Page 18 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

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10
JEW IS H BOOK ANNUA L
STRUGGLE AND M OURN ING
From this point of view, Shin Shalom is a poet of modern Jewish
history experiencing its traumas with unparalleled intensity at
both the personal and collective levels. T he work in which this
kind of experience is most vividly recorded is probably
On Ben
Peleh,
a long autobiographical poem, published in 1940. T he title
is adapted from the name of one of Reuben’s rebellious sons
mentioned in Numbers 16:1. (The following first six extracts
from the poem are from the translation of Victor E. Reichert
and Moses Zalesky [Jerusalem, Jewish Agency Youth and Heha-
lutz Department, 1963]. The last six are my own adaptations.—
H.F.)
The choice of the biblical title suggests the aspect of struggle,
even of insurrection; bu t it also suggests tha t the ultimate posture
is one of awe. There is the experience of the miraculous; there
is a mystery at the depths of the People and of the land to which
the People is moved to return:
I knocked at your gates, O Jerusalem
A t midnight, at your Western Wall.
Eyes stared at me from the Temple Mount.
Were they God’s or an Arab's eyes?
I climbed dead stairs. Upon the wall
Footsteps are swallowed in the path of the moon.
Who is it paces at my heels atremble?
Orphaned here the Shekhinah mourns.
The same figure of the mourning Shekhinah "whom Bialik had
met in the corner of the Bet Hamidrash is here eerily transported
to the Temple Mount, and the poet is struck with a sense of
inscrutability and mystery. Is the place empty or is there someone
there? Who is tha t th ird who walks always beside him? In
any poetry relating to the Western Wall, the imagery of the
Song of Songs 2:9 may always be assumed to be present, at least
as suppressed metaphor: “Behold he stands behind our Wall.
He looks in at the windows, he peers through the lattice.” But
does God peer out of the lattice, or is it an Arab? At times,
Shalom is awed by the sense of an overwhelming presence to
whom he can respond, and who responds to him in love: