Page 110 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
to the stories o f Rabbi Nahman. In tha t same afterward , Sadeh
wrote that he had come to the conclusion that Rabbi Nahman
“is possibly not only the greatest o f Hebrew writers in the mod­
e rn period, but one o f the master-creators in the history o f
world lite ra tu re .”15
While B renne r spoke o f the similarity o f Nahman and Agnon
in terms o f their gift o f poetic vision in narrative, o the r sim­
ilarities, specifically o f a surrealistic bent, between the stories
o f Rabbi Nahman and Agnon become more p ronounced in
Sefer
ha-Ma’asim
(The Book o f Deeds).16 In that collection o f short
stories which began to appea r in the early 1930’s, very often
no appa ren t connection o r realistic causation links the happ en ­
ings which tend to revolve a round an absurd set o f circumstan­
ces; the norms o f time and place are circumvented, past and
presen t become confused, the dead appea r as living, and events
contradict themselves. T h e emphatic presence o f such traits in
these stories evokes the question: Did Agnon name his collection
Sefer ha-Ma’asim
to indicate that in some way he was modelling
these stories after the qualities o f the tales in the volume,
Sippure
ha-Ma’asiyot,
o r Rabbi Nahman?
In a remarkably complex story,
Le-fi ha-Tsa’ar ha-sakhar17
(Ac­
cording to the Effort is the Reward) in which a medieval setting
describing a paytan, a liturgical poet, disguises a contemporary
confrontation with the absurd in the form o f the Holocaust,
Agnon appears to have constructed a story tha t essentially re ­
flects Rabbi Nahm an ’s paradoxical thought. T h e story proceeds
gradually but steadily from rationality to paradox as a human
grasp o f reality becomes disconnected from the ultimate tru th .
Unlike the mode o f Kafka, this story by Agnon goes beyond
paradox, beyond the shattering o f logic and o rd e r and justice,
to an affirmation o f a more ultimate meaning and o rd e r which
is not grasped by the logic o f ou r experience. T h e story reflects
the mind-set o f Rabbi Nahman expressed in his statements to
the effect tha t God is beyond the grasp o f reason which is a
maze incapable to leading man to ultimate tru th . Among o ther
signs and parallels with passages from the Bratzlav sources, the
15. Pinhas Sadeh, ed.
Rabi Nahman mi-Braslav, Tikkun ha-Lev, Sippurim, Halomot,
Sihot
(Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv: 1981), p. 241.
16.
Samukh ve’Nireh, Kol Sippurav
VI, pp. 103-249.
17.
Ha-Esh ve ’ha-Etsim, Kol Sippurav,
1962, VIII, pp. 5-19; first appeared in
Haaretz,
Sept. 23, 1947.