chapter  1
Emmanuel Levinas: School Master and Pedagogue
Pages 13

A few years ago in this Oratory4 during one morning Shabbat lesson, Emmanuel Levinas cited this verse from the Songs of songs (7-9)—“causing the lips of those who are asleep to speak”5-thus commented upon by R. Yohanan, in the name of R. Chimon, son of Yehotsadak, in the Talmud: “each time a religious rule is quoted and the name of its author is cited in this world, his lips stir in his tomb” (Sanh. 90b). Levinas was all the more moved by this text since he thought such a quivering of the lips is renewed with each utterance, even the most humble, pronounced in the name of a person who has passed away, an utterance now without any defense and entrusted to those who, for some time yet, can watch over it and pass on its gift. It seems to me that it is the task of those who, under various titles, have shared in the grace of receiving the teaching of Emmanuel Levinas. So . . . I would like to recall some of the words I heard here during his Shabbat lessons. However, I would do it with some trepidation because, as Emmanuel Levinas himself used to say while citing the Talmud (Avoda Zara 5b), the forty-year desert crossing is a metaphor for the forty-year studying necessary before one can arrive at the truth of a master’s thought.