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Praying with Our Feet

A Hasidic Rabbi was once asked by his disciple, "Rebbe, is there a purpose for everything God has created in the world?" The Rebbe replied, "Certainly." "But Rebbe," the disciple continued, "why did God create atheism?"  The Rabbi thought for a moment and then responded, "When someone sees a problem, another person in trouble, he should never say 'God will take care of it';  rather he should act as if there is no God and go take care of the problem himself.  That is why God created atheism -- so that we should never wait for God to do what humans can do instead."
 
I thank my colleague, Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom, for introducing me to the above story, one that feels most appropriate as we enter into this Shabbat of Martin Luther King Day weekend.  The third Monday in January is an annual opportunity for our communities to think about racial equality, activism and service, and nonviolent protest - all values which the late Reverend King embodied and held dear.  This year in particular, when we are still reeling from the terrible events in Newtown, CT, having a day dedicated to creating societal change through peaceful means feels especially poignant and meaningful.
 
While celebrated on various days depending on the year, Reverend Martin Luther King Junior's birthday was originally on January 15, 1929, just four days (and 22 years) after the birth of another extraordinary civil rights activist and theologian.  I am speaking, of course, about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel whose January 11th birthday we marked last Shabbat.  While both King and Heschel were deeply religious men with an abiding faith in God, both of them, too, embodied the lesson of the Hasidic Rabbi and his student, acting to end discrimination and inequality rather than waiting for a Divine messenger to do this work instead by fiat.  Many of us will remember the iconic photograph of Heschel and King from the march from Selma to Montgomery, arms linked in an interracial human chain. 
 
Of all the many ideas and teachings of Heschel that I admire, one of my favorite is that of "praying with one's feet," the notion that reciting a fixed liturgy of words is but one way of serving our Maker and that engaging in the work of social justice can be an equally powerful pathway to God.  In particular, Heschel used this phrase to describe how he felt about the Selma-Montgomery march, that his whole body was worshiping as he walked in support of racial equality.  This Martin Luther King Day weekend let us, too, perhaps feel inspired to use a bit of our extra free time to honor the legacies of these two great men by giving back through activism and service.  Let us, too, pray with our feet!
 
Zichronam livracha - May the memories of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel always be for a blessing.
 
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Annie Tucker  
 
 
 
 

 

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