Introduction to Shir HaShirim, Pesach 2018
In the introduction to parasha Mishpatim in the Etz Chaim chumash, there is a line that caught my eye. It reads, “Our standards for how we treat others must be based … on the recognition of the image of God in every person and the presence of God in every relationship.”
It struck me that we talk a lot about b’tzelem Elohim, being MADE in the image of God, but little about the PRESENCE of God in every relationship. What would it be like if we considered God to be present in every relationship? What would our lives be like if we took b’tzelem Elohim seriously; that in every interaction with people we are looking at a face of God?
We have only to open Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs, to find a paradigm of the presence of God in relationship. The evocative poetry attributed to King Solomon paints sensuous images of an idyllic couple powerfully connected through their love for each other. Whether this work refers to a particular couple or the allegorical relationship between God and Israel, it beautifully illustrates what Martin Buber called the I-Thou relationship.
For Buber, a 20th century German philosopher, the I-Thou relationship is characterized by “total presentness” and concern for the other person. God is the “Eternal Thou” and our relationship with God serves as the foundation for our relationships with all others. According to Buber, we encounter God through our encounters with other human beings.
He wrote, “Meet the world with the fullness of your being and you shall meet God.” What a powerful message! “Meet the world with the fullness of your being and you shall meet God.” God is portrayed as immanent, a felt presence in every encounter if only we bring our whole selves to the experience. Buber’s promise is simple but not easy: Bring our whole selves to every encounter and we will experience God.
What would our world be like if we encountered every person with “total presentness,” from the fullness of our being? How would it change the experience of our day? Our family life? The culture of our synagogue?
In the yoga world, “Namaste” means “The Divine within me bows to the Divine within you.” Christians quote a verse from Matthew that states, “When two or more are gathered in My name, there am I.”
What do WE have? We say “Shalom.” Shalom is one of the attributes of God. Shalom shares the same root as shalem meaning whole, complete, full. The new Conservative siddur and Machzor are called Lev Shalem—Full heart. When we wish someone a “refuah shleima,” we wish them a full, complete recovery, a return to wholeness.
What if, everytime we greeted someone, or before starting a conversation or meeting, we said ”Shalom,” meaning “I see you in your fullness, your completeness, as who you fully are. I bring my full self to this interaction.” Would we not then become aware of God’s presence in every relationship? Would we not then treat each person as they truly are, created in the image of God?
May we be inspired by the words of this megillah to bring ourselves present to all our encounters and to see God in each person we meet.
I wish you a Chag Sameach and a heartfelt Shalom.