Page 18 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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10
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
your biology requires of you; all the rest is dream and imagina­
tion. History offers the hard life; history says, Beyond your biology
stands Clarification. History says to us: Clarify, clarify! But what
does it mean to clarify? Like Akiva, we must always look a little
deeper, into the sense of the tiny crowns on the letters; but like
Moses, we must not look too deeply, or a blind and predatory
nature will swallow us up. The question “Then is it all for no th­
ing?” is of course not a question but an answer: “Look,” goes the
answer, “you see it is all for nothing.” And that is nature’s answer,
the answer of the predatory birds and the predatory boys on
bikes. It is all for nothing, so let us destroy the grass and let
us burn the man, because you see it is all for nothing.
The Jew chooses against nature and in behalf of the clarifying
impulse. He chooses in behalf of history. The terrible—and terri­
fying—difficulty is that it is truly against our natures to choose
against nature. We do not want to do it. We do not want the
trouble and the sorrow and the burden and the damn hard work
of it. Why did Isaac Babel join the strenuous Cossacks? To rest
from the fatigue of being a Jew. The self-righteous Jew who
blames or despises the weak or self-hating Jew must remind him ­
self how he, too, often dreams of riding off into naturalness and
worldliness and sentiment, of escaping the reality-pain that clari­
fication imposes. History is pain. From Egypt to the shame of
the calf at the foot of Sinai to Treblinka is no natural road. One
need not believe in God—in a sense, one
should
not—in order to
see that ours has not been a natural road. The stopping-point
at Sinai meant that the natural world would thereafter be differ­
entiated from the holy. Among ancient peoples all the days of
the week were alike, and that, of course, was only natural; to
the trees and the fish and the molecules of air all the days
are
alike, nothing makes a week. Sinai made the Sabbath. The Sab­
bath is a made, invented, created,
given
thing; it is not a natural
thing. What is holy is not natural, and what is natural is not holy.
The God of the Jews must not be conceived of as belonging to
nature—not in the image of anything we can know or recognize,
not tree, not stone, not any heavenly body, least of all man. And
so when the Jew chooses history instead of nature he is not think­
ing about a natural progression of days, event following event.
If we left history to nature it would be a sort of bundle one
generation hauls off its back to launch onto the next generation;
every twenty-five years or so the bundle gets heavier and heavier,
and the accumulation continues without conscience forever and
ever. But history for the Jew is not like this; history for the Jew
is not simply what has happened, it is a judgment on what has
happened. History is to the continuum of events what the Sab­
bath is to the progression of days.
It is audacious to remember the Sabbath when day after ordi­