Rabbi Gerry Serotta
Part 3 – 23:00 – 31:25
The Midrash says, the people, also, when they were building; they were so intent on building this high tower to grandiose themselves that if a brick fell off from a scaffold they would start weeping delaying them, but if a person fell off they would just keep building, and build that person into the building. That`s what happens, apparently, when there is a totalitarian project, when everybody tries to think alike and speak alike, that is not God`s plan.
God`s plan is exemplified better by another building from the Prophet Isaiah, which forecasts that at the end of time, on this earth, not in the next world, which we believe as a matter of faith but this is also a matter that there will be a time when the house will be constructed, a house of prayer for all peoples, according to the Prophet Isaiah, and this house of prayer will be called my house, and it would be the house of prayer for all peoples, nations will come from all the world but they will not come as one form of worship, that house of prayer will be the house of prayer for all peoples, they will come in their languages, with their religions, we will all be able to stand under one roof and pray under one roof, maybe in different rooms, why not in different rooms and different ways, and that`s what I would like to imagine in any house of worship, a beautiful Masjid like this one, or in the synagogue or church or house of worship for any of our sisters and brothers, as this a place where all nations can come and pray as they are and that would be house that God wants us to build.
So let me say a couple of words about understanding a challenge, I have already dealt with what looks like the most challenging text within Judaism, “us versus them”, many chosen this, can be understood as the distinctive covenant for the Jewish people and why would not God have other covenants and other revelations and pass that revelation. The text that frequently the most challenging text to me as a person who believes peacebuilding and works in peacebuilding, are the text in the scripture that talk about completely wiping out entire nations, genocidal text, there are peoples described seven nations who were native to the land of Canaan, that are to be wiped out because they are idol-worshipping nations, men, women and children, that`s an instruction. There is a particular group the Amalekites, who you are supposed to read about them once when we pass through reading of the five books of Moses every year, and you are supposed to remember them again on a particular Sabbath. They are to be utterly blotted out from the face of the earth.
Now it`s possible that the Rabbis, when I say the Rabbis I am talking about the Rabbis in the Talmud. Judaism is not strictly complete with the Torah as the fundamental text, the five books of Moses, and is incomplete without the moral law that was also by tradition conveyed to Moses but not completed until the Talmud was written, and that would have been something like 1500 years after the time of Moses. You can`t read the Torah which was “eye for an eye and the tooth for a tooth” and understand that God wants an eye put out if somebody puts out another person`s eye, you have to put out their eye. That isn`t what the Torah says, that isn`t what God meant. God meant the value of an eye for an eye, the value of a tooth for a tooth. How do I know that? Because it is in the oral tradition in the Talmud. So, the oral tradition in the Talmud says that there are no such purely idol worshipping on the face of the earth any longer. There may have been at the time Moses and Joshua, but the nations have all been assimilated one to the other, there are no purely evil peoples in the world, there is no warrant for genocide.
And it`s complicated all of us, I mean the Western traditions I don`t know the Eastern traditions as well, we have an idea that there is permitted war, obligatory war and just war. I insist we don`t have a thing as Holy war, Holy war is an oxymoron, but there is defensive war as obligatory. There are laws about restrictions on the fighting a war, including how you treat civilians, any intentional damage on civilians, what we call terrorism these days, is against any understanding of religious tradition. So, Judaism has very specific law about before lay siege to a city, you can`t lay a siege on four sides, because people have to be able to escape and you have to warn people before you lay siege to a city, to allow noncombatants to leave. And the debate in the Talmud is, this applied even in the time those tribes that ought to have been eliminated because they practice idol worship. But we have within each of our traditions texts that are dangerous if they are not put into context. There are no such people; this is not a correct understanding of what the Arabic or the Hebrew or the Greek says, we have to interpret when we speak a different language and we have to take it in terms of historical context. So those are elements of what the ways in which we cope with dangerous texts. Let me just close with one text, what resources are there within the text for pluralism and conflict resolution. This is text in Deuteronomy that says, “when you come up on the donkey of your enemy and that donkey is struggling under a burden, you are supposed to come and help that poor, innocent animal, even though it will obviously benefit your enemy to have the animal taken care of and the burden restored.” And that is a text that I think teaches us if we act with some humanity, humaneness in response to our connection with our enemies that may shake them up a little bit to a thought that you folks did this, you believe that, so this cognitive dissonance you can create by generosity, and that`s a very small example of it, but common mourning when we have common losses is an important way that we can do this. Many strategies for conflict resolution and that is only one example but the best way for any of us to respond to the question that`s been given is to offer the opportunity to dialogue, such as today, so that we can learn from each other to do what God most wants, for each other but with each other what God wants most for humanity to do.