Today marks the 2nd anniversary of the tragic Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the worst attack on a synagogue in the history of the United States.
Several months later, on March 15, 2019 another tragic mass murder of 51 Muslims in two Christchurch, New Zealand mosques occurred and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh raised over $900,000 for the Christchurch Foundation, establishing an Abrahamic fund for Christchurch Muslims.
This act of generosity was inspired by how many Muslims rallied around the Jewish community when an armed shooter opened fire in a Synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people in October 2018.
For members of the Muslim and Jewish faiths in New Zealand, the ceremony was much more than a transfer of money from one faith to another. It was an opportunity to explore the other’s religion, as Jewish and Muslim leaders took a tour of each religion’s respective places of worship.
The reciprocal visits saw Muslims and Jews realize how many similarities they shared. After their respective visits, both groups joined Christchurch’s mayor who said, “The world will remember this response long after they remember the person who committed this atrocity.”
This 21st century interaction of two far distant Jewish and Muslim communities, is an re-enactment of an ongoing spiritual commitment of both Islam and Judaism to the ideal: Light can even come out of Darkness. The Passover Haggadah (a book 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: “And We certainly sent Moses with Our signs, [saying], “Bring out your people from darknesses 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 darknesses into light.” (2:257)
This Light that comes out of Darkness is not natural light. It is the light of enlightenment which is also is embodied in the following ancient narrative, that was 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 draught 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, feeling pleased with himself. 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’ll 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 a new 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 inspiration by, and in connection to, the One God of 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 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)