We often set up our relationships as a transaction: you do this for me and I do that for you; if you don’t do this for me, then I won’t do that for you.
We do this with our children. We do this with our spouses. We do this with our friends. And what this actually says is: I don’t have a value in a relationship. It is only what I’m willing to exchange that has worth. It removes all influence we have on other people. There’s value only if I’m bringing in something else as a transaction.
Sadly, we often project this paradigm on to G-d, thinking that G-d relates to us transactionally: if you do what I want, I’ll reward you; if you don’t do what I want, I will punish you. When, in fact, all of the discussion of the reward and punishment in the Torah is about consequences, the natural outcomes of different behaviors.
G-d does not need to punish us. G-d doesn’t want to punish us, because He loves us. In fact, the relationship that G-d has with us is not transactional, it is what we’re going to call, a transformational relationship.
In order to understand a transformational relationship, I’d like to express it through a most powerful story, which I heard from Dr. Simcha Leibovich. He has been teaching leadership for over thirty years, and coached in the Tzava, the Israeli Defense Force. They were once interviewing the different ranks in the Army to see how they viewed what a good soldier was. So he went to a soldier from Golani brigade, a foot soldier. He asked him: Tell me, what do you think makes an excellent officer?
The soldier replied: let me tell you a story that will show exactly what makes an excellent officer. “After six months of basic training we go on a ninety kilometers hike called masa kumta. Not only does it take many many hours, we must also carry all our belongings on our backs, about fifty kilos. So we’re marching for a very long time with an enormous amount of weight. And after about ten kilometers, it was as if the world died. It was so difficult that I nearly shut down, and became almost robotic, just walking.
I had enough and decided I’m not finishing this. So I snuck out from the line and decided I’m going to sit under a little hill, and wait for the food truck, which would drive slowly by. There were two times during this hike that we would stop to eat something for fifteen minutes and that was it. In other words, we would march and march. And I was going to sneak into the food truck and hitch a ride.
Suddenly a fellow soldier, a snitch, otherwise known as a shtinker, ran over to the sergeant and told him: hey look, he ran off, he’s sitting at the side. So the sergeant sent the snitch with another soldier to bring me back into the line.
As he comes closer to me, he tells me: the sergeant said if you don’t come, we’re going to put you on the alunka. The alunka is a stretcher held by four soldiers. If there was a soldier that had an issue with continuing, they would put him on it. It was the worst punishment that can happen, because you’re putting enormous extra weight on the shoulders of four other soldiers.
I got so furious that this snitch went and told the sergeant and threatened me with alunka, that I took my gun off my shoulder, loaded it, aimed it at this guy and told him: you take another step and I’ll kill you. The snitch got so terrified, he went running back to the sergeant.
So the sergeant saw he’s going to have to deal with this himself. He came over to the side and said: Hey, what’s going on? You have to come with us. If you don’t, you’re going to stay at the base for Passover, for Pesach.
What he was telling me was that I would have to stay and clean the whole base up for Pesach, which was not a pleasant thing to do.
But I was so angry, I said: I don’t care if I have to stay there for Pesach, for Shavuot, for Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, for every holiday there is. I’m not moving. I’m staying right here. I’m not continuing. The sergeant left. He was not successful.”
The sergeant, as you may have noticed, has a transactional relationship with his soldiers. When someone wasn’t doing what he wanted, he created a transaction; if you don’t do this, then I will do that. An exchange rate. In this case, as in many cases, the exchange rate doesn’t compute. It doesn’t work out.
What ended up happening was commander came. “So the commander comes and sits down next to me, and doesn’t speak. After a few minutes I was feeling a little bit uneasy. He’s sitting down next to me, but he’s not saying anything. Where is this going? What does he want?
So I said: mefaked, commander, why aren’t you going with the unit? Why are you sitting with me? And so the mefaked responds to me: Ata meshuga? What, are you crazy? We spent six months in basic training together and if there’s anything you should have learned it’s that you never leave a brother alone. Is this what I taught you, that I should go on, and you should sit here? What will happen to you will happen to me, but I’m staying with you.
This is what he told me. And then the mefaked, the commander, takes out a cigarette and gives one to me. He lights both of them and we sit smoking together like two brothers. When he finishes smoking, he stands up and extends his hand to me. And for some reason, I extend my hand right back. I stood up and I followed him as we ran to the front of the unit, and I finished the masa.”
This is such a powerful story. The mefaked, the commander, was not in a transactional, but rather in transformational relationship with his soldiers. He let them know that no matter what they’re going through, he’s not there to boss them around. I am with you was his motto. And the soldier got that so well, it transformed him. So he was ready to do anything the commander wanted.
That is someone who has enormous influence, because he doesn’t use transactions. He touches the people around him very deeply by being truly dedicated to them. That is the gist of a transformational relationship. It takes much longer to develop it. Yet the power you will have is by far greater than anything you can achieve with a transactional one.
There’s an interesting verse we say in our prayers. In the Psalms king David wrote l’hagid baboker chasdeha, ve emunascha balaylot. Literally that means to tell in the morning of your kindness, and of your faith in the evening.
This statement has a deeper meaning. Morning is a time of enlightenment. Everything is light and good, as we speak of your faithfulness to us G-d. At night it is dark. I am dark. Perhaps I am doing things you don’t want me to do, G-d. Yet you still have faith in me. I may have strayed, but you’re still standing by my side like that mefaked, who says I will never leave you alone. That’s because G-d doesn’t have a transactional relationship with us. He has a transformational relationship.
And when we begin to notice how unbelievably dedicated G-d is to us, how unbelievably patient G-d is with us, when we begin to feel the love G-d has for us, that sweeps over us. It can have a very significant and positive impact in our life.
So make your relationships transformational, and move far away from them being transactional.