Elliott Malamet

Psalm 18 – Icarus

Songs of Praise – A War Diary

For the conductor; of the servant of Hashem, of David, who spoke to God the words of this song on the day that God saved him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.

“I love you, Hashem, my strength.

God is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield [sovereign] and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I called to Hashem, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies.
The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called to Hashem; I cried to my God for help.
From his temple He heard my voice; my cry came before Him, into his ears…
He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under His feet.
He mounted the cherubim and flew; He soared on the wings of the wind.
He made darkness His covering, His canopy around Him—
the dark rain clouds of the sky.
Out of the brightness of His presence clouds advanced,
with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
Hashem thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded.
He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
with great bolts of lightning He routed them…
He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but God was my support.
He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because he delighted in me…

Hashem lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior! You exalted me above my foes; from a violent man you rescued me.
Therefore I will praise you, Hashem, among the nations;
I will sing the praises of your name.”

We all understand that reading is by definition an act of voyeurism. We survey the words of the writer and then move right past them, trying to peer into the author’s life and his or her inspiring and sordid affairs. But you counter my voyeurism with your exhibitionism – how can I be spying when you are so exposing? By making your love of God so transparent, David, you all but ensure that we will come back for more, if not just to see how the relationship turns out in the end. Will God prove an overly demanding partner? Will David grow tired and turn on his object of desire? Will anyone or anything else get in the way of this Endless Love? Will one or both of the parties grow jealous of how the other spends their time and displays their emotion? It’s almost like you want to be seen, for everyone to know exactly what you said to God that day. You sent it onwards to “the conductor.” a man for the Instagram age.

`I love HIM!’ Set it to music.

`He saved me.’ Make sure everyone knows their part.

`I am alive. I survived. I so love Him.’ Get the word out.

Part of me admires your unbounded passions. PDA they call it in one corner of the Internet, though in your case there are no paparazzi snapping pictures of you and Him in a restaurant in the corner booth or on some exotic beach vacation. You are on the run and yelling from your heart. I’m still here. They have not gotten to me yet.

I wake up every day in this blessed cursed country and try to feel what you feel. We are still here. They haven’t defeated us yet. But I do not have your joie de vivre, your exuberance, your sense of youthful enthusiasm. Perhaps it is because the divine lightning bolts, the arrows and the hailstones, riding the cherubim over Gaza, have not quite materialized into the picture you draw, David. No one has yet taken your God to an International Court or held Him captive in an underground Hell.

So what is left us as “believers and the children of believers?” The comforting humiliation, that oxymoron which defines my prayers. Prayer as supplication, prayer as infantilization.

This war—but all suffering really–turns you into a rock star, David, your words on everyone’s lips, memorized and mesmerized.  I see their faces intoning each word, reverential intensity and yet slightly glazed over uniformity. The belief, the belief – can we will words into wonders, will the world be healed by the repetition of your performances?

Can human flesh, the sepsis well underway, the libations of blood inevitable, can these be cauterized by your prose? Can language undo the crazed forward charge of ideologies, the flames of deeply held sanctities? The call and response, the to and fro, the murmuring of whole communities, over and over again, of your very own love language. When the first sentence is solemnly uttered by the prayer leader, is there a key turning in a lock somewhere, the earth turning on its axis, plates shifting deep below? A door opening, eyes meeting across the room? We are here to plead, of course, but a moment later we will be gone, off to our meals, our businesses, our texts, our fantasies, never to disrupt our quotidian habits. We leave the synagogue. The same sun, the same moon is there, shining, the street still filled with our relentless mundanities, as Auden so deeply understood, just by staring long enough at a painting of the Greek myth:

“About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along…In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to…”

We wake up, in every corner of this land, and we see a boy high up in the heavens, higher than virtue, higher than dreams, almost touching the sun as he carries our hopes and aspirations – for victory, for power, for vindication, for redemption, for justice, for revenge, for purity, for innocence, for the before, for the after. But now, out of the corner of our eyes, look, we see him, we all see him, there is a boy falling, falling out of the sky, into the cold, a deeper deep than the highest high, plunging into the bottomless sea.





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.