a 90 minute collage of text, music and images, based on the lives of rabbi nachman of breslav and salon hostess rahel varnhagen. the lives of these two historical persons overlapped during the first decade of the 19th century. rabbi nachman of breslav founded the breslav hassidic sect in the ukraine, and rahel varnhagen was a salon hostess of the jewish enlightenment movement, known as the "haskalah", in berlin. i combined their biographies and imagined what might have happened in reality and in fantasy if nachman showed up at rahel's salon and attempted to bring the assimilating jews there back to the fold of orthodox judaism. the 90 minute show begins in the style of naturalism and evolves into an expressionistic fantasy being woven by the two main characters, in which nachman projects onto rahel the role of "the shekhinah" ( female aspect of god and also the jewish people in relation to god), while rahel projects onto nachman the role of messiah. so we end up at the end of the show with a fantasy marriage of the jewish people and the jewish messiah at the end of days, without forgetting for a moment that in real life these two never met and as a matter of fact rahel converted to christianity and married the german protestant nobleman august varnhagen.
IN THE ESSAYS THAT FOLLOW THE SHOW HAS ITS ORIGINAL NAME, "RAHEL! RAHEL!". I CHANGED THE NAME AFTER I DISCOVERED ON THE NET THAT PAUL NEWMAN MADE A MOVIE WITH THAT NAME BACK IN THE 1960'S.
TO VIEW OR DOWNLOAD ALL OF MY VIDEOS, PLUS 1500 PAGES OF MY EXPLANATORY ESSAYS (ALL AT NO CHARGE) PLEASE VISIT MY WEBSITE: franklynwepner.com. ALSO PLEASE NOTE MY NEW EMAIL ADDRESS, IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH ME ANY COMMENTS ABOUT MY WORK: [email protected] IN THE LISTING OF VIDEOS THE LETTERS (HQ) REFER TO A HIGHER QUALITY VERSION OF THE VIDEO, WHICH IS AVAILABLE TO YOU IF YOUR COMPUTER CAN HANDLE IT.
APPRECIATING MY MUSICAL SHOW
1. GENERAL THEORY
Of course, the best way to begin to appreciate most works of art is just to experience
them a few times and form your own conclusions. The opinions of the creator of an
artwork are merely incidental at that stage of the process. And certainly once an
artwork is created it takes on a life of its own, just like a child more and more slips out
of the control of its parents. Nevertheless, I think we will agree that this particular
artwork is unique in its form, what it seeks to accomplish, and the demands it makes on
its audience. "Rahel! Rahel!" is an ambitious project which reaches out beyond the
realm of art and grapples with major issues of religion and philosophy. Whether I as
the author have succeeded in my project is for you the audience to decide, but since
my artwork is intended to operate on several different levels I feel it appropriate for me
to lay out for you the plan of what might be there for you if I have succeeded in carrying
out my original goals. Just as I did not compromise in creating the piece, I will not
compromise here in discussing the piece. If you don't "get it", maybe I failed and there
ain't nothing there to "get" in the first place. Or if you don't "get it", maybe you need to
do some homework on your own, or just give up on it and go do something else more
appropriate for your talents.
Nachman of Breslav wrote "my Torah is entirely 'b'hinot' ". "B'hinot", in Hebrew, means
"aspects of", "associations", "points of view". For example, if I think of vanilla ice cream
then I can associate to that idea chocolate ice cream, or cows, or a forest of vanilla
beans somewhere in Madagascar. In other words, there is no limit to the range of
possible associations I might get. Nachman might have said instead, "my Torah is
entirely induction", and then we would contrast inductive logic to deductive logic.
Deductive logic begins with a single idea and like an upside down tree follows the
ramifications of that idea out into the myriad subdivisions and corollaries of that idea.
