Image: Two children’s hands linked by their little fingers. One has chipped nail polish. (cherylholt/pixabay)
One of Judaism’s profoundest lessons is the importance of human relationship. Our Tanakh begins with the story of a lonely God, who arranges a world full of plants and animals and human beings. Then God realizes that “It is not good for the human to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) and God creates an ezer, a companion to ease the human’s loneliness. (Ezer shares a root with the verb la’azor, meaning “to help, assist, succor.”)
Adam and Eve ate together from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and they were expelled from the Garden together. One of their children murdered his brother, but their names were linked forever: Cain and Abel.
The stories in the Bible are stories about relationships: Noah and God, Abram and God, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Rachel and Leah were the siblings who didn’t kill each other, although I have wondered if it ever crossed their minds. Was Jacob ever in a genuine relationship with anyone, or did he stand by and play them off, one against the other, first his wives and then his children?
Not all relationships are love relationships. Nathan rebuked David. Ezra rebuked the remnant of Israel. Ruth loved her mother-in-law but it is less clear that Naomi loved her back. Bezalel and Oholiab were partner-builders in Exodus 31; I wish we knew more about them.
Martin Buber famously taught us that moments of genuine connection between human beings (“I/Thou relationships”) are a mirror of the relationship between the human being and God. We human beings have a profound need for the Other, someone not ourselves.
It is tragic that we also have a profound fear of the Other. The person who is not me can be a friend or an enemy: an ezer or a Cain. The only way to find out is to take a risk, and to keep taking the risk of relationship. Those who will not take a risk, risk being alone.
This Shabbat, let us take stock of our relationships. How long has it been since my last I/Thou moment? How long since I took the risk of really listening to someone else?