Yesterday's Times had a few nice words about one of the great Hasidic thinkers of the last century: Avraham Yehoshua Heschel. It included this very sweet (and timely) anecdote:
In 1965, after walking in the Selma-to-Montgomery civil-rights march with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was at the Montgomery, Ala., airport, trying to find something to eat. A surly woman behind the snack-bar counter glared at Heschel — his yarmulke and white beard making him look like an ancient Hebrew prophet — and mockingly proclaimed: “Well, I’ll be damned. My mother always told me there was a Santa Claus, and I didn’t believe her, until now.” She told Heschel that there was no food to be had.
In response, according to a new biography, “Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972” by Edward K. Kaplan (Yale), Heschel simply smiled. He gently asked, “Is it possible that in the kitchen there might be some water?” Yes, she acknowledged. “Is it possible that in the refrigerator you might find a couple of eggs?” Perhaps, she admitted. Well, then, Heschel said, if you boiled the eggs in the water, “that would be just fine.”
She shot back, “And why should I?”
“Why should you?” Heschel said. “Well, after all, I did you a favor.”
“What favor did you ever do me?”
“I proved,” he said, “there was a Santa Claus.”