Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)

As I start this blog, two questions loom large? What do I want to say – and to whom?

And though it is with a sense of excitement that I write the title of this blog, it seems unlikely that I’ll be able to get very far in one day in even approaching the name! Perhaps I can think of Rabbi Heschel as an inspiration and direction – and, more specifically, of his 500 pp. work “The Prophets,”  which came out in English in 1962.

Three years later, March 1965 – the three Marches for black voter registration rights took place in Selma, Alabama – that’s right: only 46 years ago! Heschel was there, amongst the leaders, with Martin Luther King, showing courage and true commitment  to his values. There’s a good photo http://bit.ly/gZfzRh – Rev King is in the centre, and Heschel second from the right.  At that time, I was at Leo Baeck College, studying to be a rabbi.

But why am I thinking of him and particularly his most Biblically based book, now?

I’ve just written an article based on Pierre Bouretz’s magnificent book Witnesses for the Future (Heschel was not one of them, though he could well have been,) and a friend who read it commented that he had difficulty with the concepts of ‘Messiah’ and ‘messianic age,’ which he’d dismissed as a child and not really thought about since.  An article on issues to do with myth and the Messiah seems interesting to me, particularly because it means having to deal with the inter-relationship between politics and theology.

Heschel’s book is an absolute’must’ for this and though it’s been on my shelf all these years, I have never read it! I’ve often opened it and leafed through but never studied it, worked at it. Now it seems like a treat stored up! Even the volume itself is pleasurable to hold, to feel and to look at – still with its dustcover and some of the pages uncut.

Oddly enough, as these things happen, Heschel has not come to mind for many years and just while I am preparing for this work on his book, two synchronistic ‘happenings’ take place. First, a friend, knowing of my ecological concerns and involvement with www.earthcharteruk.org sent me this striking quote from another of Heschel’s books: “Man is not alone: A Philosophy of Religion.”

The good does not begin in the consciousness of man.  It is being realised in the natural cooperation of all beings, in what they are for each other. Neither stars nor stones, neither atoms nor waves, but their belonging together, their interaction, the relation of all things to one another, this constitutes the universe. No cell could exist alone, all bodies are interdependent, affect and serve one another.

...we all belong together...

Our concern with environment cannot be reduced to what can be used, to what can be grasped. Environment includes not only the inkstand and the blotting paper, but also the impenetrable stillness in the air, the stars, the clouds, the quiet passing of time, the wonder of my own being. I am an end as well as a means, and so is the world: an end as well as a means. My view of the world and my understanding of the self determine each other. Forfeit your sense of awe, let your conceit diminish your ability to revere, and the world becomes a market place for you. The complete manipulation of the world results in the complete instrumentalization of the self.

Humankind will not die out for lack of information, but we may perish for want of appreciation.

The second wonderful coincidence is that Rabbi Heschel’s daughter, Susannah, is coming to our synagogue, Finchley Reform, in a couple of weeks.

Happy Days – as a friend used to say!


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