Showing posts with label peace. Show all posts
Showing posts with label peace. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


"Blessed are You, God, the One who spreads peace over us, over all His people of Israel and over Jerusalem." (Arvit, Erev Shabbat - Friday Evening Liturgy)

While Jews recite a blessing for peace in every evening service, this line is specific to the Friday prayers. I love how we welcome the Sabbath by wishing each other "Shabbat shalom," a peaceful Sabbath, and praying for God to shelter us in a peaceful embrace. For me, the phrase "the One who spreads peace" evokes an image of God covering the world with a blanket of peace just as a parent gently tucks a child into bed at night. At the same time, the ancient, three-fold blessing of "us, Israel, and Jerusalem" gives me pause. For the Jew who composed these wordsprobably in the wake of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalemthis prayer was intended to apply solely to Jews. However, after engaging in interfaith conversations and study of our sacred texts with you, I have come to a new interpretation of this prayer: I believe each phrase builds from the personal to the universal. First, I pray for me, my family and friends; then for my synagogue community and Jews everywhere; and, finally, for Jerusalem, the spiritual center for all of us who answer Abraham.

How very special your prayer, Tziporah!  I am moved by blessings for peace in all our faith traditions, yet also troubled by the absence of peace in the actual lives we live.  We proclaim “peace,” but we go to war with our neighbor, whether across the street or across the world. I am troubled that we—righteous men and women of every faith, even men and women who share a faith—can so easily foment battles with one another, whether over land or a political ideology or a religious doctrine or practice. The words of the song “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me” haunt me as I ask myself, “With whom do I need to make peace today, and how do I do so?” Peace-making is rarely sweet and easy; it is very hard work! It occurs to me that, even with dedication and heightened awareness, I cannot be a bringer of peace unless I myself am profoundly rooted in the divine—where “self” is lost because consumed. Paradoxically, I believe that, in losing self, we find the self created in God’s own image, the self that does not need to be right, but only to be.  To be willing to lose one’s self in this way is terrifying, but I am convinced that only in so doing can we ever know fully “that peace that passes understanding.”

Tziporah, I join my voice with yours and turn to As-Salaam, the One Who is the Source of Peace.  Like you, I wish for a peace that starts from the city that symbolizes the convergent point of God’s universal message.  As you know, the Islamic social greeting is “Peace be upon you.” You may also be aware that, in each of the five daily prayers, Muslims send prayers of peace to all the righteous servants of God.  I also join Grace in inviting myself and others to introspection of our most-inner selves: How can we learn to see past our apparent external differences?Indeed, God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves.” (al-Ra’d 13:11) This invitation to start the process of change and make the “self” better is what will alter the perceptions we have of each other.  Islam literally means to find inner peace by submitting to the will and commands of God. I am thankful I have been able to celebrate Islam with you both, and I pray that by sharing our conversations we can inspire others to choose a similar path.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


“I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”   
 (The Gospel of Mark 10:15)
The phrase “Kingdom of God” reverberates through Christian scriptures in the teachings of Jesus. Some Christians understand God’s kingdom to refer strictly to a heavenly realm beyond this earthly life; others understand it to refer also to an ideal state of being on this earth, in which human beings find union with God and one another.  In reading this text, I am struck especially by the simplicity of the verb receive. I recently heard someone of another faith tradition say that “One who cannot see God in all, cannot see God at all.” I suspect this is exactly what Jesus wanted his listeners to understand when he spoke of the need to be “born again” in order to receive the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)  How do your sacred scriptures invite you to see God and to receive God’s kingdom?

In Islam the term “seeing God in others” is not used. Instead, Muslims recognize a person’s piety by how much their actions reflect their respect for God’s commands. This stems from the view that belief in God must be coupled with righteous deeds: “O mankind! We created you from a single [pair] of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other [not that ye may despise each other]. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is [he who is] the most righteous of you.” (al-Hujurat 49:13) As a Muslim, I view myself as a minute being in God’s kingdom, which encompasses the heavens, the earth and all that lies between them. I am reminded to always act with humility because achieving righteousness is a lifelong journey; only God can judge and invite whom He wills, with His grace and mercy, into the final abode of peace.

