Only Yesterday

By S. Y. Agnon; Barbara Harshav | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE
Why Isaac Stayed in Jerusalem and Did Not Go to Jaffa

1

When he wanted to go down to Jaffa, it was the anniversary of his mother's death. He postponed his trip and went to say Kaddish. He came to the synagogue during the day to get to know the congregation, and he stood in a corner and recited the Kaddish in a whisper. A Cantor went to the Ark and prayed the afternoon prayer. Isaac glanced at him and reviled himself, That man recites the whole prayer by heart and my heart is too reticent to say Kaddish in public. How did I get to this point? Because I stayed away from synagogues. He who withdraws from the public eventually dreads the public. What would Mother say about that? But Mother is lying in the grave and it's not clear if she knows or if she doesn't.

The study house smelled of books and holy objects, the smell that evokes in a man's heart the days when he would pray early and late. And when he recalled those days, he began looking in the depths of his heart, Why isn't he satisfied with himself? Said Isaac to himself, Even if you are busy during the day, you are free for prayer in the evening and the morning. Happy is he who knows how to begin in the morning and how to end at night. Shifra doesn't imagine that I eat without prayer.

But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity and destroyed them not, a sad and pious voice was heard, like people who know their instincts and try to please their Creator. Isaac dismissed all his thoughts and began to pray. At first in a whisper, then aloud, like a person who was flung into a distant place and his heart hesitates to speak, for he doesn't know their tongue, as he began speaking he found that his tongue is their tongue. And when he came to

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