You. Me. We. I. Us. Them. They’re not
just pronouns. They define who we are, who we’re with, how we exist. In
relationships. It is not good for us to be alone. God knew that right from the
start, and said so in Bereshit 2:18. We were created in relationship to the
earth, for a relationship with each other and through a relationship with God. We
were created in community.
What makes a community strong? Our
communities are an accumulation of individual relationships, each one plus each
one, knitting the fabric between us. More than ever, todays we choose to be
part of the communities with which we are identified. More than ever, we form
our own circles, and leave the ones we don’t want to be in anymore.
In the Jewish community, it takes real
effort to stay in the circle. With all the choices we have, with all the ways
there to spend our time and our dollars, there has to be a compelling reason to
stay in the community. The reason, it seems, is relationships. It all boils
down to that.
In Ron Wolfson’s recent book Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community,
he identifies a variety of relationships, ranging from the one we have with
ourselves, to the one we have with the Divine. In between are the connections we
have with our friends, families, the community, Israel, our heritage (Torah), and
the world. It is relationships, not practice, theology, denomination, or a
building, that will keep people in the circle. If the relationship is strong,
the connection to the group will be strong.
says relationships are all about experiences and stories. Stories about the
experiences. Doing things with others that become experiences that you tell
stories about. Connecting over telling stories about shared experiences, and
trusting that those stories and experiences will continue to mean something to
the other half.
it’s not just the good things that keep you in a particular relationship. There
are the stories of how relationships break down, too, and they have their own
hold on us. We find one of them in Ki Tisa in the book of Exodus. This is the
lowest point in several relationships—the one between the people Israel and Moses,
between Israel and Aaron, between Aaron and Moses, and between each of them and
God. Faith and trust were at the core of them all.
doesn’t trust Moses to come back down from the mountain: “When the people saw
that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered
against Aaron… ‘Come make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses…
we do not know what has happened to him.’”
(Ex 32:1) Aaron supervises the
building of the Golden Calf, and when Moses eventually comes back down, he is
horrified; he drops the sacred tablets. The relationship between the brothers
is completely shattered. Moses can’t believe Aaron let him down so badly, disappointed
by his faithlessness; Aaron is wondering why Moses abandoned him. God is furious that the people were so easily
swayed, and Moses is annoyed that he has to clean up this huge mess.
this was the nadir of relationships at Sinai, ultimately they were repaired. It
took true repentance, putting aside anger, acknowledging the disappointment,
awareness of misdeeds, and the step-by-step rebuilding of trust to move past it
all. Yet, this very catastrophe—the experience itself—became an essential part
the story we’ve told to each other ever since, connecting us. Knowing we got so
close to the brink and still could salvage the relationship became our strength.
If we can tell even that story with passion and conviction, we won’t want to step
out of the circle again.
we can harness the power of the stories that connect us, our relationships will
be that much more secure.
Anita Silvert is a
freelance teacher and writer, living in Northbrook. You can read more of her
weekly Torah musings on her blog, Jewish Gems, www.anitasilvert.wordpress.com.