Rabbi Eli Schochet

The encounter vividly encompasses for me Heschel's remarkable qualities . . . not only his warmth, caring, humor, and humanity, but his insistence on rigorous and careful scholarship. 

California
A Jewish Perspective

Early in 1960, just prior to receiving my rabbinic ordination, I met with Heschel to discuss a proposed doctoral thesis for myself. I was to write about the saga of “Amalek”—Amalek the nation and Amalek the symbol; its transition from an external enemy to an internal foe, and its metamorphosis into a metaphysical, metahistorical, and metaphorical phenomenon in the religious thinking of Israel.

 I inquired of Prof. Heschel, “How would you suggest researching this matter?”

Heschel emitted a thick cloud of smoke from his cigar and replied that it was imperative that I first study carefully the role played in Kabbalistic thought and enumerated quite a number of Kabbalistic sources to carefully consider.

I responded somewhat sophomorically and ungraciously, “But professor, that will take many, many years of preparation on my part!”

Heschel replied charmingly in Yiddish, “Don’t worry, I shall be mispallel (praying) for you that you be granted arichas shanim (enough years) so you will be able to complete the saifer (book).”

I recall him adding with a chuckle that it may be beneficial for a Litvak like me to receive such a berakhah (blessing) from a descendant of prominent Hasidic rabbeim. Over 63 years have elapsed since that encounter with Professor Heschel, and I especially think back to his berakhah when celebrating a birthday.

The encounter also vividly encompasses for me some of Heschel's remarkable qualities . . . not only his warmth, caring, humor, and humanity, but his insistence on rigorous and careful scholarship. He was not only a profoundly gifted poet of the neshama, but also a profound academic and brilliant religious and philosophical thinker. 

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