Finding Without Seeking

Yoni A. Dahlen
April 23, 2014
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look into eyes

Nearly one hundred years after Martin Buber encouraged his readers to pursue the moments of I and Thou, and almost fifty years after Emmanuel Levinas developed his philosophy regarding the face of the other, the I-centered culture of our age has succeeded in its attempt to distance itself, not only from God, but from one another. Endless amounts of time and energy are given to work and scheduling, to business meetings and networking. Networking; where even the beautiful act of meeting a human being is reduced to a professional advantage. God is in search of Man, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote. And in our day, Man is in search of himself.

This is not a judgment, nor is it a pointing of fingers. Each and every one of us is equally guilty for the perpetuation of this culture. We believe in the American dream, and we forget the dreams of the poets and prophets. We believe in money and success, and we forget the pursuit of simple joys and meaning. We put our trust and responsibilities in the hands of politicians, and we lose faith in our neighbors and communities. We look only to ourselves, and in doing so, we look away from the Divine.

But there also exists in each individual the cosmic fragment of a broken vessel, a piece of a puzzle that begs to be part of its larger whole. It is this fragment within us that makes us ache when we see the pain of others. It is this fragment within us that dances and sings when we are reunited with friends and family, when we witness an act of charity or compassion, and it is this small sparkling fragment that ignites the fire within us when we fall in love.

The nurturing of this spark does not and cannot fit into a system of ego or of selfishness. Conferences and retreats, seminars and programs – if one walks away thinking only of oneself, then the meditations and mantras have only fed the ego and suffocated the fragment within. God is in search of Man. One does not have to search for God; she need only allow herself to be found.

Rather than active pursuit, we should celebrate those moments when the fragment within us overpowers the selfishness of our lives. Those moments of tears and laughter, of real pain and deep love, these are the moments when our hearts are set afire, when the light of our coming together shines with the radiance of the Divine. They are moments of great intensity, when we feel that our emotions are stronger than we can possibly bear. But rather than avoiding them, afraid of their power and consequences, let us be receptive to the mystery of the moment, to that which is unexpected. One hundred years after I and Thou, fifty years after Levinas’ face-to-face, let us not continue adverting our eyes to the splendor that surrounds us. Let us look into the eyes of our neighbors and friends, of strangers and lovers, that we may stoke the fire inside and wait patiently for the One who seeks us.

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Yoni A. Dahlen is a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City. He attended Brandeis University where he received a Masters of Arts in Jewish Philosophy. Pursuing a career in academia, his topics of interest include Jewish mysticism, political theology, and the religiosity of Labor Zionism. He currently lives in Jerusalem.

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