Page 56 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
the artist, that he will never quite reach him, because on his
way to him he will not be able to erase the smile of mockery
from his lips—just as the artist could not gain entrance to the
flaming, furious world of Menashe Chaim because he could not
deaden his scream of rebellion, and could not ask for forgiveness.
One observes these two worlds and is astounded—by what
virtue is Reb Yudel saved from the destiny of Menashe Chaim?
The startling answer is: by virtue of Reb Zorach the rooster,
who leaps from hands and discovers hidden treasure. One might
ask: “A rooster . . . is not the artist diabolically mocking me?”
No, in the world of Reb Yudel everything is possible; a miracle
befits it no less than a calamity. Just as in Menashe Chaim’s world
it was possible to rebel, rebel against rebellion, and then finally
submit and accept. Perhaps those two worlds are only one—the
miraculous arousing the jealousy and mockery of him who stands
outside, and the tragic-heroic submissiveness which makes the
outsider grit his teeth. It is one world, the mythical world of
Agnon. Reb Yudel refuses to lower and shield his head from
the stones of hoodlums. He has said his prayer for a safe journey
and has nothing to fear from rocks; the outsider smiles and is
jealous. Menashe Chaim lies near his tombstone asking for-
giveness from God, for he will not enter the city and declare his
wife’s son a bastard—the outsider grits his teeth angrily at this
submissiveness, yet admires him.
Between these two there is Mendele’s Benjamin the Third,
who lies asleep in the corner of an inn where Mendele has put
him. Benjamin dreams about a wedding, musicians, of speaking
to a rabbi while he actually embraces a young cow and whispers
into its ear. A kick of the cow awakens him for a moment, and
he wonders: “This cow, where did it come from all of a sudden?
Is it a miracle descended from h e a v e n i n t h e s h a p e
o f a c o w ? ” He falls asleep again, concluding there is no
heavenly cow, because “A m o n g a l l o u r c o w s i n -
e l u d i n g t h i s o n e t h e r e i s n o t o n e h e a v e n -
1 y o n e . ” A second kick that “t o u c h e d t h e h o l l o w
o f h i s t h i g h ” awakens him. In “reverence and awe”
(nir’ash venifchad) he flees, trips over a pail of slops and is
“purified.” “After this purification Benjamin was led with honor
to a special room, and he was weary and exhausted, a n d h e
l o d g e d t h e r e t h a t n i g h t , w i t h o u t r e a d -
i n g t h e S h e m a ”—a hilarious Mendelian potpourri of rabbi
and calf, cows descending from heaven, purification and slops,
fused with verses and associations taken from Jacob’s dream
and from the prayers for the Days of Awe.
The storyteller tells us about Reb Yudel Chosid: “Reb Yudel
did not repel agony . . . he made his life a chariot for Providence
to ride upon and denied the existence of troubles in the world.”