Abraham Joshua Heschel: A Quotation from a Great Writer

‘If you’re going to be a great writer in English, you have to grow up speaking some … eastern European language!’  So I’ve complained while reading Joseph Conrad (Polish) or watching a Tom Stoppard (Czech) play or movie.

Manchester, VT: Midsummer 8/10/11

Like Conrad, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (Yiddish, Polish) did not learn English until he was an adult.  One can describe Heschel as a great religious writer or a hero of the American Civil Rights movement.  Both seem inadequate.

In my search for a very different quotation by a different man, I found this from one of my favorite books:

Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine than neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn; a shrine that apostasy that cannot easily obliterate: The Day of Atonement. According to the ancient rabbis, it is not the observance of the Day of Atonement, but the Day itself, the “essence of the Day,” which, with man’s repentance, atones for the sins of man.

 Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath [1951] (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1975), p. 8.