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Fundamental Faith

Miriam Kosman

No one wants to be alone. But living with other people is not always easy. The built-in problem with relationships is our knee-jerk resistance to acknowledging that there is someone out there other than me. Hashem placed woman opposite man because the prerequisite to relationships is that there be an “other” we face — who is not me.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What do the following four sentences have in common?

“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Give him a nice dinner and you can ask him for anything.”

“Just bring her flowers. She’ll forgive you right away.”

“Hi, Mom, Happy Mother’s Day. Glad you like it. Mind if I take the car?”

“Don’t worry if those shoes feel like they’re a size too small. They look great on you and they’re a great buy. You know what? I’ll give you an additional five-dollar discount!”

In all of these sentences the other is seen as a human ATM; my sole concern is what buttons I need to press to get what I want from you. Will a temper tantrum work? How about a charming smile and a compliment? Should I nod understandingly? Flatter you? I’m willing to invest the time to learn how to activate you, but ultimately, this is all about me. You may be useful at times, but are of no consequence when I don’t need you.

If we were using psychological terms to explain the concept of k’negdo we might talk about differentiation. Very simply, if I want to connect with another person, there has to be another person. This may be my parent, my child, my sibling, my friend, or my spouse, but they are not me. Even if I would like to dictate their opinions, desires, and actions, if I want to be in a relationship with someone other than myself, I have to grant them permission to be “not me.”

The very essence of the other calls out to us to relate to him. “Face” in Hebrew is panim. Panim shares the same root as both the word pnim — inner, and the word pniyah — a turning toward, a solicitation. The face of a person turns to me requesting acknowledgement that there is a vast inner world here — a pnim that is ultimately unknowable. Indeed, when we allow ourselves to really see another’s face, we are jolted out of our little universe and obligated to grant him space in our life.

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