I and Thou: Selected Passages

When a person encounters another person in total immediacy, he or she may also experience a glimpse of God.

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One is the spiritual form of natural differentiation, the other that of natural association.

The purpose of setting oneself apart is to experience and use, and the purpose of that is "living"--which means dying one human life long.

The purpose of relation is the relation itself--touching the You. For as soon as we touch a You, we are touched by a breath of eternal life.

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Extended, the lines of relationships intersect in the eternal You.

Every single You is a glimpse of that. Through every single You the basic word addresses the eternal You. The mediatorship of the You of all beings accounts for the fullness of our relationships to them--and for the lack of fulfillment. The innate You is actualized each time without ever being perfected. It attains perfection solely in the immediate relationship to the You that in accordance with its nature cannot become an It.

Men have addressed their eternal You by many names. When they sang of what they had thus named, they still meant You: the first myths were hymns of praise. Then the names entered into the It-language; men felt impelled more and more to think of and to talk about their eternal You as an It. But all names of God remain hallowed because they have been used not only to speak of God but also to speak to him.

Some would deny any legitimate use of the word God because it has been misused so much. Certainly it is the most burdened of all human words. Precisely for that reason it is the most imperishable and unavoidable. And how much weight has all erroneous talk about God's nature and works (although there never has been nor can be any such talk that is not erroneous) compared with the one truth that all men who have addressed God really meant him? For whoever pronounces the word God and really means You, addresses, no matter what his delusion, the true You of his life that cannot be restricted by any other and to whom he stands in a relationship that includes all others.

But whoever abhors the name and fancies that he is godless--when he addresses with his whole devoted being the You of his life that cannot be restricted by any other, he addresses God.

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Martin Buber

Martin Buber (1878-1965) was one of the 20th century's most widely influential Jewish thinkers. His work included a new translation of the Bible into German, begun with Franz Rosenzweig, and books on interpreting the Bible, on Hasidism, and on many aspects of the philosophy of Judaism. From 1938, he was Professor of Social Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.