Page 19 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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— H
o l iness
a n d
iscontent s
nary day is what is natural. I t is audacious to choose the judg­
ment of history when the plain passage of events is what is natural.
It is audacious to choose against nature. We are natural beings,
every breath and bit of us is natural, the amino acids that drive
us drive the stars, the galaxies share the dust beneath our finger­
nails. The earth is filled with other philosophies than ours, and
they are all luring. Ours is the only philosophy which imposes
a Sabbath on nature’s loose equalities. The others invite us to
let go, to succumb, to merge, to see God in everything around us,
to see God in men or in one man, to confuse the natural with
the holy, ourselves with God. How we want to join all those
other philosophies which equalize and simplify! How freeing,
how restful, to slide at last into nature and give up invention
and observation, consciousness and conscience, judgment and jus­
Tha t
is the real wholeness of mind: to accept nature’s in ­
controvertible wholeness, to dismiss whatever is not in nature
as dream and imagination, to dismiss as dream and imagination
both the Sabbath and justice, because neither one is in nature.
I t looks as if we cannot have wholeness of mind and live as
Jews. Here my novelist-friend and I do not concur. “Is it an
e ither/or struggle?” she cries, hoping for a Jewish wholeness.
Presumably yes, it is an either/or struggle. Nature and holiness
are not one, and somehow we mean to include them both. Nature
we cannot exclude. But if we dare to dream and imagine holiness,
we will have to wrestle until we are past exhaustion with denying
nature its diurnal claims, and past self-despising too. It is easy
to despise ourselves for choosing struggle instead of relief. It is
easy and relieving to join the Cossacks. I t is hard to be a Jew
not only because we live from moment to moment with the
smell of incipient pogrom—in Moscow the bureaucrats in the
visa offices, in the suburbs of New York a pair of boys on bikes—
but because we are engaged from moment to moment in separat­
ing ourselves from wanting the restful life of the Cossacks, who
always come dressed as bureaucrats or boys. I t is the unnatural
Sabbath which separates us from the Cossacks. If we rest on the
Sabbath, we do not rest in life, as the Cossacks do.
In literature too—I come back briefly to literature, as I briefly
began with it—it is relieving to join the Cossacks, to write about
Cossack life, to write naturally about what is most easily at hand.
It gives wholeness of mind. But Jacob did not become Israel until
he fought all night and was not left whole. The angel, you re­
member, struck him in the sinew of his thigh. A Jewish literature
is not a literature of wholeness: it too must have the angel's
terrible mark left visibly in its sinew. A Jewish literature, like
a Jewish life, should leave us with the sense of having been struck
in the very meat of our being, altered by the blow.