Scientific textbooks usually are written deductively. Inductive logic begins with the vast
realm of concrete living awareness experiences and step by step moves up the upside
down tree back to a single encompassing idea that strives to somehow include all of
the original experiences in its breadth. Francis Bacon in the 14th century championed
inductive logic. Theologically speaking, Breslav kabbalah is inductive thinking, while Chabad kabbalah is deductive thinking. Nachman begins with a wide range of Torah
texts and trusts in associative links to get to his main points, while Shneur Zalman,
author of the Chabad "Tanya", writes an orderly textbook in which he systematically
lays out his major and minor premisses. But both authors are using the same tree style
thinking. Nachman moves up the upside down tree, while Shneur Zalman moves
down the upside down tree, the kabbalistic tree of life on which the "sefirot" (points of
view) are hanging like Christmas tree ornaments. For philosophy in general, this tree
is the tree of dialectical thinking, whether we are forking from one branch to two or from
two branches to one. Both types of forking involve moving logically from thesis to
antithesis to synthesis in one way or another. Dialectical thinking underlies much of
world culture, whether in religion, philosophy, healing or the arts.
Turning now to "Rahel! Rahel!", this work is offered as an example of dialectical
thinking, especially in the inductive tradition which we find in the work in Nachman of
Breslav. It is therefore one more chapter to be added to Nachman's own "Likutei
Moharan" ("Collected Essays"). I do in this piece what he does in Likutei Moharan, with
the addition that I insert the man Nachman himself into the same dialectical process he
uses. I begin with Nachman's biography and writings. Then I work by associations and
trust that somehow you as audience will have the intelligence, motivation and patience
to "get it" when it all comes together at the end. Or if you don't get it on your own,
perhaps you will get it once I show you what I am driving at. You might not agree with
my interpretation, but at least I hope you will consider it for a moment.
The piece begins with two dialectically opposite points of view, that of Rahel
(Varnhagen) and that of Menachem (code for Nachman). Specifically, I begin with
Hannah Arendt's "Rahel Varnhagen" text, and Nachman's "Likutei Moharan". At the
beginning I make no attempt to bridge the gap. On the surface, it is a story of how
some religious fanatic shows up at a wild secular party looking for trouble. Nachman
wants to bring Rahel back to the fold of orthodox Judaism. Lots of luck! That is to say,
theatrically speaking the piece begins in the style of "naturalism", real life melodrama
between good guys and bad guys. Who is the good guy depends upon your own point
of view. I personally see value and garbage, sense and nonsense, in both camps. But
by the end of the show we have left naturalism behind and we are at a different level
altogether, that of symbolism. For gradually Menachem begins to see in Rahel the
embodiment of "the Shekhinah", while gradually Rahel begins to see in Nachman the
coming Messiah. Menachem is quite explicit, and gives us an extended lecture about
how Rahel is the Shekhinah, the female aspect of God. Rahel also gives us an
extended lecture about how she herself is the Shekhinah of God. But nowhere does
she say that Menachem is the Messiah. Rather she comes to that conclusion by
means of a deep metaphor, that of the "night" in the song "Night And Day". She
discovers that by killing off Menachem (in the form of Captain Ahab) she also is dying.
This is a transparent alllusion to the underlying dialectic of the whole project. The
thesis and the antithesis need to suffer death in order that the new encompassing
synthesis can emerge. Rahel and Menachem are the thesis and the antithesis, while
the End of Days, or Jewish Messiah, or Jesus, or whatever label you wish to use is the emerging synthesis. Dialectical thinkers here refer to the "negation of the negations",
since each extreme of the polarity is itself a negation of the original Oneness. So the
label "Messiah" refers here merely to the emerging Oneness, what Gestalt therapists
label "the coming solution". This way of thinking runs the risk of putting God within the
dialectic, as Hegel was wont to do. But pietists like Nachman of Breslav counter this
tendency by emphasizing the power of the Void as a stage of the dialectic, the moment
at which we allow ourselves to not know the answer for a long enough time to discover
some new ideas. Now I do not want to get involved in the battle over which flavor of
Messiah is the most tasty. I personally identify with the Jewish community, and I am an
ardent Zionist, as will be clear to you if you read my show about the Cave of
Machpelah. However, in this RAHEL show I leave that question hanging by having the
wedding of Menachem and Rahel followed by Rahel's allusions to Jesus. I could have
added another scene and had her extol the virtues of Mohammed or the Buddha, and
the basic meaning of the play would have remained the same.
