Va'yeira

“Avraham -- IBRAHIM!” : Eid Mubarak & Shanah Tovah

During the next month, Muslims and Jews throughout the world will celebrate a transformative moment in the life of Abraham, whom both traditions see as their most ancient sage and teacher.

The story begins with God calling “Abraham,”  who answers, “Here I am!” He remains steadfast in deep faith even when God tests him by telling him to sacrifice his beloved son. But when the terrible moment is actually upon them, God's messenger calls “Abraham -- -- ABRAHAM!” Why twice? Because Abraham had committed himself so deeply to do what gave him great pain that he did not stop the knife from falling until God called again.

This was the moment of transformation that both traditions celebrate as the birthing of their vision.  And it teaches us that today, even in a dangerous moment in the history of America and of our Mother Earth, even when some of our leaders are bringing down the knife upon our children and grandchildren, we the People can still turn our ears and our hearts to hearing the Voice of justice and compassion. And transform our future.

Muslims will honor this story beginning the evening of August 21, with Eid al-Adha --  Festival of the Offering --  in which the key element is sharing food with the poor, in memory of Abraham’s offering of a ram as a substitute for his son. Jews will honor it beginning the evening of September 9 till the evening of September 11, with Rosh Hashanah, by reading in the Torah the stories of Abraham’s relationships with his two sons --  stories of danger and pain that end in survival and success.

The ancient tale -- as often happens in a family remembering some crucial moment in their history – takes on different versions in the two traditions, and in Christianity as well. Many Jews, Christians, and Muslims have focused on the differences as a source of enmity. I have had the joyful opportunity to work with an extraordinary Christian leader and an extraordinary Muslim leader to weave together the different versions --  not ignoring the differences, but seeing them as complementary teachings of different spiritual truths.

We turned that effort into a book published by Beacon Press,  The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

My comrades in that effort were Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, a Roman Catholic feminist, working toward the transformation of her own tradition and community – and Murshid Saadi Shakur Chishti (Dr Neil Douglas-Klotz), a Sufi Muslim teacher of the Aramaic spirituality and culture that gave birth to Rabbinic Judaism and to Christianity. Around each of these teachers has grown up a world-wide community of spiritual searchers.

Each of us wrote ten essays on how and what we learn from the whole saga of Abraham’s family as it appears in the Torah (me), in the Christian Testament (Chittister), and in the Quran (Chisti). Then together we wove the story of Abraham’s and his family’s life.

When we had finished writing, we shared our work with Karen Armstrong, still another world-renowned teacher of the history and meaning of religion. She wrote a profound preface for the book.

During the past several years I have heard from synagogues, churches, and mosques that exploring the book has opened new understandings for their members. Since our generation remains caught in a history when many Jews, many Christians, and many Muslims see the other traditions as their enemies, it may be useful to take this season as a time to read and discuss it.

Though no Christian festival is as focused on Abraham as the Jewish and Muslim ones are, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, October 4, may appeal to many Christians as a relevant time. Francis opposed the Crusades --  an act of heresy and treason in his day – and studied with Muslims to enrich his Christian prayer.

You can order copies of the book by clicking here:

http://www.beacon.org/The-Tent-of-Abraham-P657.aspx

As a member of The Shalom Center community, you can achieve a 10% discount from the cost of the book by inserting the word “tent” (with no quote marks) when in making the purchase you are invited to insert a promotional code.

Beacon wrote:

 "The Tent of Abraham is the first book to tell the entire story of Abraham and to reenergize it as a basis for peace. It explores in accessible language the mythic quality and the teachings of reconciliation that are embedded in the Torah, the Qur’an, and the [Christian] Bible."

