Page 67 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

Basic HTML Version

5 3
H
a lk i n
S. J.
A
gnon
and folklore are no longer employed even as stylistic and pic-
torial devices. All the voices and echoes of Biblical quotations,
of Talmudic legends and folk tales, are woven into the fabric
of the narrative and combined into a perfect musical unity on
which every note from beginning to end is inexorably binding.
Even the grotesquerie in the folk tale about “the image of a man
on the sea, whose beard is long and whose side-locks hang from
both cheeks, a book in his hand and a handkerchief spread under
him, on which he sits in the manner of a man in quiet leisure,
whom no gale at sea can drown nor beast in the sea swallow up”
—such buffoonery flows naturally from the narrative like the
flame from a burning candle. The reader knows, for example,
that this image represents none other than “Hananya who vexed
them during the entire journey,” that mysterious one who at-
tached himself to the traveling Butzatzites and disappeared quite
suddenly in Istambul. He came there to perform the
mi tzvah
of
freeing a deserted woman who was revealed to him as the widow
of a Jewish bandit leader, but in the interim the ship sailed
without him. Though the reader is well aware of it, this knowl-
edge does not deter him from joining the pious company watch-
ing the image on the waters “until their eyelashes were singed
by the sun.” He too is moved by this perceptive observation:
“Said Reb Shmuel the son of Reb Shalom Mordechai Halevi, ‘It
is the
Shekhina
returning with the Jewish people to its rightful
abode.' ״
This contorting of values, the blotting out of the border line
between reality and dream, confounding the dream with truth—
this typical Agnonistic symbolism, without parallel in Hebrew
literature, can be appreciated in its majestic grandeur even by
the ordinary reader, and not merely by a small coterie conversant
with recondite wisdom. One need not be an erudite Talmudic
scholar to assimilate them. This age is, however, unacquainted
with the mystical notion of life, and, in consequence, also with
the mystical conception of art. At best, the modern Jew inter-
prets this symbolism allegorically, in terms of metaphor and
parable. This interpretation applies mainly to matters close to
the collective Jewish soul; as for example, when Agnon descants
on the love of the Jew for Eretz Israel in his
Maase Haez
(Story
of the She-goat). It is also found in
Bi lvav Hayam,
that most
sublime of his works in which the national symbol, the myth in
its ancient meaning, transcends the boundaries of space and time.
But Agnon’s extraordinary ability to illumine Jewish life with
a pure celestial light that makes it glow like a noble legend in
our mundane world, that power will lift us on the spiritual and
visionary ladder only when we shall prove worthy of envisioning
the exaltation of the soul as our ultimate objective in life. It is
not a lack of Jewish knowledge that deters our age from immers-
ing itself in this resplendent light. The teaching, “The Torah is
a picture (blueprint) of the world which behaves in accordance