Divrei ben Abuya

In the Babylonian Talmud, Elisha ben Abuya was a great sage who lost his faith in God. So great was he that his and subsequent generations continued learning from him - to the extent that the authors of the Talmud needed to create a story that would serve to legitimise his teachings despite his apostasy. His lesson is a lesson for us all: that great stature is not contingent upon blind faith, nor high learning upon the observation of Torah precepts.

July 11, 2006


For some unknown reason, I have started rekindling my interest in Gothic literature. As I don't wish to lead this blog away from its stated purpose, I have decided to devote this post to the first stanza of Yehuda Amihai's beautiful poem, "אלים מתחלפים, התפילות נשארות לעד". The following is the text of this first stanza, followed by my own (perhaps, unworthy) translation. I have taken a certain degree of license with my translation, both in content and in form:

ראיתי ברחוב, בערב קיץ,
ראיתי אשה שכתהב מלים
על ניר פרוש על דלת עץ נעולה,
וקפלה ושמה בין דלת למזוזה והלכה לה.

ולא ראיתי את פניה ולא את פני האיש
שיקרא את הכתוב
ולא ראיתי את המלים.
על שלחני מנחת אבן שכתוב עליה "אמן",
שבר מצבה, שארית מבית קברות יהודי
שנחרב לפני כאלף שנים, בעיר שבה נולדתי.
מלה אחת "אמן" חרותה עמק באבן
אמן קשה וסופי על כל שהיה ולא ישוב,
אמן רך ומזמר כמו בתפלה,
אמן ואמן, וכן יהי רצון.

מצבות נשברות, מלים חולפות, מלים נשכחות,
שפתים שאמרו אותן הפכו עפר,
שפות מתות כבני אדם,
שפות אחרות קמות לתחיה,
אלים בשמים משתנים, אלים מתחלפים,
התפלות נשארות לעד.

I saw on the street, on a summer evening,
I saw a woman who was writing words
On a sheet of paper, flattened against a locked oak door,
And she folded it and placed it between the door and the doorpost
And she went her way.

I did not see her face, and I did not see the face of the man
Who is fated to read the writing
Nor did I read the words.
Upon my desk lies a stone, upon which is written "Amen":
A fragment from a tombstone, the remains of a Jewish cemetary
Which was destroyed a thousand years ago, in the city of my birth.
One word, "Amen", engraved deep in the stone
An emphatic and a conclusive Amen on all that was before and is no more,
A soft and a lyrical Amen, such as is spoken in prayer.
Amen and Amen, and May it be His will.

Broken tombstones, vanished words, forgotten words,
Lips that spoke them, returned to dust
Dead languages - like dead men
Other languages - brought to life
The gods in heaven are different, gods change
But the prayers remain the same.


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