Heschel Yohrzeit & Haftarah

Passages from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 12/28/2004


Rabbenu Heschel died on 18 Tevet. Especially when his yohrzeit falls in the week of Shemot (as it usually does), there are some powerful connections between his work and the Torah portion.

We urge individuals and congregations to take some time to explore these passages and especially on the Shabbat when we read the story of the midwives, to place them in the context of these women who "invented" nonviolent civil disobedience.

They "revered God" more than Pharaoh. Where did they see God, hear God? There is no descriptioon of their experiencing a transcendent vision. So it seems they saw God In every mother's hard-laboring body, heard God in every baby's cry.

Since that story is part of the parashah, and then the initiation of Moses into
prophet-hood, these passages from Heschel might make a fitting Haftarah for thi

Shalom, Arthur Waskow

"We have failed to offer sacrifices on the altar of peace; now we must offer sacrifices on the altar of war.... Let Fascism not serve as an alibi for our conscience.... Where were we when men learned to hate in the days of starvation? When raving madmen were sowing wrath in the hearts of the unemployed? . . . In our everyday life we worshipped force, despised compassion, and obeyed no law but our unappeasable appetite." ("The Meaning of This War [World War II]," pp. 210-212. Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, Susannah Heschel, ed. (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1996)


The prophets' great contribution to humanity was the discovery of the evil of indifference. One may be decent and sinister, pious and sinful.

The prophet is a person who suffers the harms done to others. Wherever a crime is committed, it is as if the prophet were the victim and the prey. The prophet's angry words cry. The wrath of God is a lamentation. All prophecy is one great exclamation: God is not indifferent to evil! He is always concerned, He is personally affected by what man does to man. He is a God of pathos.

... The prophets passionately proclaim that God himself is concerned with "the transitory social problems," with the blights of society, with the affair of the market place.

What is the essence of being a prophet? A prophet is a person who holds God and men in one thought at one time, at all times. Our tragedy begins with the segregation of God, with the bifurcation of the secular and sacred. We worry more about the purity of dogma than about the integrity of love. We think of God in the past tense and refuse to realize that God is always present and never, never past; that God may be more intimately present in slums than in mansions, with those who are smarting under the abuse of the callous. (From "Religion and Race," in The Insecurity of Freedom , pp. 110-111.)


"The beginning of prayer is praise. The power of worship is song. To worship is to join the cosmos in praising God. . . . Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision." ("On Prayer," pp. 257-267, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, Susannah Heschel, ed. (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1996).

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