Torah from around the world #30
"The Islamic Cultural Center in My Jewish New Year’s Prayers" - on Akedat Yitzchak (Genesis 22:1-24)
By Rabbi Mark L. Winer, Senior Rabbi, West London Synagogue
At the season of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hoshana, a time for taking stock has been established. God commands us as Jews to confront the world in which we are God’s partners, and do something about making it a better place. That is our mission, God’s purpose for Jewish existence, L’taken Olam B’Malchut Shaddai, “to repair the world under the rule of God.”
In this season of self-reflection and prayer, my heart reaches out to You, O Lord. We need Your help. This year when the Book of Life is opened and You judge us, we seek a pathway to reconciliation with You and our community. We wish to act so that we may both honor our dead and preserve our values. Please Lord Hear Our Prayers.
Give courage and strength to those who have lost loved ones.
Comfort them in their grief and suffering.
Give understanding and compassion to those of all traditions
who would build centers for cultural understanding.
Guard us from confusing those who would help us
with those who would harm us.
Bring us together in goodwill and peace, and not in pain, fear, and outrage.
Grant us the vision to build bridges between our differences so that
we may honor our dead, preserve our values,
and create a more secure community.
May the bonds forged in our endeavors to bring peace and understanding to
Your world be an ever-lasting testament to Your grace and love.
Do not allow anyone to destroy what we would build with Your help and guidance.
Silence those who would exploit this conflict, pander to our weaknesses,
or use our pain to gain power for themselves.
When the Book of Life is closed at the conclusion of Yom Kippur,
may we know that we have done everything that we can to bring about
peace and reconciliation with You and our community.
Blessed are You O Lord our God who grants the greatest gift of peace to our hearts and our world.
Though these words have broad implications, they are, of course, about the building of an Islamic Cultural Center near ground zero. I consider the Islamic Cultural Center as one who has spent my life’s work in Tikkun Olam – repairing the world through interfaith dialogue and action, trying to reconcile the members of God’s dysfunctional family of humanity. For thirteen years I have lived and worked in the heart of Arab London. Together with my Muslim neighbors and imam colleagues I have on a daily basis studied the ancient wisdom of the Talmudic dictum “one who makes peace within his neighborhood is viewed as having made peace within the entire world.” I have read about the development of the controversy in New York, and I have been deeply saddened by it. This is especially true because we share so much with Islam as this time of year so vividly reminds me.
The Torah portion Jews read in synagogue on Rosh Hoshana morning, Akedat Yitzchak, “the binding of Isaac,” has a parallel in the Koran. In the Jewish version, God tests Abraham’s faith by commanding his willingness to sacrifice his only son by Sarah, Isaac. In the Koran, God commands Ibrahim to sacrifice his only son by Hagar, Ismail. In its essence, both versions are the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son. For both religions, this story plays a central role in its traditions. For Judaism, the story is told every Rosh Hoshana. For Islam, the story is central to the celebration of Id Al-Adha that comes at the end of the Hajj on the 10th day of the last month of the Islamic calendar. In both cases, the sons of Abraham live, and there are indications in the Hebrew Bible that they come together afterwards. The lesson for all of us is that human sacrifice is forbidden.
We seem to need this reminder. We seem too ready to hate, and too slow to listen. We take pride in our intolerance, and despise anyone who disagrees with us. I fear more the kind of world we would create with such responses than I fear the world that terrorists would impose upon us, because it is easier to fight terrorism than the worst in ourselves.
Our ancestors fought for the freedoms with which we have been blessed. The people who died on 9/11 died for the way of life these freedoms gave us. These freedoms are the basis of our strength and have encouraged our great diversity. They have made us among the most inventive people in the world, and have given us a depth and breadth that is a source of ever-renewable wealth. In our pain, please do not allow us to compromise these freedoms, and thereby weaken ourselves. With hope, I will end my New Year’s prayers by tapping into the very diversity of our resources.
I pray that we allow the values of equality, charity, and hospitality
which are so much a part of the Muslim culture and tradition be extended to all.
I pray that we allow the respect for diverse understandings
that is so much a part of Jewish tradition be extended to all.
I pray that the love and grace that is integral to
Christian tradition be extended to all.
And finally I pray that all of our religious traditions teach us to seek
understanding because only a world filled
with understanding can be filled with Your presence, O Lord,
and Your great gift of peace.
We need Your Help; we cannot do it alone. Please God Hear Our Prayers.
Mark L Winer is the President of FAITH: the Foundation to Advance Interfaith Trust and Harmony and has been the Senior Rabbi of the West London Synagogue of British Jews since 1998