The Binding of Isaac & Black Lives Matter: Bodies in Fear

Transcript of Eric Garne's last words as he died in a poice chokehold

[This remarkable Dvar Torah was given by Rabbi Tamara Cohen on the second day of Rosh Hashanah 5776 (2015) in the Dorshei Derech Minyan of the Germantown Jewish Centre in Philadelphia. The Torah reading for that day is on the Binding and near-death of Isaac. Rabbi Cohen connected that story with the deaths of unarmed Blacks at the hands of police –-  deaths that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. In  doing so, she helps us deepen our understanding of action for eco-social justice as a profound spiritual journey. [Rabbi Cohen is Director of Innovation for Moving Traditions. She has been a liturgist for Ma'yan in shaping its feminist Passover Seder, and five years ago was the Barbara Bick Memorial Fellow of The Shalom Center. She wrote "Eicha for the Earth," an English-language Lament for the Earth modeled on the Book of Lamentations and occasioned by the BP oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. [The graphic above is a transcript of Eric Garner's last words as he died in a police chokehold. There are other graphics as attachments. You can see the one above and those attached in full size by clicking on the title of this essay. The attachments  are “The Binding of Isaac” and “The Choking of Eric,” the first by Caravaggio and the second from a videocamera; and a baby held aloft in the midst of Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Ferguson, MO. --  AW, editor]

By Rabbi Tamara Cohen

This Dvar Torah was born a few times over this year.

I think the first place it was born was in the powerful experience of giving birth to a beautiful baby --  who among many other things is a white Jewish boy with blond hair and blue eyes --   in a moment when the Black Lives Matter movement was reaching a new level, in a moment when the stories of parents mourning the deaths of their children of color due to police violence were all around me.

We took our son Kliel to a Hanukkah Black Lives Matter protest for his first outing. He was barely a month old. Why? In part because I wanted to be there and in part because I was struggling with how to allow myself the joy of this new baby knowing that all around America and Philadelphia and even Mt Airy, other parents were also celebrating new babies, babies with all different colors of eyes and skin and hair, and that all of us lovestruck parents, wanting to do everything for our children, feeling acutely aware of their vulnerability, also had different relationships to the vulnerability of our kids because of the systemic racism in the America in which these babies were being born.

 I remember waking up in the middle of the night to nurse and realizing

Yom Kippur Meets Eid al-Idha: Isaiah & Ishmael

Isaiah by Raphael

Tales of Spiritual Breakthrough

This coming Tuesday evening, September 22, 2015, the 26-hour fast of Yom Kippur begins. The next morning, Jews everywhere will read the outcry of the Prophet Isaiah, challenging and disrupting the official liturgy of Yom Kippur:

“Is this the fast I, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of Life, demand of you? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry? To break off the handcuffs that oppressive power locks upon its prisoners?”

And on Wednesday evening, just as the fast is ending, there begins the Muslim Great Feast of Eid al-Idha, the Feast of the Sacrifice. It echoes the story of how Ibrahim prepared to offer up his son Ismail in response to God’s calling, and how at the last moment the Holy Voice told him to relent and he offered up a ram instead.

This memory, of course, shares the story that Jews have just last week retold on Rosh Hashanah– with the differences that often arise when different branches of a family remember a powerful family story.("Which son was it?")

Traditionally, on Eid al-Idha Muslim families buy a lamb to be slaughtered (as an echo of Ibrahim's ram), and divide its meat in thirds — one-third to the immediate family, one-third to the extended family, one-third to the poor — a teaching that might be heard as “Do not kill your children; feed the poor!”

A teaching to us all about war and compassion. A physical act carrying the same message as the Isaiah Haftarah for Yom Kippur.

The connections between the two sets of festivals beckon us into a new way of treating Torah-reading as an avenue toward seeking "tshuvah" (turning ourslves in a new, more ethical direction).

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Jews tradtionally read the story of  Abraham's expulsion of Ishmael from the family, and Ishmael's near-death in the wilderness, saved at the last moment by God's making visible a hidden wllspring. On the second day, the reading is about Abraham's willingness tp make a burnt-offering of his other son, Isaac, and Isaac's near-death on the mountain -- saved by God's Voice at the last moment.