To answer your question, Grace, I turn not to the “sacred scriptures,” but to the early rabbinic literature and the writings of Maimonides (1135-1204).  Many of Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of God have parallels in Jewish texts, which use this exact phrase, as well as the phrase olam ha-ba, “the world to come,” to refer to the messianic era. The rabbis of the Talmud suggest that all righteous people, including non-Jews who follow the Noachide Laws,[1] will inherit a portion in the world to come. In Maimonides’ lifetime, there was much controversy about whether olam ha-ba referred to an actual place in the physical realm.  In his treatise on the tenth chapter of Mishnah Sanhedrin, Maimonides describes the world to come as follows: “The Garden of Eden is a fertile place containing the choicest of the earth’s resources, numerous rivers, and fruit-bearing trees. God will disclose it to man some day. He will teach man the way to it, and men will be happy there.”[2] Jews are urged to be righteous and fulfill the commandments, not only to receive our portion in the world to come but also to live well in this world.

[1] Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 56a
[2] Here is a link to a PDF translation of this work.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

In Song & In Silence

“Shout praise to God, all the earth. Serve God with joy; come before Him with singing….Enter His gates with thanksgiving, His courtyards with praise.”
(Psalms 100:1-2, 4)

I have been reading this psalm regularly because one of my resolutions for the New Year was to express my gratitude daily.  I even set my phone’s alarm to alert me—with the soothing strains of the harp—to draw my mind away from the tasks before me and toward God.  Although I have been pretty successful at establishing prayerful moments, I still lack the motivation to attend synagogue services.  I love the idea of entering God’s gates with song, but find myself craving solitude and silence.  For Jews, the ideal is to worship God together with at least 9 other Jews. And Jews pray loudly—with plenty of communal singing—from a prayer book that contains many words.  Praying alone is permissible, but even then the ideal is to say the words aloud, if only in a whisper.  As a result, the opportunity for silence in synagogue is scarce. Recently, I reluctantly admitted to Yasmina that I suffer from spiritual envy: her mosque is such a peaceful environment and so conducive to prayer. At the same time, I long to hear the familiar melodies; to sing boldly and joyously in God’s courtyard. My soul yearns to shout praise to God but, for the moment, my mouth won’t cooperate. 

Tziporah, I love your New Year’s resolution, especially your "call to prayer" with the harp! During times of Christian celebration, as in the recent season of Christmas, I am eager to sing, and to do so boldly and joyously in communal worship.  In times of sorrow or penance, however, I may enter God’s courtyard with thanksgiving but without song. For example, during the penitential season of Lent we deliberately omit the singing of “Alleluias.” But I, too, feel the craving for deeper solitude and peace, apart from community.  In those times, I love taking private retreat, usually in total silence, for the renewal of my spirit.  Silence often opens my heart to the many ways I can serve God with joy and allows me to enter God’s gates—whether in a house of worship or elsewhere—with singing and praise from the soul, even as my voice is silent! 

I regularly listen to my favorite Quran reciter and love the opportunity to feel the resonance of the words; the meaning, the sounds, the rhythm and the melody. My appreciation of each recitation is a little different, depending on where I am physically, emotionally and spiritually. Like both of you, I enjoy solitary prayer time, as well as prayer in community. Some communal prayers are said aloud by the prayer leader, while others are offered in complete silence. For this reason, I get a taste of different prayerful moments every day, as the echo of the sounds of the Quranic recitations, the calls to prayer, and the silent praise of worshipers is preserved in time and space. As a Muslim, I believe that the sense of peace at the mosque that you alluded to, Tziporah, is a result of these daily occurrences, which have no ultimate goal other than to grant those taking part in them entry into the gates of the All Merciful.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Response to "Peace on a Corner"

Corey-Jan’s “Peace on a Corner” moves me deeply.  Legend has it that, when Nazi soldiers moved into Denmark to isolate and remove the Jews living there, King Christian—along with members of his court—had a yellow star stitched onto his sleeve before riding in an open carriage through the streets of Copenhagen. First a dozen, then hundreds and thousands of Christians joined in this powerful act of resistance.  I often wonder how history might have been rewritten if all of my Christian forebears in Europe had done the same.  I wonder, too, how different our world might be right now if American Christians and Jews had, en masse, sung “Salaam/Shalom” alongside our Muslim brothers and sisters in the wake of 9/11. For Christians, Christmas is about the birth and continual rebirth of God incarnate, calling us to a radically new way of being and a peace that surpasses all understanding. From that center we can act in godly ways. As another song puts it, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

How desolate it is to think of a world where understanding is lost, and how uplifting it is to see the beauty of compassion light up a whole community in a festival of unity. With too many incidents of bigotry, prejudice, hatred and ignorance being committed against minorities, including Muslims, I still do not wish to dwell on these issues, but rather on their remedies. Like Corey-Jan, I reflect upon the present energy around me and the meanings of the holidays, although as a Muslim I am not celebrating them. In the spirit of the holiday season, I wish that we would all replenish our hearts with the wonder of God’s miracles, His Mercy and His Compassion. One of the beautiful names of God mentioned in the Quran is as-Salaam, which means the source of safety, peace and perfection. May every human discover the peace in their hearts, and may that peace spread to all corners of the world.

