Page 17 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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BERGER /HOLINESS AND HOLOCAUST
9
levels. Obviously, it refers to the court sitting in judgement of
the Nazi criminal. The theme of judgement also undergirds
the author’s own wrestling with the evil unleashed by the Holo­
caust. Faith in God is the topic of Nissenson’s literary tribunal.
Nissenson portrays the problem of faith in terms of choice.
The chosen people must in fact choose to be Jewish. The choice,
made in spite of historical vicissitudes and oppressions, means
that Jews continue to affirm their belief in a God of history,
messianic redemption, and the covenantal path. There is, how­
ever, a dark side to the notion of choosing. This occurs when
individuals conclude either that historical evil radically questions
God’s dominion, or that such evil has in fact overwhelmed cov­
enantal promise; the Holocaust defeats holiness. Nissenson’s
writings reflect both of these stages.
“The Blessing” is the lead story in
The Elephant and My Jewish
Problem.
It appeared originally in his first book of stories
A Pile
of Stones
(1965), which won the Edward Lewis Wallant Award.
The book’s epigraph, “Let me go, for the day breaketh,” is taken
from Genesis 32 and calls to mind Jacob’s wrestling with God;
an episode which encapsulates the condition of the Jewish peo­
ple. Jacob is eternally changed by this encounter. Spiritually,
he receives a new name and a new destiny. Physically, the en­
counter marks him with a limp. He is both fulfilled and pun­
ished by contending with God. The Blessing refers to the tra­
ditional invocation recited upon hearing bad news: “Blessed art
Thou O Lord our God who art the true judge in Israel.”
Set in contemporary Israel, the story dramatizes the difficulty
of reconciling faith with the suffering of innocents. An eight-
year old boy is dead of cancer. Preparing for his funeral, Rabbi
Levinsky, a survivor of Auschwitz, meets Yitshaak, the boy’s fa­
ther. Their meeting is inconclusive. Aunt Esther, a survivor of
Belsen, then speaks with Yitshaak. He tells Esther that he is
not going to his son’s funeral because he could not recite the
blessing which affirmed that God is ‘A true judge. . . . ’ Yitshaak
wanted to protest to Esther that his son was innocent, there
was no reason for the boy to suffer.
Esther’s faith is, however, no simple matter. Very far from
the Jobian position, “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him,”
her stance underscores the difficulty of faith. “Never think,”
she tells Yitshaak, “that one simply accepts it all once and for
all, and that’s all there is to it.” Rather, “one must struggle every