Page 30 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Sabbath and the messianic era form the tale’s focus. Connect­
ed in rabbinic thought — “I f Israel keeps one Sabbath as it
should be kept, the Messiah will come” (Exodus Rabbah 25:12)
— the Sabbath is accounted as a foretaste of the world to come.
Chaim remembers that in Rabat although life was very difficult,
he always kept the Sabbath. The day of rest “had preserved
him.” Resting from his back-breaking labor, he would only be
awakened by the crying of one of his children. Although he
could not stay awake for long, he always tried to recite at least
some of the Sabbath prayer.
The tale offers three views of what will happen in the era
of messianic redemption. One view is that of traditional ortho­
doxy. The secular narrator relates its main points in comparing
Chaim’s belief in the coming of the Messiah to the messianic
hope of his own grandfather. The old man had believed that
“at the End of Days, when the Messiah comes, He’ll raise the
dead and restore the sacred cruse of oil to the Temple, which
He’ll rebuild with a wave of His hand.” In contrast, the kib-
butznik offers his own socialist view of redemption as a time
when everyone will share everything. Chaim’s undertanding of
the Messianic coming differs from both of these visions. In a
beautifully crafted scene, Nissenson describes a field mouse
which had come up through a hole in the concrete and gotten
stuck halfway. The mouse was being eaten alive by black ants.
Chaim wanted the narrator to see the situation before he killed
the mouse. Only then would the kibbutznik understand that
in the reign of peace, when the Messiah comes things like that
will not happen. Here, redemption depends neither on force
of arms nor on prayer. It in fact lies outside the realm of the
human.
POST-AUSCHWITZ IDENTITY
Throughout Nissenson’s literary explorations of the Jewish
and human condition there exists a nagging but unasked ques­
tion: Of what does Jewish identity consist? The issue of Jewish
identity is treated most extensively in the journals. Two in par­
ticular shed light on this subject, “Exile” and “The Pit.” The
former deals with Adi, a thirty-year-old Israeli (emigrant) now
living in Los Angeles. Tired of war and killing, he rejects the
socialism of his parents’ generation. Yoav, an older friend, and