It was a harrowing experience . I was so anxious that I missed my appointment for an entrance interview to the Jewish Theological Seminary. I thank God it was rescheduled , for two reasons. One, I was given another chance at becoming a rabbi-a life-long dream.Two, Heschel, who had not been selected to sit on my originally scheduled interviewing committee, volunteered to participate at the rescheduled time.
I am convinced to this day that without him being there, I would never have been accepted to the Rabbinical School.
I don't recall the other participants by name or face. I do remember how intimidating I felt they were. Heschel was the only one whose compassionate countenance and reassuring words gave me the confidence and calm necessary to conduct myself in such a way that I would be considered eligible for the rabbinate. Without Heschel, I don't think that I would have become a rabbi.(I am sure that some cynics may feel that this would not have been so terrible after all, as the very old jest has it: What kind of job is being a rabbi for a nice Jewish boy?)
Heschel was my teacher . I completed a project for him one summer translating large segments of "Mishnat HaZohar," a kabbalistic work authored by one of Gershon Scholem's oustanding students and then colleague, Yeshayahu Tishby, of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. It was an amazing academic experience.
A confession. Reading "The Sabbath"-Heschel's masterpiece on the meaning of the Sabbath, for the first time at the age of twenty was a personal disappointment. I felt it was not intellectually profound enough; it was too poetic, too subjective, not philosophically penetrating. Looking back, I realize the folly of my youth.
Now when I read "The Sabbath" I am not only impressed, I am inspired, his words touching not my mind as much as my heart and soul. I can think of no greater work that conveys the unique and sacred character of this 'palace in time,' this monument to the Jewish spirit.
Heschel's exposition on the sanctity of time is among the finest interpretations of time's sacred significance that I can ever imagine.
I will always be grateful to this spiritual giant. May his 'Heavenly Neshama', his soul, continue its ascent to the loftiest heights of God's Presence. Amen
The Grateful rabbi