“Acquire for yourself a friend,” say the sages, and I have been going about this business dutifully. Needless to say, I would prefer to have one friend who renders all other friends a frivolous distraction, like Rabbi Akiva’s The Frog. For Rabbi Akiva, who takes literally Exodus 8:2, the second plague in Egypt consisted of one giant frog that covered the face of the land. The other rabbis were not too keen on this idea, and responded dismissively: “Akiva, what are you doing making up stories? Desist from this nonsense and go back to studying the laws of skin blemishes and enclosed tents” (Sanhedrin 67b). I, like Akiva, cannot stop making up stories. I fall asleep conjuring The Frog who will once and for all overlook my blemishes and come to my tent in the guise of a handsome prince.
In daylight hours, I desist from this nonsense and go about making new friends. Heavy of heart, I find it easier to start from scratch, not becoming closer with casual acquaintances (who, not having just been through the loss of you, seem as foreign to me as aliens on Uranus) but with those who work in all the places I frequent. There is Anwar at Aroma, who prepares my coffee every Sunday and Wednesday afternoons and has made a pact with me to speak only in Hebrew, though it is neither of our first languages. There is Carlos from Colombia, security guard by day and yeshiva student by night, who struck up a conversation on the bus when he noticed me learning daf yomi, and whom I stop to greet in my rudimentary Spanish whenever I pass by the store he guards. There is Rona behind the counter of the wine shop, who gave me fancy ribbons with which to wrap the colorful spices that I buy in bulk at the shuk and then package as gifts for friends. And there is Igor, the Russian dry cleaner, who showed me how to fashionably cuff my pants over my boots. These new friends know nothing about my past. They take me as I am, on my own terms, happy to see me whenever I show up at their respective posts.
Of course, my new friends do not afford me the pleasures of deep conversation; nor can they offer me a shoulder on which to cry. But for now, that is not what I need. In these rawest of moments I relish the hours alone. I think of a quote attributed to Balzac that was pasted in my locker way back in high school: “Solitude is fine. But you need someone to tell you that solitude is fine.” These friends serve to legitimate my solitude (which is not even a total solitude, thanks to my beloved family and friends in m’dinat hayam). We are all, in some moments, alone; and in that sense we are all in this together, like millions and millions of frogs dotting the surface of the earth in anticipation of the promised redemption.