That was how Helaine would ask to be held when she was a baby. “Holjumee.” When she started saying it, it took us a little while to figure out its origins, but eventually we got it. We would hold out our arms and say, “Do you want me to hold you?” She thought “hold you” was the verb, all by itself. Thus, “Hold you me.” Or, “Holjumee.”
An old friend’s recent Facebook post about her daughter’s early attempts at syntax had me thinking about Holjumee and its relationship to Torah. In some ways, this week’s portion is a lesson in the value of “Holjumee.” We read (Gen 2:18): “It is not good for the human being, adam, to be alone. I will make a fitting helper, an ezer k’negdo, for him.”
What follows is a pretty funny scene, if you think about, and allow yourself to laugh a bit with a book that we’re taught from youth is very serious. One after another, animals are paraded before this solo human, this Adam, and Adam gives them names. God seems to think that one of these animals will be that ezer k’negdo, the one to help and drive away the loneliness. But time after time, Adam is disappointed. No ezer k’negdo was found.
You may know what happens next. A deep sleep. Adam is reshaped, one becoming two (forget what you know about “ribs,” here. The better translation of the Hebrew is that God took one of Adam’s “sides”).
And after the anesthesia wore off, “God brought her to Adam.” Our moment of truth. What will Adam have to say to this effort of God’s? “Then Adam said, ‘This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called Woman, for from man was she taken.’”
So we ask: what was different that caused Adam to exclaim, Zot hapa’am, “This time, at last!” What led him to begin speaking in verse, etzem me’atzamai, uvasar mib’sari, “bone from my bones, and flesh from my flesh”? It seems that this creature had something that the others didn’t.
One modern biblical commentator sums up Adam’s poetic flight in simple prose: “Hey…it looks like me!” But it’s certainly not just a physical likeness that leads Adam to rate his other half a better match than the giraffe or the hippo. Beyond similar outer features, they share nishmat chayim, the “breath of life,” which God breathed into them before they were separated, one from the other. Unique among creatures in the biblical worldview, they are animated, inspired beings. They can talk to each other. They can relate to each other. And it is the relationship they crave, it is the relationship which causes them to cleave, one to the other. The hallmark of the human species, as seen through the lens of these verses, is the desire to be known, and to know others. As much as we’ve set aside the readings of this text which make so much of the gender of Adam and Eve, just so must we hang on to the reading which reminds us of what we human beings want: “Holjumee.”
And remember, a true relationship, one that satisfies our existential need to “not be alone,” needs to have a bit of tension. The people with whom we are in relationship are there for us to help us…and also to challenge us and even – lovingly – to oppose us. Because they care about us, and about the relationship itself, they do not offer merely ezra, “assistance,” but also niggud, “opposition,” or even perhaps “confrontation.”
Confrontation? Yes, confrontation. It’s a great word, when you dig into it. “Confront” means to be con, “with” frontes “foreheads” together. The same observation, by the way, can be made of the word “oppose,” which sounds negative at first blush but means only “to be across from.” Our ezrim v’ezrot k’negdeinu, our helper-opposites stand across from us turned toward us, face to face, forehead to forehead, satisfying our basic human need to feel connected. Confrontation finds its resolution in conciliation – with cilia, or eyelashes, together.
It would be easy to pivot from here to a word to Adam and Suki, to Rae and Peter, a little pre-wedding wedding drash. But despite the etiology, or origin-story tacked on to the end, which is all about the way we set out from our families of origin and create new ones, the message of lo tov heyot adam l’vado is not, in the final analysis, a plug for JDate or OKCupid. It is so much more than that. Lo tov heyot adam l’vado, it is not good for us to be alone.
Now, I’m as happy with a magazine or my guitar for a few hours as anyone, but I recognize even in my fairly introverted self the need to feel connected, a part of something. To have partners and colleagues, compas y comas as we’d say in the Old Country. Partners in justice. Partners in service. I read these words each year and I take stock: how good a partner have I been? How good a friend have I been? A son, a father, a neighbor, a rabbi? Have I remembered to listen for the call, the “holjumee?” Have I remembered to say it, to reach out, myself?
My hope, my prayer, is that the next several months will be a time for a whole lotta “holjumee” at Judea Reform, months filled with opportunities for connecting. I’ll repeat myself by saying that inner and outer worlds alike a ripe for connection. You may have energy to connect with our neighbors through interfaith justice work, or maybe your passion is to connect with your fellow Judea members through our Caring Community. Please, connect. And if what you need more than anything right now is to feel the connection, to be welcomed and valued and heard and seen…please let us know. Let me know. A busy summer of settling in is over, the big holidays are behind us, and it’s the Shabbat of bereishit, of Beginnings. May we all be blessed, in this New Year.