Page 94 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

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saint and an incomparable story teller. But his tales bear an
aura of saintliness and are intended for religious devotion. Peretz’s
stories, on the other hand, were born of his eternal quest for the
soul element in the Jew, and he found it in Hassidism. Perhaps
he never peered into the face of a Hassidic Rebbe nor lingered
in his court, nor sat at his table to listen to interpretations of the
. Torah, yet Peretz had a profounder insight into the bewitching
beauty of Hassidism than any other Jewish writer. His Hassidic
tales are the most fascinating among his writings in conjuring the
depth, tone and color of the lives and scenes he depicts. Wondrous
men, majestic figures, almost unearthly beings whose transfigured
faces transcend the pangs of hunger! An atmosphere of loneli-
ness pervades these stories. One wonders why these themes were
so long neglected and why no one before Peretz tapped this magic
reservoir of Jewish faith and courage.
Peretz did more than tell Hassidic stories: he rediscovered Has-
sidism for the people that brought it into being,— a world of
innocence, piety, and holiness. Also a world of song. For there is
melody in Hassidism, music in its words, song and harmony in
its teachings. What lives must sing, what moves and exists must
chant and hymn. All living things sing praises to the Lord, all
animate beings praise His holy name. Such is the faith of Judaism.
Such also is the creed of the artist and poet. Only death is silent,
and what is lifeless can utter no song. Said the Zaddik of Nemirov;
“The world is a divine melody, all creatures are singers, each
letter of the Torah is a tune, and each soul an accord.”
I t was the melody of Hassidism, its strange fantastic music,
penetrating the very soul and flowing through one’s being like a
healing balm that bewitched Peretz and made him love and admire
it. There is melody in his Hassidic stories; he is perhaps the most
musical of Jewish writers; the
plays an important part in
all his stories and sketches. He makes all things move, sway, and
dance; there is no escaping the rhythm of his music. When the
Zaddik says “Torah,” celestial harmonies are heard in the air;
when the bridegroom delivers his Talmudic discourse, all the world
stops to listen.
The antagonism between the mystical Zaddik and his unemo-
tional son-in-law, the scholar, is the conflict between religion that
is dead, cold and formal, and religion that is alive with celestial
sounds and harmonies.