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On the occasion of any one of our despairs

by davesandel on March 15th, 2023

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

On the occasion of any one of our despairs

Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.

For years I’ve cherished time with two women in their nineties, two moms, Margaret’s mom Dorothy and my mom Angie. Mom died two years ago at age 99; perhaps Dorothy, who is 99 now, won’t make it quite to 100 either. But that is hardly the point.

We wrote down some of their stories, as they wrote down stories they had heard from our great and great great grandparents. The simplicity and everydayness of these stories are what make them precious. They were and are dominos from what Abraham Joshua Heschel called the “terrible predicament of the here and now,” dominos falling into their “there and then,” which extends all the way back to the words we use to describe our origin: “In the beginning, God.”

Heschel knew his bible. Do NOT forget, it told him. He sometimes said, “I speak as a member of a congregation whose founder was Abraham, and the name of my rabbi is Moses.”

But he was never hidebound. His conservatism in the realm of ritual did not quench his thirst for new ways to see and understand. “In the realm of the spirit, only a pioneer can be a true heir. Authentic faith is more than an echo of a tradition. It is a creative situation, an event.”

He taught and worshipped, but more than that, each week he made Shabbat. He attended synagogue, but so much more. In his book Sabbath, he wrote, “The synagogue is where prayer goes to die.” He marched with Martin Luther King in the front rows of the protestors crossing the bridge at Selma.

I felt like my legs were praying.

Who among us does not want to believe the words of Moses about our own country, as difficult as it might seem?

Observe our statutes and decrees in the land, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, “This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.” For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?

Heschel’s hope called him into speaking truth about evil, but never stopping there. “Evil is never the climax of history.” We cannot accomplish this, nor describe it, only have faith in God’s sovereignty. “God begins where words end.” As he walked in Selma, as his legs prayed, as God walked with him, God “refined his inner life, sharpened his conscience, helped him recognize that prayer is action. Prayer is an event.”

Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.

(Deuteronomy 4, Psalm 147, John 6, Matthew 5)

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