by Maggid Amitai Gross
This year, Holy Week and the lead-up to Pesach coincide with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. This convergence is a unique opportunity for a “Spiritual Spring Cleaning.” Each day of this week, we offer you a brief teaching on this auspicious occasion.
Sawm (fasting during Ramadan), just like the process of bi’ur Chametz (removing/destroying forbidden food and kitchenware before Pesach) is a physical process that is only made meaningful through the psychological and spiritual work undertaken in tandem. These practices represent removing physical manifestations of excess, greed, and other antisocial behaviors that disconnect us from community and divinity. The removal of this excess is what allows us to then rebuild ourselves with practices and awareness that create a greater commitment to people around us.
For many Western Christians, the Monday after Jesus (pbuh) entered Jerusalem is the day that he cleansed the temple of the merchants and bankers who had set up shop there. According to the Synoptic Gospels, he overturned their tables and cast them out, shouting, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers!”
During Ramadan, many Muslims make an effort to read through the entire Holy Quran. How interesting that tonight’s reading for many will begin with Surah al-Anfal 41, in which the Ummah (Muslim community) are commanded that one-fifth of the war spoils gathered must be given to Allah and their Messenger, meaning to be distributed to “the orphans, the needy, and the refugees.” Additionally, the remaining four-fifths should be equitably distributed among the soldiers, according to the Musnad (collection of Hadith, compiled by Ibn Hanbal).
These two verses refer to a societal ill that Jesus (pbuh) sought to eradicate and Rasul Allah (pbuh) sought to prevent among his Ummah. That evil is best defined by the 19th century Prophet of Trier, Karl Marx, in his magnum opus, Das Kapital. He spoke of the greed of capital as “dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor.” He saw this manipulation of wealth as greed in its purest form, which drained the enrgy and effort of labor. The very existence of such greed, a yetzer harah (evil inclination), only guides one towards the unending exploitation of others, an anti-social behavior that dehumanizes one’s victims, while truly eradicating the humanity in oneself.
During this holy congruence for Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, may we seek to eradicate the yetzer harah of capital, while filling that void with the yetzer tov (good inclination) of solidarity with and liberation of labor.
Maggid Amitai Gross (he/they) is the Director of Operations for Yerusha. They were ordained by Reb Zalman as Maggid u’Ba’al Sippurim (preacher and master of stories) and uses his platform for the perpetuation of Deep Ecumenism, economic justice, and revolutionary action. They identify as a Heterodox Marxist-Chasidic-Muslim.