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Rabbi David Rosen Addresses the Closing Plenary

Rabbi David Rosen addresses the Closing Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA. The Closing Plenary was sponsored by The Fetzer Institute.

Good afternoon. It’s a great honor to be invited to be part of this call to action that concludes this Parliament, though I must claim being a little bit at a loss because what we have been doing throughout these days has been precisely a call to action.

So perhaps I could just offer a takeaway from the source that so many of us here share from the Hebrew Bible from Psalm 34. “Who is the one? Come, my children, listen to me. I will teach you the reverence of the Lord. Who is the person who seeks life, who celebrates life, loving days to do good? Turn from evil and do good, seek peace, and pursue it.”

The ancient Jewish sages 2,000 years ago noted that seeking peace and pursuing it is a very unusual language. Nowhere do we find any instruction to both seek and pursue anything other than peace. They say seek it in one place and pursue it in another and we might translate that to mean that peace is more a verb than a noun.

It is something of constant pursuit and that one can never rest on one’s laurels. We might note as many of you know that the word shalom, peace, comes from the root meaning whole, whole within ourselves, whole in our relationships with others, whole in our relationship with the divine. This Psalm, however, is telling us a great deal more.

Let me pick up from the inspiring words of Mr. Boisture. The theme of this Parliament to defend freedom and human rights is not something that is unique to the Parliament of the World’s Religions. There are many bodies that seek to advance those ideals. I would even suggest that that’s not the reason the defense of freedom and human rights are as important and as sacred as they are. That’s not the reason why we are all here. I would even suggest it’s not the reason or the original motive of why the Parliament itself was founded.

The motive behind us being here, I believe, for the vast majority of us, if not all of us. Whether we are religiously affiliated or not affiliated, or even if we’re rebelling against an institutional religion, we are here because we recognize that there is more to our existence than purely the material. There’s more to our world than purely the physical dimension. There is a spiritual dimension that we seek, that we wish to cherish, that we wish to nurture. And this psalm is telling us that if that search for spiritual meaning is really authentic, then it must lead to concrete action. That spirituality is lacking authenticity if it does not lead us in an ethical direction. That The Global Ethic text is precisely the imperative that must flow from our respective spiritualities. If we really cherish that ultimate reality that the text refers to, if we really cherish that divine presence, then we must turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it. And above all that means affirming the dignity of each and every human person regardless of race, color, creed, or orientation. And it is precisely the defense of freedom and of human rights that facilitates that authentic respect for human dignity.

An ancient sage of the Talmudic period, Rabbi Tanchuma said, “Any act of disrespect to another human being is an act of disrespect to God.” And thus, ipso facto, when we truly defend the dignity of others, we are in fact defending the dignity of the divine. And this is the charge that we must go away with to teach our communities to educate our respective traditions that if they are authentic to their spiritual aspiration, they must pursue the ethical imperative. And the psalm finally tells us one more thing, one last thing. Yes, the defense of freedom and human rights is something above all for governments and for policymakers, and we must do our best to influence them in that direction. But it is not just for governments and policymakers.

As indeed, Stephen has just reminded us, each and every one of us can contribute to that transformation. Because turning away from evil and doing good is something that each of us can do. The pursuit of goodness for each of us, no matter how small a drop it may be, will contribute to a rivulet, to a stream, to a river, to a sea of the knowledge of the divine that can transform our world.

This is our charge. This is our heritage. This is our responsibility. May we be worthy of it. Thank you.

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