Kislev: Seeking the Deep Source of Jewish and Muslim Connection in Dark Times

Sunday, November 23, 2014 begins the new Jewish month of Kislev.

According to the Chassidic master, Bnei Yissaschar, Kislev is "Kes" "Lamed Vav", or the Hidden 36 righteous people in every generation. It is also the month in the Northern Hemisphere with the least amount of day light. It is a month of hidden light that we access during Chanukah.

This idea of hidden light speaks to me this week with the awful synagogue massacre here in Jerusalem. Manifestations of darkness, whether in dramatic physical violence and murder or in daily humiliations are abundant in this great land. We are called to seek the light.

Last week's parsha, Chayei Sarah, has a powerful image that speaks to the hidden light. Early in the parsha there is a reference to the town of Hebron, where Sarah is buried. Hebron, means "friend" or "connection" from the Hebrew root Ch.V.R. The city's Arabic name, Al-Khalil, has the same meaning. But where is the friendship and connection today? Anyone who has been to Hebron over the past 20 years knows that it is a very hidden light.

Towards the end of the parsha we are told that Yitzchak comes from the direction of Ba'er Lechai Ro'I, the "Well of the Living One who sees me (JPS translation)" and goes out to the field in the late afternoon and prayed (literally - had a conversation in the field). This Ba'er Lechai Ro'I is a very interesting place. It is the place of Hagar and Yishmael. Hagar names the well after the angel of God appears to her and tells her to go back to Avraham and Sarah and give birth. Rashi tells us that Yitzchak went to the well to bring Hagar to remarry Avraham after Sarah's death. Yitzchak also seems to have an independent connection to the well. After Avraham's death the Torah tells us that he went to live at the well. We see here a deep yearning for reconnection between half-brothers and a man and woman who were driven apart due to circumstances and perhaps the necessity of the moment. But the yearning for reconnection remains. However, it is a deep yearning and not perceptible on the surface where all that divides dominates. For us contemporary children of Yishmael and Yitzchak there is so much separating us - our narratives, our fear and anger. So we need to go deeper. The well is a symbolic reminder that deep underneath there is a source of connection.

Yitzchak comes from an encounter with this connection to Yishmael and Hagar and goes out לשוח בשדה/to speak/pray in the field. Talmud Bavli Brachot teaches that we learn the three daily prayer services from Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. The Talmud gives a prooftext for each of the patriarchs. Avraham is "Amad" before God- he "Stands" before God, which is interpreted to mean prayer. Yaakov is "P'gah B'makom," he "encounters the place" which is interpreted to mean he prayed. "P'gah" also means to strike or bump into. Avraham is the founder of Monotheism, he takes stands. Yaakov's life is filled with battles with the people around him. The prooftext for Yitzchak's contribution to prayer has a different feel to it. He "Speaks/prays in the field." A Siach, or Sicha is a dialogic encounter. It is a conversation. A sicha has a gentleness to it that implies that both parties are open to being influenced by the encounter. Coming from the well, the place of deep connection, Yitzchak is able to open up to a generative interaction with God.

Shortly after this we see the first instance of love in the Torah. We are told that Yitzchak loved his wife, Rivka. Remembering deep connection leads to an open encounter with the other which leads to love. We are then told that Yishmael and Yitzchak came together to bury their father, Avraham, in Hebron. They return to the city whose name means "connection" and can engage in a sacred act as brothers.

In these days of darkness may the descendants of Yishmael and the descendants of Yitzchak remember that there is a deep source that connects us all. May that memory enable us to raise up our common holy places and holy land together.