Page 108 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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Hasidism and its opponents. The story, like the tale related by
Rabbi Nahman, tells o f a talmudic studen t from an anti-hasidic
family and background, a studen t for whom the atmosphere
o f talmudic learning in itself does not satisfy his soul. T h e stu­
dent, who senses a longing to go to the
the hasidic mas­
ter, to seek the re what is lacking in his life, must overcome
barriers both within his env ironm en t and within himself. As
in the tale o f Rabbi Nahman, he makes th ree attempts, setting
out th ree times to go to the
although in
actual pattern o f th ree attempts is somewhat camouflaged by
a richness o f narrative detail. Both stories end with the death
o f the student.
The plot o f
is significantly more developed than is
the earlier tale with which it shares aspects o f a basic story-
outline. In Agnon’s story, the student, Gershom, does reach
the hasidic master, Rabbi Uriel, but his coming to him within
the context o f such a difficult internal struggle brings on his
death. Gershom ’s g rand fa ther , Rabbi Avigdor, is more extreme
than is the correspond ing figure, the fa the r in the tale o f Rabbi
Nahman. Avigdor personifies total and absolute hostility toward
Hasidism and will pay any price, even the life o f his ill daugh ter,
in o rd e r to attemp t to secure the failure o f Rabbi Uriel and
his persecuted movement. Rabbi Uriel, whose name in Hebrew
suggests “light,” contrasts with the darkness typifying the world
which leaves Gershom so unsatisfied. Yet this same Uriel does
not resist the temptation to curse the descendents o f Rabbi
Avigdor when the latter acts oppressively toward him. Uriel’s
inner brightness is incomplete, and darkness is seen to inhabit
the souls o f both figures.
Rabbi Uriel’s name recalls
ha-or ha-gadol
(the great light) which
describes his co rrespond ing figu re in tha t tale o f Rabbi
Nahman, the text o f which interestingly enough concludes with
the words, “God, may He be blessed, will soon restore those
among us who are
banished (nidahenu)”
Fu rtherm o re , the name
“strange r” o r “so jou rner”) recalls a comment on
that very tale included in one o f the classic Bratzlav commen­
Rimze ha-Maasiyot
o f Rabbi Nahman o f Cheryn, which
quotes the verse, “I am only a so journer
in the land . . .
(Ps. 119:19). These points o f connection would appea r to sug­
gest a definite relationship between the two stories.