When Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked Rabbi Everett Gendler to help in Albany, GA., Gendler replied, “Even though my furniture had not yet arrived, I felt the need to respond to Rev. King’s prophetic appeal to conscience.”
He walked hand in hand with MLK and the Torah in Selma joined by one of my favorite Theologian/Poet/Philosopher, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. When Heschel was asked upon his return from the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march with Dr. Martin Luther King, “Did you find time to pray?” he famously answered, “I prayed with my feet.”
Some of Heschel’s most famous philosophical works charge human beings to sanctify time and space and to rediscover the power of wonder. Heschel’s famous expression “radical amazement” embodies his gift for highlighting spiritual curiosity and grandeur. His writings are filled with moments of transcendence. I think that is why Dr. King loved him so much, they had reverence for G-d and the hope that placing faith in Him provides.
As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks pointed out; On 3 April 1968, Martin Luther King delivered a sermon in a church in Memphis, Tennessee. At the end of his address, he turned to the last day of Moses’ life, when the man who had led his people to freedom was taken by God to a mountain-top from which he could see in the distance the land he was not destined to enter. That, said King, was how he felt that night:
I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.
That night was the last of his life. The next day he was assassinated. At the end, the still young Christian preacher – he was not yet forty – who had led the civil rights movement in the United States, identified not with a Christian figure but with Moses.
Years later Gendler was asked, “What do you see as some of today’s most formidable challenges?”
And he answered, “One of the challenges is to find the inspiration to rise above our smaller, personal issues and try to include all of us in a common struggle for justice.
We must engage politically and use our influence, but we need to do it in a way that moves all of us forward.
We need to feel again that sense of deep kinship, mutual love and admiration exemplified by the relationship of Reverend King and Rabbi Heschel. Knowing that we are coworkers with the Divine in these marvelous, redemptive activities elevates and empowers us all in ways difficult to describe.”
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