Many years ago Shimon Peres and Jordan’s King Hussein rose to thank their host for a private dinner in his London apartment. As dessert dishes were cleared, they prepared to depart from their elegant and cordial meal. “Where are you going?” inquired their host, Lord Mishcon, “You haven’t done the dishes yet?” “Are you serious?” they replied. “Quite” their host convincingly said. They loosened their ties, removed their jackets, and went into the kitchen for a half-hour where one washed and the other dried. Both Peres and Hussein would later say that the bond that developed between them during their side-by-side cleanup in the kitchen was far deeper than the polite face-to-face conversation they shared over the meal.
Side-by-side projects can forge bonds where face-to-face dialogue cannot. Consider this contemporary illustration where sharing a beverage can only follow sharing a task. God’s Torah understood this long ago. Peoplehood is not solidified with the Exodus or by Sinai. It is forged by a shared side-by-side building project which requires its citizens to assemble and disassemble the Tabernacle forty times during their wilderness journey.
Face-to-face listening and dialogue are vital. They generate learning and have their time. Yet as we enter the New Year 5778, with people expressing unrecognizable versions of what’s wrong in our world and what needs to be done to make it right, the time for side-by-side tasks has arrived.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote eloquently in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal about God’s faith in us. Not our faith in God – which is a deeply personal matter. But God’s faith in people, in spite of ongoing misuses of human free will. This coming Shabbat Shuva’s portion of Torah poetically turns to that faith, expressing El emuna, “God is faithful, never unfair, ever righteous and moral” (Deut. 32:4). On this Rosh Hashanah, we pray to honor God’s sovereignty (kavod malchuto) with the hope that some of God’s faith in us might rub off on us, warming our faith, not only in God, but also in each other. We pray that God’s faith might be vindicated by our capacity for better choices; that God’s generosity with us, might stir our ability to be generous in kind.
Face to face with our Maker, may we turn to our neighbor. Tempted to point our fingers, may we instead roll up our sleeves. Crowdsourcing side-by-side projects holds hopes for productively keeping us together in the coming year. May we substantiate the deep worthiness of God’s faith in us by displacing outrage with outreach to help forge a Shana Tova.