Just as we can look in the direction of "the coming solution" to get the big picture,
likewise we can look back in the direction of "origin" to seek an initial Oneness that has
been negated by the necessities of existences. The forward looking direction is that of
Aristotle's "final cause", which is to be attained via committed authentic action. The
backward direction is that of Plato's "anamnesis", "not forgetting", and the emphasis in
anamnesis is on entering the void of "not knowing". This is what kabbalists, following
Rabbi Isaac Luria, label "tsimtsum", contraction of ego. In any real happening the two
points of view, that of Aristotle and that of Plato, are intertwined, and RAHEL! RAHEL!
is no exception. But if we look back to a hypothetical place before this play begins,
then what or who is the Oneness that is implied? What or who is the Oneness that is
fragmented as the play begins? From the point of view of a dialectical therapy, such as
Gestalt Therapy, we can infer that since Rahel and Menachem are the antitheses,
therefore I as their author must be the Gestalt client who is presenting my own search
for integration by means of this playwriting project. At the same time, to the extent that
you can identify with the characters I have created you as audience member also are
invited to be that Gestalt Therapy client undergoing your own healing vicariously, as
though you are attending a groupwork Gestalt session at which I am doing most of the
work and you are sitting patiently watching.
RAHEL! RAHEL! is a collage of music, text and images, at the same time it is a tragic
drama in the tradition of Aristotle's theory of tragedy. That is to say, it is Brechtian
formalism and Stanislavsky naturalism at the same time. It is Plato and Aristotle
simultaneously. The tragedy aspect of the script is that both sides of the dialectic,
Nachman and Rahel, need to die in order for the final Oneness to emerge, like the
legendary phoenix, from their ashes. The junk collage builds up a wide range of
"b'hinot", a net of associations, that undergoes Platonic collection, or gestalt formation,
or a figure/ground reversal. These fragmentary associations then coalesce at the end
into a single idea. That final single idea is the messianic notion that the one and the many, God and the world, somehow can - in the manner of Humpty Dumpty - be put
back together again.
As the play goes on this quest for the one in the many, identity in difference, or return
to origin focuses on Menachem's aggressive approach to Rahel and her aggressive
defense against his preaching. The dialectical process requires that there be two
opposite extremes that burn each other up in a final conflagration, and that is the
reason for all the creative aggression. The battle of Ahab and the Goddess Of The
Ocean is the peak moment of the dialectic, in which the two fanatics do each other in.
Each has evolved into a caricature of itself. Ahab symbolizes a hyper-chassid
determined to embody the Talmudic story about the big fish that spouts the two
messiahs by harpooning Moby Dick. He sees himself simultaneously as the final
Messiah Son Of David and the penultimate Messiah Son Of Joseph. The latter, the
warrior messiah, operates on the level of "the spirit of Cain", as a force of evil on the
other side, with a lust for bloody vengeance in his crusade to accomplish positive holy
objectives. Likewise Rahel, by taking Fichte's philosophy of Romantic Individualism to
its absurd Nazi limits fancies herself to be the warrior Great Lady Of The Ocean,
making a joke out of Zohar kabbalah in the process. The complex junk collage
symbolizing the final battle between Menachem and Rahel, between Gog and Magog
as it were, is at the same time the moment of Platonic collection and Aristotelian
At that point I call up a text of Julia Kristeva about how the female side represents what
she labels the explosion of the Semiotic into the Law Of The Father. We can say the
same thing by referring to Aristotle's final cause or Plato's anamnesis as the healing
Oneness that blasts the pseudo-wholeness of a rigid structure to pieces and restores
the primordial free flow of energy and infinite possibilities to the world. From this point
of view the Indian guru Rajneesh wrote, "it is only pure if it is chaotic". The Law Of The
Father here is any myopic reduction of religion to an oversimplified do-it-or-else
rulebook taught to children at a tender age, and swallowed whole as an unassimilated
introject. Just as Rahel is demolishing Menachem's simplistic Judaism, Menachem is
demolishing Rahel's simplistic Nazi totalitarianism. Visually I associate the right angles
of a swastica to the squares of a checker board, and this accounts for the checker
board wings that the Goddess Of The Ocean is wearing.
