Bishvili Nivra HaOlam, or, The two pockets

In October of 2018, an Etsy customer commissioned from me a design of the quotation Bishvili nivra ha-olam: “The world was created for me”.

This phrase is a quote from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 37B), but it is most famously incorporated into a Chassidic story about Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (the Yiddish name for the town of Przysucha, Poland).

Rabbi Simcha Bunim teaches: Every person should have two pockets. In one pocket should be a piece of paper saying: “I am only dust and ashes.” When one is feeling too proud, reach into this pocket and take out this paper and read it. In the other pocket should be a piece of paper saying: “For my sake was the world created.” When one is feeling disheartened and lowly, reach into this pocket and take this paper out and read it. We are each the joining of two worlds. We are fashioned from clay, but our spirit is the breath of Adonai.
—Martin Buber, Tales of The Hasidim Later Masters, pp. 249-50

At the time of the original commission, it struck me that I ought to create a two-sided wallet card with one saying on each side.

Zazzle annually offers its Pro members (ProDesigners) a free batch of business cards (FYI!). So when it came time to order this year’s set, I finally sat down and designed the other side.

The cards arrived last Thursday and I’m quite pleased with them!

At that point, I also realized that by a happy coincidence, that week’s Torah portion was Vayera, the source of the “dust and ashes” quotation. It occurs in Genesis 18:27 when Abraham is bargaining with God over Sodom and Gomorrah:

כז  וַיַּעַן אַבְרָהָם, וַיֹּאמַר:  הִנֵּה-נָא הוֹאַלְתִּי לְדַבֵּר אֶל-אֲדֹנָי, וְאָנֹכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר. 27 And Abraham answered and said: ‘Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the LORD, who am but dust and ashes.
כח  אוּלַי יַחְסְרוּן חֲמִשִּׁים הַצַּדִּיקִם, חֲמִשָּׁה–הֲתַשְׁחִית בַּחֲמִשָּׁה, אֶת-כָּל-הָעִיר; וַיֹּאמֶר, לֹא אַשְׁחִית, אִם-אֶמְצָא שָׁם, אַרְבָּעִים וַחֲמִשָּׁה. 28 Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous; wilt Thou destroy all the city for lack of five?’ And He said: ‘I will not destroy it, if I find there forty and five.’

Genesis Chapter 18

Granted, there’s nothing like entering a battle of wits with the Eternal Creator to make a person mindful of their own base humanity. But the point is, maybe Abraham would also have benefited from keeping one of these two-sided cards in his pocket. After all, in a very real sense, the world was also created for him.

 

Further reading: