“Rabbi Heschel is one of the persons who is relevant at all times, always standing with prophetic insights.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
I’ve just read this 1963 address that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel gave at a conference in Chicago at which Martin Luther King Jr. also spoke. Here are several of the most striking quotations from it that I’m now contemplating:
1. “Racism is satanism, unmitigated evil. Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal an evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking. Perhaps this Conference should have been called ‘Religion or Race.’ You cannot worship God and at the same time look at man as if he were a horse.”
2. “What is an idol? Any god who is mine but not yours, any god concerned with me but not with you, is an idol.”
3. “In several ways man is set apart from all beings created in six days. The Bible does not say, God created the plant or the animal; it says, God created different kinds of plants, different kinds of animals (Genesis 1: 11 12, 21-25). In striking contrast, it does not say, God created different kinds of man, men of different colors and races; it proclaims, God created one single man. From one single man all men are descended. To think of man in terms of white, black, or yellow is more than an error. It is an eye disease, a cancer of the soul.”
4. “Who shall prevent the epidemic of injustice that no court of justice is capable of stopping?”
5. “Indeed, the major activity of the prophets was interference, remonstrating about wrongs inflicted on other people, meddling in affairs which were seemingly neither their concern nor their responsibility. A prudent man is he who minds his own business, staying away from questions which do not involve his own interests, particularly when not authorized to step in -and prophets were given no mandate by the widows and orphans to plead their cause. The prophet is a person who is not tolerant of wrongs done to others, who resents other people’s injuries. He even calls upon others to be the champions of the poor. It is to every member of the community, not alone to the judges, that Isaiah directs his plea:
Seek justice, relieve the oppressed,
Judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
6. “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.”
7. “Humanity can thrive only when challenged, when called upon to answer new demands, to reach out for new heights. Imagine how smug, complacent, vapid, and foolish we would be, if we had to subsist on prosperity alone. It is for us to understand that religion is not sentimentality, that God is not a patron. Religion is a demand, God is a challenge, speaking to us in the language of human situations. His voice is in the dimension of history.”