Page 95 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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the tablets. They collapse, while “his eyes open wide like two
eyelids o f the dawn,/ and he looks down upon them with the
humility o f righteousness.”
This view o f Moses is d ependen t upon the celebrated essays
o f Ahad Ha-Am (Asher Ginzburg, 1856-1927), “Priest and
P rophe t” and “Moses.” Ahad Ha-Am saw the p rophe t as the
antithesis o f the priest. T h e fo rm e r is a militant, single-minded,
lone p reache r o f absolute justice, while the latter is institution­
ally bound, an eclectic and a compromiser. Part o f the p roph e t’s
message is preserved by the priest in a modified form. Moses
is the ideal p rophe t o f justice, whether he actually existed or
is a poetic projection o f the ideal.
In the poetic works o f Jacob Cahan (1881-1960) there is also
the combining o f gigantic physical and moral proportions in
the depiction o f Moses. Cahan, in addition to his rich lyrical
ou tpu t, also attempted to create a Jewish “myth” (a goal Wessely
also set for himself). He claimed that there is a unique Hebrew
“myth.” It draws upon Semitic legends o f the past, but it has
been creatively modified by the Jewish people into a mono the­
istic, moral expression. In the second part o f his “Legends o f
God,” Cahan pictures a mighty Moses, leading a nation o f con­
fident, victorious warriors. T h e sources o f this characterization
may be Nietzschian, although ano ther influence may be Bialik’s
Meitei Midbar
(“The Dead o f the Wilderness’). The Zionist na­
tionalistic e ffo rt called for Jews o f heroic proportions, free o f
the weaknesses. Hebrew poets, like Bialik, excoriated in their
In C ahan ’s poem, Moses “strides like a pillar o f light, filled
with might and calm, and after him . . . march the armies o f
the redeemed , joyous in victory.” Cahan elaborates upon the
rabbinic legend o f Moses ascending to heaven and answering
the challenge o f the Satan. He seizes the th rone o f glory, “his
face is filled/ with the light o f seven suns and he waxes mighty
before the fiery spirits.” Earlier, the quiet ecstasy o f an idealized
Moses, as he climbs the mountain, is described: “His eyes are
dreamy, he breathes freely, and on his forehead is a pu re /
thought, a glow that increases as he ascends. He takes in the
people below in a look o f love and then looks straight into the
glory o f God’s face, waiting for His word: “When man and God
thus met, jo ined in one lofty desire — all the m inistering angels
stood and lowered their wings in humility.” T h e glory o f Moses