Later in the Torah, there is a story of how the two sons reconnect (Gen. 25:7-11). After their father Abraham dies, they come togethr to bury him. For the first time, the Torah refers to them as partners.  We read this passage in the regular rhythm of the regular Shabbats. But  this story is not lifted up on a special festival, as are the two stories we read on Rosh Hashanah.

It would be a true act of healing to read this brief passage on Yom Kippur. Especially in a generation when there is a great deal of conflict between some of the descendants of Isaac and of Ishmael, this tale of reconciliation

Wellsprings of Life: Hagar & Rosh Hashanah

Hagar weeps as her son Ishmael apprpaches death from thirst

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the traditional Jewish Torah-reading is Genesis  21. In it, Abraham’s second wife Hagar and his first son Ishmael are sent forth from Abraham’s family, with a leather-skin of water that is not enough to meet their needs in the dry wilderness.   In extremis, Hagar gently lays Ishmael beneath a tree and begins to weep as she fears his death.   (The Torah uses the word Tashlich  for this laying-down, teaching us that in the Rosh Hashanah ceremony of Tashlich we are not casting our misdeeds away into the flowing water, but seeking to transform their energies for the sake of Life, as Hagar did.)   Then, says the Torah,  Hagar’s eyes are opened, and she saw the wellspring that she names “Be¹er Lachai Roi, The Wellspring of the Living ONE Who Sees Me."   It saves their lives.

As I try to see this story, it seems to me that when Hagar’s eyes were opened, her tears poured forth so fully that she herself created the wellspring.   Today, all around the world we face the death of trees and the dearth of water, the deaths of many other life-forms and millions of our own Ishmaels.   Many parts of Earth are becoming as scarce of water as was the ancient Middle East. As our planet heats and scorches, our Mother Earth is parched and can no longer pour forth from her breasts the pure water that nurtures and sustains us.   May our own tears for Mother Earth pour forth to water the wellsprings of new life. May we open our eyes, and act!  -- act out of seeing the Living ONE Who Sees Us.

 May we pour forth the tears that make healing action possible!

And as Mother Hagar needed nourishment, so do those of us who draw on flowing Spirit to do the work of healing Mother Earth. Please click on the “Donate” banner on he Left margin, to pour forth as well the money that is also necessary if we are to make healing action possible.

ReNewing a Book for Rosh Hashanah: "The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope & Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims"

In 2004, as religious animosities worsened around the globe, I joined with Sister Joan Chittister, a world-renowned Benedictine nun, and Murshid Saadi Shakur Chisti (Neil Douglas-Klotz), a Muslim Sufi who has written a remarkable series of books on Aramaic, Gnostic, and Sufi spirituality --

-- to write a book called THE TENT OF ABRAHAM: STORIES OF HOPE AND PEACE FOR JEWS, CHRISTIANS, & MUSLIMS.

You can order the book and get a 20% discount from the regular price by going to -- http://www.beacon.org/The-Tent-of-Abraham-P657.aspx   and inserting the word "tent" (with no quote marks) when it asks for a code.

We sent the manuscript to Karen Armstrong. She was so excited by the book that she wrote a Preface for it.

It was (June 2006) published by Beacon Press and won an enthusiastic "Starred Review" from the Library Journal. That review and others are below.

As we once again approach Rosh Hashanah and prepare to read once again the troubling stories of the expulsion of Hagar & Ishmael from Abraham's family and Abraham's binding of Isaac for an offering to  God, we might see this book as a spur to deeper spiritual reflection on these stories.

The review just below appeared on the Web in August 2006. As you'll see at the end of the review, it especially praises the "fascinating" last chapter of the book, "Why Hagar Left." It does not mention that this chapter, and an essay on "How to Pitch the Tent" –- suggested approaches for how to bring together an interfaith gathering in depth, connecting in all Four Worlds -- are by Rabbi Phyllis Berman.

