Stories can be fiction or true. Some stories are true because they accurately describe a unique event that happened a certain time and place. Other stories are events that once happened and have subsequently been dramatized by creative minds or faithful hearts. Archetypical stories that have been retold over the course of thousands of years are true not because they once occurred; but because they continually reoccur in many places and times.
One such archetypical story, transmitted orally in both Arabic and Hebrew for many centuries; and finally written down in the 19th century, in both languages and in several different versions; reveals a truth about the importance of brotherly cpncern that was exemplified in the news media just a few weeks ago. First the individual stories.
A historical Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, USA was vandalized leaving over 100 headstones damaged. In response, two Muslims Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi, created a crowd-funding campaign in order to raise funds for the Jewish Cemetery. The target was set at $20,000 and it was reached in 5 hours! In that time, 848 people (mainly Muslims) donated over $25,000 and donations tripled overnight after JK Rowling, the Harry Potter author retweeted a Jewish News story on the campaign to her 10 million followers.
The organizers say: “We were inspired by the example of our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, who stood up to pay respects for a passing Jewish funeral procession. When questioned on why he stood for a Jewish funeral, he responded, “Is it not a human soul?” [Source: Bukhari].
Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America. We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event.”
The second event took place a few weeks earlier in the small Gulf Coast city of Victoria, Texas, a place with many churches, but just one synagogue, and one mosque that was built in 2000, and burned down about 2 A.M. Saturday January 28, 2017.
Now, the synagogue has become a mosque: because the Jews of Victoria responded to the Mosque desecration, by giving the Muslims a key to their synagogue building, so the Muslims could share a place to worship with the Jews, while rebuilding their own Mosque.
“Everyone knows everybody, I know several members of the mosque, and we felt for them,” said Robert Loeb, the president of Bnai Israel, which affiliates with the Jewish Reconstructionist movement.
On Sunday January 29, the Victoria community held an interfaith event in front of the mosque. Through local donations and a GoFundMe page, the mosque raised over $900,000 from 18,000+ people to rebuild the mosque.
These two accounts of brotherly love are modern descendants of the following archetypical fable that illustrates how two holy places can be as closely connected as two lungs, even though they are far apart geographically and exist in different religious worlds. Some say this happened in the generation of Noah others say it was when Abraham was born.
“Two brothers who inherited a ‘valley to hilltop’ farm from their father divided the land in half so that each one could farm his own section. Over time, the older brother married and had four children, while the younger brother was still not married.
One year there was very little rain, and the crop was very meager. This was at the beginning of a long term drought that would turn the whole valley into an arid, treeless, desert where even grain did not grow, and all the springs dried up.
The younger brother lay awake one night praying and thought: “My brother has a wife and four children to feed, and I have no children. He needs more grain than I do; especially now when grain is scarce.”
So that night, the younger brother went to his barn, gathered a large sack of wheat, and left his wheat in his brother’s barn. Then he returned home, feeling pleased with himself.
Earlier that very same night, the older brother was also lying awake praying for rain when he thought: “In my old age, my wife and I will have our grown children to take care of us, as well as grandchildren to enjoy, while my brother may have no children. He should at least sell more grain from his fields now, so he can provide for himself in his old age.
So that night, the older brother also gathered a large sack of wheat, and left it in his brother’s barn, and returned home, feeling pleased with himself.
The next morning, the younger brother, surprised to see the amount of grain in his barn seemed unchanged, said “I did not take as much wheat as I thought. Tonight I will take more.”
That same morning, the older brother, standing in his barn, was thinking the same thoughts.
After night fell, each brother gathered a greater amount of wheat from his barn and in the dark, secretly delivered it to his brother’s barn.
The next morning, the brothers were again puzzled and perplexed. “How can I be mistaken?” each one thought. “There’s the same amount of grain here as there was before. This is impossible! Tonight I will make no mistake—I will take two large sacks.”
The third night, more determined than ever, each brother gathered two large sacks of wheat from his barn, loaded them onto a cart, and slowly pulled his cart toward his brother’s barn. In the moonlight, each brother noticed a figure in the distance.
When the two brothers got closer, each recognized the form of the other and the load he was pulling, and they both realized what had happened!
Without a word, they dropped the ropes of their carts, ran to each other and embraced.”
Only God can make something mundane into something holy; and God thought the brothers’ love and concern for each other made their descendants worthy to rebuild a primordial Holy House in this valley; and later to build a new Holy House on that far hill, where the descendants of one brother would live, and a descendant of the other brother would visit to ascend to heaven.
So God sent Messengers to their descendants to guide them to do this.
Christians and Jews say the hilltop is Jerusalem. Muslims say the valley is Makka. I say they are both right.
God gave humans one heart to love God as individuals, and two lungs for communities to recycle the holy spirit within human beings, among human communities, and between all humans and God.
When all those, both near and far, who revere these two sacred places as a standard, share it in love with everyone else who reveres it, then Abraham’s request for Allah to “make this a land of peace, and provide its people with the produce of the land” (Qur’an 2:126) will be extended throughout the world; and all the children of Adam, Noah and Abraham will live in Holiness, Peace and Prosperity.
Rabbi Maller’s web site is: www.rabbimaller.com