Hiyyuv is a Hebrew word that means obligation.
I am surprised by how Michael Fishbane in Sacred Attunement uses this concept. He says that obligation is given with creation. He talks about how as humans become aware of their placement in creation, they awaken to their obligation. They find their life-task. He applies the concept, however, to all creation, not just humans.
Some of his language seems more poetic than discursive, so I will just quote a few sentences and let you consider it yourself.
“There are cells, and molecules, and proteins; and there are structures, and orbits and organisms, insofar as there is life, necessity and freedom are their attributes, in different orders of realization. They all variously conjoin or disjoin, select or grope, or play host or guest, depending on who or what they are. Already, molecular impulses have an inner hiyyuv, which strives for ongoing coherence and sustenance of their reality; and they are coupled by degrees of freedom, this being their capacity to seek out and select creative possibilities for ongoing existence, within the circuit of all that imposes claims on them.”
As a human being, I think I know what freedom and free will mean in my experience. But I do not know what it means for a molecule or an orbit to have freedom. Do these things have volition? Or is this just a way of speaking? When I read this kind of stuff in Teilhard de Chardin, I know that Bergson’s philosophy is behind it. I am not so sure where Fishbane is coming from.
This much I understand: Fishbane believes that in evolution and other natural processes God’s creation of the world continues. In divinely guided processes, obligation or hiyyuv presses upon cells and structures as well as humans.
He does talk about how human will is of a different order. In fact, humans have a unique ability to subvert and corrupt the “pulsing possibilities of life.” (But if other components of the world do not have this ability, what is the point of saying they have freedom?) In spite of this, humans can read the signs of an all-encompassing good which is all around them. The Bible adds to this another sign, the gift of tradition.
The Bible specifies certain moral and religious obligations. But these align with the obligations that are given with creation. They are meant to further them. They do not call for punctilious legalism, but for a conversion of consciousness. They call attention to the givingness of God, and call on us to renounce self-serving and imitate the bestowing God in our own “acts of bestowal”. So covenant theology is an ongoing human attunement to God within the field of scripture and tradition.
One of the things I appreciate about Fishbane is that just when I think he is going to get lost in a kind of theo-babble, he comes back to earth with an everyday example. What he has been talking about, he says, is what we experience in the simple act of opening our eyes in the morning. When we do that every day, we confront our tasks and our loves.
The woman in Song of Solomon 5:2 says, “I am asleep, but my heart is awake” (NET Bible). Her beloved then calls upon her to open her eyes to love. Spiritually, we all experience this each day. Opening our eyes, we see the hiyyuv given to us.