Thursday, October 21, 2004

Pages 3-4

Raseyner didn't take his hands out from the sleeves behind his back, but moved farther away from me, and yelled right into my face in the middle of the street:

"Do you think, Khayim Vilner, that since you've run away from the study house you've saved yourself? Don't you know what we say around here? Whoever's learned muser will never again enjoy life. You'll turn out defective, Khayim Vilner. You'll be a cripple your entire life. You write little heretical rhymes, and people pinch your cheeks for it like a schoolboy. And, so that you could even further desecrate the name of God, you came to preach your heresy right here in the city where you studied. Right now you're being stuffed with honor like a goose with buckwheat, and people are making much of you, their prodigal son! But later you'll see, when you start studying with the really impure. Oh, they're really going to lay into you! Which of you isn't made sick by criticism? Who among you is really so strong that he doesn't need any approval? Who among you is ready to publish his little book without his name on it? That's the main thing with you people, of course, the name should be right out there on top. On top, nowhere else! You've exchanged our restful soul for desires which you won't achieve, for doubts which after much suffering you will still be unable to answer. Your writing won't make anyone better, and it'll make you worse. I've heard that your book, your big holy book is called 'Yes.' But I'm telling you -- No! You hear me, Khayim Vilner? No!"

Having finished his piece, Hersh Raseyner started striding off quickly. But I was also a student of muser, so I caught up with him:

"Now you listen to me, Hersh. No one knows better than me how torn up you are. You brag that you're not impressed when the whole street laughs at you since you wear tzitzis down to your ankles. You've convinced yourself that your canvas talis-kotn is a wall of fire between you and the world. You're grabbing onto the tzitzis like a drowning man holding onto a rope, but that doesn't help you swim against the current. You're shaming yourself, because you're scared that the world will like you, with its Potiphars, and you won't have the strength to tear yourself away like Joseph. That's why you flee from temptation and think that the world will chase after you. But when you see that the world is still not chasing you, you get angry and yell, No one enjoys his life. That's how you want to comfort yourself. So if you go off by yourself in seclusion in some attic, that's because you'll reject it all completely rather than take the crumb which the world throws your way. That's your modesty -- it's arrogance, not sequestering yourself.

"And who told you that I went looking for enjoyment? I went to look for a truth which you don't have. And, if it comes to that, I didn't go anywhere, I only went back to my street -- to Butchers' Street in Vilna. You think you're really getting under my skin: I wrote a book called Yes and you scream No into my face. You don't comprehend that I myself am saying No to the order of the world! But nevertheless I demand of myself that I say Yes! Because I believe in my street. I love the carriers who have broken backs from dragging burdens; the tradesmen, with sweat pouring off of them at their workshops; the market women who'd cut off their own fingers to give a poor man a morsel of bread. But you lecture the hungry that they are sinning and tell them -- to repent. You laugh at those who work and trade, because they lack spiritual confidence. But you yourself live from prepared food which hard-working wives bring you, and for which you promise them -- the next world. Hersh Raseyner, you sold your piece of the next world to those poor wives a long time ago."

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