Jews all over the world are spiritually readying themselves for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the High Holy Days. It is a time of deep reflection into the inner spiritual landscape in order to initiate change in behaviors and actions in this world.
However, while these Days of Awe are Jewish holidays, self-reflection and inner work for the purpose of healing brokenness in ourselves, in our relationships and in our world are universal themes common to people of all faiths.
And it is not simply the religious mind that is concerned with the pursuit of healing and wholeness; people of faith notice, learn and then respond through the whole heart and soul. The medieval philosopher Bachya Ibn Pakuda referred to this as “Duties of the Heart.” Connecting to each other and to God is done through the spiritual principle of love and the practices of compassion, patience, kindness and forgiveness.
I am proud to be an alumna of the Academy for Jewish Religion in California, a rabbinic seminary that this year has partnered with the Claremont School of Theology and The Islamic Center of Southern California in the University Project.
Students and seminarians will be enrolling in classes at each other’s institutions in order to create dialog and build bridges between these three faith communities. The University Project is the first in the country in which clerical leaders, rabbinic students and Christian seminarians will deliberate and study their faiths together in the same classroom.
In today’s complicated world, we are inundated with hostility and hate speech toward “the other.” But imagine how we can transform the world if we sit down and study together, debate and respect each other’s viewpoints.
Imagine if we embraced the universal truth that we are all created in the divine image and realized that that image can look different when viewed through the beautiful rich diversity of religions, languages and cultures. This imagination can only become a reality when we lower the barriers between ourselves and the other.
A Hasidic story illustrates this beautifully: Once, a woman became lost in a dense forest.
She wandered this way and that in the hope of stumbling on a way out, but she only got more lost as the hours went by. Then she chanced upon another person walking in the woods. Hoping that he might know the way out, she said, “Can you tell which path leads out of this forest?”
“I’m sorry but I cannot,” the man said. “I am quite lost myself.”
“You have wandered in one part of the woods,” the woman said, “while I have been lost in another. Together we may not know the way out, but we know quite a few paths that lead nowhere. Let us share what we know of the paths that fail and then together we may find the one that succeeds.”
What is true for these lost wanderers is true for us as well. In the year ahead, may we take each other’s hands and find our way back to the oneness of humanity.
Rabbi Janice Mehring serves Congregation Ohr Tzafon in Atascadero. She is a member of the Ministerial Association of San Luis Obispo and the interfaith liaison for the Jewish Community Center of San Luis Obispo.