It may easily come to pass that a vain man may become proud and imagine himself pleasing to all when he is in reality a universal nuisance.

Baruch Spinoza

Franz Rosenzweig or The Start  of Another Beginning

Rare are the books which have the power to split a reader's existence in two. Having turned the last page, we can well feel that nothing will ever be the same again. After a one-month determined effort, I finished reading the Star of Redemption by Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) in something of a trance. What a road, what a wonder - what a magnificent conclusion!

“Simply walk with your God - the words are written above the porch, the porch that leads out of the mysterious and admirable glow of the divine sanctuary where no man can stay alive. But for what destination do the doors of the porch open? You do not know it ? For life.”

If every book is a meeting, this was the meeting of meetings. I’m almost ashamed to admit the prosaic reasons for my discovery of the Star of Redemption, an incredible book, written in less than six months, between 1918 and 1919, published in Germany in 1921, translated into English  in 1971, more than half a century after Emmanuel Levinas pointed out its importance to his contemporaries. To read it so late in my life when I would have loved to have had this encounter when I was 20.

What first aroused my curiosity was that the Star of Redemption, a text which is both present and absent in the history of 20th century thought - simultaneously a philosophical meditation where reason plays its part and a book on Judaism rooted in religious revelation - had been partly written on postcards. Corporal Rosenzweig, who, assigned to an anti-aircraft unit of the German army stationed in the Balkans, had addressed them to Herr Doktor Rosenzweig in Cassel, a town in Hesse which would become famous for the  Documenta, where he was born and where his family lived.

This chasm between a man at war with the man of peace and study who lived on, a thousand kilometres from the trenches, first evoked to me a literary invention of the self, just as the Portuguese Fernando Pessoa or the Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges.

I was not quite wrong. Because the search for the truth is a game, because the passion for infinity is a game, The Star of Redemption's carefully drawn book calligramme with two equilateral triangles - the first at the base, signifying World-Man-God; the second the point, signifying Creation-Revelation-Redemption - with the superposition posing as the famous emblem of King David, reveals something playful.

Once one has read Franz Rosenzweig, it becomes clear what influenced Emmanuel Levinas and Paul Ricœur before writing their respective master works, Totality and Infinity and the Self as Another.

Adventurer of freedom and master of a somewhat peculiar spiritual life, companion of Martin Buber, Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem in the Germany of the 1920s, Franz Rosenzweig is a man who crushed walls, dismantled disciplines - philosophy, theology, linguistics, liturgy - and built bridges, like the arch "which leads from I to He, from Revelation to Creation, and on which it is written: love your other, because he is not another, he is not an He, he is I like you. He walks, he prays, he studies, sings about his God - the God - and recollects himself”. 

In his footsteps, we don’t finish going from one bank to the other, from that of the I to that of the He, to finally understand what redemption is: when the I learns to say you to the He - quite simply. 

The Star of Redemption perpetuates many aspects of Kantianism by opening the secret routes which connect the prescriptions of the Foundations of Moral Metaphysics to older lessons, from above and far, for example the lesson of the Babylonian Talmud:

““What is hateful to you, don't do it to your neighbour. This is the only Law, the rest is commentary. “

With Kant, Rosenzweig takes sides against Hegel by refuting idealism and his claim to Totality. But the most singular revelation of the Star is the tearing away from the Self and the openness to the Other that this book proposes by means unknown to the rationality commonly  used by "the honourable brotherhood of the philosopher. from Ionia to Jena ”. Nothing less than prayer!

“Prayer is not blind; It is a supplication to be enlightened. “Light up my eyes” - they are blind as long as the hands are working; it is not the scrutinising eye that discovers the neighbour and the very near, but the groping hand that discovers them as they are right in front of it.”

In Rosenzweig’s steps, we discover that the road to the Other, who is both "the neighbour and the very near," passes through the All Other: God. 

This return to the Father's house, not against the powers of reason, but beyond them, naturally evokes the long spiritual walk and the “leap” of the Frenchman Blaise Pascal and the Dane, Søren Kierkegaard. There is something existential in both by which Franz Rosenzweig claims the possibility to seek God and find Him. Not to prove it, but to find it. 

For Franz Rosenzweig, as his master, the Neo-Kantian educator Hermann Cohen (1842-1918), the uniqueness of God excludes His having an existence, the proof of His existence is referring to a sensitive perception. 

But in the Star, God is no longer simply the transcendent idea that has become a transcendent ideal in order to guarantee ethical progress. His face, His day and His time are not inaccessible to us. “In my mouth and in my heart when I read the Psalms, He awakens my soul who says, ‘I am here. It's me’.”

Franz Rosenzweig does not think, like Martin Heidegger, that faith does not need to be. It requires God's “I am here”, just like love and hope. This presence of the eternal being of the Creator in the being promised the eternity of his Creation is central to the hope of Israel as formulated in a new way by Franz Rosenzweig at a time when airplanes caused the first industrial carnage. It was under the steel storms in the Dardanelles, in the horror of a deep night. Unable to imagine the atrocities that were to occur in German history, indifferent to the political promise of Zionism - which should not be judged anachronistically - that he pursued the invention of modern Judaism, 150 years after his compatriot and co-religionist Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786). 

Defying the crisis of Western consciousness, he offered the Jews of his time a new way not only to believe, but above all and first of all to hope. A way that was - and remains - both the past and the future of Israel. “I received the new thought through old words and returned and transmitted it through them”. 

The Star of Redemption, which opens with an evocation of death and “the anguish of the earth”, features a man who is no longer reduced to a lonely: “Being moving towards death,” of which spoke Martin Heiddeger, but one who was promised to get out alive from this world through his death. The beginning of another beginning …"Seek and sing your God, Being-towards-life!”

In the Franz Rosenzweig Dictionary, which was published in France  in 2016, the philosopher Hanoch Ben-Pazi rightly insists on the fact that it is prayer and the book of prayer that express the quintessence of Judaism. Better than the private reading of the Torah, the public recitation of the Psalms, by its dialogical dimension, it is at the basis of the Revelation on which Rosenzweig bases his whole system.

In the dictionary, Bernard-Henri Lévy explains with almost adolescent naivety "that to be Jewish is to study being Jewish, it is to think of being Jewish, it is to transmit being Jewish”. 

What touches the author of the Testament of God in Franz Rosenzweig is his life, the fact that the philosopher almost converted to Christianity in 1913, that he took the time to attend the Yom Kippur service in a small synagogue in Berlin and ended up saying: “It is no longer useful, it is no longer necessary,  I will remain a Jew”. 

Franz Rosenzweig had to remain a Jew for the new alliance to be built between Jews and Christians; he was to write the Star of Redemption to lay the foundations of a new Judeo-Christian hope for justice, love and peace. 

But the body of a writer is his work. We cannot escape its fire devouring our illusions. Studying, thinking, transmitting: we do just that. This is what allows us, each in our own way, to be religious. But, so the Star tells us, this is not enough to place one’s life “under the great sign of today”: to be a saint. We have to boldly push further. To finally return to Shema Israel. Listen therefore, Israel, listen with the heart, impose silence on all other words.

“The philosopher is necessarily more than the philosophy. We have seen him: he is necessarily a man, that is to say flesh and blood. But it is not enough that he is just that. As flesh and blood that he is, he must pray the prayers of creatures.”

Nothing will ever be the same again.