Qur’an And Seder Celebrate The Victory Of Light Over Darkness – OpEd


The Passover Seder celebrates God’s rescue of the oppressed Jewish People from Egypt more than 32 centuries ago. The Rabbis added an aspect of intellectual freedom to the Seder meal when they invited the youngest person present to ask four questions; because the right to ask questions is the best way to become enlightened and the mark of a community that is based on the freedom to explore even religious beliefs.

This is why my web site rabbimaller.com opens with the statement: People are interested in becoming Jewish for many reasons. Being saved by believing in Judaism as the only true religion is not one of them. Please explore and question the various articles on my website. If you do not have a questioning spirit Judaism is not for you.

The Passover Haggadah (a booklet that’s been revised, reprinted, and republished over 6,000 times, mostly in the last 200 years) states: Passover is a journey “from sorrow to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to light, and from bondage to redemption”. 

And as the Qur’an states: “We certainly sent Moses with Our signs, [saying], “Bring out your people from darkness into light, and remind them of the days of Allah .” Indeed in that are signs for everyone patient and grateful.” (14:5) and “Allah is an ally of those who believe. He brings them out from darkness into light.” (2:257)

Easter also offers believers a victory of life over death and light over darkness. The Light that comes out of Darkness is not natural light. It is the light of enlightenment which also is embodied in the following ancient narrative, transmitted orally in both Arabic and Hebrew throughout many centuries, and finally written down in several versions in the mid 19th century.

Two brothers who had inherited land from their father, divided the land in half so each one could farm his own section. One brother’s land was mostly on an upper hillside; the other brother’s land was mostly in a valley on the other side of the hill. 

Over time, the older brother married and had four children, while the younger brother was still not married. One year there was very little rain, and the crop was very meager. This was at the beginning of a long term drought that would turn the whole valley into an arid, treeless, desert where grain did not grow and all the springs dried up. 

The younger brother lay awake one  night praying and thought. “My brother has a wife and four children to feed and I have no children. He needs more grain than I do; especially now when grain is scarce.”

So that night the younger brother went to his silo, gathered a large bundle of wheat, and climbed the hill that separated the two farms and over to his brother’s farm. He left his wheat in his brother’s silo, and returned home, feeling pleased with himself.

Earlier that very same night, the older brother was also lying awake praying for rain when he thought. “In my old age my wife and I will have our grown children to take care of us, as well as  grandchildren  to enjoy, while my brother will probably have no children. He should at least sell more grain from the fields now, so he can provide for himself in his old age.”

So that night, the older brother also gathered a large bundle of wheat, climbed the hill, left it in his brother’s silo, and returned home. The next morning, the younger brother was surprised to see the amount of grain in his barn seemed unchanged. “I must not have taken as much wheat as I thought,” he said. “Tonight I’ll be sure to take more.” 

That same morning, the older brother standing in his barn, was thinking the same thoughts. So after night fell, each brother gathered a greater amount of wheat from his barn and in the dark, secretly delivered it to his brother’s barn. 

The next morning, the brothers were again puzzled and perplexed. “How can I be mistaken?” each one thought. “There’s the same amount of grain here as there was before. This is impossible! Tonight I will make no mistake – I’ll take two large sacks.”

The third night, more determined than ever, each brother gathered two large sacks of wheat from his barn, loaded them onto a cart, and slowly pulled his cart through the fields and up the hill to his brother’s barn. 

At the top of the hill, with only a little light from the moon, each brother noticed a figure in the distance. When the two brothers recognized the form of the other brother and the load he was pulling behind, they both realized what had happened. 

Without a word, they dropped the ropes of their carts, ran to each other and embraced.

Christians and Jews believe the hill is Jerusalem. Muslims believe the valley is Mecca. I believe they are both right and God willing, someday everyone will see both cities and their sanctuaries as a pair of lungs that are central to humanity’s spiritual light and inspiration by  connection to the One God of Prophets Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac.

As the Qur’an states: “‘Believers, be steadfast in the cause of God and bear witness with justice. Do not let your enmity for others turn you away from justice. Deal justly; that is nearest to being God-fearing.” (5:8)

May the light and inspiration of this ancient tale, transmitted orally for so many centuries in both Arabic and Hebrew, help Christians, Jews and Muslims overcome the many dark, hate filled actions occurring in today’s world. 

As the Qur’an states: Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend…”  (41:34)

And as the Bible states: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. On that day Israel will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria— a blessing upon the earth. The LORD of Hosts will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:23-5)

The great Canadian Jewish folk-singer Leonard Cohen wrote a song based on a 13th century book of  Jewish mysticism entitled The Zohar; of a dialogue between two rabbis who are both idealists; but one sees an oil lamp as half empty, and the other sees it as half full. 

It does not make any difference to the oil lamp if it is half full or half empty; but it makes all the difference to the people who live in this world: Rabbi Isaac said, “The primordial light created by God was hidden away until the world will be fragrant, and in total harmony. Until that world arrives, God’s light is stored and hidden away.” 

But Rabbi Judah responded: “If the hope’s light were completely hidden, the world could not exist for even a moment! Rather, it is hidden and sown like a seed that every year sprouts seeds and fruits whereby the world is sustained. Every single day, a ray of that light shines into the world, keeping everything alive. With that ray [of light and hope] God feeds the whole world. (Zohar 1: 31b– 32a) Leonard Cohen’s song would be a good song to sing at a Passover Seder.

The birds they sing at the break of day     
Start again I heard them say.

Don’t dwell on what has passed away       
Or what is yet to be.
Yes, the wars they will be fought again    
The holy dove she will be caught again

Bought, and sold and bought again           
The dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring    
Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything    
That’s how the light gets in.

We asked for signs. The signs were sent

The birth betrayed. The marriage spent
Yeah, the widowhood of every government

Signs for all to see.

I can’t run no more with that lawless crowd

While the killers in high places say their prayers out loud

But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up a thundercloud

They’re going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring   
Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything  
That’s how the light gets in.

You can add up the parts; you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march, there is no drum 

Every heart, every heart to love will come     
But like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring   
Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything   
That’s how the light gets in. (Leonard Cohen)

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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