The Three Most Important Relationships and the Essence of Judaism

By: Rabbi Avrohom Czapnik

When people are asked what the three most important relationships that we have are, they usually answer:  parents, children and spouse.  Some also add their boss or their mentor.  These are fair answers, but they are lacking. What if someone is single so has no spouse, or someone’s parents passed away, or someone is an independent businessman, or someone doesn’t have children?

The better question is, what are the three permanent relationships that we all have? Judaism addresses this issue and teaches us that the three relationships are:

  1. a relationship with G-d,
  2. relationships with each other and
  3. a relationship with ourselves.

These relationships are constant regardless of our personal, socio-economic or family status.

To elaborate a little bit:

In our relationship with G-d, we refer to G-d as Avinu Malkeinu, our Father our King, a loving, benevolent, giving G-d who cares about us deeply, but at the same time has expectations for our behavior. Do we do anything to nurture this relationship? Do we follow the positive commandments to come closer to G-d and avoid transgressing the negative commandments so that we don’t distance ourselves from Him?

Relationships with others can vary. It can be with somebody who is a superior to us, be it a parent or a mentor, or it can be a person who is a peer, or one who is in our charge, like a child or a person who needs our help. There are many variations and varieties of interpersonal relationships. Do we analyze our speech, attitude and behavior in each of these different types of relationships?

And then there is ourselves. Are we honest with ourselves?  Do we know our virtues and do we know our flaws? Are we working to be the best that we can be by enhancing our virtues and working on defeating our flaws?

Which brings us to an interesting true story:

There were two good friends- one was Jack and the other one was Larry. Jack was not Jewish and he asked Larry, his Jewish friend, “What is the essence of Judaism?”  Larry, who was raised uninvolved in Judaism, said, “I have no idea.” So Jack said, “Let’s find out.”

They went into a Jewish neighborhood and started asking people, “What is the essence of Judaism?”, but they felt that some of the answers people gave them were lacking. Some people didn’t know what to say and others had answers that didn’t satisfy them. So, they changed tactics and asked, “Do you know of a synagogue around here?”

They happened to meet a teenager whose father had a synagogue and he said, “Sure, follow me.” He brought them to his father’s synagogue, where there was a guest speaker. The two gentlemen, still struggling with their question – what is the essence of Judaism – sat down in the back. The guest speaker, a rabbi from Mexico, got up to give the lecture. Not knowing the question that these two had, he began his talk by saying, “I was in a taxi in Mexico and on the way to my destination the driver pulled off to the side of the road and turned around and asked me, ‘What is the essence of Judaism?’”

Gentlemen in the back were blown away by the Divine Providence that brought them to this particular synagogue with this particular speaker to have their question answered. And for the Jewish one it sparked his journey to find out more about Judaism.

The Rabbi answered the taxi driver by saying, “The essence of Judaism is the three pillars, which our Sages teach the world stands on. They are Al HaTorah, Al HaAvoda, and Al Gimilut Chasadim, meaning, on the Study of Torah, on Service to G-d and on Acts of Loving-kindness.”

But let’s take a look at this answer. These three Judaism essentials are also the three fundamental relationships that we all have. Acts of loving-kindness, that is obviously our relationship between ourselves and others. Service to G-d, prayer and performing the commandments is developing our relationship with G-d, and the study of Torah gives us the tools to change ourselves, because Torah, the words and instructions of G-d, is not just information but rather the power of self-transformation.

Not coincidentally in the Shema, the affirmation of our belief that we say daily, it says: “You should love Hashem, G-d, with all of your heart, with all of your soul and with all of your resources.”  These three also represent the three essentials of Judaism and the three most important relationships. With all of your heart: G-d wants our heart, our sincere intent and devotion in service to Him. With all your soul: that’s our essence, giving ourselves to self-improvement, character development and becoming the best we can. And with all of your resources: that’s our time, talents, abilities and financial resources that we have to help others.

So, if we are driving down the road in a taxi and someone asks us, “What is the essence of Judaism?”, or more importantly, as we travel the road of life, we should remind ourselves what is the essence of Judaism and recall the three most important relationships, and work to continually improve them.