3. RAHEL! RAHEL! AND LIKUTEI MOHARAN
In my essays on Likutei Moharan I decode Nachman's kabbalistic word salad of b'hinot
into basic philosophical ideas. Let's review some of that process here, and relate the
theory to the RAHEL show as an example of practice. First of all, the notion of the
Shekhinah, which in the kabbalah is a legend with endless ramifications and endless
layers of associations. One metaphor Nachman uses is that of two birds that when they
fly properly represent the pure singing of a properly inspired singer or prophet. In any
concrete living experience a person, as it were, radiates out (from his forehead, it is
said) a ray of holy light, which Nachman sees as a holy pidgeon or canary or eagle or whatever. At that same moment, the object of our attention or awareness likewise
emits a holy pidgeon or canary or eagle or whatever. The holy birds meet halfway, fall
in love, come to an orgasm of oneness in the manyness, and voila! We get a moment
of healthy, contactful experience in our life. Nachman might have gotten the idea from
Aristotle's theory of psychology, or from the notion of a phoenix arising from the ashes
of two other dead birds, or more likely he got the idea from various Torah
commentaries on Genesis, commentaries which focus on the moment at which Adam
generates Eve from his own being. If so, then bird A is Adam, while bird B is Eve, and
the ongoing world of our contact boundary of lived experience is the messianic state of
authentic action or the primordial state of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden where
the pure rivers of experience flow endlessly. Adam is continually "knowing" Eve in a
state of ongoing orgasm. In the RAHEL show, I have Menachem (Adam, bird A, sefirah
chochmah) projecting onto Rahel the role of Eve, bird B, sefirah binah, in an idealistic
passion to restore the experience of "oneness in manyness" to the Jewish people as a
whole. The encounter of the two birds, of Adam and Eve, of chochmah and binah,
ideally generates a moment of authentic healthy action or enlightenment, depending
upon whether your perspective is Aristotle or Plato. The Shekhinah is, then, the side
that Adam projects out of himself. On a macrocosmic scale the Shekhinah is the
female aspect that God as male projects out of Himself. Of course, in the microcosm of
human experience things never go quite according to Divine expectations, and the
next thing you know this pure phenomenological process is stymied when Eve/Lilit/
Moon gets fed up with shining only by reflected light, and she wants to compete with
Adam/Sun as the generator of her own holy light. Things then can get quite
complicated, as the plot of the RAHEL show indicates. For on the one hand
Menachem wants to restore the Shekhinah, his other half, to her original purity and
power to hasten his own integration, and on the other hand his efforts at dominating
her accomplish the exact opposite result. She rebels and is all set to gobble him up
after cooking him and his cohorts in a big black pot. Likewise, Rahel is no more
successful in projecting Menachem as her own Shekhinah, when she herself assumes
the traditional masculine macho role. She uses the cannon as a substitute penis, her
own Moby Dick to do her projecting! I, Franklyn Wepner, as author, of this
kaleidoscopic collage of images, I keep discovering new nuances of interpretation,
and I invite you to get your own hits and come up with your own "Torah" exegesis.
Referring back to Nachman's analogy of the two birds, the unpure state of two rabid
birds (since doves originally were dinosaurs) pecking at each other, Nachman relates
to an unholy cantor singing primarily to impress his wife or to advance professionally
in the system. Since Menachem and Rahel end up "following after their eyes",
worshipping the golden calf, being possessed by the "spirit of Cain", hence they
deserve to be demolished as the play draws to its conclusion. Menachem and Rahel,
as caricatures of themselves, both end up stuck on the "day" side of reality, while it is
the "night" side of reality which remains the true ground of experience. The final
moments of the play represent this figure/ground reversal, as the night reasserts it
authority as the One capable of encompassing the Many. The epilogue scene makes
the statement that this primordial One/night is not just Jewish property, but is available
to all life through the dialectical process which the play embodies. Amen.
