Today is February 20, 2020 -
Jewish worship services traditionally end with a prayer that was added to our liturgy more than seventeen hundred years ago. It is known by its first Hebrew word: Aleynu. Aleynu l’shabeach la-adon ha-kol, la-teit gedula l-yotzeir b’reishit – “It is on us to praise the Lord of all, to give greatness to the Creator” – we identify God as the One Who Created everything and everyone – that is: out of One, many. In the very next line of the prayer, we acknowledge Jewish particularity:
She-lo asanu ke-goyei ha-aratzot, ve’lo samanu ke’mishpechot ha-adama,
She-lo sam chelkeinu kahem ve-goraleinu ke-khol ha-monam
“[God], Who has not made us as the (other) nations of the lands, and Who has not situated us like the families of the earth, Who did not make our portion as theirs, nor our fate as all the multitudes.”
That is: we are different, we are different, we are different, we are different.
The prayer continues:
Va-anakhnu kor’im u-mishtachavim u-modim
Lifnei Melekh, malkhei ha-melakhim, ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu.
“We bend our knees and prostrate ourselves and give thanks before the King, the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be God.” The prayer continues with a reiteration that God is the Creator of all – He is God, there is no other.”
The author of the prayer, the third century Babylonian sage, Rav, lived in a society in which the majority culture worshipped gods, but not necessarily gods that made moral and ethical demands upon all people and did not necessarily hold people responsible for their behavioral choices.
In the second paragraph of the prayer – [we Jews are not knows for the brevity of our prayers] – we speak of repairing our world under the Kingship of God. And the prayer ends with a quote from the prophet Zecharia , in which the prophet looks forward to a day ve-hayah Adonai l’melekh al kol ha-aretz – “that God will rule over all the earth” Ba-yom ha-hu yihyei Adonai echad u-shemo echad – “on that day, Adonai will be One and His Name One.”
Creation begins with One. But each community, each ethnicity, each religion is part of a mosaic that constitutes a nation. Each of us can – and should – say: we are different, we are different, we are different, we are different.
But for the sake of our great nation, it is important that each religious tradition needs to teach that we are one nation, under God – that is, one nation made up of many communities that are each answerable to God. This is the challenge of our increasingly god-less and anti-religious society, a society that increasingly no longer believes that we are answerable to God for our moral and ethical choices. We may argue about what is right and what is good, what is moral and what is ethical – what it is precisely that God expects of us. But we agree that God demands this of all human beings and humanity. May we each be a light to each other as we struggle to understand what God wants of us as individuals and as members of our respective religious communities. If we can achieve this, perhaps then our very multiplicity will proclaim that God will be One and God’s Name will be One.