Home January 2014 The Most Important Relationship

The Most Important Relationship

Thirty of us sat around the table.  A group of community leaders and rabbis had been called together by Jewish Federation & Family Services to ask the question, “What’s most important about being Jewish?”  As each person stood up, the answers took a pattern.  Two words were interchanged.  “It’s about family and community, community and family.”  I sent a text to Rabbi Yitzchak Newman, dean of the Hebrew Academy.  “Oy vey” was the whole message.  As our turn came we stood up and said, “It’s about G-d, Torah and Mitzvot.”  Our answers took a totally different theme.
My esteemed friend Professor Ron Wolfson argues in his new book, Relational Judaism, that the key to building Jewish life is creating deep personal relationships in the Chabad style.  About reaching out and truly caring about another, about building caring communities of welcoming.
These are lofty and admirable goals.  Still, we have to ask what ideas are driving the Chabad approach.  At the core of Chabad is that the central pillar of Judaism is that on Mount Sinai G-d gave the world a set of instructions, of commandments, a guidebook for life.  Our responsibility is to aspire to live up those ideals.  They are immutable, Divinely given and not subject to change.
The reason we have families is because G-d commanded us to be fruitful and multiply.  The reason we have compassion for one another is because G-d commanded us to care for one another.  The reason we observe Shabbat or kashrut is because G-d commanded us to do so.  We ask ourselves a question every day and every moment.  Are my actions living up to the teachings of the Torah?  Are my moral values based on “what I feel” or grounded on the  teachings in the Torah that reach back to that historic moment on Mount Sinai when G-d revealed His plan for the world.
It was this disparity that prompted my anguished text, “Oy vey.”  It seemed that for those around the table, it was about feeling the bond of community and family.  While that sentiment is important, in my mind, something much deeper animates Jewish life.  It’s about living up to the teachings of Torah, that every moment of life is an opportunity to bring sanctity into the world.  This tells us it’s a mitzvah to have a family.  A mitzvah for the younger generation to honor the older.  A mitzvah to support a community, a mitzvah to celebrate Passover, sit in a Sukkah or fast on Yom Kippur.  The very core of Judaism is a continuous cognizance that we are seeking to live up to the Divine teachings of the Torah that give us a path in life.
Let’s be honest: it’s not easy.  It’s a thousand decisions a day; it’s asking yourself constantly: “Do I measure up?”  It’s a vastly different approach than modern Western culture that says, “Do as you please as long as you respect the rights of others.”  To be driven by an inner compass of the Divine imperatives of the Torah causes us to focus on not just about what we feel, but what is expected from us in our Divine mission in life.
In Judaism there is no culture of rights, just one of responsibilities. The Torah teaches us that the ultimate responsibility is to G-d.  That comes about when we attempt – and we all fail at times – to live up to the Divine plan He gave the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.  As Professor Wolfson says, it’s about relationships.  The most vital is the relationship with G-d, that teaches us how to have a relationship with our fellow human beings.

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