This period of time in January brings together the weekend celebration of the life of Dr Martin Luther KIng as well as the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. They marched together for freedom in the 60’s and each came to their prophetic roles via their deep roots within their faith. This country will mark the King weekend with a variety of celebrations; from inter-faith services to days of service. It is interesting that, for the most part, the Jewish community allows Heschel’s “yahrzeit” to go by with barely a mention. It would be a gift if congregations set aside time every January, around the anniversary of Heschel’s death to study his words. I will be eternally grateful to my friend “Jake” Jackofsky (z’l) who turned me on to Heschel’s writings so many years ago.
For us, for our generation, the study of Heschel’s words and deeds should ring true. He was one of those rare scholar-activists who practiced what he preached. We remember a bunch of them from those days, so many whose names are slowly being forgotten. Heschel spoke to us when we were younger and, in many ways, speaks even more profoundly as we get older. I submit to you his now infamous speech at the first White House conference on aging, held in 1961. He presented a paper titled “To Grow In Wisdom”. It should be required reading for anyone over 50. My copy, in a book called “The Insecurity of Freedom” (Shocken Books. NYC) speaks to many of the themes that all of us encounter as we age. Yet, it is a profoundly poetic and timely piece. Heschel writes of time and the reality that time “remains immune” to our powers of control. He calls on us to focus on the time we have, like a gift; cautioning us on the worship of material things. “Is the joy of possession, an antidote to the terror of time which grows to be a dread of the inevitable death?”
He seemed to foresee the longevity revolution and the fact that we now have the possibility of having so much more time to live, and asks us to consider this gift of time as a possibility for creativity way before so many modern pundits. “Time is the process of creation, and things of space are results of creation…Time is the presence of God in the world of space, and it is within time that we are able to sense the unity of all beings.” He sees our time as a vehicle for freedom of the soul, our soul! In his closing, he reminds us of something that is as true (maybe truer) today as it was 57 years ago when he noted that as we age we
need a vision, not only recreation…a dream, not only memory” We require, he wrote, three things to acquire a sense of meaning: “God, A Soul And a Moment. And the three are always here. Just to be is a blessing, Just to live is holy”.
Rabbi Richard F Address