Bonding in Close Quarters

Getting around these days has been tough. With snow and ice continuing to accumulate, we simply have less space outside (assuming we even go outside), to walk, drive and park our cars. The way to work, school, et al., has been slow and oftentimes treacherous.

While navigating in tight pathways can be challenging, there are some benefits to this new paradigm. One has been increased patience and understanding. As we attempt to navigate through tighter paths, we are forced to take others into greater consideration, and patiently negotiate passage so that everyone can move forward. We also see that we can get by with less, and do not need the standard expanse to achieve our goals. Perhaps most significantly, our view of others becomes more expansive, as we are all suffering through the situation together. Suddenly, there is something, an external condition, that bonds us, even complete strangers. We are all in it as one and need to help each other out if we are to make it through safely. The snow helps bring us closer together, literally as well as figuratively.

Reflecting on snow-driven proximity brought to mind the fact that in some definite ways, smaller really is better, particularly as it relates to our relationship with Hashem. In our nation’s history, there have been three central houses of Hashem in our midst. The first is the Mishkan, whose construction and furnishings occupy the bulk of the latter part of sefer Shemos. The other two are the Batei Mikdash in Yerushalayim.

Interestingly, each of these structures was progressively larger in size and more elaborate than its predecessor (though Bayis Sheini was first built as a more humble successor to King Shlomo’s majestic edifice, the expanded version of Herod far exceeded the earlier Mikdash). A casual observer may see this trend as a positive, in the spirit of bigger is better.

However, I once heard an approach from Rabbi Akiva Tatz that suggested otherwise. He explained that the aforementioned trend in structural size was actually a reflection of spiritual disconnect, a sign that we were becoming increasingly removed from our Maker.

The example that he used to illustrate the point was that of a married couple. At first, when their focus on each other is constant, they see the opportunity to maintain proximity as a positive, an opportunity to cherish as they begin their life together. Over time, however, the novelty begins to wane, and the two start to look for more personal space in which to coexist.

Similarly, when Klal Yisrael was first redeemed from Egypt, their love and appreciation of Hakadosh Baruch Hu was at an all-time high. They were extremely appreciative of all that He had done for them and, by uttering naaseh v’nishma, had committed to direct their futures along a pathway of deep spiritual connection and divine service. Over time, however, our collective spiritual engagement and enthusiasm began to wane, necessitating more “space.” It reached the point where we were banished from the home entirely, the beginning of a protracted and painful exile.

As the above mashal indicates, it is not enough to fuel a relationship on initial feelings. Relationships need to be continually charged with freshness and positive engagement if they are to retain their vibrancy. This is true at home. It is also very much relevant in the workplace.

While there are many ways through which we can maintain the connection between ourselves and others, perhaps the most basic is communication. What we say, as well as how and how often we say it can make all of the difference between a close, healthy relationship and one that is strained and distant.

Think, for example, of how we use electronic communication. We all know the reasons that we type instead of write. It’s faster, it’s neater, and it can easily be saved and categorized for future reference without as much sifting and paper clutter. When used for sharing information, electronic notations can be sent far and wide and can be responded to at the recipient’s convenience.

Despite the many benefits of e-communication, the shift away from written communication also presents some meaningful downsides. These include:

Misinterpretation — So much of the way that we normally share information and ideas is based on nonverbal communication. Inflections, hand gestures, facial tone, body positioning and the like say so much about how each party is receiving and responding to each other, as well as their passion for the information and ideas being shared. Without hearing a voice or seeing nonverbal cues, people struggle to properly discern the intended meaning, tone, value and emphasis.

Impersonal touch — No matter how thoughtfully an email is crafted, its digital nature makes it feel distant and impersonal. You simply cannot compare the feel of an email with a handwritten (or even typed) letter or note.

Raising the temperature — For most of us, distance makes it feel safer to “yell” or to be critical. We can more easily muster up the gumption to criticize when we are typing words on our personal keyboards than when we have to look someone in the eye and share our feelings.

You can’t get it back — The quick nature of email makes it easy to forget that our words actually matter and can really come back to bite us. (I suggest that you never send any email with potentially negative implications without showing it to one or two trusted colleagues first). Not only must we worry about the message at the moment that it’s received, but there is an excellent chance that it will be forwarded for others to see.

Keeping your distance — Perhaps worst of all, email, IM and other e-communiques maintain distance between colleagues, sometimes even when only a wall or cubicle separate them physically. It’s often easier to fire off a response than to get up and share a few words. You may also want to not disturb your busy coworkers, especially if they are in another conversation or on the phone. While all of that is laudable, it’s important to not fall into the habit of remaining distant.

As our jobs involve working with and getting things done with people, we have to be able to build healthy relationships. We need to interact in person, to get to know each other in real terms, how we each tick. Building trust helps us get our work done and there’s no better trust builder than getting to know people in direct, human terms.


Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is an executive coach, writer and teacher living in Passaic, NJ. He can be contacted at 

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