On being Called to Celebrate Difference

Managing Editor’s note: all Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.

Sh’ma Israel Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad!” (Deut. 6:4) “Hear o Israel the Lord our god the Lord is One”. This sentence is probably the one most known by Jews. We say it when we get up, during the day and when we go to sleep. We are instructed: “you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes” (the tfilin, worn daily at prayer) “and you shall inscribe them upon the doorpost of your house and upon your gates” (the mezuza, affixed to the door-frame) (Deut. 6: 8-9). That is to say that even the mind’s reminder is not enough, you should add physical reminders, on your body, on your house.

Reminders of what? The “Sh’ma” is most commonly interpreted as the expression of monotheism, as a manifesto of faith and identity; and it is that but not only…

I see the “Sh’ma” as the expression of our commitment to universalism.

“Hear oh Israel!” we are addressing our collective as the people of Israel and our particularity. Our God, the one we labor, “the Lord is one”, we add. But we also believe that God created Man in His own image. Therefore God himself, though He is one, must be as infinite as the variety of human beings and their creativity in the world. In fact, the expression of the different human beings uncovers to us a bit of God. And our particularity is just one important piece in a jigsaw-puzzle of religions and ethical identities which all connect, in their particular ways, to the same One.

In this context concepts like tolerance or acceptance are actually not enough. Even the condition of mutual respect should be replaced by the mutual aspiration to love. This is not a proposition to cancel identities or to make a melting pot; It is exactly the opposite. This is a calling to strengthen our own particularity and at the same time to increase the understanding that all of us, by expressing ourselves, are partners in discovering God. In the words of one my rabbis – we are called to celebrate the differences and to create unity in the diversity. Because our God, the Lord, is one!

One of the Jewish sages explains that the first commandment – “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Deut. 20:2) – is the duty to know God. We say in our (Jewish) prayer for peace, “we didn’t come to this world to quarrel and dispute but to know ‘You’ better”.

Why are we committed to building relationships? I continue reading in Deut. 6:5, immediately after “The Sh’ma” : ” And you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your means”.

Loving God is loving and getting to know human beings. With all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our means.

Let’s celebrate the differences!

Shalom – Peace

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2 thoughts on “On being Called to Celebrate Difference

  1. This is an important – and kindly communicated, I might add! – corrective to the postmodern mantra of “celebrating diversity.” By this, I mean the anemic and calculated theory of the “melting pot” that takes pride in the inclusion of “diverse identities” sprinkled in and inevitably drowned out by the dominant identities. What you have implied is something that is almost always missed in these “Celebrate Diversity/We’re a Melting Pot” campaigns: the operation of power. Diversity does not (usually) concern itself with a redistribution of power, so that “interfaith” collaborations end up with certain groups who traditionally enjoy inclusion in power centers dominating the forum and setting the agenda. In this article, your urging of us to shift from mutual respect (which, again, leaves power differentials intact) to mutual aspiration to love requires self-giving, the divestment and dispersal of power, and the concern for the impact of power dynamics on those in our midst, across differences. This is what love requires, and you have offered a beautiful and persuasive alternative way of conceiving a celebration of difference. Thank you for this contribution!

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