Saturday, January 5, 2013

Like a tree by the river: A journey through the land of worship and the wicked

photo by Yoram Bouzaglo

People have come and they have gone, often arriving with great hopes and grand ideas, with beautiful dreams and the promise of redemption, not infrequently leaving with broken hearts, disillusioned and dispirited.

The author Nikolai Gogol, for instance, having burned the two first versions of Dead Souls, believed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem would redeem his soul and relieve him from depression and writer’s block.

Great hopes and harsh falls. Gogol was shocked by the noise and confusion in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, discouraged by the scenery and the environs. “Not only were my prayers unable to rise up to heaven, I could not even tear them loose from my breast,” he wrote in despair to Tolstoy.

painting by Benjamin Schiff

One early traveler was Abraham, son of Terah, the first patriarch, founder of the Hebrew nation. Four thousand years ago he departed from his father’s house and crossed the lands of Western Asia, moving up the Euphrates River. At the Assyrian city of Haran – the name of which, by the way, comes from Sumerian and Accadian, and means ‘journey – caravan – crossroad’ – Haran is now in present-day Turkey; there Abraham was told to go forth into the land that God would show him, and eventually he arrived at and crossed the Jordan river into the Land of Canaan.

“Get thee out of your country” says God in King James, and Abraham responds to the hero’s call and starts out on his journey. But the inner meaning of the outer act is lost in translation... the uncany combination of two separate words spelled the same way, "lech lecha" (לך לך) may mean 'Go thee', as well as 'Go into thee'...

Excerpts from a lecture, January 7, 2013, at the New York Center for Jungian Studies' "Jung in Israel," Sheraton Tel Aviv.

photo by Yoram Bouzaglo