Jun 14, 2011

Engagement: Love Endures

© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

The question of what precisely constitutes "engagement" is urgent in today's shifting landscape of personal and institutional realities.

Is engagement content-less encounter with the limited goal of convening? Or, might engagement be better understood as an opportunity for position-comparison, for ongoing revelation and testing? It seems to me that no purpose is fulfilled if the former and complicated (and exciting) outcomes are possible if the latter.

And, while it is thorny to create consensus when diversity is valued, it is essential that a "point of view" can be determined - and communicated. This is the path to healthy relationship. It is not enough to be near each other, to simply follow familiar patterns. Engagement is about promise, about exploration, about newness. The challenges of the past, which echo within (and sometimes dominate) contemporary strategic conversations cannot determine tomorrow's capacity, or else we will be in a meaningless, well-worn rut.

Engagement presumes dialog, ie. more than one "other." Therefore, we must ask: What if not every "other" of days gone by remains viable? What if, in fact, the dream crafted by yesterday's partners demands today a reconsideration of the very relationship that originally birthed it?

If the dream is truly the commitment of the original partners, then it lives beyond those partners. "Engagement" is, ultimately, a catch-phrase for a process of healthy contagion. But it does not describe the purpose of the ensuing relationships. Whereas we learn in Pirkei Avot that "love conditional upon anything specific will not endure and only unconditional love will endure," we also teach that relationships do not always remain viable.

And so we affirm the sacred teaching: unconditional love endures. It endures beyond the circumstances of its birth. A worthy dream can survive the separation of formerly-partnered dreamers. It is true that of supreme Jewish value is the strengthening and healing of relationships between committed partners. But it is also true that a dream (let alone former partners' realities) can sometimes emerge healthier by ending a relationship.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom || Bay Area Masorti || ShefaNetwork
Rabbis for Women of the Wall || menachemcreditor.org
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