October 21, 2019
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Special Corner - Ken Mills Jewish Story February 14, 2010

Original Date 10-23-2003

I offer this old Jewish story as told by Jacobus as a guide to our own encounters through life, some of you may recall your own and then perhaps know the difference.  As with Vernons piece on Remorse I feel it pays all of us to take stock of our encounters past and future. Ken
"I recall a story someone once told me about Jewish philosopher Martin Buber that illustrates the difference between experience and encounter. A tragic event gave him a clear understanding of the difference between experiencing another person as an object and encountering a person in a relationship. Buber tells the story of the turning point in his life. He was seriously involved with spirituality, mysticism, and meditation. One day, he was meditating in his room, and he entered into an incredible state of mystical ecstasy. Suddenly he heard a knock at the door. He was so high, he wasn't sure he had heard it right, so he waited a few moments. Again, he heard the knock at the door. Buber had to tear himself away from his ecstatic experience in order to answer the door. He opened the door and saw a fellow he didn't know, a stranger. Of course if Buber had had malhus [Malchut] consciousness, he wouldn't have perceived anyone to be a stranger. But, he relates, he stood there looking at this stranger who obviously wanted something.
Now, perhaps you've had the experience of dropping in on someone, and when he or she opens the door, you realize, 'Oh my gosh, I came at the wrong time.' You feel awkward. Just so, this fellow realized he was interrupting Buber, and he felt really awkward. Of course, if he had netzah-hod consciousness, he would have known that there's no such thing as bad timing. Everything is perfectly timed. In any case, he said. 'I'm sorry, Mr. Buber, I must be disturbing you. Let me come back another time.'
Buber, being a gentleman, said, 'No, please, come in, it's fine.'
So Buber let him in and had him sit down in his salon and tried very hard to listen and to focus on what his visitor had to say, but most of his mind was still absorbed in the high he had just experienced. The visitor stuttered and stammered and obviously did not feel comfortable sharing with Martin Buber what was on his mind or in his heart. Finally, the fellow apologized, excused himself, and left. And Buber returned to his room and tried to get back into his ecstatic state of consciousness.
Later, Buber heard that this fellow had killed himself. Buber was devastated. He realized that the man had come to him because he desperately needed help, and Buber wasn't there for him because he was so absorbed in his spiritual experience. That's when Buber realized how fake a mystical high can be. If it doesn't open one up to hearing the call to duty, if it doesn't increase one's ability to respond, it is an empty experience.
Many people want to have a so-called God experience. The name for that is spiritual materialism. Just as some people like to amass cars, clothes, and big houses, other people like to amass spiritual experiences. But that's not what a relationship with Hashem is all about.
A true encounter with Hashem means seeing, hearing, and responding to Hashem in your life. In Hebrew this is called teshuva, a word often mistranslated as "repentance," but really meaning "answer." To do teshuva is to answer hashem's call.
In that light, we can understand the oft-used biblical expression, 'stiff-necked people.' What's a stiff-necked person? Someone who, when called, does not turn to listen, just keeps going. Teshuva means turning to say, 'Yes, I'm here. What can I do for you?'
In the stories of the Torah, Hashem initiates a dialogue with Abraham by calling, 'Abraham, Abraham,' and then waiting for Abraham to respond, 'Hineni. Here I am.'
That's teshuva, turning to hear the call and to respond to it. When I look at nature, I realize that everything's on call. Everyone in this world is on call. And every event is purposely designed as a scene within the drama of life."

Ken Mills

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