Elliott Malamet

Psalm 14 – What Must Be Said Cannot Be Said

Songs of Praise – A War Diary

The debased person said in his heart, `There is no God.’
They have dealt corruptly and committed abominable deeds;
there is no one who does good.

Hashem looks down from heaven on all humankind
to see if there is a person of understanding who seeks out God.
All have turned away, together they have become depraved;
there is no one who does good, not even one.

There are days, I guess, where even God feels abandoned, what the psychologists might call a lack of reciprocal interaction. Your empathy for the Forlorn One, a lonely Voyeur peering down at diffident subjects, continues to intrigue me. Do you think that God misses us when we “turn away”? Maybe God does not realize all of the important matters that humans must attend to in our abbreviated time here, the quest for attention, the crawling after crumbs of legitimacy. True, divinity may get forgotten in the meantime, but eternity has a way of triumphing in the end. Our own amnesia, our inattentiveness towards God and one another, will turn to permanent silence, for every single one of us, soon enough. I’m used to your frustration, David, but perhaps not this level of bleakness, the use of absolutes. All have turned away. No one does good.

In post-war European theater, one voice articulated the destruction of all language and thought and aspiration and meaning, better than any other. Typical of Samuel Beckett’s slowly devolving world was the sputtering bits of speech that his characters could barely get out of their mouths. In Waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon do not so much converse as let their conversations erode, until they are reduced to the sharpest point of dark ennui:

To every man his little cross. Till he dies. And is forgotten.
In the meantime let us try and converse calmly, since we are incapable of keeping silent…
It’s so we won’t think…It’s so we won’t hear…All the dead voices.
They make a noise like wings.
Like leaves…
Likes ashes.

“There is no one who does good, not even one.” And yet, I have seen goodness here, even as we are surrounded by corpses and numbing statistics, and narratives of cruelty. People caring about strangers, healing wounds, soothing those they have never met before. An unflinching ability to see the worst ugliness, the casual wantonness, and offer wordless love, regardless of whether Someone looks down from heaven.

So there is goodness, David, even though our eyes may not be raised beyond the daily barrage of news, from which we cannot allow ourselves to turn away. Perhaps media is the god of which God would be jealous, seeing as it is a power that no one seems able to ignore. Is it really necessary to consume all of these details about the dead voices, piling up like leaves, like ashes?

Though a deep part of me is deeply sympathetic to your rendering of a broken world—in your terms, a world that ignores God–where all that often stands out is our ability to malign and smother and corrode and destroy – and I have to remind myself to calm down, to seek out the good that is there, to align, unconsciously, almost mystically, were I to believe is such powers, with all the persons of this planet in their unknown and never to be seen spaces, helping someone – a meal, a wiped brow, a receptive smile, a patient gaze. Without notice, without expectation, without recompense.

Even Beckett, whom one would associate first and last with a kind of obvious resignation, an inevitable succumbing to the facts from which we wish to close our eyes and reopen them in a Disney like dream – even he allowed for a glimmer of…something. Not hope, nothing so grandiose, but perhaps just endurance and the last comical swatting away of meaninglessness. In a correspondence, in 1949, with the French writer Georges Duthuit, Beckett’s vision took flight, terrifying and radiant and stillborn: “The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.”

What is remarkable about the culminating phrase, those last four words, is Beckett’s acute awareness of not only the futility, but perhaps the immorality of saying anything, even a single word in the face of the monstrous events that had happened during World War II, their war, which has now morphed in a tiny way into our war. As he described his work in the 1960’s, he tried to convey a process of “getting down below the surface” towards “the authentic weakness of being”. And yet, as he notes, one could not but fail each time, because “if you really get down to the disaster, the slightest eloquence becomes unbearable”.

And so, I have failed here, David, not particularly by anything I have written, but by the mere writing itself. And so that is what is left us: the paradoxical obligation to say something and the ethical and emotional betrayal at the emergence of the very first word.

About the Author
Dr. Elliott Malamet is a Jewish educator living in Jerusalem. He has a doctorate in English literature and teaches Jewish Ethics and Philosophy at various Israeli institutions, including Yeshivat Machanaim, Pardes, and the Schechter Institute.
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