Only Yesterday

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

CHAPTER THREE
Study of Impurity

1

But from the day Balak was exiled from Meah Shearim and bereft of his livelihood and wandered from place to place and from neighborhood to neighborhood and from quarter to quarter and from nation to nation and from sect to sect, an intelligent mind entered into him and he started thinking thoughts, like tourists and travelers. But tourists and travelers see every part of the world as different from every other part and creatures in the world as different from one another, while Balak saw the world as one whole. The earth is the same everywhere, said Balak, and there is no distinction between the people of this place and the people of that place. And if there is a difference, it is an external difference, for the end of every creation is flesh and bone, that is sustenance, whether they say a blessing over slaughter like the Jews, and say Who hath sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to slaughter, or say a blessing like the Karaites, who say, Who allowed us to slaughter, or say a blessing like the Ishmaelites, who bless in the name of the merciful and compassionate Allah, or they slit the neck like all other nations, they all intend the same thing, sustenance.

Ever since the day Balak came to that worthless knowledge, he didn't regard the rich more than the poor or the boors more than the sages. Things came to such a pass that he didn't make any distinction between those clothed in rabbinical garb and those in dung and straw. Said Balak, Both the former and the latter intend the same thing and both the former and the latter shout give, give, arf arf, but the latter take their food with the toil of their arms and with the labor of their hands, and the former by grace of their long garments and

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