Fifty years ago to the day, John Lennon released the ground-breaking album, “Imagine.” The titular song is a mainstay in Peace Protests and calls to end acrimony. While not every phrase of Lennon’s utopian vision can be tagged with Jewish belief or practice (I’m thinking about “…and no religion too…”), his words echo thousands of years of Jewish teaching and a vision of a future in which all are united. We offer a similar Jewish universal sentiment in the prayer, “Aleinu.” At the end of the prayer we triumphantly proclaim, “Ba’yom HaHoo Y’hiyeh Adonai Echad u’Shmo Echad,” On that Day (the day of the messianic age) God will be One and God’s name will be One.
Ultimately, the Jewish vision of a world redeemed isn’t about everyone under the flag of Judaism, it is about a world at peace. When Lennon mentions countries, religion, and possessions, he is raising up that which has prevented us from “living for today,” sometimes even causing great harm. Lennon’s vision of a world at One is not unlike the Jewish vision. We see this through the words of Edmond Fleg, a Jewish French essayist and World War I veteran, words which we read at every Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremony provide a Jewish context for this world both he and Lennon desire (albeit from different eras):
Je suis juif, parce que la promesse d'Israël est la promesse universelle.
I am a Jew because Israel’s promise is a universal promise.
Je suis juif, parce qu'au-dessus des nations et d'Israël, Israël place l'Homme et son Unité.
I am a Jew because Israel places humanity and its unity above nations and above Israel itself.
Je suis juif, parce qu'au-dessus de l'Homme, image de la divine Unité, Israël place l'Unité divine, et sa divinité. I am a Jew because above humanity, the image of the Divine Unity, Israel places the unity which is divine.
Fleg became estranged from his Judaism in his adolescence and returned in middle age to fervent study of his Jewish identity. At the end of his most famous essay, “Why I am a Jew,” Fleg makes twelve declarations about what it means to be a Jew. Among them he states that Judaism values the unity of humanity as a goal more valuable than the People of Israel. If, as we read in Aleinu, “on that day God will be one and God’s name will be one,” then that means we have achieved the true vision of God, a world repaired and redeemed.
During these High Holy Days, our liturgy reminds us that the work envisioned in Aleinu is not yet complete, we are completing it. As Jews we know that we can only live for today, because we don’t know what tomorrow holds for us. Lennon’s prayer for peace among humanity is exactly what we pray will happen when we make true t’shuva, repentance.
May we live and work for today, and always maintain an everlasting hope that one day God will be One and God’s name will be One.