Love. A good topic for “Virtual Ramadan,” an inter-faith celebration, hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. I’m a long-time friend of the Baitur Rahman mosque in Delta BC. So, the group invited me to speak. Specifically, about our common Jewish and Islamic traditions of fasting and sacrifice. But with my own interpretation: both are practices of love.
Fasting (I said) is an important Jewish spiritual practice. Our calendar includes many fast days. But one in particular stands out as the most widely practiced. That is the fast of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur takes place in the fall, on the tenth day of each New Year. For 25 hours we fast. That leaves us free from most of our daily chores – there’s no shopping cooking, eating, or washing up. So, we use to time to focus on what is most important. We gather in synagogue where we sing, pray, read scripture, create children’s programs.
But, most important, we talk with one another. We approach anyone we have hurt with our words or actions and we ask their forgiveness. We try to quiet our egos and remember that, in God’s eyes, we are all equal. Those of us who are used to having enough to eat catch a glimpse of what it is like to go hungry. So, we donate our day’s food to the food bank. And our donations from Yom Kippur alone support local needs for many weeks. In Hebrew, we call our donations tzedakah – acts of justice.
Our donations are also a modern version of sacrifice. The English word “sacrifice” comes from Latin. But nothing like it exists in Hebrew, our holy language. Instead, the Hebrew word that we use in the Torah (our scripture) is korban. Korban means both “coming close” and “deep within.” When we offer a Korban, we come close to God. Deep inside our hearts, all of us yearn to be held in love. In God’s love and our community’s love. And, our sages teach, God yearns for us to love our neighbours as ourselves. So, when we offer a korban, we help create a community of love. That’s the kind of spiritual community God really wants.
The practice of Ramadan seems to me to also be a practice of love. Each day, during the fast, people focus on what is most important. And then, at each evening’s Iftar (break-fast meal), they come together to feast, sharing food and love in community. Ramadan Kareem!