I currently have two learning partners. They are two very different people in two very different places, but their impact on me is pretty darn similar.
They are my learning partners – "chavrutot," in Hebrew.
One is a runner who lives in Israel. He has glasses, four children, works U.S. hours and has rabbinic ordination from the Israeli Rabbinate. He runs 5:45 kilometers, which is just slightly faster than I (I run 5:55.). And he and I meet once a week to run together as part of our training for January's national marathon of Israel.
The second is a businessman who lives in Canada. He is not particularly tall (from what I've seen – our relationship is via Skype), has one daughter and is in the process of learning what Torah and Hebrew are all about. And he and I meet (online) once a week to learn Chumash together as part of our desire to understand Torah.
These are two very different people, but they do happen to have one thing in common – me.
Now, what is so terrific about each of them is that they push me. My running friend pushes me to run a little faster. But what's interesting is that while he's a little faster than I, he's not very good at pacing himself, which is crucial in distance running. So even though I'm slower, I have something to offer the partnership. I happen to be a very good pace-setter.
My Chumash partner pushes me to analyze better. We read every verse out loud and then ask the question: Is there anything that we should discuss here? Any thoughts or questions? Now, growing up in religious schools, I can make my way through the Chumash fairly easily, but this new partnership is making me realize on a weekly basis that I have missed so much. So even though he's much less knowledgeable in Torah, he has something to offer the partnership. He happens to be a very good pace-setter.
So ironically, it is the importance of pace that is helping both of these partnerships thrive. But the truth is that pace is not the essence. Partnership is.
Of course, partnership has a different meaning for different people, but the common thread will always be that each side contributes something to the cause. Otherwise, it ceases to be a partnership and becomes something that is at-best one-sided, and at-worst adversarial.
But as long as each side is contributing something, a partnership is just about the most amazing thing there is.
We are heading into the definitive partnership season on the Jewish Calendar. We and God enter this period of time, and it's our job to ask – are we contributing to the partnership or are we only on the taking end?
But there is another question as well, that may be more important, particularly for those who understand just how much God gives to us. Here's a partial list:
Beautiful natural scenery
The ability to breathe
In other words, there's no question about how much God contributes to this partnership. The question is about each of us. But here's where it gets interesting and, dare I say, exciting.
What can we contribute to a partnership with the omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent One? What could he possibly want from us!?
On one level, the answer, quite simply, is nothing. He needs and wants nothing from us, other than that we demonstrate that we always have him on our minds. (Okay, so I guess it's something.)
But on a deeper level, if we understand that He is our Father, we can realize that he wants what any father wants.
Oh, what's that, you ask?
He wants his children to play, learn and work together. He wants us to realize that by playing, learning and working together, we can achieve so much.
Now, you may thing that such a scenario is just a dream, and can never happen, given how divided the Jewish nation is. But I submit that we are more unified than we have been since perhaps the days of the First Temple more than 2,500 years ago.
Think about it …
Six million of us live in Israel. The overwhelming majority of Jews in the world celebrate Jewish holidays, such as Passover, Yom Kippur and Hannukah. Perhaps an even greater number of Jews have access to the Internet.
All this means that we are ready to unite. It's just a matter of rallying around the right ideas, concepts and actions.
So let's start with appreciating the power of partnership.
For me, it's making me a stronger runner and smarter Torah learner.
But for us – all of us, it can make us into a nation that will make our Father very proud.
Click here for the first article in the series.