I and Thou: On Martin Buber

It has been a long time since I read Buber’s I and Thou, and yet I find myself thinking about him. In this book, Buber suggests that there are varieties of relationship between man and man; and man and God. There is the relationship in which the person relates to another man (or even God) as an “it”. Then there is the formal relationship of a business partner or school teacher (Sie). It is respectful but diffident, and prohibits the personal. Finally, there is the personal relationship between close friends, between lovers, and between God and those willing to let him in (du). There are different places where these relationships are “right”: not every friend is a close friend, and not every object a person relates to his a human being or even an animal. However, without that key “du” relationship, a person is empty.

Buber insists that a person finds God in relationships formed with other people. Wherever 2 people is, the 3rd is God. He came to this conclusion in part because he came to the serious belief that mysticism could be selfish. Once when he was into mysticism, a friend came to see him. Busy with his meditation, he sent the friend away. And the friend committed suicide. From then on he came to the conclusion that one must always be aware of the people around him.

I think Buber’s philosophy deserves consideration… particularly the insistence on relationship between man and man to God… yet I wonder if Judaism itself would be impossible without prayers and meditation. Of course, I admit that I am not big into the second… I have tried it and never figured out how. However, if a person skipped out on prayers directed to the One who is inside you and throughout creation… then their part of God shrinks… there is a story in the Talmud, where an evil man became so evil that he disappeared. If only that had happened to Hitler or Stalin. Yet those who are that evil are punished forever in the afterlife… Perhaps their existence was to complete their torment in the ends.

The point is that the very evil shrink what is Godly in them to nonexistence, and then receive their soul’s punishment afterwards. Yet it is not simply by saying their is no God that a person becomes evil, but by doing Godless acts. And Godless acts involve those with whom we should relate to as “Sie” and “du.” I believe even an animal can be a “du” and that the holiest people are those who have finally achieved a “du-du” relationship with God, in which they act for God and God shines through them. This is not to say that the just do not suffer, by the way. It is to say that God shines through the just… that is why the rare soul that achieves “union with God,” a Mother Teresa or Mahatma Gandhi shines through with their love an compassion. Buber’s philosophy helps us understand this.

Published by hadassahalderson

I am a professional author who lives in Wichita, KS. I went to Friends University and spent one year at Claremont Graduate University. My published work includes: The Bible According to Eve I-IV and Faust in Love.

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