Sig Other likes to be talked to sleep. His favorite thing is the snuggle up close on my side of the bed, wrap his arms around me and say, “tell me the impressions of the day.” Rarely does he actually have the opportunity to ask me about the impressions of the day because nine nights out of ten, I’m dead asleep before he turns out the lights. This is not ideal for Sig Other as he hates to be alone and, to him, being awake when I am asleep is about as lonely as it gets. But lately I haven’t slept so well. There’s a lot on my mind. So, lately, Sig Other has had more opportunity to hear about the impressions of the day.
The other night, in response to the request for the impressions of the day, I started talking about Abraham. The guy from the bible. I don’t know a whole lot about Abraham. I never read the bible or went to Hebrew school. And I am most likely way out of my depth engaging in this conversation. But I had come from a study class with my rabbi and had Abraham on my mind.
In class that evening, we were talking about the tension inherent in Judaism. And we were looking at a particular passage from the Torah, which begins with God’s inner monologue about whether or not to tell Abraham that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. And that’s weird enough. Why is God talking to himself much less questioning (or strategizing) whether or not he should let Abraham in on his plan? THEN, God tells Abraham and Abraham, in a display of pure hubris, challenges God. And not only does he challenge God, he WINS. And not only does he WIN, he keeps going. First, Abraham gets God to agree to save Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of fifty good men. But that is not enough for Abraham. He keeps going. What about forty, thirty, twenty, ten? And God agrees. Of course in the middle of this negotiation, Abraham does something brilliant. Abraham says to God, “I am but dust”. He basically kisses God’s ass in the middle of the negotiation and, EVEN THOUGH HE IS WINNING, he takes a moment to compliment God and acknowledge his own subservience. And then he keeps going until he gets what he wants. Fucking brilliant. Of course, there are not ten good men and so God destroys the cities anyway.
But the destruction of Sodom is not the thing I care about. This passage alone is not the thing that haunts me. What haunts me is another passage. The passage where Abraham recognizes that the world was “created for my sake.” This is the thing about Abraham and his story that is so interesting. Abraham acknowledges on the one hand that the world was created “for my sake.” And on the other, he also admits to God, “I am but dust”. My rabbi often talks about the notion that to be a Jew is to walk around with a piece of paper in each pocket – in one pocket is a piece of paper that says “the world was created for my sake” and in the other, a piece of paper that says “I am but dust.”
Clearly, my evening class with the rabbi had my head spinning with this idea. What does it mean to live this paradox? What does it mean to be the most significant and the least in the same moment? Is this meant to be the lesson of Abraham? Maybe. “But,” I said to Sig Other as I continued on my rant about Abraham, “I don’t think is that this duality is what defines our lives as Jews. I think this duality is what defines our lives as humans. To be alive is to walk the knife-edge ridge of hubris and humility. To be alive is to be in constant conflict with overactive ego and crippling lack of self-esteem. To be alive is to be simultaneously aware of the individual vs. the social. Am I for myself or am I for you? And if I am not for myself how can I be for you? The great struggle of my adult life is to try to balance my inherent selfishness with my desire to get outside of myself and do something greater – for my family, for my community, for the world. Likewise the struggle between “I’m great” and “I’m shit” is sort of a constant.”
I paused to take a breath here – I felt I was really getting to something deep – that I was about to uncover something truly insightful about myself through the my newfound spectacular knowledge of three paragraphs of the Torah when suddenly I realized that Sig Other’s breathing had slowed and was being accentuated by an ever-so-slight snore on the inhale. I think I’d lost him somewhere between “Sodom” and “Gomorrah”. Or maybe even at the mention of Abraham. It didn’t matter, really. I would talk to him about Abraham some other time. “M,” I said, “are you asleep?” “No,” he replied in a muffled voice, “I’m listening to every word. Keep talking. Its so nice.” And I did, though I know he had no awareness of anything other than the hum of my voice.