Which comes first, task or relationship?

By Debbi K. Levy

In a moment when I’m feeling on top of the world, a community member compliments me about my ability to “do it all.”

“How do you do so much and keep it all together?” they query. I am elevated and contented with myself. I humbly wave away the nourishing compliments with gratitude and rush off to teach my next class. My little badge of efficiency on my right shoulder is invisible to everyone else but me. It is gleaming.

The Kohenet retreat last month was just as potent as the first one I experienced some three years ago. Maybe even more so. I could hardly wait for the nuggets of Jewish wisdom I would carry home from the mountains of Pennsylvania. Arriving with the time for this retreat having been carefully carved out and all work deadlines met to allow me space to learn, I must admit, I was feeling very satisfied. My invisible badge was now blinking in neon lights at the efficiency model I had lovingly crafted for myself. I reminded my badge of the mussar trait of humility and asked it to shut down the celebration for now.

Sitting in our large circle for our two cohorts sandwiched between the majestic mountains, one of our teachers was reviewing all that would be asked of us newly ordained clergy members. She reminded us, in our work as ordained Kohenot, to especially remember to be vigilant and mindful of the practice of valuing relationships over tasks. She spoke about how challenging that particular practice might be.

“Whaaa?” my mind stammered.

“Can you unpack that?” my heart insisted.

My soul knew it instantly. My badge fell off with a thud.

What if the kind community member who complimented me after class was looking for a moment to share an important insight? Did I rush away in the glow of my efficiency boundary ignoring the more important relationship over task on that morning? And what about all the other mornings, afternoons and evenings when I did the same?

I have never been late to a class. I have never not turned in an assignment. I have timely invoiced all my clients. Whom have I left behind in my stellar efficiency wake? Which relationship was denied an element of thoughtful tending? How far back should I reflect upon my gaze that may have not taken in what is the most sacred?

I hear You through my teacher’s voice, Adonai. Relationship before task. Thank You for helping me discover a vital practice that I must urgently elevate now. I am seeing the truth. That badge is just another form of an idol. A relationship of one human being to another honors the Divine Spark that You have placed in us all. I am learning in leaps and bounds that resemble those heavenly mountains in Pennsylvania. May this new practice of relationship over task be mine in 5784. Amen.

Kohenet Debbi K. Levy welcomes your thoughts and encourages your conversation at debbiklevy@gmail.com.

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