This show, like Likutei Moharan, is a collage of fragments. No one fragment is the main
idea of the show, but certainly all of them need to be acknowledged and given credit. If
I overlook a few, it is because there are so many of them. In a sense, life is one big
plagiarism, which we label "tradition" or "learning". Do I need to run around getting
permission from 100 artists and writers? Probably not, and perhaps I will get sued one
day. First of all I will acknowledge the Torah which Nachman pilfered to write Likutei
Moharan and Arthur Green pilfered to write "The Tormented Master". Then I will
acknowledge the writings of Rahel Varnhagen, which Hannah Arendt pilfered to write
"Rahel Varnhagen". Certainly the drawings of shtetl life of Reiss and the photos of
Vishniac deserve mention, as well as the paintings of Chagall, of which three appear
here. I ought to acknowledge the music of the western culture from which I stole the
rules of harmony and counterpoint which underlie my musical score. And certainly
Rabbi Danny Schultz deserves mention, for inspiring my portrayal of the great rebbe
Mordecai Daniel of Schultzrina at the time I was living in the Diaspora Yeshiva of
Jerusalem in 1982. Overall, this whole process of video collaging would not have
been a realistic option had it not been for the powerful resources which the Art
Explosion and the Google libraries of images makes available. Last but certainly not
least, there is my mama, my dear "chicken soup mama" who, incidentally, never
bothered to distinguish between milchik and fleishik, or even between kosher and
nonkosher! But nevertheless, certainly her heart was all for me, and without her
endless support and encouragement and love the junk collage that is Franklyn
Wepner would never have coalesced into the artist Franklyn Wepner.
SUMMARY OF THE SCENES
PART 1 "the lost princess"
SCENE 1: Berlin, 1806. Jewish salon hostess Rahel Levine, alone in her boudoir, soliloquizes about her dissatisfaction with her Jewish upbringing, which to her mind is the cause of all the frustrations she has experienced in life. She would like to change herself completely.
SCENE 2: Menachem of Saslov (i.e., Nachman of Breslav) protests to the reigning Hassidic rebbe, Mordechai Daniel of Schultzrina, against what he regards as a preoccupation with the externals of Jewish life rather than commitment to Torah study and prayer. A celebration of the holiday of "Shavuous is taking place, but Menach feels that only he is actually receiving the Torah at this moment.
SCENE 3: Locked in the stocks by Rebbe Mordechai Daniel, Menachem tells us the story of the Lost Princess: a King (God) momentarily angered by his favorite daughter ) tells her to go to the devil. And in the morning she is nowhere to found. Seeing the misery of the King over her absence, the Viceroy (Messiah) sets out to seek her. He finds her in the palace of the devil. Symbolically Rahel here represents "the Shechinah", from the Hebrew root "to dwell". The implication is that the Jewish people has the potential to embody God's living presence ("dwelling") here on earth so long as it does sell its soul to the devil.
PART 2 "nachman at rahel's salon"
SCENE 4: Menachem is present at the salon of Rahel, i.e., at what he sees as the palace of the devil, in an effort to bring the Jews that are there back to traditional Judaism before they intermarry with the gentile aristocrats and artists who also attend the salon. Rahel and the Protestant Count Karl Gustav von Finkenstein sing a passionate Mozart style love duet, amid antisemitic gossip directed against Rahel.
SCENE 5: Count Genz taunts Menachem, who is playing chess, with the fact that he saw Rahel in the park on the Sabbath riding in a carriage. In a song, Rahel strongly defends her right "to say no to remembering my Jewish race".
SCENE 6: Rahel invokes the writings of Fichte, who advocates freeing children from the heavy hand of tradition and developing in them instead the free use of their natural reason. In this way they will grow up to be "cultivated personalities", such as the glorious free spirits present in this salon now
SCENE 7: This scene is a Brechtian formalist style theatrical caricature of those "cultivated personalities" imagined by Fichte and worshipped by Rahel.
