Shabbat: A Time to Check In

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?

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Making A Sacred Connection

Conversation
Conversation (Photo credit: Rohit Rath)

Judaism teaches us that every human being is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. We strive to honor that spark of the Divine in every person, but that is not usually instinctive. It requires learning.

The philosopher and theologian Martin Buber taught that God is present between two human beings when we make what he called the “I-Thou” connection, a real and sacred awareness between two people, a true sharing and meeting of the souls. This can only happen when we are open to the other, when we are aware of each other without objectification or distance. It is a truly sacred moment.

I would like to introduce my readers to a remarkable young woman who is willing to teach us how to communicate and connect with a person with aphasia, damage to the part of the brain involved in language. I first heard of Laura Cobb because I went to high school with her mother: a photo of Laura riding her tricycle as a very little girl was on my refrigerator for years. Laura was hit by a drunk driver in September 2008, was in a coma for three weeks, suffered a stroke, and now has aphasia. She is a highly intelligent 27 year old with a lively sense of humor.

The aphasia has presented her with challenges in conversation with both friends and strangers. Laura took the remarkable step of creating a video to assist the rest of us in learning how to communicate effectively with people with aphasia. That video has gone viral, because it’s very, very good.

If you’d like to learn how to speak and how to listen to someone with aphasia, here is the video, in the context of a Huffington Post article about Laura. Much of what she suggests is also helpful for speaking with persons who have auditory processing difficulties and other language issues as well. If you are trying to talk with someone, and you get the feeling that language is a barrier, these are things to try.

This is a video that teaches important Torah, the art of connecting with another human being. Enjoy.