January 26, 2005

I am but dust and ashes - The world was created for me

According to Rabbi Bunim of P'shiskha, everyone should have two pockets, each containing a slip of paper. On one should be written: I am but dust and ashes, and on the other: The world was created for me. From time to time we must reach into one pocket, or the other. The secret of living comes from knowing when to reach into each.

The first phrase is spoken by Abraham when he realizes that he's bargaining with God over S'dom (סדום) and `Amora (עמורה) - Sodom and Gomorrah:

וְאָנֹכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר

V'anokhi `afar va'efer

I am but dust and ashes

Genesis 18:27

The second phrase is from the Talmud, illustrating that we are all unique individuals, though we are formed from the same mould:

לפיכך נברא אדם יחידי
ללמדך שכל המאבד נפש אחת מישראל
מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו איבד עולם מלא
וכל המקיים נפש אחת מישראל
מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו קיים עולם מלא
ומפני שלום הבריות שלא יאמר אדם לחבירו
אבא גדול מאביך
ושלא יהו המינים אומרים הרבה רשויות בשמים
ולהגיד גדולתו של הקדוש ברוך הוא
שאדם טובע כמה מטבעות בחותם אחד כולן דומין זה לזה
ומלך מלכי המלכים הקדוש ברוך הוא טבע כל אדם בחותמו של אדם הראשון
ואין אחד מהן דומה לחבירו
לפיכך כל אחד ואחד חייב לומר
בשבילי נברא העולם

L'fikhakh nivra' adam y'hidi
L'lamedkha shekol ham'abed nefesh ahat miyisra'el
Ma`le `alav hakatuv k'ilu ibed `olam male'
V'khol ham'qayem nefesh ahat miyisra'el
Ma`ale `alav hakatuv k'ilu kiyem `olam male'
Umipney shlom habriyut shlo' yomar adam l'havero
Aba gadol me'avikha
V'shelo' yihyu haminim omrim harbe rehuyot bashamayim
Ul'hagid g'dulato shel haqadosh barukh hu
She'adam tovea` kama matbe`ot b'hotem ehad kulan domin ze l'ze
Umelekh malkey hamlakhim haqadosh barukh hu tava` kol adam b'hotmo shel adam harishon
V'eyn ehad mehem dome l'havero
L'fikhakh kol ehad v'ehad hayav lomar
bishvili nivra' ha`olam

For this reason a single person was created (Adam was created alone)
To teach you that anyone who kills one soul of Israel
Is considered as if he has killed an entire world
And anyone who sustains one soul of Israel
Is considered as if he has sustained an entire world
And because of peace among mankind, so that one person won't say to his fellow
"My father is greater than your father"
And so that the apostates won't say "There are many authorities in heaven"
And to tell the greatness of the Holy One Blessed Be He
That a man mints many coins with one stamp, all of them the same as one another
And the King of Kings the Holy One Blessed Be He minted every person with the stamp of Adam
And not one of them is the same as his fellow
For this reason every single person must say
The world was created for me

Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 37B

UPDATE: It occurs to me that the above is likely to be impenetrable without a little background. First of all, you have to understand that in the time it was written down (probably much later than when it originated) a tribal point of view was a fact of life. Thus, the passage first compares two Jews (souls of Israel) to emphasize our worth as individuals, not just as members of a tribe (remember this was written by Jews for a Jewish audience), the logic being that every individual is capable of being an ancestor to the whole world, thus by killing him you have also killed his descendents, i.e. everyone. The passage then compares individuals from different tribes, who are likely to say "my father is greater than your father" i.e. "the founder of my tribe is greater than the founder of your tribe". (The expression 'shlom habriyut' is stock phrase within Judaism referring to the explicit value of peace among mankind.) And finally proceeds to the common (in those days) but anti-Jewish idea of patron gods, i.e. that different tribes had different gods (we are familiar with this in the west from ancient Greece, where each city had a patron god), were people might be tempted to say "my god created my tribe and your god created your tribe". The passage winds up by exploring the wonders of sexual reproduction in that no two people are alike, even though God "minted every person with the stamp of Adam" - so that not only can everyone can claim to be God's original creation, but to deny it is to deny God - it would imply that He made you by accident.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at January 26, 2005 11:35 PM
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The Gematriah [alphaneumerics] of "V'anokhi `afar va'efer" comes to 754. For "bishvili nivra' ha`olam" it comes to 758. If we remove the letter "bet" (or "beis" as I would call it) that appears twice in "bishvili", you get "shai li" [gift for me] and makes the 2 quotes numerically equal... now what to do with those 2 pesky letters. .

Posted by: Ish Av Seer HaYechusi at March 22, 2005 12:23 AM Permalink