Only Yesterday

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

CHAPTER TWO
Balak's Nature and Pedigree

1

We don't know if Balak knew what the newspapers wrote about him and what people said about him. And if he did know—if he paid any heed to them. And if he did pay heed to them—if he was offended. And if he was offended—how much he was offended. As long as they offended him with words and didn't hit his body, he feared neither the newspaper articles nor the scholarly studies nor was he sorry about the woes of the Children of Israel who are slandered by wicked Gentiles, whose studies bring one calamity after another. And if this assumption is true, we may add to it an important rule, that Balak was bereft of any critical spirit, for if he was critical, he would have attributed everything that happened to him to ancient dialogues based completely on false superstitions, stemming from the imagination, and have nothing to do with reality. And you can't bring a counter argument from what was written on his skin, Crazy Dog, for precisely here it is easy to prove that there is nothing here, for according to the rules of the language, it should have said Mad Dog. And since it says Crazy Dog—it is a distortion, and if it is a distortion, the whole issue is a distortion, and is as if it were zero. And even his name itself belies it, as one diligent critic proved that the Jews are not wont to call animals by name, while he was called Balak. Hence, it is clear that this does not allude to an event that occurred, but there is a hint here that has not yet been understood by scholars and it warrants study. And if you say, He sticks out his tongue and barks, it may be countered that all other dogs bark too, as witnessed by books on the history of animals, that every dog is wont to stick out his tongue and bark. And while those described in the books of the history of an-

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