SCENE 8: Menachem is talking to G-d, pouring out his heart about his triumphs and failures. He sings "Comfort Ye". The text of the song states that the Jewish people (the "Shekhinah" or "Divine Presence" here on earth which is represented by Rahel) have already received from God a double portion of punishment, and they therefore should return to God their father, who now will be compassionate. Menachem gives us an example of how he uses a Talmudic text as a basis for spiritually inspired free interpretation. His meditations lead him to a deeper sense of his own mission as "tzaddik ha-dor", the "righteous man of his generation". He sees himself as the contemporary embodiment of the Messianic soul, which reappears in each generation. First this soul was that of Moses, now it is his, and soon it will be that of the Messiah.
PART 3 "rahel betrayed"
SCENE 9: Rahel relates a dream. She is standing in the stone ruins of a castle, high on a cliff. An angry mob demands that Finkenstein (their king and the person by whose side Rahel now is standing) allow them to throw her over the cliff. Terrified, Rahel in her dream screams to Finkenstein for his protection, but he hands her over to the mob. As she falls over the cliff she awakens, only to find Finkenstein standing by her side and giving her a "dear John" rejection message. Rahel is furious and humiliated. She blames all her misfortunes, once again, on the fact of her "infamous" (Jewish) birth.
SCENE 10: Menachem expresses his sympathy for the sufferings of Rahel, which he regards as the sufferings of the Shekhinah. The time has come, he concludes, for his own major project to begin. He shares with the audience his belief that he himself is the Messiah. Not just the Messiah of the seed of David is he, but also the Messiah of the seed of Joseph - the warrior Messiah whose sword prepares the way for the final Day of Judgment. Menachem now asks his disciples (the audience) to choose, each one for himself, whether or not he wishes to accompany him on this dangerous mission to the Holy Land. With those few that decide to remain with him, he shares his Messianic teachings. This small band is to be the vanguard which prepares the way for an exodus of the Jews from Europe and Czar Alexander's Russia to the Holy Land. To those that falter in their resolve for the task, Menachem gives advice. "Then you must sing and dance and clap your hands many times! Above all, do not despair!" One's joyous side must dance to force his own melancholy side to join in the struggle, just like dancers in a group grab a hesitant onlooker and encourage him to join their dance. These are basic principles of the Breslaver sect of Hassidim which Nachman of Breslav (i.e., Menachem in this play) is founding. Then Menachem does a full-scale dance of theurgy to mobilize the divine powers (and the audience) for the coming journey.
SCENE 11: Rebbe Mordecai Daniel sends the sheriff (who happens to have a Texas accent, 10-gallon hat, six-gun and star) to bring Menachem before the "beyt din" (religious court). Mid much Kafka-esque ritualistic chanting and tribal drumming, witnesses confirm every charge the Rebbe makes and then the sheriff hauls Menachem off to the hoosgow. The sheriff warns the audience (Menachem's disciples): "Ah siggest yiz make easel's scare 'roun these parts a while". As the sheriff demands, an intermission follows.
PART 4 "king's son & emperor's daughter"
SCENE 12: Menachem tells another story. The daughter of an emperor and the son of a king fall in love. Their parents forbid the marriage, so the lovers hire a ship and flee. On a distant shore they get lost from each other in the woods. A different ship happens to sail by, rescues the princess and takes her back to the country it sailed from. There the king of that country offers to marry her. He gives the princess 3 ladies to wait on her while she is making up her mind. The the princess makes the ladies drunk by giving them wine, and while they sleep she sails off with them in the king's ship.
SCENE 13: At sea in a tiny cardboard cutout boat, the four women share their frustrations in regard to men. They would like to rearrange the world, and they sing "If God Were A Lady Like Me". God offers them helpful advice. He informs them that if they would merely consult the holy Zohar (book of Jewish kabbalistic wisdom written in the 15th Century C.E.) they will find written there (in Book 2, Section 50B) that indeed God is a lady just like them.
