New Jersey Jewish News Story
An office jerk or the image of God?
I sat across from Jim, my opposing counsel in a complicated commercial case, while the court reporter diligently typed the stream of words pouring from my clients lips. The deposition had gone on all morning, and my client, exhausted from the procedure, had become a little cranky and loose-lipped. My stomach rumbled and I asked if we could take a recess for lunch.
I cant break now. I only have this afternoon to depose your client and the witness. Maybe your caseload is lighter than mine, but I dont have the time to chit-chat the noon hour away. Jims voice was filled with unnecessary rancor.
I just thought it was a good time to break, seeing as weve been at it for four hours and need some food and time to regroup, I responded evenly.
Your needs are of no concern, was his acid retort.
OK, you say, hes being a jerk. But at that moment I had to decide how to respond while balancing my responsibilities to my client with my need to remain professional.
Thats when I did a quick mental checklist of what might really be going on. Was Jim so stressed that a sandwich seemed so unreasonable? Did he feel that if we broke the momentum, he might lose the chance to wear my client down? Had I offended him without knowing it?
I began to speculate about who Jim was as a person not just as an overworked, high-strung lawyer, but as a man who might be trying too hard to play the game without realizing what he was giving up in the process. The room grew still and the court reporter looked nervously at me for a response.
Five words came to mind, words that I had never applied to my law practice before. They came out of nowhere (actually they come from the Book of Genesis when God created humanity) and werent what youd expect, given the situation. Rather than See you in court, buddy or No need to be hostile, the words that helped me respond were: in the image of God.
In Hebrew, btzelem Elohim means in the likeness or image of God. That humanity was created not only as the highest form of life on earth but in the image of the Creator is a lofty concept, one I first understood the morning my son was born and my husband gently handed him to me, still wet and matted from birth. I looked into his eyes and knew at that moment that I was looking into the eyes of God.
Being created in Gods image tells us a great deal about who we are and who we can become. It teaches us that just as God has immeasurable power and capability for creativity, so do we have the potential to develop ourselves. Just as God acts with compassion and love toward the people of Israel but also feels great frustration and anger toward them, so should we strive for compassion with others even though we have feelings that confuse, anger, or frighten us.
I looked at Jim and tried to see beyond the disagreeable surface. Maybe he had had a bad day, forgot his anniversary, or missed a car payment. And as I tried to paint Jim in the image of God, I became aware that my feelings toward him were changing.
OK, Jim, I said. Lets just take 10 minutes and order some sandwiches and we can keep going and get through this today.
It didnt take much to dissipate the tension. Jim looked relieved and even a bit sheepish. How different the world might be if we could recognize that within each one of us there is something divine, some intangible spark of God-ness, to be honored. For in making the effort to look for the image of God in each other, we might find not only the best in them, but the best in ourselves as well.
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