Rabbi Heschel’s Prayer

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(Photo credit: Egan Snow)

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said, “In Selma, Alabama, I learned to pray with my feet.”

In English, we have a tendency to use the words “religion” and “faith” as interchangeable, and it is possible that it works for some religions, but for Judaism, it most emphatically does not work. Jews believe many different things: at the extremes, I know good Jews who are thoroughgoing atheists, and equally good Jews who have regular conversations with a God for whom the pronouns are male. The only real deal breaker for normative Judaism is monotheism: if a person believes in multiple gods or subdivisions of God or persons-within-God they are over the line.

Deeds, including speech, are another matter. I am still a Jew, but I cannot claim to be a “good Jew” if I stand by while my neighbor bleeds, if I do nothing while the vulnerable go hungry, if I do not pursue justice. That, with monotheism, was the great message of the Jewish prophets:  see chapter five of the prophecy of Amos if you doubt me.

So it is appropriate today, more than 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, to remember that we  pray with our feet, our hands, our keyboards, our wheels, our habits of consumption, and our speech to and about others.

Let us pray.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

6 thoughts on “Rabbi Heschel’s Prayer”

  1. I thank you for this because it has helped me to understand that the idea of walking in one’s calling is the very notion of praying with your feet. The idea that our works are our prayer. The idea that though I may not walk religiously into church sunday after sunday that I am walking in faith. That simple phrase ” I learned to pray with my feet” is so effective and it shall accompany wherever I go henceforth.

    Hey Ezra, haven’t seen you in church in a while!

    Oh me, chile, I learned to pray with my feet. 🙂

    Happy Sunday. x

  2. Happy Sunday to you, Ezra! Rabbi Heschel was one of the great teachers – I’m glad to have passed along his teaching. Let’s both keep praying with our feet.

  3. Rabbi Adar,
    Best final paragraph I’ve seen anywhere today. Or maybe this week…. Or this month. Thank you.

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