Hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is one.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.
There are approximately 23 million Sikhs in the world. I learned this from Manbir SIngh, a brightly turbaned young man with a well-tended beard, full of love for his faith and sharing it. He was a volunteer for the Sikh Youth Federation that had a presentation at a local university. The group caught my attention when they asked if I would like to have a turban tied on my head. No. But I had been promising myself to write about Sikhism and Judaism because I felt we were kindred spirits. As we talked and shared the beliefs, rituals and symbols of our two religions I realized that we have much in common. We must remember that we have friends from many different faiths. We just need to spend time together.
Sikhism is fairly new, beginning with the birth of the first Guru in 1469. The religion grew up in the Punjab region of India. There have been 10 human Gurus, the last living Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji died in 1708. Before he passed, he gave “Guruship” to the eternal and final Guru of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, a living scripture.
Just as Judaism, ethical monotheism, was a revolutionary worldview when the Jewish people bought it out of the desert 3500 year ago so too did Sikhism come from a place that did not practice their new views and ethic.
The first Guru preached the belief in 1-one God a wondrous God, called Vaheguru– Infinite Source and the Source of everything. The Guru preached freedom from slavery and oppression, equality for all, and of all because each of us has a light within that comes from 1-one God, like the divine spark, that makes all equal no matter race, religion, gender, nationality, sexual orientation. Sikhism stresses monotheism, individual morality and martial valour.
This was revolutionary because Sikhs were a minority living amongst Hindus who believed in a caste system and Muslims who practiced Dhimmitude.
Like the Jews, the Sikhs had passed their holy words down orally through the 10 living Gurus and now follow their own written scripture they call the 11th Guru, Guru Granth Sahib, the first non-living Guru, which contains their oral history and divine wisdom; their Torah. It is the Truth as revealed directly from the 1. Sound familiar?
Sikhs sing their praises to God and sing of their emotions in community in “holy company” as a way to get closer to God. The words express all human feelings. When Manbir Singh said that to me I told me of our Psalms. Sikhs believe singing the divine words awakens the soul. Like Torah. Right after my return home from the exhibit I found this quote from an article by Rabbi Sacks: “From quite early on in Jewish history, the Torah was sung, not just read. Moses at the end of his life calls the Torah a song.”
Like the Jews, Sikhs have symbols to remind them of their responsibility to their God, to follow the right path at all times. Sikhs
Sikhs promise not to cut their hair in respect of God’s creation and let it grow as a symbol of their faith. Because during their lifetimes it will get very long they wear turbans to keep it tidy. They believe that this demonstrates their obedience to God.
The kanga is a small comb used to keep their long hair tidy, but it is more than that; it is a symbol to remind them to keep their lives in order and “comb” away impure thoughts.
The kara is a steel bangle worn on the right arm… a closed circle with no beginning and no end…as with God there is no beginning and no end. It is a reminder to behave well, keep faith and restrain from wrong doing. Wearing it will remind a Sikh of his duties.
The Kachera is similar to a soldier’s undershorts, a loose, white, cotton undergarment symbolizing a high moral character and spiritual freedom…All baptised Sikhs wear a similar item…that remind Sikhs of their lifelong battle to do right.
The Kirpan: The warrior’s sword. These days a small one is worn as a symbol of dignity and self-respect. It demonstrates power and reminds Sikhs that they must fight a spiritual battle, defend the weak and oppressed, and uphold the truth.
“It is a Sikh’s sacred duty, without fear or anger, to defend
the weak and protect the innocent.”
Like tefillin, tallis, tzittzit, and the mezuzah, symbols are used to remind Sikhs of the right path.
With the completion of their Golden Temple, June 24, 1604 in Amritsar, Punjab, the custom to feed all in need took place each day in the Temple. Called Langar, this sanctified meal where all eat together as equals, today feeds tens of thousands of pilgrim who visit daily. One of the core tenets of Sikhism is that food is a right, not a privilege.
Feed the hungry, care for the widow and orphan, visit the sick, bury the dead; Gemilut Hasidim
The Golden Temple was built with four entrances, one on each side, open to the four corners of the world, to welcome all people regardless of caste, class, color, or creed. A bridge extends from the Temple to the Akal Takhat, the governing body of religious authority for Sikhs. The Guru Granth is kept in the Akal Takhat after hours. Like Solomon’s Temple, the Golden Temple, embracing the word of God, is near those responsible for the justice for their people. Their Sanhedrin.
The Sikhs, like the Jews respect the religions of others. Their belief system is very reminiscent of The Noahite laws. Sikhs will protect the rights of others to practice their beliefs but will never proselytize.
“Sikhs respect and will act to protect the free practice and the beliefs and traditions of other religions.”
“There is but One God, His name is Truth, He is the Creator, He fears none, he is without hate, He never dies, He is beyond the cycle of births and death, He is self-illuminated, He is realized by the kindness of the True Guru. He was True in the beginning, He was True when the ages commenced and has ever been True, He is also True now.” (Japji Sahib)
I was, I am, I will be.