An Entry from Between Two Worlds

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In commemoration of Hillel Zeitlin’s 75th yartzheit,  I am sharing a short excerpt from his 1917 work Al Gvul Shnei Olamot, BetweenTwo Worlds. Containing numerous elements, Al Gvul Shnei Olamot incorporates personal reflections on current events, spiritual angst, short essays on religious thought, amongst other things. While I plan to devote further studies to this work and its translation, this excerpt suffices in demonstrating Zeitlin’s spirit.

For the original Hebrew, click here.

For more about Hillel Zeitlin and his life, click here.


11 Nissan (April 3, 1917)

The currents swirl around me…I ascend and descend, descend and ascend. My spirit is not fixed. There is no respite. And I am so in need of rest. How do I long for rest. Alas, Master of the World, give me but a little rest!

I  stumble in sin and fall. The present times are so very great, calling for greatness and heroism, yet I am cast into a mire of chaos and trapped in the narrow corner of party politics and journalistic disputes. When shall I find relief from this small, constricted, withdrawn world I inhabit against my will?

The voice of the Lord calls forth in strength, both in glory and in silence most thin: “Return to me and I shall return to you, cast off your infantile and meager concerns along with all of your primitive, constrained, and narrow ideas. Lift up your eyes on high, gaze upon endless worlds, which will be given life through my words; through my words they will be propelled, shine, sink, rise up, fall down, to me they will bow, to me they will pay heed. Even on this lowly planet, where you find yourselves, do I not create anew, monumental deeds, which have never previously undertaken, wars and revolutions the likes of which have never been. Do you not see, that the dominion of evil passes ever so slowly from the world, while the dominion of good is stated to come. It draws nearer day by day. And you, House of Jacob, what do you do? Pursuing chaos, sunken in folly, trickery, and lies, seeking pleasure, seeking wealth and honor. Even the good ones amongst you, what are they doing? They are engaged in trivial disputes, party fights, language wars, dwelling in pettiness, narrow programs, baseless politics, exhausting and twisting affairs, disappointment and dismay, baseless hatred to no end. When shall an end come to all of these?

And even you, Hillel! You aspire upwards, but you have have not the strength to ascend higher and higher without limits. You strive to ascend—and fall. You ascend—and fall. You lack the rest to take brave steps on the straight and ready path.

But, my Father in Heaven! From whom shall I seek the rest I need, if not from you, My Father-of-Peace, whose name is peace? From whom shall I request strength and courage, if not from you, Supreme Force, whose hand contains all, “…it is in Your hand to raise up and strengthen all”?

Pray, strengthen me. Pray, encourage me. Pray, do not deliver me to my narrow being. I shall not be ashamed. I shall not be disgraced. Do not let me fall. Support me with your right hand. Have mercy upon me from the repository of boundless giving. Have mercy upon me in your kindness, for in you alone does my salvation lie.

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A Rosh Hashanah teaching from Rabbi Gershon Hanokh Henekh Leiner of Radzin (1831-1891)

The Shofar, the ram’s horn which is bent in the very image of our broken hearts, emits a Kol Pashut, a simple sound that imparts no particular linguistic meaning. What is the significance of this Kol Pashut? The Jewish esoteric tradition describes the process of the unfolding of speech as follows: Machshava, Kol, Dibbur; from abstract thought, to sound, to word—yet paradoxically the more developed our articulation, the more specific our words, the less potential meaning our words contain. It is the Kol Pashut, the simple voice of the Shofar that says everything by saying nothing, which interests the Radziner Rebbe. Continue reading “A Rosh Hashanah teaching from Rabbi Gershon Hanokh Henekh Leiner of Radzin (1831-1891)”

“On the Hidden and the Concealed” An essay by Hillel Zeitlin in Translation

“On the Hidden and the Concealed” An essay by Hillel Zeitlin in Translation

Thank you to Or Intercollegiate Journal for publishing my translation of “On the Hidden and the Concealed.”

Introduced, Translated and Annotated by Sam Glauber, Yeshivat Har Etzion and Herzog College 

Can one “sense” the presence of the divine? How much value may one ascribe to the inner stirrings of the heart? What is the role of the intellect in coming to the true knowledge of God? There are amongst the questions that concerned Hillel Zeitlin (1871-1942), the Warsaw journalist, social critic, poet, philosopher, political activist, and mystic. “On the Hidden and the Concealed,” a short essay published in the spring of 1921, in the Hebrew literary journal Hatekufa, addresses these questions, while drawing upon a wide range of sources, both from within and outside of the traditional Jewish canon. The first section of the essay, discussing the nature of intuition, visionary experiences, and the ability to describe the spiritual in physical terms, is presented here in translation for the first time.

