Rabbi Heschel

I'm sitting here, watching the mist roll in between the hills and the neighboring buildings, listening to Finn's ghost-like moans that tell me he's somewhere between asleep and awake, and letting words and images from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel swirl through my heart and mind. Yes, I listened to another Speaking of Faith the other night, on my way to and from the Ash Wednesday service, and so many of the ideas expressed are as beautiful, and as hard to grasp, as the mist outside. But yet at the same time, his spirituality was never remote: he is the one, after all, famous for saying that the march in Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King felt like "praying with my feet." 

I'd love to just post the entire transcript of this show, so numerous were the lines and ideas that jumped out at me. But instead I will encourage you to go listen to it for yourselves, and mention just a few: his model of integrating a profoundly held personal belief with partnership and deep respect for other faiths--a model for something beyond tolerance, his encouragement to young people to "live life as if it were a work of art ... start working on this great work of art called your own existence," the Talmudic line that "the day is long and the work is great and we're not commanded to finish the work but neither are we allowed to desist from it"--which is probably my new favorite quote. And then, of course, his beautiful and stunning way of speaking about God:   

 "I suggest that the most significant basis for meeting men of different religious traditions is the level of fear and trembling, of humility, of contrition, where our individual moments of faith are mere waves in the endless ocean of mankind's reaching out for God, where all formulations and articulations appear as understatements, where our souls are swept away by the awareness of the urgency of answering God's commandment, while stripped of pretension and conceit we sense the tragic insufficiency of human faith." (from a speech given at Union Theological Seminary in 1965 called "No Religion is an Island" ) 

 "God, who is more than all there is, who speaks through the ineffable, whose question is more than our mind can answer, God, to whom our life can be the spelling of an answer."  (from his book Man is Not Alone)

Just sit for a minute with that one. 

It strikes me that hearing Heschel's absolute insistence on justice and mercy and righting social wrongs combined with his mystic experience of God's transcendent and overwhelming presence are not a bad way to begin this Lenten journey, a journey that itself starts with ashes and dust. 

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