Israel: An Echo of Eternityis Dr. Heschel's book about the past, present, and future home of the Jews. According to Dr. Heschel the presence of Israel has tremendous historical and religious significance for the whole world: "History is not always made by men alone...Israel is a personal challenge, a personal religious issue. We are God's stake in human history. We are the dawn and the dusk, the challenge and the test. The presence of Israel is the repudiation of despair. Israel calls for a renewal of trust in the Lord of history." Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the foremost religious figures of our time, died in 1972. Israel: An Echo of Eternity is his powerful and eloquent book on the meaning of Israel today.
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
January 01, 1969
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Excerpt from Israel: An Echo of Eternity by Abraham Joshua Heschel
Israel: An Echo of Eternity
Jerusalem--a charismatic city
YOU ONLY SEE WHEN YOU HEAR
July, 1967 ... I have discovered a new land. Israel is not the same as before. There is great astonishment in the souls. It is as if the prophets had risen from their graves. Their words ring in a new way. Jerusalem is everywhere, she hovers over the whole country. There is a new radiance, a new awe.
The great quality of a miracle is not in its being an unexpected, unbelievable event in which the presence of the holy bursts forth, but in its happening to human beings who are profoundly astonished at such an outburst.
My astonishment is mixed with anxiety. Am I worthy? Am I able to appreciate the marvel?
I did not enter on my own the city of Jerusalem. Streamsof endless craving, clinging, dreaming, flowing day and night, midnights, years, decades, centuries, millennia, streams of tears, pledging, waiting--from all over the world, from all corners of the earth--carried us of this generation to the Wall. My ancestors could only dream of you--to my people in Auschwitz you were more remote than the moon, and I can touch your stones! Am I worthy? How shall I ever repay for these moments?
The martyrs of all ages are sitting at the gates of heaven, having refused to enter the world to come lest they forget Israel's pledge given in and for this world:
If I forget you, O Jerusalem let my right hand wither.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joys.
They would rather be without heaven than forget the glory of Jerusalem. From time to time their souls would leave the gates of heaven to go on a pilgrimage to the souls of the Jewish people, reminding them that God himself is in exile, that He will not enter heavenly Jerusalem until His people Israel will enter Jerusalem here.1
Jerusalem! I always try to see the inner force that emanates from you, enveloping and transcending all weariness and travail. I try to use my eyes, and there is a cloud. Is Jerusalem higher than the road I walk on? Does she hover in the air above me? No, in Jerusalem past is present, and heaven is almost here. For an instant I am near to Hillel, who is close by. All of our history is within reach.
Jerusalem, you only see her when you hear. She has been an ear when no one else heard, an ear open to prophets' denunciations, to prophets' consolations, to the lamentations of ages, to the hopes of countless sages and saints; an ear to prayers flowing from distant places. And she is more than an ear. Jerusalem is a witness, an echo of eternity. Stand still and listen. We know Isaiah's voice from hearsay, yet these stones heard him when he said concerning Judah and Jerusalem (2:2--4):
It shall come to pass in the latter days ... . For out of Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem ... . He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; ... nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Jerusalem was stopped in the middle of her speech. She is a voice interrupted. Let Jerusalem speak again to our people, to all people.
The words have gone out of here and have entered the pages of holy books. And yet Jerusalem has not given herself away. There is so much more in store. Jerusalem is never at the end of the road. She is the city where waiting for God was born, where the anticipation of everlasting peace came into being. Jerusalem is waiting for the prologue of redemption, for new beginning.
What is the secret of Jerusalem? Her past is a prelude. Her power is in reviving. Here silence is prediction, the walls are in suspense. It may happen any moment: a shoot may come forth out of the stock of Jesse, a twig may grow forth out of his roots ... .
This is a city never indifferent to the sky. The evenings often feel like Kol Nidre nights. Unheard music, transfiguring thoughts. Prayers are vibrant. The Sabbath finds it hard to go away.
Here Isaiah (6:3) heard:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.
No words more magnificent have ever been uttered. Here was the Holy of Holies.
Jerusalem has the look of a place that is looked at ... "the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year" (Deuteronomy11:12). Psalms inhabit the hills, the air is hallelujah. Hidden harps. Dormant songs.