Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
David Brooks is a brilliant and insightful writer for the New York Times. You send me links to his articles to read, especially when he touches a Jewish subject. This week, he touched a Jewish subject with a reference to Martin Buber, a 20th century Jewish theologian. But, please don’t send me a link to his article this week. He got it only half right; even my recent 10th grade Confirmation students could tell you so.
In short, Martin Buber, by way of his famous description of relationships as being either I-it or I-Thou, taught us that “All real living is meeting.” It’s also translated from the German to mean, “All real living is encounter.” Okay, we get that I-it is a subjective and utilitarian relationship like the one we typically have between us and a waiter or the UPS driver. And, we understand that an I-Thou relationship is the one in which we go deeper to “encounter” another without any judgment, criticism or utility. However, Brooks failed to finish his article (maybe due to space restrictions) and highlight the greater goal of the I-Thou encounter. It wasn’t only to grow as persons, it was also to find in the I-Thou that which is always present while we are sometimes absent, namely, the Eternal Thou. Yes, God.
Every I-Thou relationship is fated to be an I-it relationship. Once we exit the I-Thou encounter we can discover that we’ve grown by virtue of sharing one’s self, without ever losing any part of one’s self. We move in and out of it with a goal to encounter and meet each other as often as we can. The motivation to encounter again is to experience the Eternal Thou that is present to us only when we move beyond the utilitarian nature of relationships. In addition to these human relationships, Buber submitted that we can expect the same between us and nature or between us and an animal.
I’m a fan of David Brooks, but using Buber as a means of addressing polarization of Americans was not for me an I-Thou experience. Even if it had been, I’d still question whether or not the Americans I might meet would have said they encountered the same God that I, and many Americans like me, might search for or know. If we aren’t able to seek and know One God, a universal God who loves all God’s creations and in Whose image we are all created, then the possibility of healing a fractured nation will have to begin somewhere else and by some other means. If America will ever be greater than it is, it must include people like you and me and so many other diverse human beings. But, as long as there are those who think otherwise, and would be happier without us, then I don’t think we’ll have to worry about building walls to keep people out of America.
Brooks was right that Martin Buber sought to reconcile his parents’ divorce with faith in an unconditionally loving God he found in “meeting” others. If Americans can ever be reconciled to each other, then let it be reflected in words, deeds, and encounters that increasingly bring honor to God.