This year, for the first time in decades, we celebrated the two “great” days of our respective calendars on the same day. Yom Kippur, the day of atonement was celebrated on Saturday, when the Eid began.
While on the face of it fasting and feasting are opposites, the fact that these are great spiritual moments in both traditions makes them also a time for extending our thoughts to each other, as we reach out in our respective ways to God.
There are also important thematic associations.
Eid al Adha commemorates the sacrifice of Abraham’s son (nowadays universally identified as Ishmael, but identified by many medieval Muslim commentators as Isaac, as in the Bible). It is a time of remembrance of God and His saving power. In the Jewish tradition, Isaac’s sacrifice and remembrance of God are at the core of the liturgy of the New Year, which launches the High Holiday period that culminates in Yom Kippur. Jews remember Abraham’s sacrifice, Isaac’s willing collaboration and God’s compassion for us, for all of humanity, through his own inherent mercy and by virtue of Abraham’s deeds. The notion expressed in the Jewish liturgy of divine memory extending to all creatures makes the link with our Muslim brothers and sisters’ recollection of God through the same themes a point of communion.
Yom Kippur is itself a day of sacrifice and purification. The Temple, the people, the soul, are purified through the Temple sacrifice, and today in its absence, through prayer and recollection of God’s atoning power. Both sacrifice and purification are the fundamental themes of the Muslim Holy day.
The theme of purity has led to the governing color of the day being white. I just passed through Amman this week and was impressed by the sight of the pilgrims coming back from Hajj. Our sense of purification and its external expressions are so close.
In addition, both festivals are moments of remembering that what matters is not only our relationship with God but also our relationship with our brother and sister. Yom Kippur does not atone for sins committed against another, unless there is a demand of pardon from the person who was wronged. Repentance must take place both horizontally and vertically. The Eid highlights care for the other, through the sharing of the sacrifice and the social consciousness that accompanies it.
We are all on a common path, building the bridge of our way home to God with many of the same building blocks, be they stories, rituals or good deeds. The coincidence of our two great feasts is a moment to remember this fact, as our common humanity is remembered in God’s presence. Let this communion and this common quest be what unites Jews and Muslims and let the power of purification and sincere remembrance of God be more powerful than the divisive winds that cause us to forget that we are children of one Father.
Wishing you a blessed Eid
The Elijah Interfaith Institute