Yom Kippur as Transformation-time: 3 Keys to Unlock our Hearts

What the Shofar calls us to

Yom Kippur begins in the Western calendar on Tuesday evening, September 25, and ends the evening of September 26. In the Jewish calendar, it is  one of four festivals during the seventh lunar “moonth,” a sabbatical moonth for reflection and reconciliation. This year, we at The Shalom Center suggest three ways of enriching the celebration of Yom Kippur so as to encourage new connections between the Jewish community and other communities and the Earth itself — sharing our deepest values and our highest visions for the healing and transformation of our world toward what Martin Luther King called the Beloved Community.

 
1. On Rosh HaShanah, we read the story of the estrangement between two families of Abraham – between his wife Sarah and her son Isaac, and his wife Hagar and her son Ishmael.

I believe the completion of the story (as it appears in Gen. 25: 8-11) should be read aloud in every synagogue on Yom Kippur. It is a story of reconciliation, which is what Yom Kippur is all about.

From Ben-Ghazi to Yom Kippur

 On Yom Kippur, synagogues should read the story in Genesis 25 of reconciliation between Ishmael and Isaac, and for weeks and months synagogues, churches, and mosques should visit each other en masse to break the cycle of fear and hatred and violence between the Abrahamic communities that broke into murder in Ben-Ghazi, Libya,  as it did weeks ago in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

That’s the bottom line of this essay: Why do I say this?

 “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” —  Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we absorbed the news of a dreadfully disgusting film casting contempt on Islam and the resulting vile murders of four American foreign service officers, I began to think again about the Torah stories we are about to read for Rosh HaShanah.

For they are ancient stories about fear, anger, and estrangement between different branches of the same family. They presage the fear, anger, and estrangement between the Abrahamic families today – and yet they lead toward love and healing. What can we learn from them?

9/11 and Rosh Hashanah: Reconciling Abraham's Families, Celebrating American Diversity

Dear friends,

Before I share with you some thoughts about the intersection this year of 9/11 and Rosh Hashanah, I want to remind you: I am one of four rabbis who will be leading Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur retreats at Elat Chayyim/ Isabella Freedman, the lovely spiritual center in Connecticut.

The Shalom Center co-sponsors those retreats, and our community is entitled to 20% reductions in the cost of room & board. Just enter SCRH10 as the discount code when you register here.

This year especially, I urge us to plan to include in Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur Torah readings the passage on reconciliation of the two families of Abraham -- Gen. 25: 7-11, when Ishmael & Isaac come together to bury their father and then after long estrangement decide to live together at Ishmael's wellspring. This reading could then open up a discussion of what it means about our intimate families and our larger family, in this generation when the children of Abraham through Hagar & Ishmael and the children of Abraham through Sarah and Isaac are so often at each other’s throats.

Here's why to do this especially this year:

This year, the ninth anniversary of 9/11 falls on Shabbat Shuvah, just after the second day of Rosh Hashanah. The day will be used for a demonstration in New York City denouncing Park51/ Cordoba House (the Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan) by several right-wing political figures, including Geert Wilders, an ultra-right-wing Dutch politician who is on trial there for anti-Muslim hate speech.

They will be trying to inflame hatred of all Islam, including the peace-seeking Sufis of Park51/ Cordoba House, as if all Muslims were responsible for the 9/11 mass murders.

It seems to me that one of the factors (not the only one) in the wave of opposition to Park51 from many conservative, Tea Party, and other right-wing politicians is the hope of using it as a wedge issue to split voting constituencies and communities that generally vote progressive. The obvious target here is the American Jewish community, and it behooves us to take great care not to let anti-Muslim bigotry sweep away the Jewish voting community.

Of course different Jews have many issues to consider, and many different perspectives from which to do so, in choosing whom to support in the November elections and beyond — our varied economic views, our varied outlooks on US foreign policy, our concern about terrorism, our concern for religious freedom and civil liberties. But hatred of Islam, as if all Muslims and their religion were our enemy, should not be one of them. And given the attempts to inflame Jews to feel this way, we need to take special care to oppose such abuses.

How then can we address this question, especially in the light of the confluence of 9/11 and Rosh Hashanah?

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