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Rabbi's Week in Review - 2/5/2024

02/05/2024 04:06:33 PM


I had the chance to have breakfast this past week with a valued friend, the Rev. Dr. Rodney Williams. As always, the conversation was far-ranging, catching up on the personal, the work of our respective congregations, and our shared work in pursuing justice.  

How we approach our various relationships seems to be a topic that crosses all facets of our lives. More specifically, whether the way we and others engage is done just for the value of being in relationship or whether the relationships being formed are transactional.

On one level, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being in a transactional relationship. The person working the cash register at Costco or when I buy a coffee, or when I take my car in to be checked out by the mechanic — all these are transactional relationships. There is nothing about these encounters that can’t be courteous and enjoyable, and with a sense of appreciation for the person providing the service.

Yet, for those with whom I have contact over an extended period of time, my desire is to be in relationship simply for the sake of being in relationship. It is the need to honor the other in the relationship, to see them as being created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of G-d. It is what Martin Buber described as an “I-Thou” relationship, rather than an I-It relationship.

I have been blessed with a number of I-Thou relationships. They come fairly readily in my personal life, my relationships with the family and friends with whom I am closest. I also find they come easily in my relationships at Kol Ami. Within our synagogue community, I am grateful that people who choose to be a part of our Kol Ami family appreciate the value of relationship for the sake of relationship, to simply appreciate the others in our lives.

As to my justice/community organizing work, while I have relationships that are I-Thou (the Rev. Dr. Williams certainly being amongst those relationships), from time to time there are those who can’t get beyond the level of engaging on a transactional level — i.e., what is your agenda, and here is my agenda. Not too long ago, I severed ties with an organization I had worked with for many years. My decision to do so was provoked by a specific incident. Yet, when I look back on it, the greater issue with the organization was that it operated on a transactional level and, as I painfully discovered, was not interested in entering into an I-Thou relationship. This notwithstanding that, through doing one-on-ones as part of the organization’s work, I had the great blessing of forming a number of I-Thou relationships.  

In this week’s Torah portion, we are commanded to not oppress the stranger. Arguably, this can be accomplished on a transactional level. We don’t really have to engage; we just have to not engage in an oppressive manner.   

However, our Written Torah also commands us to love the stranger. Loving the stranger suggests that we engage with people not like us on a deeper level; we need to appreciate what they bring into the world that we do not, and to be in an I-Thou relationship. Ultimately, even in community organizing, to pursue a more just world we must truly know and appreciate the “strangers in our midst” simply for being who they are, rather than what they can do for us.

Mon, July 15 2024 9 Tammuz 5784