When does a child become self-aware?
When a child first sees himself in a mirror he touches the mirror. He does not know it is his reflection. Later, around the age of two, when the child looks in the mirror she instead touches her face. In that moment her self-identity begins to take shape. The child says, “I.” Self-awareness begins to form.
In Hebrew “Ani” means “I.” This word does not appear in the Torah until this week. There appears little self-awareness exhibited by Adam and Eve, who are unaware of their nakedness and blame each other, as well as God, for their own failings. There is plenty of “you” but no “I.” Cain and Abel are so lacking in introspection that they do not understand the pain they cause each other, leading to the first murder.
And then the “I” appears. Ani is first discovered in the story of Noah and the flood. It is God who first utters the word, Ani. “And God said to Noah and his sons with him, ‘I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come, and with every living thing that is with you…never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’” (Genesis 9:8-11)
God becomes self-aware. The “I” resounds in a promise. In fact it is first contemplated in response to Noah’s spontaneous offering. “The Lord smelled the pleasing odor, and the Lord said to Himself: ‘Never again will I doom the earth because of man…’” (Genesis 8:20-21) It is conjured by Noah’s sacrifice. Of course, God cannot smell, but God most certainly becomes self-aware in response to Noah’s actions, and perhaps, in response to ours.
Martin Buber argues in his seminal work, I and Thou, that our world is organized by our relationships. For Buber, as David Brooks recently reminds us, there is no “I.” There is only I-It or I-Thou. The “I” only exists in relation to another. Most of our relationships are utilitarian and therefore I-It. Some are I-Thou. It is these that offer a glimmer of the divine. In I-Thou there is a mutuality of care and concern. “All real living is meeting,” Buber observed. The “I” never exits alone. It can only be found in the promise of another.
Is it possible that God can only be God in relationship with human beings? I wonder. What if the entire Bible is not about us but instead about God? What if it is not about our search for God but instead God’s quest for us and in that search, the discovery of God’s own self-awareness? Abraham Joshua Heschel writes (in his theological treatise, God in Search of Man): “This is the status of the Bible in modern life: it is a sublime answer, but we do not know the question any more. Unless we recover the question, there is no hope of understanding the Bible.” Perhaps the question is not ours, but God’s. Perhaps the search is not our own. Heschel reminds us: it is instead God’s search.
And God asks us again and again: why are you created?
I begin to recover, and reformulate, an answer.
We are fashioned to be God’s mirror. We were created in God’s image.
God is only God because of us.
God can only be God with us.
We are the mirror that God holds.
The questioning continues.
What is the image we wish for God to see?