Born into a family of…

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An Entry from “Between Two Worlds” from 100 Years Ago

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And so, as all the days of my life pass before me, my heart is torn asunder, for I see myself  as a man exploited by every side for their own interests against his own interests —  and the interests of the One who created him and breathed into his nostrils the very breath of life.

A unique literary document, the mystical journal of Hillel Zeitlin, “Between Two Worlds”, records the author’s inner experience in the momentous early months of 1917. Published in 1919 in the 4th issue of the literary journal HaTekufa, it was panned by the secularly-oriented literary establishment, who regarded Zeitlin’s visions and observations as nonsense. The journal is an eclectic hodgepodge of personal reflections upon the difficulties of living up to the religious admonitions set in the first entry, attempts to predict the end of World War I, speculation about the implications of the ongoing Russian Revolution (Zeitlin had strong feelings about the religious abilities of Rasputin) — all interspersed with accounts of Zeitlin’s fantastic dreams of flight and mystical experience. Continue reading “An Entry from “Between Two Worlds” from 100 Years Ago”

Personal Excerpts from Silence and Voice

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…for I may be the sole Jew now amongst the generation who, following many years wandering the pathways of thought and life, following frightful torments and restlessness, has acquired the faith which they call “primitive”…

The following brief excerpts are taken from Hillel Zeitlin’s apocalyptic work Silence and Voice, published in 1936 as the threatening shadow of Nazi Germany loomed over European Jewry. Interweaving prophetic calls for repentance alongside practical solutions for the organization and resettlement of European Jewry, Zeitlin’s thunderous and at times exasperated voice expresses great frustration with the religious corruption and spiritual apathy of his peers. Indeed, at times it sounds as though he stands utterly alone in confronting an impending doom which only he perceives.  Continue reading “Personal Excerpts from Silence and Voice”

The Song of the Soul

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She is ever filled with fierce longings, singing her songs of love, suffused with yearning and desire.

She ceaselessly hungers and thirsts for God, for the living God, and pours forth her utterances in rhyme, in inner song.

The following text is taken from a lengthy lyrical essay by Hillel Zeitlin titled “Heavenly Beauty — Poetic Compositions from the Aggada and Kabbalah”. Published in 1908 in the literary journal Safrut, the essay comprises eight chapters portraying, in Zeitlin’s unique pathos-laden prose, the creation of the world, the Garden of Eden, Kabbalistic cosmology, the revelation at Mount Sinai, a study of the soul, the nature of women, and the Messianic era. As indicated by the title, Zeitlin draws heavily from the Aggada, the non-legalistic sections of the Talmud, as well as later Kabbalistic teachings.

“Heavenly Beauty” was written during a particularly productive period of Zeitlin’s literary career. Over the course of 1908 and 1909, he published “Shekhina”, “Heavenly Beauty”, and “The Thirst”, all in Safrut. These three essays are noteworthy for their exemplary poetic quality, as well as the powerful religious longings they express. Indeed, in an autobiographical essay published in 1928, Zeitlin marked the writing of these three essays as a turning point in his religious life, as he furthered his return to traditional Jewish observance. Continue reading “The Song of the Soul”

The Gathering of the Hidden Ones (A Fantasy)

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“…At this hour, as the Messiah stands around the corner, we can no longer suffice with the endless rulings, casuistry, and hidden and revealed teachings of these great ones. Now, we must march straight to the light of the Messiah. We shall come to this light not by complicated legalistic reasonings, nor even by Ḥasidic tales the likes of which have been recently written, but by prophecy alone.”

Hillel Zeitlin’s life was one of a relentless search for God in the modern world as he sought an answer to the longings of his soul and a solution to the suffering of the Jewish people. This pursuit ultimately came to an untimely end in the Holocaust, as Zeitlin became a victim of the annihilation of Polish Jewry which he had predicted for years. Although he wrote hundreds of editorials, essays, monographs, and reflections, Zeitlin produced few works which may be described as literary fiction. One rare example is “The Gathering of the Hidden Ones (A Fantasy)”, a short play remarkable in its content and literary form which expresses many of the primary ideas which characterize Zeitlin’s thought.

Published in 1934 over three issues of the Warsaw Hebrew weekly Ba’Derekh, “The Gathering of the Hidden Ones” presents a dialogue amongst fourteen different Jews “gathered together past midnight on a winter’s eve in an abandoned synagogue in a small city in the Province of Posen”, as “the God of Israel is hidden…the world has come to a breaking point, and the anguish of Israel—who can bear it?” Rich in references both to Judaic sources and historical events, the play examines the question of the fate of the Jewish people, the causes of its present pitiful state, and various solutions for the crises confronting it. An analysis of the play and several of its characters will serve to shed light on the complex nature of Zeitlin’s religious thought. Continue reading “The Gathering of the Hidden Ones (A Fantasy)”