How does one measure the distance between a dream and its realisation?
Judaism expresses its dream in the words of the Torah read tomorrow, in the words attributed to God at Sinai and which, claim the mystics, reverberate throughout creation continually so that there is not a single moment in which they are not being spoken: ‘I am the Lord your God’. It’s not simply a declaration of superiority, of spiritual imperialism, that our God is the best God, that our God is Lord and Master. It’s not a theological argument, an attempt to prove that God exists, and that this God is not three, or two, but one. Rather, it is an appeal to our experience: ‘Listen and hear. God calls out through all existence, in my own heart and in yours, in the sap of the tree and the flight of the bird. The same life-force unites us all. Beyond all difference, a great oneness embraces us all. It addresses us out of the very essence of existence, ‘I am the Lord your God’. It commands us to do what is right and good.
What notion could seem further from the palpable realities of daily experience? This world seems to be all about difference. Many of these distinctions are blindly obvious; a person isn’t a horse or a dog, and what does a cat share with a tree? Surely therefore the mystics must be deluded when they speak of that great oneness uniting all life!
Other differences may be less generic, yet their injustice divides up our world none the less: the difference between a terrified child desperately trying to find shelter together with his parents in a basement in the Syrian town of Homs, and you or I enjoying the snow in Finchley; the difference between a baby coming into consciousness in an orphanage in China or the Ukraine, and a baby surrounded by joy and love and plenty; the difference between a free person and a slave forced to live in a basement for a decade.
Yet further kinds of difference may prove the most intractable of all, the tragic hatred we sometimes witness between gentile and Jew, Muslim and unbeliever, the person who finds salvation in Jesus and the person who fails to do so. In this way we turn religion into its opposite, a form of idolatry with which to create a another kind of racism and divide up the world into supposedly conflicting beliefs, – when the heart and essence of faith is a great call to the oneness of life, the unity of God, of which every single one of us without exception is a vital part.
Thus tragically, injustice, hatred, insensitivity and lack of vision can lead us far from the world in which God is one.
Do we give up? Do we abandon our dream and say, ‘Thus is life; every person for him- or herself, every nation for itself, every faith for itself’?
Surely not; surely never! Maybe that is what the prophet Zecharaiah meant when he said, ‘In that day shall God be one’. It isn’t the apparent reality now, it may be far off in the future, but we shall not abandon the hope that one day not only will God be one, as God always is, but we will recognise and live that truth out on this earth.
With that hope we determine to work for social justice, and for an end to racism and hatred, and for the courage to live by that truth which our spirit hears and knows, that all life belongs together and that all life is the gift of God, a sacred part of God’s very essence and being.