Today is Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's yahrzeit, the anniversary of his death, which serendipitously falls in the vicinity of Martin Luther King Day from year to year. The iconic photo below shows Rabbi Heschel marching with Dr. King from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, a march about which he is known to have said, "I felt my legs were praying":
Rabbi Heschel's impact on American Jewry still resonates today. In his writings, which continue to inspire many, he spoke of the Jewish obligation to a leap of action, rather than a leap of faith. His commitment to the civil rights movement modeled the way in which we too should work to repair this world. Rabbi Heschel saw the words of the second paragraph of the Aleinu prayer as inspiring us to act from a place of connection with tefillah:
At the beginning of all action is an inner vision in which things to be are experienced as real. Prayer, too, is frequently an inner vision, an intense dreaming for God - the reflection of the Divine intentions in the soul of man. We dream of a time "when the world will be perfected under the Kingship of God, and all the children of flesh will call upon Thy name, when Thou wilt turn unto Thyself all the wicked of the earth."* We anticipate the fulfillment of the hope shared by both God and man.Just as Dr. King saw his work as coming from religious tradition, so too did Rabbi Heschel draw on Jewish text to solicit the leap of action that living a full Jewish life mandates.
To pray is to dream in league with God, to envision His holy visions. (I Asked for Wonder, p. 29)
*לְתַקֵּן עולָם בְּמַלְכוּת שַׁדַּי. וְכָל בְּנֵי בָשר יִקְרְאוּ בִשְׁמֶךָ לְהַפְנות אֵלֶיךָ כָּל רִשְׁעֵי אָרֶץ