"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 words—probably in the wake of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem—this 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.