The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. Aristotle
It’s not that study has ceased in the past month. Yes, typing (and knitting) has been constrained by a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome in one hand. But I feel I’ve been holding my breath since the Annapolis conference; and now The Decider has (finally) decided to take himself to Israel/Palestine.
Exodus has come and gone – the titillating narrative of Joseph and his family (Parashot Miketz (Genesis 41:1-44:17), Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27), Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26)) has yielded to the spectacular account of Moses (Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1), Vaera (6:2-9:35), and Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16)). Surrounded by readings that confirm creation of a “nation”, a “people”, the repetition of claims to land, I am stymied, silent, overwhelmed by a feeling of paralysis. In the face of archeological lacunae and an excess of the present, I anticipate this year’s celebration of Passover with an uncomfortable sense of dread.
Reaching into my store of proverbs and philosophical quotations, I’ve found a certain confirmation of this “place” in which I find myself: according to Ludwig Wittgenstein, “[w]hereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”, or alternatively, “[w]hat can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.” (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921).
I struggle with what can – and should – be said, and what cannot – and should not – be said. I cannot improve upon what has been said about the extent of the degradation of Gaza and the West Bank. Anyone with even a cursory interest in learning about the “facts on the ground” in Israel/Palestine can find this information – so many reports are available in all media, which speak variously, vividly, eloquently. From the comfort of my warm, well-lit desk, even the study of Torah cannot ameliorate the anguish I feel as I face the facts. And Moses’ narrative leads the approach to Passover, with its warm-and-fuzzy-ness, its catalogues of family recipes, it’s nostalgia, and its myopic mythology.
Shortly before Passover last April, returning on I-95 from a trip to visit a sister-in-law, we passed a fire burning in the brush on the side of the road. Without hesitation, I called the state police to report the fire. In the small space of technological hesitation, as a distant satellite processed the signal from my cell phone, I imagined that what I saw had been a burning bush. But then I had my shoes on, and heard no disembodied voice – other than that of the inquiry from the police operator. How relieved I was when she advised me that others had also seen the fire.
With Pesach approaching, I wonder how to tell the traditional story with my now-grown sons this year, whether I will be able to honor the festival with anything but silence this year. I wonder what to say in the face of the fire.