Jewish Calendar - TISHREI - melody

Born in Galicia in 1888 and from 1924 on resident of Jerusalem, where he died in 1970, Agnon was the master of an original style and a prolific pen. He authored several novels, hundreds of short stories and anthologies of Jewish folklore. Agnon was recognized as the foremost modern Hebrew writer; he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first author in the holy tongue to be so honored.

In this, like several of his stories (see The Tale of the Scribe), Agnon examines the relationship between religious ecstasy and sexual desire, and the tension between sanctity and sexuality.

It was the evening of the Festival of Rejoicing in the Torah. That evening the rabbi's house of study was full of bright lights, every light fixture glowing with a radiance from On high. Righteous and saintly Hasidim clothed in white robes of pure silk, with Torah scrolls in their arms, circled the pulpit, dancing with holy fervor and enjoying the pleasures of the Torah.

A number of Hasidim as well as ordinary householders get the privilege of dancing with them, and they cling to the sacred Torah and to those who selflessly obey the Torah, and they forget all anger and all disputes and all kinds of troublesome trivialities. And their young children form an outer circle around them, each child carrying a colored flag, red or green or white or blue, each flag inscribed with letters of gold. On top of each flag is an apple, and on top of each apple a burning candle, and all the candles glow like planets in the mystical "field of sacred apples." And when young boys or girls see their father receive this honor, carrying a Torah Scroll in his arms, they immediately jump toward him grasping the Scroll, caressing, embracing, kissing it with their pure lips that have not tasted sin; they clap their hands and sing sweetly, "Happy art thou, O Israel," and the fathers nod their heads toward the children, singing, "Ye holy lambs." And the women in the outer lobby feast their eyes on this exalted holiness.

When the seventh round of the procession around the pulpit is reached, the cantor takes a Torah Scroll to his bosom and calls out to the youths; "Whoever studies the Torah let him come and take a Torah Scroll," and a number of fine youths come and take scrolls in their arms.

Then the cantor calls out again. "The distinguished young man, Raphael, is honored with the honor of the Torah, and with the singing of a beautiful melody." Raphael came forward, went to the ark, accepted the Scroll from the cantor, and walked at the head of the procession. The elders stood and clapped their hands, adding to the rejoicing. The children stood on the benches chanting aloud, "Ye holy lambs" and waving their flags over the heads of the youths.

But when Raphael began to sing his melody all hands became still, and everyone stood motionless without saying a word. Even the older Hasidim whose saintly way in prayer and in dancing with great fervor is like that of the ancient sage Rabbi Akiba — of whom it is told that when he prayed by himself, his bowing and genuflecting were so fervent that "if when you left him he was in one corner, you found him in another corner at the next moment" — even they restrained themselves with all their might from doing this. They did not lift a hand to clap because of the ecstatic sweetness, even though their hearts were consumed with fire. The women leaned from the windows of the women's gallery, and their heads hung out like a flock of doves lined up on the frieze of a wall.

Raphael held the Scroll in his arm, walking in the lead with all the other youths following him in the procession around the pulpit. At that moment a young girl pushed her way through the legs of the dancers, leaped toward Raphael, sank her red lips into the white mantle of the Torah Scroll in Raphael's arm, and kept on kissing the Scroll and caressing it with her hands. Just then the flag fell out of her hand, and the burning candle dropped on Raphael's clothing.

After the holiday Raphael's father brought an action before the rabbi against the girl's father in the matter of Raphael's robe that had been burned because of the girl. The rabbi, indulging himself in the pleasure of a wise remark, said to the girl's father, "God willing, for their wedding day you will have a new garment made for him." Immediately they brought a decanter of brandy and wrote the betrothal contract. And for Raphael and Miriam's wedding, anew garment was made for him.

This is the story of the melody.



Twenty-One Stories, ed. Nahum Glatzer, translated by Isaac Franck (NY: Schocken, 1970)

TISHREI Table of Contents




Subscribe to the JHOM mailing list for updates.

Contact us

Tell a friend


tJHOM - Tishrei menu