Page 64 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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everything the All-Merciful does is for the best. This does not
even enter into Agnon’s exploration for the meaning of human
existence. He does not attempt to justify the ways of Providence
in its dealings with man. Rather he defends man’s propensity to
live, as a human being, because he believes in life, and to believe
in life because he is alive. This accounts for Agnon’s compas-
sionate and charitable attitude towards all his literary characters.
He is, to be sure, capable of creating types, like the communal
leader Reb Israel Shlomo, who are remote from even a semblance
of perfection and in whom evil operates invisibly as does good-
ness in others of his characters. But it is precisely this invisible
evil component that mitigates the harshness of its own sentence
and draws it closer to the invisible in the good. Both are mani-
festations of the same life-force the Creator has implanted in
His creatures, so that each may fend for himself and establish an
independent existence. By what authority, then, does the poet
condemn God’s creatures, even when they incline towards evil
and villainy? In condemning them, he denigrates the life-prin-
ciple God has instilled in His creatures, in order that they may
live and love life as does the poet himself. This, it would seem,
is the source of both the humor and the tragedy of Agnon. This,
too, furnishes a clue to the secret of his famed light touch with
just the bare tip of his brush. For example, while he does not
ignore the meanness and malevolence in life, he handles them
as gently and sympathetically as he deals with goodness and
purity.
This belief in life, this zest for living, now gushing torrentially
and now flowing silently, which levels all things great and small
and blesses both the evil and the good, has vanished from our
contemporary world. Difficult in such an age is the lot of the
poet who, constitutionally incapable of concurring in its skeptical
heresy, showers it with myriads of radiant spheres which seem to
float out of interplanetary space and time. The present age con-
tinues to wage the war, begun during the Enlightenment, against
its soul and its God. It responds most readily to the man who
lays bare its wounds, particularly its gaping wounds—and the
deeper the exposure the better. Faith in the individual and in
the sanctity of the human soul is dead. The heart is attracted to
any upstart who innovates the idea of a collective soul in which
the individual soul, too frightened to lead its own life, is un-
resistingly swallowed up. An age such as ours cannot assimilate
art that is faithful to itself, whose one single source since the
beginning of time is faith in man’s capacity to live according to
his innate personal nature, in obedience to the imperatives of
his soul as it emerges from the Throne of Glory. The affirmation
of life on the authority of the Almighty and of the group is
more easily avouched than its affirmation on the authority of the
individual himself. The modern Jew, for example, is less afraid
of recognizing the majesty of the Jewish tradition as such, than