I asked Corey-Jan to share her song and allow us to respond to it because I had heard her perform it in a variety of settings, and each time it really affected me. I grew up singing traditional Hanukkah songs in Hebrew and Yiddish, and performed the classic "I Have a Little Dreidel" numerous times in Religious School. I also sang Christmas songs in my public school's choir, never once wondering why they were the only holiday songs on the radio. I remain a fan of Christmas music and attend concerts at local churches every year. But this year I find myself humming "Peace on a Corner" as I prepare for Hanukkah; it is stuck in my head alongside "Deck the Halls" and "Jingle Bells." Both the lyrics and the melody serve to boost my holiday spirit, reminding me that celebrating with friends is what increases the light and warmth on long winter nights. I pray that we are all enlightened by the music of the season, and that our spirits are raised as a new year of peace approaches.

Monday, December 12, 2011

"Peace on a Corner"

Thanks to our reader Corey-Jan for sharing her music and wisdom with us this week. 
Click here to listen to this week’s sacred text, “Peace on a Corner.”

I was initially inspired to write “Peace on a Corner” because, listening to the radio, I heard about a zillion Christmas songs and very few songs about the holiday my family celebrates. And the one song that gets played the most is funny and entertaining—but it doesn’t shed any light on the meaning of the holiday. I was also inspired by the story of what happened in Billings, Montana in 1993, when a brick sailed through a Jewish family’s window because the family displayed a Hanukkah menorah (lamp) in their window. In response, several local churches invited each child in their congregation to make a paper menorah; these soon appeared in the windows of hundreds of Christian homes. A few days later, the local newspaper published a full-page drawing of a menorah, along with a general invitation for people to display it. By the end of the week, there were an estimated six thousand homes and businesses decorated for Hanukkah. The message was clear: Hate would not be tolerated.

The idea that hate can be—really, must be—combated by connection and understanding is so important. And the idea that everyone has something different to share —even within the same religion—is very near and dear to me. Particularly at this time of year, my family reaches out to share our holidays with people of other religions, and we seek opportunities to share in their holiday celebrations, as well. That way, the entire month of December is filled with a variety of traditions and celebrations, not merely with holidays which are narrowly defined as “ours” or “theirs.”
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Corey-Jan is an award-winning playwright, poet and songwriter. Her work has been published and produced in a wide range of venues, and her unique book Diaspora Journey: A Passover Haggadah Drama has been performed as a Passover Seder in synagogues, churches and homes for more than a decade.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

In Her Own Words

Each week, we strive to respond—as our name “She Answers Abraham” suggests—to the sacred texts that we share.  Last week, however, I was inspired to write a more personal reflection about the issue of proselytizing.  Yasmina's explanation of da'wa as an expression of humility convinced me that we three needed time to grapple with the texts and their contexts. Grace wisely counseled me to wait, to hold my initial thoughts for this week.  I am grateful to my friends for encouraging me to share both "answers" with you. Below is my first reply to Grace's post about proclaiming our faith.  

I welcome readers of all faiths to share their thoughts and experiences.  

B'virkat shalom (with blessings of peace),  

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I once experienced being “witnessed to” by a proselytizing Christian, but only after my move to the southeast as an adult, when I was able to appreciate the zeal of a sincere missionary without feeling demeaned. Nor have I ever felt personally persecuted by a Christian missionary simply because he believed himself to be right and righteous. However, my equanimity in these situations was shattered when the teacher of my eight-year old daughter called to let me know that another girl—the daughter of Evangelical Christians—had offered to show her Jesus’ glory over lunch.  In that moment, I realized that I had failed to meet my obligations as a Jewish mother: I had not adequately taught my children what Jews do and do not believe about Jesus and personal salvation.  Once I recovered from my guilty feelings, I was truly grateful that I had been forced to clarify my beliefs because another person had proclaimed her faith.

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Tziporah writes weekly for the She Answers Abraham blog and prays daily for peace among all people. She seeks to raise her children to be both compassionate and righteous.