On Finding My True Helping Partner

On Rosh Hashanah 2012 I stood on the bima and pointed out to all of the Jewish mothers and grandmothers in the room that my ring-finger was woefully bare.  I used this “date gathering scheme” to talk about the difficulties of the first date; the simple trivial conversations that we hope will turn into deeper, more meaningful interactions.  I am excited that next week Jenny will put a ring on my finger, and forever after I will have the words “ani l’dodi,” I am my beloved’s, nestled inside.  I found a partner with whom I have a deep, meaningful relationship.  Traditionally in Judaism, a ring is a solid piece of metal representing the wholeness achieved through marriage and the hope for an unbroken union.[1] The Sheva Brachot, the seven wedding blessings chanted under the chuppah, teach that weddings are times when we experience a true wholeness in our world – a taste of the world to come and reminiscent of creation.

The tradition of companionship dates back to the earliest words in our Torah of creation, when God creates an “ezer k’negdo” for Adam[2]Ezer k’negdo literally translates into a helping opposite which I have always envisioned as though each person was a puzzle piece. We exist as unique individuals with our own gifts that we bring to the world, our own curiosities and passions.  None of us is a corner or edge piece; we all have strengths that emanate in every direction and weaknesses in each direction as well.  One’s true ezer k’negdo is a perfect match to fill one’s weaknesses with strengths and to accept one’s strengths to overcome their own weaknesses.  I only understood this concept when I met Jenny.

For just under half of my adult life I had been on a search for a perfect partner – someone who was smart, talented, beautiful, passionate, caring, loving, and loved being outside as much as I do.  Yet when Jenny and I began dating two years ago, I realized that my search criteria were off.  Of course Jenny fulfills all of those initial criteria but I shouldn’t have sought someone whom I believed was perfect, but rather someone who was the perfect person for me.  Though our relationship I have learned about my own imperfections in a profound way, not because Jenny makes me feel bad about them, but because she loves me for my imperfections and her strengths compliment my weaknesses.  She is the puzzle piece that fits snugly around me.  Together we push ourselves and the other person to achieve perfection in ourselves, our relationship and in the world.

Our Torah portion this week teaches us that we can only achieve perfection in our world with the help of other people. Moses is the only judge among the 400,000 person strong Israelite community. Jethro, Moses’s father in law, offers Moses some unsolicited advice while watching him attempt to act as the sole judge of the people: “Moses, this thing you are doing, adjudicating by yourself, it’s not right.”  Jethro implores Moses to find trusted partners in the community who can solve the smaller disputes so that Moses only needs to focus on the major issues of the community. Moses must find partners who strengthen his weaknesses in order to create a better community.

We all search for our helping opposites throughout our lives.  The people we find might become our spouse, but we also find non-romantic companions who compliment us  They might be our best friends, our mentors, our teachers, our clergy, or simply people we encounter for a brief, but meaningful, moment in our lives.  We need those people to help us during times of suffering or loss, people who help us when we are reaching for great achievements in learning or our professional careers, and people who help make us better versions of ourselves.

Over the next several weeks Jenny and I will envelop ourselves in the wholeness and joy of marriage. Even with the joy we are still obligated work together with helping partners in the community to create wholeness in our society. Near the end of our wedding I will step on a glass before our first kiss. This tradition can sometimes be troubling for modern Jews to reconcile its meaning. I usually explain during wedding ceremonies that love, like glass, is fragile and must be protected because, once broken, it is nearly impossible to put back together again. But the original reason that we break a glass is because even as we taste true perfection and wholeness in our world, a taste of a time to come, our world isn’t perfect.  It isn’t whole and just outside the walls of our celebration people are suffering. Most people, including me, don’t want to think about suffering on their wedding day, they want to only think about the immense joy.  But Judaism teaches us to always be mindful of the imperfection in our world.

On the eve of my marriage I cannot help but ask my community, my helping partners and the people whose strength I rely upon, to act to make our world more whole. In the week following our wedding, people of faith from across Denver will gather in Shorter African Methodist Episcopal church to demand that our state legislators remove language from our Colorado constitution that permits slavery for people convicted of a crime.  Yes, if a jury says someone is guilty of a crime we can legally enslave them.  In 2016. The Colorado constitution, article 2 section 26 reads: “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”  I hope that you will consider going to Shorter AME Church, located at Colorado Blvd and MLK drive on February 11th from 6:00-7:30pm to stand for justice.  We can all use our strengths to heal the imperfections of our world and create wholeness.

Shortly after Yitro helped Moses fill his weaknesses with the strengths of others, Moses led the Israelites to the base of Mt. Sinai. God spoke to the entire Israelite community telling us the Ten Commandments.  Just after hearing “Do not covet,” the people were afraid that if God continued to speak to them that they would die! Moses then went up alone to receive the rest of the Torah.  That was the closest that our community has ever been to perfection, wholeness, and God’s presence.  When we love someone wholly for who they are, when we fill their weaknesses with our strengths and vice versa, we stand on the edge of witnessing God’s presence as we did at Sinai.  Let us work together, as helping partners to bring back perfection and experience God’s presence in our world. I pledge to do just that as I enter into the covenant of marriage.

Shabbat Shalom.

[1]The New Jewish Wedding,Anita Diamant pg. 83.  Revised Edition

[2] Genesis 2:18

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