Page 52 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
and mercy exist side by side in the mythological world created
by Agnon. The God of mercy is also the God of cruelty and
mockery. Though the hero who lives in this world of myth
accepts his inescapable tragic fate, the author remains on the
outside, indicating to his reader that he cannot justify the present
world, yet he and the reader can never hope to penetrate this
other world of far-gleaming fate. The hero in the story behaves
as guided by Agnon: “He bent his shoulder to the burden, and
was not insolent towards the heavens—and he justified God’s
ways.” Yet alongside stands the storyteller, saying, “God, you
are righteous and just, but may the enemies of Israel experience
such a fate as you have wrought here.” Menashe Chaim says,
“Probably God wants it this way,” but the voice of the narrator
echoes the words of Daniel, the protagonist of the author’s
for a Night,
who asks: “I ’m only a human being, flesh and
blood, and when my flesh rots my blood stinks, my lips cannot
utter the praises of the Almighty. And if I do utter His praises,
i s i t t o t h e g l o r y o f G o d i f a l u m p o f r o t -
t i n g f l e s h o r a s k i n f u l o f s t i n k i n g b l o o d
c r i e s o u t , ‘T h o u a r t r i g h t e o u s , n o m a t -
t e r w h a t b e f a l l s m e , a n d I h a v e b e e n
w i c k e d ? ’” Menashe Chaim does not return to his home and
wife. He remains in the world of chaos, in the graveyard. As
he himself expresses it: “To the world of chaos, to the world of
chaos—an upside down world, a chaotic world, a strange world
. . . forgive me, Master of the Universe.” Rebelling against tradi-
tion, Menashe Chaim accepts the world of chaos as the Godly
world, and then asks forgiveness for having done so. Agnon,
gritting his teeth, cannot ascend to the level of forgiveness of
his own character, and cannot accept the unforgiving world.
As a final note to this analysis, one who compares this story
in its earlier versions with Agnon’s changes and corrections in
the later versions will learn much about Agnon’s attitudes to
his own epic world. In the original, God’s name is often spelled
—E L O H I M ; in the later versions Agnon has corrected it
to E L O K I M . In another instance, in the earlier version
Menashe Chaim, before leaving the city, tells his wife to pull
a thread every day from the material he leaves with her: “And
let it be God’s will that with every thread you pull down there
shall be an abundance of mercy and compassion upon us from
above. And if God wishes, before the threads in the cloth run
out, our many troubles will run out and I will be back, ‘Ufeka-
detikh’ (meaning ‘And I will visit, be a husband to you, have
relations with you’—implying all three).” In the corrected ver-
sion the symbol is changed to: “Say two or three Psalms every
day, and if God wishes, before the Psalms run out our many
troubles will end, and I will return.” This contrast between the
two versions is significant. The description of pulling threads