Page 50 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
are revealed the merciful and the grotesque, the tragic and the
comic, can be seen clearly by following the development of this
motif in some of his works. I t is a motif already present at the
core and focal point of one of his first significant works,
the Rugged Shall Be Made Level.
This story is essentially derived from a Jewish folk tale, pub-
lished in Warsaw, 1855, by Isaac Mayer Dick, under the title,
“Der Yoired,” or “The Fallen One.” The content of the story
is as follows: The two protagonists, Menashe Chaim and his
wife Kraindel, have lived together for ten years, in the manner
of Jews of chasidic Galicia in the middle of the 19th century.
Kraindel was the breadwinner of the family, while Menashe
Chaim sat and studied Torah and was preoccupied with life
in the hereafter. They had no children. As Agnon puts it: “For
the man was desolate. He had no sons.” But Menashe Chaim
did not give up hope. He continued to study and occasionally
helped his wife in the store. For these were his primary ties with
real life—his love for his wife, and the shop. In the meantime,
Kraindel has become involved in competition with another
storekeeper and has gone into debt. Menashe Chaim becomes
an impoverished, fallen one. Kraindel rebels against the decree
of poverty and struggles in despair and touching naivete to
conceal her position—but to no avail. In a symbolic, stirring
description Agnon tells how Menashe Chaim and Kraindel leave
the shop: “And the merchant who had leased the shop came to
see if they had already left him their place. Kraindel Charney
stretched forth her two hands, sore and soiled from dust and
rust, angrily wiped her eyes, and flung the keys of the shop at
the feet of the merchant. Menashe Chaim lifted his two bruised
fingers to kiss the mezuzah before leaving, and caressed t h e
e m p t y s p a c e w h e r e t h e m e z u z a h h a d b e e n ”
—a description symbolizing his destiny of exile and return, a
return with outstretched hands eager to embrace, but groping
in the empty air, embracing only a vacuum o r p h a n e d
o f i t s m e z u z a h , a w o r l d o f c h a o s . The scene
ends with a sentence reverberating with meaning: “And he left
the shop, never to return there again.” Thus Menashe Chaim
begins to wander off, far from home. For five years he roams
about in strange places, while his yearning for his wife never
ceases. Trudging from embarrassment to disgrace, he goes about
collecting charity. Menashe Chaim is still hopeful of returning
and reestablishing his home though meanwhile wandering, col-
lecting, longing. In a critical scene he meets another beggar who
convinces him to sell his letter of authorization which entitles
him to collect charity. Because of his longing for his wife and his
desire to return, he accepts the proposal and sells the letter to
the beggar. He directs himself to the fair in Leshkowitz, in order
once again to enter the world of business for his wife’s sake.