Submitted by Rabbi Arthur Waskow on
The yahrzeit of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is 18 Tevet, and this year the date coincides with this coming Shabbat, Shabbat Va’yehi. As Chapter 6 begins of my new book Dancing in God's Earthquake : The Coming Transformation of Religion (Orbis), I quote three brief passages from Heschel:
“I felt as if my legs were praying.” (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, on returning from the Selma Alabama march demanding full voting rights for Black Americans)
"The beginning of prayer is praise. The power of worship is song. To worship is to join the cosmos in praising God" (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)
"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. (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)
[This photo finds Rabbi Heschel with Rev. Martin Luther King in a prayerful moment with a Torah Scroll, at a public event of opposition to the US war against Vietnam.]
Several chapters of Dancing in God's Earthquake are about sacred street action toward sacred justice. Chapter 6 is about “subversive prayer.” Truly to learn from a teacher is to crystallize what you have learned in some new reality. One form that I have found fruitful is this: For the Amidah, the murmured prayer in which we might take our “stance” by standing, by the lotus position, or perhaps through another posture as our stance in God, the prayer community scatters outside, each finding a tree to listen to.
At first the listening is for the breath the tree is breathing out – the oxygen we need, transmuted by the tree from the CO2 we have breathed into it. Then we learn to listen for the tree’s prayer. And then to rejoin the prayerful community to recite the tree’s prayer that we have heard. Bringing each tree into the minyan. For after all, could the minyan exist if the trees were not fruitfully breathing, praying?
Our tradition teaches that to honor a teacher, we may on his or her yahrzeit learn from the wisdom s/he has left. For many subversive texts by and about Heschel to shake our assumptions about what prayer and action are, this Shabbat see https://theshalomcenter.org/treasury/52