Prof. Lieb shares his views on the Holy Day of Atonement
(FinalCall.com) – Sitting in the audience at Mosque Maryam on October 16, 2003, to hear the lecture delivered by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, was Professor Michael Lieb. He was joined by several of his students from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where he is professor of English and research professor of Humanities. He is also a senior fellow at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. The Final Call went one-on-one to discuss his thoughts from a Jewish perspective on Min. Farrakhan’s message of atonement.
Final Call (FC): What are your thoughts regarding Minister Farrakhan’s message on the Holy Day of Atonement?
Professor Michael Lieb (PL): I would have liked to see a speech that might have moved beyond issues that arose in the past, having to do with the Minister and his relation to the Jewish community. The Million Man March was the great triumph of, not just atonement, but reconciliation. That was the spirit that ignited a whole generation of individuals. The speech that the Minister gave this past Thursday, although very much in keeping with the spirit of atonement, reconciliation, forgiveness, I was a bit surprised and saddened, because I expected a speech in that same spirit of reconciliation that we once had. My respect for the Minister remains boundless and I’m much moved by things that he has said that point to another direction.
FC: Tell us about your book “Children of Ezekiel” in which you included Min. Farrakhan.
PL: It’s the second of two books on the Prophet Ezekiel. It deals with the afterlife of the prophecy from the 17th to 20th century. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan represent the capstone to this study. When it comes to the Nation of Islam, it’s a study of the Mother Plane and its apocalyptic overtones. I traced the roots of the Mother Plane, going back to the spirituals having to do with Ezekiel and the Wheel, which was part of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s inheritance.
By studying the words and works of Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan, I gained a spiritual understanding of what they were about. Then, in my one-on-one long conversation with the Minister–I had been trying to see him one-on-one for about 10 years–I discovered a man who was a good man, very much in physical pain and duress. The two of us talked about chastisements and chiding. I learned that chastisement is a very important part of the role of the prophet, but forgiveness is, too.
FC: What are your thoughts on Min. Farrakhan’s comments regarding the 7th dispensation of time–the seven thousand years after Adam when Christ’s reign is ushered into the world?
PL: The tradition of the Seventh Day Adventists is one that sees the various stages of development of history culminating in a kind of apocalyptic moment: the last times, the last days. In Hebrew, Sheva is the number 7 and means to declare an oath; it has a covenantal kind of significance. I sincerely hope that we are not living in the last days for the sake of all of us, but the Minister’s temperament at this point I think is quite apocalyptic.
FC: It’s interesting that you’ve been trying to have a conversation with him for 10 years and that you were patient. And through your patience, the Minister has developed since then. He is like a watch to his followers–his temperament is a guide to know what the Time is. When we started, you said that his spirit was different from eight years ago, and so part of it, to me, marks that we are now in a different time. You were saying how his temperament seems apocalyptic now. Can you elaborate?
PL: He gave a talk some time ago called “The Shock of the Hour” which was also quite apocalyptic, but it expressed deep anger and righteous indignation. When Ezekiel is made to consume the scroll in the second chapter, the bitterness of his prophecy is ultimately transformed into a kind of visionary joyous prophecy of the rebuilding of the temple.
I would be very happy to see the Minister achieve that sense of quietude, that peace would encompass all understanding, and that there be some kind of reconciliation for the Jewish community. I’m speaking as one who has studied the Minister. I’ve studied the Messenger. I’ve studied the Nation as an important force in the history of African American culture, American culture in general. So it’s important for me, I mean, aside from the fact that I’m Jewish.
You know it’s kind of funny, all the statements about Caucasians and so forth, I think all of those statements are justifiable and I want the struggle to go on and in effect I don’t want the Minister to lose that sense of righteous indignation. The reconciliation will come ultimately, but whether it will be in our lifetime, I don’t know.
FC: How do you think that will come about?
PL: It has to come about through dialogue and mutual understanding. The Minister said at the Million Man March, “You’ve got pain, we’ve got pain, but there is no blood between us.” Dialogue and understanding can take care of that pain as long as there is mutual respect. Deep in my heart, I feel that that’s true. He talks about chastisements, but chastisements have to have a positive outlet. The Minister and I talked about John Milton, who talked about a time beyond all chiding. The Minister liked that. I think the struggle can be put to rest with mutual understanding.
FC: Atonement came to us through the Minister in 1995, but it was given to the Children of Israel in the Bible. So, from your experience as a member of the Jewish community, what are the benefits of atonement?
PL: From my experience, the Jewish idea of Yom Kippur is one that provides for a clean slate after the New Year. We atone for the sins that we’ve committed, and goodness knows, we have committed those sins. There is always the promise held out of hope and for cleansing. People of color everywhere have undergone such suffering that the Biblical idea of the Israelites being given the opportunity to atone is one that created a sense of fellow feeling between people of color and the Biblical account of the Israelites. This is what I point out in my book, Children of Ezekiel, that what happened on that day eight years ago, October 16, was quite remarkable, because it drew upon Hebraic and Judaic concepts in order to provide a message, not just for people of color but for humankind.
FC: Is there anything that you want to share that I didn’t ask you?
PL: Despite the misgivings and disappointment that I experienced in that speech, there’s the constant feeling of hope and the desire for healing. And I know that the Minister shares that feeling, which is why the two of us got along so well. We’re both grandfathers and we want only the best for our children and our grandchildren.
FC: Thank you.