As I was preparing tomorrow’s class on Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath, I sifted through some of the online clips on Rabbi Heschel. I came across this one here, taped a short while before he passed away and I was once more captivated by his fiery spirit.
“Why pray to God?” The interviewer asked Rabbi Heschel. His answer: “The primary purpose of prayer is not to make request, but to pray, to praise, to chance. Man cannot live without a song. Prayer may not save us. But prayer may make us worthy of being saved. God is the meaning beyond absurdity… ”
In my Religious Studies classes, I tend to shy away from teaching this kind of texts. I feel ill equipped to discuss such intimate topics in class, and I worry that I might cross invisible boundaries, and not only because we are at a secular state school. Teaching history feels much safer! At the same time, I relish the adventure to discover one of the central American Jewish texts of the twentieth century together with students who, before opening the syllabus, had never heard of Rabbi Heschel or the Sabbath.
Besides, is immensely comforting, to students of all ages, that problems, and the search for solutions, are part of life and make us human. And, a good reminder: hard work is part of the solution.
P.S: I am convinced that, were R. Heschel alive today, his language would be more inclusive, too.