Power or Relationship

I recall a story about a woman from an Upper West Side orthodox community in New York. During Shabbat lunch at her rabbi’s home, she shared an experience from her first-ever visit to a Church.  “How was it?” asked the rabbi.  “It was powerful and it was sad,” she replied.  “It was powerful because I kept hearing the preacher say ‘God loves you’.”  “But what was sad,” she continued, “was that in the thirty years I’ve been attending Synagogue services, daily, on Shabbes and Chagim, I have never once heard a sermon telling me that God loves me.”

“With everlasting love have You loved Your people, the House of Israel.”  Thankfully our Prayerbook is more articulate on the matter.  Daily we add, “You have loved us with great love, Lord our God, and with surpassing compassion have You had compassion on us.”   Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches that God prefers relationship to power.  Rather than bludgeoning the world with unrestrained force, God yearns for connections and companionship.  

As we begin the month in which we will celebrate Passover, the final of three Torah scrolls we will learn from this Shabbat emphasizes intimacy.  “This month shall be the head month to you (ha-chodesh ha-zeh lachem) (Ex. 12:2).  Given how the Hebrew word lachem (to you) is understood in similar scriptural settings, the message seems to say, ‘take this time personally’.

For example, beginning with the second Seder, we are instructed to count personally (u-s’fartem lachem) each day of the Omer for seven weeks.  We are also urged to relate to our collective Founding Story familiarly, unlike the way the Seder’s wicked child (lachem) detaches from it.  Time, as measured by the calendar, is to be understood relationally.

Too many bonds today are perceived in terms of power and aggression.  This is particularly so in a political season.  Yet the season we now enter is fragrant with relationship, whose aromatic scent can ventilate goodness.   However we choose to live in relation to God, may we embrace one another with seasonally refined measures of generosity.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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