SCENE 14: The ladies do as the Lord suggests. They discover that the Zohar text is exactly what they had in mind. Rahel and the 3 ladies act out the text by taking on the roles of Shekhinah (Rahel as the Goddess, Great Lady of the Ocean) and the Guardians of the Shekhinah (the 3 ladies as Warriors). They express all this in a Kabuki style dance of Samurai warriors. Menachem, off to the side, invites his disciples (the audience) to participate mystically in this sacred rite, which in terms of traditional Jewish symbolism represents (1) "creation" as the mystical descent of the Shekhinah from heaven ("Keter) into the physical world ("Malchut"), (2) the Shekhinah's spiritual struggle combatting evil down here in the world, and (3) the final re-ascent to God of the Shekhinah (Rahel) via a mystical marriage with the soul of the Messiah, i.e., with him, Menachem.
PART 5 "two endings"
SCENE 15: Like Popeye with a can of spinach, Rahel now is empowered by spiritual energy. Rahel as the Shekhinah (Goddess of the Great Ocean) now gets her turn to run the show, dishing out divine retribution as it suits her fancy. She begins with the Finkenstein mannequin, dealing with him Samurai warrior style. Next come along Captain Ahab, Starbuck and Stubbs (three major characters from Melville's "Moby Dick") in their whaling dinghy and in hot pursuit of the Great White Whale. The point here is that just as Rahel has now gone overboard in her power/holiness trip, so has Menachem done likewise. Ahab in hot pursuit of the Great White Whale is played by Menachem in hot pursuit of the Holy Land which at the moment equates with hot pursuit of Rahel's Great White Bosom. The resulting clash of opposite extremes (Rahel vs. Menachem) is a theatrical metaphor for the Battle of Gog and Magog, of opposite X/-X evil forces, which must precede the coming of the Messiah according Jewish tradition. So what to the audience reads as ultra avant garde experimental theater actually is merely 15th Century C.E. Jewish mysticism. Rahel's side wins. The women cannibalistically boil up Ahab, his crew and his boat in a big black cardboard cutout pot and serve them up for dinner. After dinner the women sing a whaler's song and drink a toast.
SCENE 16: Along with these eschatological happenings comes a similar use of "language" in the text of the play. French feminist (post-Brechtian formalist, deconstructionist) theoreticians of today, such as Julia Kristeva, maintain that rational language must be deconstructed into what reads as avant garde poetry. One way to do this is by intercutting very different texts, in order to create a sea of new possibilities, associations, meanings and ideas. Onstage the audience sees the intercutting of Zohar mystical jargon and Moby Dick whaling jargon into a very carefully worked out word salad with all sorts of textual and mise-en-scene allusions. The feminist literary critics regard coherent use of language surrender to "the tyranny of the symbolic father, the phallic law giver". But now (since "God Is A Lady Like Me") things will be different! Rahel and her feminist warriors commandeer the large phallus-like cannon which Ahab has brought onstage. At last they have the phallus! So when Menachem sends angels to set things aright, Rahel - wearing Ahab's coat and hat and smoking one of his cigars - thoroughly enjoys her ejaculations shooting the angels down from their celestial heights, i.e., inseminating them. One after another angel (fertilized egg) plops ingloriously into the briney deep, accompanied by the sound effect of a toilet flushing. This sort of female/male battleground is a parody of the sacred marriage of the Shekhinah with the Messiah, the best we can do in our pre-messianic times - an age in which most marriages either never happen or end in divorce. The idealistic true messianic style marriage union will happen in Scene 18.
SCENE 17: The Messianic Age is dawning, and Rahel now identifies with her "night", grounded, roots, Shekhinah side. From that point of view she sings "Day and Night", in which the lyrics state that night "deceptively transforms these shadows (day's illusions, ego games) into life's ground and native soil". Having failed in killing off Menachem and what he represents, Rahel now allows him to embrace and dance with her. Menachem likwise has learned that joyous dancing is a better means than is a violent power trip to attain messianic goals. Dialectically speaking, we can say that the original Rahel/Menachem pair of opposing egos (thesis vs. antithesis) has died in the struggle and that both emerge reborn as a higher, more enlightened spiritual way of being (the synthesis). Rahel says: "So I have killed you after all, for I am dying with you!" Kabbalists will observe here the negation of negations of the One Without A Second, which restores the oneness of God at the End Of Days.
