“Is it possible that in the kitchen there might be some water?” Yes, she acknowledged. “Is it possible that in the refrigerator you might find a couple of eggs?” Perhaps, she admitted. Well, then, Heschel said, if you boiled the eggs in the water, “that would be just fine.”
She shot back, “And why should I?”The confrontation dissolves into a conversation, the hostility into humor.
The temptation would have been to do the opposite — to chide or stiffen with resentment — particularly given Heschel’s own personal trials.
In a book about the Sabbath he describes Judaism’s focus on the sanctification of time. In referring to God he does not imagine an Aristotelian prime mover but a transcendent being who needed humanity to fulfill himself. In thinking about humanity Heschel asked, “What way of living is compatible with the grandeur and mystery of life?”
Such speculations crossed doctrinal boundaries and helped make him an important ecumenical force. “No religion is an island,” he wrote.But amid this fervor Heschel was also a follower of Jewish laws, putting an emphasis on ritual and actions, not just on devotion and belief.
This was also the source of Heschel’s ethical perspective:
Every deed poses a problem with moral and religious implications.
“Judaism,” he wrote, “is not a science of nature but a science of what man ought to do with nature.” No act is permitted to escape scrutiny.
Had those kinds of views shaped Heschel’s perspective at the airport, instead of accepting the eggs from the offending woman, he might have thrown them in her face.
For Heschel, there is a direct connection between our psychological experience of wonder and the moral imperative to act, even if our initial experience cannot be expressed by human language, because it is a religious mystery. Heschel understood God is pervading the universe and including all that is contained in the universe; our awareness of God's unity entails a demand upon our lives. Here, Heschel again returns to the prophets as the idealized role models of the spiritual life. The prophets experience God's pathos (outrage at injustice and human suffering) and are inspired to act accordingly. At the same time, however, Heschel argued that a Jew can live a holy life through following the halakhah (Jewish law) because doing leads to understanding. Hence a life of observance is a deeply spiritual existence which will, in its own way, lead to revelation:
Man is never as open to fellowship as he is in moments of misery and distress.
Indeed, there is a light in the midst of the darkness of this hour. But, alas, most of us have no eyes.
First and foremost we meet as human beings who have so much in common : a heart, a face, a voice, the presence of a soul, fears, hope, the ability to trust, a capacity for compassion and understanding, the kinship of being human. My first task in every encounter is to comprehend the personhood of the human being I face, to sense the kinship of being human, solidarity of being.
To meet a human being is a major challenge to mind and heart. I must recall what I normally forget. A person is not just a specimen of the species called homo sapiens. He is all of humanity in one, and whenever one man is hurt we are all injured. The human is a disclosure of the divine, and all men are one in God's care for man. Many things on earth are precious, some are holy, humanity is holy of holies.
Dialogue must not degenerate into a dispute, into an effort on the part of each to get the upper hand.