This past week I had the great pleasure of attending two Iftar Dinners. As this month is the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, each evening there are dinners to break the fast where people gather together. On Sunday night I attended the Melton community centre and on Wednesday evening I attended an Iftar dinner hosted by AFL player Bashar Houli’s foundation at the MCG.
As part of these events, I was asked to speak on a panel about the reasons different religions use fasting as part of their rituals. I explained that in Judaism food is often removed when we need to increase our devotion and concentration and not be distracted. I used the example of Yom Kippur when we are like angels before G-d and, therefore, do not need to attend to our physical needs, like eating on this most spiritual and solemn day.
In addition, I highlighted the other 5 fast days of the year in the Jewish calendar, which commemorate sad periods and events in Jewish history, with the saddest day of the year, Tisha B’av, epitomizing a fast day commemorating tragedy and calamity.
It was very interesting to learn about other religion’s fasting traditions and I always come away from these events enriched by the knowledge that I have gained. Attending many interfaith events over the years has been a rich learning experience which has also continued my commitment to dialogue and interactions with other faith leaders to break down stereotypes and stigma.
The current period we are in, where we count the Sefirat HaOmer leading up to Shavuot, has many important messages for our life. As we count each day, there is an idea that we reflect on our practices and incrementally increase our devotion as well as commitment to bettering ourselves leading up to Shavout.
Upon conclusion of the 49 days we arrive on the 50th day — Mattan Torah. After we have achieved all we can accomplish through our own initiative, traversing and refining every emotional corner of our psyche, we then receive a gift (‘mattanah’ in Hebrew) from above. We receive that which we could not achieve with our own limited faculties. We receive the gift of true freedom — the ability to transcend our human limitations and touch the divine.
This week, getting out and about chatting with people from other communities, learning about their traditions showed me just how much we all have in common with each other. This is the true beauty of Australia, a great multicultural, tolerant society we are blessed to live in.