February 18, 2021


2.19.2021 Weekly Torah Portion

What does a meaningful relationship look like?  And how do I get there?

There are so many resistances to meaningful relationships, and many come down to this: if I don’t get too close, you can’t hurt me. Of course, we also know that in recovery, it’s only by letting people in – by connecting meaningfully with a few people – that I can stay in recovery.

In this week’s parashah, after freeing the Israelites from Egypt with signs and wonders, God invites the Israelites into a relationship beyond the “God who took us out from Egypt,” and into greater intimacy:

“Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves them” (Exodus 25:2).

God articulates God’s needs.  So many of us struggle to articulate what we need even (and especially) to the people we love.  Maybe we don’t know what we need.  Or we confuse artificial needs with authentic needs.  Or maybe we’re afraid of rejection.  Or maybe we just expect people to know what we need without saying anything (that always works).

Why is God so clear about God’s needs?  Is it about power or dominion?  Does God want to show God’s mastery over us as our new slave-master?  Hey you, do this for me because I’m God.  No.  God’s clarity is about connection: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8).  God articulates God’s needs so that God can be close to us.

God wants to be close to us.

How beautiful!  How endearing!

And how jarring for those of us of an addict mind or a slave mind that sees agendas and people trying to control us everywhere we look.

So often we misinterpret someone’s clarity about needs as a power move.  But what if it were a connection move?  What if, when someone asked me about my day, I didn’t recoil in suspicion and think: Why do they want to know that?  What if I responded: Wow!  Maybe this person cares about me.

Rabbi Heschel teaches that when we see the people and things around us as “forces to be managed” or as “objects to be put to use” we alienate ourselves from everyone and everything around us (Who Is Man? p. 82).  This is the condition of slavery, of addiction.

The condition of freedom is connection.  In connection, Heschel teaches that I see in what surrounds me “things to be acknowledged, understood, valued, or admired” (Who Is Man? p. 82).  When God asks for our gifts, God says: “…from every person whose heart so moves them.”  In asking for gifts, God is not trying to manipulate the newly freed Israelites to build God a house: Hey man, you owe me!  Rather, God is saying: I value you and your contributions. Will you enter into a relationship with me?

God is always posing this question to us, not only in the parashah, but every day when we open our eyes, when we eat food that comes from the earth, when we hear someone speak authentically in a meeting or group: Are you willing to enter into a relationship with Me?

To enter into an authentic relationship with God, with another person, or even with ourselves, you and I have to give up our suspicion and our agendas for the sake of spiritual closeness.  Instead, we get to embrace what we acknowledge, compassionately understand, value, or admire about God, about others, or about ourselves.

What do I acknowledge that God has done in my life?

What do I compassionately understand about others’ behaviors?

What do I admire about my actions today?

These questions, this orientation to living, is the way into meaningful relationship.  Into spiritual connection.

There is no recovery without connection, and the invitation to connection is open – always.

Yes even now, during the Coronavirus.

Even now, with lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.

Even to addicts and criminals, and to shame-ridden queers.

Will you accept the invitation?

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Kerry