Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 23

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
10
American philosopher Walter Kaufmann has ranked them with
the New Testament as a work of lasting religious value. They
speak to contemporary man more easily than
For the Sake of
Heaven;
yet it is in this last work that Buber has made his
most profound and concrete contribution to the Modern Mystic
as a contemporary image of man. Although it is set in the time
of the Napoleonic wars and centers in the internal struggles of
obscure Hasidic communities, it was only during the Second
World War that Buber was able finally to write it, according to
his own testimony. What made the novel “write itself” and
what is reflected in the novel was the Second World War’s
“atmosphere of a tellurian crisis, the frightful waging of power,
and the signs here and there of a false Messianic.”
The Seer of Lublin wishes to hasten the coming of redemption
through magical, mystical intentions and prayers which will
strengthen Napoleon, whom he identifies with the apocryphal
Gog of the land of Magog, and will thus force God to send the
Messiah. His disciple the holy Yehudi, in contrast, stays clear
of magic and teaches that redemption can only come through
our turning back to God. It is in him that Buber achieves an
image of a mystic of great goodness
and
great strength—a rare
accomplishment in literature and one that in this respect exceeds
even that of Dostoievsky in Father Zossima and Alyosha in
The
Brothers Karamazov.
The Yehudi is a man of great sincerity
who is unusual in his combination of deep study and fervent
ecstatic prayer. He is spoken of as a man who does not know
anger, yet he angers many of his contemporary Hasidim because
of the irregularity of his hours of prayer and his insistence on
inward spiritual preparation before praying. He is marked by
an intense concern for the truth as something to live and fight
for, and by the unusual suffering which arises out of his iden-
tification with the sufferings of the exiled Shekhinah.
The Yehudi tells the Rabbi that he does not believe in mira-
culous happenings which contradict the course of nature, but
regards the miraculous and the natural as two aspects of the
same thing—as God’s pointing finger, or revelation, and God’s
creative hand, or creation. The miracle is “our receptivity to
the eternal revelation” and therefore does not take place through
magic and incantations but through openness to God. Similarly
the coming of redemption depends not upon our power or on
the practices of magic incantation over mysterious forces but
on our repentance and our return to God. “Not until man
despairs of himself and turns to God with the entire force of
that despair . . . will help be given him.”
At the Seer’s suggestion, the Yehudi leaves him and founds
a congregation of his own. He remains a loyal disciple of the
Seer, however, despite the latter’s growing hatred and distrust