SAYINGS: Bessarabia,
Halycia, 1913-1939

Rabbi Yitzchak Levi said,
"People and trees have this in common--
roots in the land."

Rabbi Schraga Mendlowitz said,
"Not exactly--
the roots of trees are whole
and succulent,
even in parched land;
ours are scattered and shriveled."

Rabbi Yitzchak Schteinmacher said,
"It makes little difference,
dead or living--
our roots nourish us."

Rabbi Shlomo ben Yehudah said,
"It is not for us to judge
whether our roots are living or not;
we have an Assistant
who promised us resurrection
and is true to his word."

Rabbi Yitzchak Schteinmacher said,
"Look, you are bickering;
it disturbs me, this image of a family tree.
We draw the trunk--exalted,
and the branches--powerful and wide,
the name of each ancestor--a fruit,
ripe, perfect.
But in reality, the family tree
is slowly sinking into the land.
Not only its roots are in the land,
but also the trunk and the powerful branches,
and we are but simple leaves,
illuminated by the sun of the Torah.
What are we trying to say here?"

Rabbi Schraga Mendlowitz said,
"Alas! How sad it is to conceive a tree
rooted in death,
sinking into the land.
There is a subtle error in this conception;
for our roots are in the Land,
and this land is not the Land,
but the wilderness of our wandering."

Raising his voice,
Rabbi Schraga continued,
"Truly I tell you,
if anyone dared to sift,
using the finest seive,
the sands of Sinai,
seeking the remains
of those who came out of Egypt,
there would be not one thing--
for our roots are in the Land,
and this land is not the Land."

And all four said,
"Blessed are you, o tree,
growing in the Land
and sunk into the Land.
Blessed art Thou,
Who makes it tremble
in reverent awe,
to tremble wholly
from the slimmest limb
down to the root.
For behold--this trembling,
or rather, the very capacity
to feel terror and to tremble
with horror, with suffering,
is the sign of life itself."

* * *

Much later, in the seventies,
after the Six-day War,
archaeologists excavated the Sinai
in search of "material remains"
of the forty-year wandering
of Jews in the wilderness.

They found nothing.

© 1996 Boris Khersonsky. All rights reserved.
Translation by Ruth Kreuzer and Dale Hobson