Originally published in A.J.A. Quarterly, 4:2 (1958), pp. 37-8.
Martin Buber. By Arthur Cohen. Bowes and Bowes. 10s. 6d.
It is no use pretending that Buber makes for easy reading (is the fault due to his Germanic style or is it the requirement of a poetic approach?). Yet, if the effort is made, his ideas grow on one and the reward of perseverance is initiation into the fruitful “I-Thou” philosophy.
There is a Hasidic story concerning one of the leaders of the sect who overheard two drunken peasants talking to each other. “Do you love me?” said one. “Yes”, replied the other, “of course I do”. “Well, then, what ails me?” “I do not know”. “But if you do not know what ails me how can you love me?” ! Throughout the major portion of his life Buber has tried to teach the life of dialogue, that authentic existence consists not alone in helping others but in convening with them and with God. Buber describes an experience which changed his life. A young man had come to him for advice and though Buber listened sympathetically he was not actually present, not there in spirit. “What do we expect when we are in despair and yet go to man? Surely a presence by means of which we are told that nevertheless there is meaning”.
The famous Spanish teacher of Judaism, Rabbi Solomon Ibn Adret, explained the change from the second to the third person in the berachah: “Blessed art Thou . . . Who sanctified us with His commandments . . .” For, he said, God cannot be comprehended with the human mind and yet humans can address him as Thou. The book under review enables us to understand why Martin Buber has been so successful in teaching men how to say: “Blessed art Thou”.