact with this world.

[2] SUBMISSION= to get through this world without mishap, by adopting a posture of subservience and pretending this is ‘holy, and self-effacing.’

[3] FUNDAMENTALISM= to dominate this world, deploy religious authority like a weapon.

[4] OTHER-WORLDLY SPIRITUALITY= to rise above this world, into a succour that allows any immediate or ultimate disaster to befall it without disturbing one’s ‘spiritual’ equanimity.


The interesting thing is that these 4 wrong options arise at the precise moment when the Jews find themselves ‘between a rock and a hard place.’ Though liberated from Egypt, that ‘release’ is but a beginning, not an ending, a question, not an answer, for soon after the Pharaoh’s army is in hot pursuit from the rear, and they are confronted by the huge obstacle of the Red Sea blocking their onward movement. If they go back, slavery; if they go forward, death. They are in a trap.

The Jewish people, initially in panic, ask Moses to implore God to ‘save’ them. God rejects the whole manner of framing this request, and says something unexpected, and indeed extraordinary, given the seriousness of the context.

God replies to Moses = “Why do you cry out to me? Speak to the children of Israel, that they should go forward.”

The secret of the heart is hidden in this bizarre statement by Yahweh.

Moses is leading the Jews to the mountain of Sinai, after two centuries of enslavement in Egypt, and suddenly all movement toward the event of revelation for which they are leaving this exile seems beyond reach. The trap tightens..

The Midrash claims the Jewish people had split into four camps=

[1] Let us throw ourselves into the Red Sea.

[2] Let us return to Egypt.

[3] Let us wage war on the Egyptians.

[4] Let us pray to God.

Hasidic commentary provides its own illustration of the 4 False Ways in Judaism=

[1] The Zaddik in a Fur Coat=

“There are two ways you can warm yourself on a cold winter day: you can build a fire, or wrap yourself in furs. When the isolationist zaddik is asked, ‘Why do you think only of conserving your own warmth? Why don’t you build a fire that will warm others as well?’, he replies, ‘What’s the use? Can I warm the entire world?’ If you persist, pointing out that one small fire can thaw several frozen individuals, who may in turn create enough fires to warm a small corner of the universe, he doesn’t understand what you want of him..”

[2] The Slave to the World=

“..the submissive Jew [argues] this is the world in which God has placed us, and our mission is to deal with it.. We’ll just have to lower our expectations a little. This Exodus thing was obviously a pipe dream. How could we presume to liberate ourselves from the rules and constraints that apply to everyone else.. So, we’ll do the best we can under the circumstances.. making sure not to antagonize our neighbours.”

[3] The Soldier of God=

“A third response to an uncooperative world.. understands it is wrong to [be isolated from] the world and equally wrong to submit to it. So he takes it on, both guns blazing. [This] Jew strides through life with a holy chip on his shoulder, [putting to rights] sinners, apostates, Jew-haters, un-Jewish Jews, and non-battling Jews. ..he knows that his cause is just, that God is on his side, that ultimately he will triumph. So, if the world won’t listen to reason, he will knock some sense into it.”

[4] The Praying ‘Spiritual’ Jew=

“Finally, there is the Jew who looks at the world, looks at the.. three camps, shakes his head and lifts his eyes to the heavens. [This person believes that religion should] make peace in the world. [When the other three camps admonish him], ‘you hope to peacefully change the world? ..when was the last time you looked out the window?’, the Praying Jew says, ‘You’re absolutely right. Realistically there is no way it can be done. But we are not subject to this reality you are so impressed with. [There is] a higher reality [which we inhabit]. Ours is the world of the spirit..’ ‘So, basically’, the other three camps counter, ‘your approach is to do nothing.’ The Praying Jew replies, ‘you are employing the standards of the material world, a world that views spiritual activity as “doing nothing.” But a single prayer, coming from a caring heart, can achieve more than the most secure fortress, the most flattering diplomat, or the most powerful army’.”

It is important to realise that God rejects all 4 of these ‘solutions’ to the trap. A Jew is called to better the world, not abandon it, but he cannot do that in any of these 4 stances. It is important to realise, right at the off, God rejects all these ways of dealing with the existential bind.

Egypt= the evil of the conscious sphere, the evil in the world; the Red Sea= the evil of the unconscious sphere, the evil in ourselves. The blocks outside us, the blocks inside us; between these it is checkmate.

Or is it?

Is it over before it really begins?


God’s reply to Moses is truly staggering. He rejects that the help needed in this existential crisis can come from Moses as leader; yet, equally, he rejects that the help can come from God’s power bestowed on the people like a parent giving comfort to an infant who is passive, helpless, hapless.

The people want God to save them, by removing the bind they are in. God won’t do this. Neither human leadership, in and of itself, nor Divine Intervention, in and of itself, is how this works.

The Way that is beyond the 4 False Ways is cryptically referred to as, ‘tell the children of Israel to go forward.’

No rescue by the great leader. No rescue by the High God. The leader may still guide, the God may still intervene. But prior to either of these, and what makes them effective, is something far more mysterious.

The people are told by God they are not going to be rescued by Moses, the people are told by God they are not going to be rescued by God. They are told, go forward.

Drive on. Keep moving.

The mystery is in the people, neither in the leader as exterior to them, nor in God as exterior to them.

The mystery is in the heart, in each of us, in all of us.

When all hope is gone, when it is all over bar the shouting, the heart goes on. This is passion.

Indeed, its real passion, its truest passion, only really ignites when everything else is defunct.

The heart goes on, even when it cannot do anything.

What is this mystery?

It is for the sake of this mystery that the Jews, and we, go forward.

For the sake of the mystery not of the mountain heights nor of the ocean recesses, but the mystery buried in time and only dug up in time, the mystery of what the heart is for.

In every crisis, in every situation, there is a two-fold rock and hard place of the trap, and there are the Fourfold False Ways, and there is the true way that trusts and ventures the heart to go on.

“My heart will go on” is true, because the heart will not give way until it has found what it is, and why it is, and how it is, the heart cannot really be stopped.

This is what God will augment and empower= the mystery of the power in each of us, in all of us, of ‘the heart that does go on.’