Tuesday, January 13, 2009
GRATEFUL FOR HESCHEL-36TH YAHRZEIT
I have a photograph of Heschel taken from the front cover of one of his book’s entitled-I Asked for Wonder. I keep this picture by me most of the time. On occasion I will stop what I am doing and rest my eyes on his-It is hard to discern much from them but his face shines with wisdom, gentleness and concern. Wavy white hair and a white goateed beard and untrimmed mustache conceal a good portion of his visage-so much is hidden behind his appearance-a soft voice, a dazzling mind, a passionate heart, a sensitive soul always searching, seeking the full wonder and glory of God’s Presence.
He was a man of mind and of movement. Who can erase from memory his marching alongside Martin Luther King Jr in Selma, Alabama, a place of enslavement and the defilement of human dignity? Who can ignore the poetry of his praise of the Sabbath, his penetrating analysis of the schools of thought of Ishmael and Rabbi Akiba? His doctoral dissertation on the nature of prophecy and the later masterpiece-The Prophets-reflected a spiritual insight and wisdom that elevated Heschel to the highest rungs of Jewish, spiritual thought.
Some of Heschel’s opponents have leveled the critique that he pandered to the non-Jewish world, seeking the acceptance and embrace from the Christian world. Is it a sin to reach out for reconciliation, to pursue peace? Through Heschel so many on the outside of Torah caught a glimpse of revelation and were awe struck with marvel and gratitude!
His 36th Yahrzeit-he died in 1973-will be observed on the Shabbat of Shemot, this coming Shabbat, when we begin the reading of the book of Exodus.
It is a tragic time for Israel-a period of descent, enslavement, of ensnarement in the narrowness of mitzrayim. While we may have been redeemed historically, spiritually we continue to find ourselves imprisoned in the constrictiveness of our thinking and feeling. Our hearts remain closed to God’s wonders, to the needs of God and our fellow human beings for redemption and liberation.
Heschel will always be the passionate voice of love and justice. If we would only hearken to his words…
May his memory continue to bless us.