Shaya Cohen -


Why We Need Others

We seek security in every way imaginable; our choices of jobs, the healthy market for insurance and pensions, how we seek stability, predictability, and a boring life. We even do it when we fit in with the herd, conform to societal norms, follow various fads to be like others.

My Rabbi says that when people act like this, they are trying to take G-d out of their lives. A person who has everything, needs nothing. And if we do not need anything, then we do not reach outside ourselves to build relationships with others. Those relationships might be with other people, or they might be with G-d – but they are risky either way.

The Torah is full of reminders that we are not supposed to think of ourselves as complete: G-d wants us to want Him! And so the levy of a half a shekel (not a full one). So, too, the servant who chooses safety with his master after the requisite number of years, instead of going out into the world for himself, chooses to have an awl driven through his ear: he no longer is open to listening to G-d’s voice. The servant has chosen to listen only to his master. Freedom means uncertainty, risk, and responsibility for our own decisions. Most people don’t want that responsibility.

The snake who convinces Eve and Adam to eat the fruit is consigned to the earth where he will always be able to eat dust. The snake’s punishment is that he won’t need anyone else for his sustenance – he is self-reliant! And because he is self-reliant, the snake can never rise above his state.

One funny feature is that the Torah is not really telling us to merely trust in G-d – that would be too easy, too pat. That way leads to fatalism, to believing that G-d arranges all things, so all we have to do is be good little servants, and everything will work out for us in the end. This is clearly a feature of many religions: it is not Torah Judaism.

Instead, we are told to seek to be close to G-d, in a myriad of ways. After the splitting of the Red Sea, the people sing a collective verse in the first person: “This is my G-d and v’anveyhoo” – that last word is really two words: “Me and You.” “This is my G-d, and ‘ Me and You!’”

That “Me and You” is a statement of yearning, a desire to be close, in any way we can. And because it is put in the first person, we understand that each and every person has the opportunity for a personal and unique relationship. None of us are supposed to do things exactly like other people do them – otherwise, what am I here for?!

So G-d has given us a world in which we are full of reminders that we need relationships. We need them when we are young and less capable. We need them when we are grown, and we rely on society to help meet our needs. We need other people when we are old and no longer able to do what we used to do. Death is itself the greatest reminder: our lives are finite. What will we achieve before the end? Any achievement worth its salt comes about as the byproduct (if not the primary product) of relationships: business, families, service to others.

There is, of course, no shortage of tragedies that come with the world in which we live. Only if there is emotional loneliness can there be the need for relationships, and then the solution found in love. There are those who are outsiders: the Torah tells us, dozens of times, to love the stranger. The text also repeatedly tells us to love and protect orphans and widows. Widows and orphans are, alas, collateral damage for a world with death, for a world that has true insufficiency and insecurity.

G-d gave mankind the means to fix the physical faults of the natural world, to promote productive human life. And he gave us the Torah to remind us that we must always be thinking of others; that the insecurity that makes us get up in the morning, take risks, and create new and wonderful things, also gives us lonely people, people who have loved and lost. We are enjoined to love them in turn, as surely a holy act as any other.

Comments are welcome!

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