Page 99 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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WALDMAN / PROPHETS IN HEBREW LITERATURE
91
This retelling o f the biblical story makes some significant
points. First, war is instigated, not by the enemy bu t by the
fanatic in Israel’s camp. In addition, in this and in o ther plays
Shoham is concerned to demonstrate the uniqueness and
strength o f the cu lture o f Israel. This is achieved th rough a
constant struggle against sensuality and the lures o f the opu len t
su rround ing pagan cultures. T h e answers are not to be found
in pessimistic worldly philosophers. T h e re are clashes o f cha r­
acters who rep resen t extreme opposites and yet who unders tand
one ano ther very well. Thus , Moses understands the frustration
o f Balaam, his coun terpart.
FIGURE OF ELIJAH
Ano ther kind o f p rophe t is Elijah, a loner from the wilder­
ness, given to mystical, ecstatic experiences, such as runn ing
great distances und e r the influence o f the spirit o f God (1 Kings
18:12, 46). He is also a militant, who slaughters the priests o f
Baal. Further, there is an element o f harshness in Elijah, which
p romp ted the rabbis to state that he dem anded the hono r o f
the fa the r (God) and not o f the son (Israel) by being a zealot.
God, displeased, then rejected his prophetic ministry and com­
m anded him to anno in t Elisha in his place
(Mekhilta, Pisha,
1).
Yet, like Moses, even this firebrand had his moments o f lone­
liness and despair (1 Kings 19).
A sense that Elijah goes beyond limits in his passionate in­
tensity is expressed in a poem by Pesah Ginsburg (1894-1947).
Elijah flees to the wilderness af te r slaughtering the priests o f
Baal. “His white locks are wild like froth on stormy waves,/ he
stands straight and proud , and in his eyes, spreading terro r,/
is the flame o f revenge and love, sorrow, contempt and hate .”
While he rejoices to hea r the mysterious silences o f the wilder­
ness, he is suddenly shown a vision o f the carnage at Carmel,
painted in the rich colors o f the setting desert sun. He is com­
manded to anno in t in his place Elisha, who “will judg e my peo­
ple with loving-kindness, as he slowly leads his oxen .” In con­
trast, Avraham Broides (1907-1979) depicts a shattered Elijah,
after the events on Mount Carmel, who has been driven m e r­
cilessly by his God: “ . . . there is no hiding from Him./ With
His ineffable name he came to curse and crush./ Garbed in
flame, He dug and cut deeply into me. . . . Toge the r with the