Remarks by Rabbi Dr. Golan Ben-Chorin
at the GNRC Third Forum
Hear Oh Israel (Deuteronomy 6;4), listen carefully all who struggle with humanity and engage with God (Genesis 32;28). A calling to our spirit, a demand made upon us by the spark of the divine in our soul; be present, be mindful, and make meaning of that which we perceive. Let justice guide our actions.
The words of Deuteronomy may inspire us we learn together:
"For exceedingly near to you is that which I have commanded, in your mouth, and in your heart to observe it." (Deuteronomy 30;14)
The outpouring from the depths of our hearts, channeled through mind and emotion, forming words and ideas which flow through our mouths is the purest form of education. We are commanded; "Teach them diligently to your children" (Deuteronomy 6;7). We are all those children, curious, motivated to understand, passionately making meaning of our experiences.
As the prophet Hosea proclaims -
For Israel is youth, and I love him, (11;1) "Love" - a passion shared by all human kind. "Youth" - being open to learning and change. As loved youth we too are on "an inner journey toward more truthful ways of seeing and being in the world."(Parker Palmer) We recognize that "learning should not only take us somewhere; it should allow us to go further more easily." (Jerome Bruner)
But where in the world are we going?
We live in a time in which free choice is unparalleled in human history while many people are expressing emptiness and a void of spiritual meaning. We are reaching the depths of the seas and the far corners of space while natural disasters, intensified by human-made conditions, destroy thousands of lives in minutes. Technological abilities grow rapidly, and with them the gap between the wealthy and poor. Is there promise in globalization or just the threat of global warming? The blessing of science harnessed for medical and agricultural advancement or, as this very ground memorializes - harnessed to proliferate horrific power of destruction? The breaking down of barriers by modern technologies or the breakdown of ethics and moral commitment?
We see the deconstruction of ethical commitment on the one hand and poisoning of the globe by fundamentalism on the other. Many are drawn like moths to the fire to either extreme. People are clinging to a false sense of security derived from a desire for simple answers to the complex realities of our lives. There are those who exploit religion in order to spread simple messages of hatred and bigotry. Fundamentalism is a dangerously simple answer to a complex reality. Cloaked in anger, fear and aggression, its false messengers promote violence against fellow human beings created in the image of God.
Modern communications engulf us with events from around the world and we are challenged!
And Adonai God called to the person and said to him - where are you? (Genesis 3;9)
We who strive to infuse our lives with holiness must meet this challenge. Our teachings call us to recognize that we are all elements linked in a complex environment. Our traditions teach that love, justice, and a belief in the inherent value of life make us responsible for this environment and for all human kind. Judaism promotes a passionate way of life. Awakening us from the tendency of taking life for granted to a commitment to act. The interaction between religions can enhance this understanding. Together we can celebrate our interconnectedness and ability to change the world.
As a response to the simple answers which distort reality, we go beyond the "either-or" thinking. Either I am right OR you are right! A single human being is not an "either-or"! Each one is complex. We are both body and soul, motivated by desire and rational thought, shaped by emotions and principles, nature and culture. To be whole, touching upon holiness, means recognizing complexity and celebrating diversity. As individuals are complex so too is the human existence. That is the blessing in the gathering of various faiths. We learn from each other, we teach each other. Each tradition offers unique gifts, each a unique narrative with which to enhance the understanding of life.
The power of tradition is that it lives in the three dimensions of time: The past, the present, and the possible. Children are the embodiment of the possible. We are charged with the question - what paths are we leading them on? What opportunities of growth and flourishing are we providing for the future?
We gather here in a multitude of voices and beliefs, promoting united action from a variety of faith traditions. The religions of today must teach a deep commitment to a particular set of beliefs and traditions, while embracing diversity and valuing pluralism. We are each deeply rooted in our own tradition. This grounds us and enables us to recognize that the truth of the other, even though it is different from mine, is valuable and holds true for her and him. Each one of us, from within our own religion attests to unity beyond uniformity!
One - is a powerful designator of God. The unique quality of God's "oneness" is God's ability to encompass and embrace all the blessed variety and sustaining diversity of humankind.
God - that which is experienced but not understood. That which is a driving force in my life but does not comply with the categories of "either or thinking". God imprints upon me optimism stronger than the shadow of threat and fear. Striving for Justice, nurturing of body-mind-soul, I am motivated to question, to search, to celebrate, and ultimately to share a message of hope which ignites the passion for that which is possible.