Page 99 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

Basic HTML Version

In his compact essay “Past and Future,” a rabbinic saying
about King Solomon provides Ahad Ha'am with a poetic Jew­
ish parallel to Hegel’s tri-partite scheme of history, which visits
death on a nation as it enters “old age.” Hegel is not mentioned,
nor is the implicit refutation of Hegel, taken here from Nah-
man Krokhmal. This lack of footnoting, which might today
smack of plagiarism, typifies the succinct sermonic essay. The
knowledgeable reader thrills to the meticulous structure, to sub­
tle allusions to world views occupying volumes, and to the an­
or new twist. If according to Krokhmal the
Jews overcame the inexorable demise of national “old age”
through collective espousal of the “Absolute Spiritual” as their
cultural heritage (a virtually mystical idea), for Ahad Ha'am
the secret of Jewish immortality is rendered in more down-to-
earth psychological terms. They are kept alive by hope, a de­
fense “mechanism” of the Jewish racial unconscious which Ahad
Ha'am articulates and analyzes in profoundly moving variations.
The dream of a future national restoration is a psychological
postulate of the real Judaism. I t enables individuals to suffer
brutally meaningless personal lives without producing in them the
usual escape reactions of either cynical hedonism or otherworldly
views of the after-life. Witness the conspicuous absence in the
Bible of views which offer purely “selfish” individual salvation.
(“Flesh and Spirit”) Witness even the lack of a “present tense”
in the classical Hebrew language, thus riveting the psyche of
the Jew on past and future models which transcend that per­
ishability to which the naked temporal ego is heir. (“Moses”)
This dream informed the unconscious motivations of genera­
tions of talmudic scholars who labored over the minutiae of
“commandments pertaining to the land of Israel.” It penetrated
even the iron wall of intellectualism of a Maimonides, prompt­
ing him to include the coming of the Messiah, terrestrially and
nationally interpreted, among his quintessential dogmas of Juda­
ism. (“Past and Future,” “Supremacy of the Intellect”)
Once they are kept alive by hope, another “survival mecha­
nism,” competitive imitation, comes into play, enabling the Jews
to absorb both new vitality and new adaptive apparatus from
their host nations. (“Imitation and Assimilation”) Again the