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Excerpt from:
Israeli Poetry as Prayer / Rochelle Furstenberg
in Pray Tell: a Hadassah Guide to Jewish Prayer

 

From protesting God’s injustice to blaspheming is but a small step. Michal Govrin’s 1995 novel, Hashem (The Name), is one long prayer by Amalia, a young woman who has recently become intensely religious. She seeks to mystically heal the rift between God and humanity, a rift made evident in the Holocaust. She begins praying, and she counts the omer – the 49 days form Pesach to Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates God’s revelation of the Torah. Amalia, on the verge of madness, numbers the days until the divine manifestation, the day on which she seeks to attain a consummation and union with God and thereby heal the rift in the universe. Govrin explains her feelings while writing the novel:

Amalia’s ecstatic submission and prayer became for me imprisoning, bare and unbearable hypocrisy in the wake of destruction. I could not contain myself, I had to push her to hurl words against heaven, to blaspheme… Blasphemy, that might be one of the strongest forms of address, of prayer.

Amalia waits for Shavuot to surrender herself entirely and fuse with God. Yet in Amalia’s mind, submission and union with God imply self annihilation, and she thinks of sacrificing herself by jumping of a cliff. Yet she stops short.
And the storm has not yet vanished. As if something is still revealed, clarified for the first time…
As if a barrier was removed from the eye. The destruction exposed on the slopes, caustic, uncovered, as if this is the Covenant, and also the consolation. The break hidden between us, King who causes death and restores life…
As if everything that was, was only to reveal to me, on the verge of the end of the Counting, the great tenderness hidden here between us in the destruction.

Instead of the fusion with God, she finds a human resurrection in the Sabbath.

The time has come. Just to go on turning now, with no expectations anymore, for an answer… Just to go on turning, that’s the prayer. Just to go on turning in the expanding space.
And the voice speaking between us is enough. Enough the words of the prayer muttered from my lips.

Blasphemy, anger at God for the irreconcilable gap between human and God, the incomprehensibility of God’s ways, particularly in the Holocaust – these are transformed into the acceptance of a limited, contingent world, where all one can do is to seek out a means of communication with God. Michal Govrin has depicted a character whose intense desire to fuse with God had created a perverted vision of Judaism. In discussing her novel, Govrin also notes that the rift in the universe created by the horror of the Holocaust cannot be healed. We can, though perceive God’s tenderness in the rift and accept our earthly, human world, which includes both destruction and restoration.

(Rochelle Furstenberg, “Israeli Poetry as Prayer”, in Pray Tell: a Hadassah Guide to Jewish Prayer, Woodstock: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2003, pp. 295-296)

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