“Ethical Connection & The Light of the Holidays” – SRQ Text Study

Sarasota Interfaith Scriptural Reasoning Session at Temple Beth-Sholom, Dec 1st, 2016

With over 35 people turning out for our December Sarasota Abrahamic Reunion meeting, including Rabbi Michael Werbow (Temple Beth-Sholom, our host), Fr. Joe Clifford and Mary Homola (St. Thomas More Catholic Church), David and Anna Less (Rising Tide International) , Sheikh Abedelsalam Manasra (Sufi Muslim Sheikh from Nazareth) and Ted Brownstein (Baha’i, Lake Worth Interfaith Coalition), conversation was bubbling and exuberant. Ted gave out free copies of his booklet “Interfaith Prayer Book” and David offered copies of his book Universal Meditations as a gift to all participants, and the themes of connection and light brought out the inner light of all who participated.


Sheikh Ghassan Manasra (far L), and his father Sheikh Abed Manasra (far R), as Ghassan begins the gathering.

Sheikh Ghassan Manasra led the meeting, and was joined by his father Sheikh Abed Elsalam Manasra Sr. and his two daughters Zainab and Zuhaira at the meeting. Zainab and Ghassan’s father are visiting Sarasota for the next 6 months.

After Rabbi Michael Werbow of Temple Beth-Sholom started off the session, we heard presentations from the Clergy on topic.


Rabbi Michael Werbow giving us a historical evolution of the Hannukah ritual as an extension of Sukkot, and the rabbinical discussions around when to light the candles.

Rabbi Werbow shared how the Jewish tradition holds up examples of becoming a “Lamplighter” – and that to become a lamplighter and bring divine light into the world is one of the highest aspirations. The Torah lays out a path for becoming a lamplighter:

“The Hasid asked: “How does one become a lamplighter?”

The Rebbe replied: “One must begin with oneself, cleansing oneself, becoming more refined, then one sees the other as a source of light, waiting to be ignited. When, Heaven forbid, one is crude, then one sees but crudeness; but when one is noble, one sees nobility.”

“The soul of the human is a lamp of God,” and it is also written, “A mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is a light.” A Jew is one who puts personal affairs aside and goes around lighting up the souls of others with the light of Torah and mitzvoth. That is the true calling of a Jew – to be a lamplighter, an igniter of souls.”

 (by Menachem Mendle Schneersohn)

Rabbi Werbow explained that in Hannukah can lighting another candle for each day mirrors the idea that “One of our jobs in life is to Increase our light and increase our holiness as we go on in life.”

He also showed the group a video of a Jewish stand-up comedian Yisrael Campbell who talked about how much consideration goes into the feelings of a Hannukah candle – “The second candle gets lit first. Why? It might be nervous. Because the first candle was already lit. So the second candle gets lit first. Out of consideration for the feelings of a candle!” Rabbi Werbow pointed out that this is a form of ethical teaching woven in by anthropomorphizing the candles, which is also done with the bread and wine blessed on Shabbat.


Fr. Joe Clifford of St. Thomas More, sharing his insight into Catholic and Celtic Christian traditions of Advent and Christmas

Father Joe of St. Thomas More Catholic Church continued on the candle theme by teaching our group about Advent Candles – which are lit in succession on the four weeks leading up to Christmas so that 4 weeks before Christmas (the 1st week of Advent) there is one candle lit. The next week there are 2 candles lit. And so on until on Christmas you have all four advent candles lit, plus one candle lit especially for Christmas.

“Our tradition is based on the Jewish tradition so we’re connected so so beautifully,” he said. “In the Celtic Faith Tradition Advent…is a waiting period…it’s about sitting in the barrenness of the desert and whatever comes comes. And the Candle is a reminder of that, to almost empty ourselves to be filled with the light. The candle is symbolic of the light of Christ” which is renewed in the faith community every Christmas…”re-birthing the Christ-child within us.”


Rev. Chris Miller of Rising Tide brought several quotes from the Sufi tradition in regard to ethical human connection, including Rumi and Inayat Khan:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing,

there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

The world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.”

 Jelaluddin Rumi, 13th Sufi Poet


“The secret is that our benefit in life depends upon the benefit of others. We are dependent upon each other…If you wish to be happy, think of the happiness of your fellow people.” 

– Inayat Khan

Chris also shared that in the Sufism of Rising Tide, there is an emphasis put on rising above the ethic of reciprocity – ‘an eye for an eye’ – and into the ethic of beneficence – wishing well even giving boon for curse – and even to go beyond this one step further in the ethic of unity – seeing the interdependence and interconnection in each interaction so keenly as to realize that every action towards another is the exact same action towards oneself.


Ted Brownstein (middle), AR Advisory Board Member, Baha’i, member of Lake Worth Interfaith Association, joined us from the Palm Beach area.

And Sheikh Ghassan Manasra shared a few suras of the Qu’ran, including the Prayer Of Light, to go along with the theme of the light of the holidays:

O God! Grant me Light in my heart,
Light in my grave,
Light in front of me, Light behind me,
Light to my right, Light to my left,
Light above me, Light below me,
Light in my ears, Light in my eyes,
Light on my skin, Light in my hair,
Light within my flesh, Light in my blood,
Light in my bones.

O God! Increase my Light everywhere.

O God! Grant me Light in my heart,
Light on my tongue, Light in my eyes, Light in my ears,
Light to my right, Light to my left,
Light above me, Light below me,
Light in front of me, Light behind me,
and Light within my self; increase my Light.

 The Prophet’s Prayer, Hadith

Zainab Manasra recaps her group's discussion of the weeks' texts.

Zainab Manasra recaps her group’s discussion of the weeks’ texts.

A lively discussion amongst small groups ensued, leading to much ethical human connection, and the shining of light in many an eye.

The next AR Sarasota event will be a night of Music, Middle Eastern Food, and Interfaith Peace, January 7th at Rising Tide International.

Exact times TBA – Tentative Timing: Food at 7:00pm, Music starting 8:00pm, as a fundraiser for the Abrahamic Reunion. We are blessed to have Sheikh Ghassan’s son Abed (AR Israel Co-Director) and Abed’s wife Isra in town – they are professional Middle Eastern Musicians and will provide beautiful music.

The next AR Sarasota text study will be January 26th, time TBA.

We hope to see you there – wishing everyone a peaceful winter season of Advent, Hannukah, Christmas, and Gregorian Calendar New Year!

Catholic, Conservative Jewish, and Baha'i friends smile after a beautiful meeting.

Catholic, Conservative Jewish, and Baha’i friends smile after a beautiful meeting.