SCENE 18: A traditional Jewish wedding now unfolds, the wedding of Rahel (the Shekhinah) with Menachem (the soul of the Messiah). The divine couple and the rest of the cast dance the traditional wedding dances.
SCENE 19: But a surprising epilogue follows. Rahel returns to her boudoir and confides to the audience: "What a history . . . to have been born a Jewess, I would not now have missed it at any price!" The actress playing Rahel then steps out of character and shares with the audience the disconcerting fact that as a matter of fact Rahel at age 43 did intermarry. The character Rahel at 63 and near death then speaks to her Protestant husband August Varnhagen of her love for Jesus and her admiration of Mary. The audience is left with two different endings for the play, and by implication each audience member is invited to think about the play and to arrive at his own conclusions - in keeping with the Brechtian epic theater tradition to which this play belongs. Will you think dialectically and regard the ending as the triumph of idealistic truth over all the obstacles that enchain the human spirit, or will you think with ordinary everyday cause and effect logic and find yourself wondering "how come this play doesn't make sense?"
The author is of the opinion that the true "history" that Rahel "would not now have missed at any price" is:
(1) what Hegel calls "the phenomenology of the spirit", or an "objective history" rather an everyday ego dominated, illusionary "subjective history",
(2) which is what therapists call working through the blocks to our awareness and the "games we play" to get to authentic action in our lives,
(3) which is what literary critics call a complete dramatic action, in this case spread out over the events enacted by both Rahel and Menachem rather than combined in the life of just one character,
(4) which is what neo-Platonic thinkers such as Philo call the path of the logos embodying pure Platonic ideas,
(5) which is what Christians call the "stations of the cross" as embodied ideally in the life of Jesus,
(6) which is what Maimonides in his "Guide For The Perplexed", and in the tradition of Aristotle, calls the system of concentric spheres or heavens leading down from and back up to God (God being conceived as the Unmoved Mover or Active Intellect),
(7) and which is what Jewish kabbalists call emanation of the "Word of God" or "hish'tal'sh'lut", from the Hebrew: "to make a chain". The chaining is a chain of "sefirot", from the Hebrew "to count" pure numbers (like Pythagoras) or to enumerate a sequence of pure ideas or different points of view (like the Greek "logos" or account). The "hish'tal'sh'lut" is a descent down the chain and an ascent back up the chain - from the highest sefirah ("Keter") down to the lowest sefirah ("Malchut") and then back up again. The ascent or "t'shuvah" (Hebrew: "returning") is the pathway back to our lost unity with God. The different one sided points of view which Rahel and Menachem embody along this pathway are incomplete versions of the Name of God, while the play as a whole seeks to approach - but only asymptotically - the Great Name (or Naming) of God. As the Jewish prayer service tells us, "On that day will God and His Name be One".
(8) Menachem embodies the soul of the Messiah, the possibility of God in human experience as symbolized by the notion of the complete Name. Rahel, on the other hand, embodies the Shekhinah, all the partial Names distributed among the many created creatures, especially among the different individuals of the Jewish people. The sacred marriage of Menachem and Rahel symbolizes the integration of the one with the many, which has an endless number of representations in cultural traditions all over the world. For Jews the union of God (the One) with the Jewish people (the Many or Shekhinah) is focused especially on key moments in the ritual calendar, especially the moment of the "L'chah Dodi" prayer, song and dance on Friday nights at the beginning of the Sabbath. The Hebrew is: "Come, my friend, and let us greet the Sabbath Queen or Shekhinah".
(9) You did not come to an avant garde theater script for a Torah lesson, but you got one anyway. I fooled you! The word Torah has two possible Hebrew roots. (1) "Hora'ah", which means "instruction", and (2) "tur", which means "to seek, investigate, search", i.e., to take a journey of discovery, which is what this play represents. The descent and ascent of the Shekhinah is one way this Torah experience is symbolized in Jewish tradition. The pathway (Torah) away from and back to what in this play is labeled "God" is a possibility for human consciousness. We have the option to travel it or we can find other things to do with our allotted time. And we can use either sacred or secular terminology to describe the trip. This play uses both.