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Many centuries ago a thoughtful and scholarly Jew asked the question: Why do the righteous suffer? Long before Job posed that problem to his generation, however, prophetic writers had asked a somewhat similar question: Why has the Jewish State been destroyed? Why has God brought the calamity of foreign conquest upon us; why has He rejected us? The prophetic passages of consolation and restoration were the answer to that anguished cry. And hundreds of years later, when the Second Commonwealth died on the walls of Jerusalem and high on the crags of Masada, a new generation of visionaries dreamt dreams of a great day yet to come when the God of their fathers would redeem those who had been crushed under the heel of the ruthless and implacable Roman tyrant.
The Diaspora followed with its wanderings from Palestine to Mesopotamia and finally to the West—to Moslem Spain, where a new Golden Age was to shine in resplendent glory, illuminating the centuries between antiquity and modernity. But the decline of the Moslems and the emergence of a new crusading Christian Spain meant that the magnificent Iberian Jewish commonwealth of the spirit would go down to extinction in the fires of the Inquisition. In 1492, royal fiat decreed an end to Spanish Jewry, the greatest Jewry the world had yet known. Thousands of Spanish Jews departed overseas, ultimately to disappear as a cultural force of any significance. Other thousands became Marranos, saving themselves from expulsion by accepting baptism, but living, in numerous instances, as crypto-Jews bound only by lip service to a Christianity which offered them neither faith, nor hope, nor charity. Thousands more, who fled to Portugal, found themselves compelled there to endure a governmentally imposed conversion and to suffer contempt as a breed of New Christians.
That generation of the 1490’s knew that it had been cast into a fiery furnace from which many of its members would never escape. Like their ancestors in the days of the Babylonian Exile, and like their forefathers who saw huge numbers of Jews crucified on the Roman roads, they, too, asked: Why did this happen to us? And they asked: Are the Christians right? Are we being punished because we have rejected their Christ? Is there no hope for the Marranos of Spain, for the New Christians of Portugal, for the scattered Sephardic refugees of the Mediterranean world?
Every persecuted, tormented age must evoke an answer or die in despair. What the prophets and the apocalyptists had attempted for their times, Samuel Usque, a Portuguese Jew, now sought to do for his people in the sixteenth century. As he saw his fellow Jews beaten, dispersed, and spiritually cowed, he wrote a religious tract for the times: God has not rejected his chosen people; they still stand proudly, refuting by their very existence all calumnies. A great future—a messianic millennial deliverance—lies in store for them, for they are the Children of a God who will never abandon them. Take hope—said Usque to his brethren— the dawn of a new and better day is about to burst forth in golden light over the pale horizon. It was Usque’s way of bringing Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel.
Is our own generation any different? Six million of our brethren, men, women, and children, went to their death in the fiery ovens of Germany. A country calling itself the most civilized in the world saw fit, in our own day, to destroy a Golden Age that had given birth to a magnificent synthesis of Judaism and Western culture. What, then, is our Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel? What is the answer for the thoughtful and the disconsolate among us today? Anxious to help us reach out for an answer, a brilliant young scholar, Martin A. Cohen, has prepared a translation of Usque’s probings, and we can but hope that the reading of this scroll, which Dr. Cohen has unrolled before us, will help give us insight and understanding so that we, too, may regain strength and faith to face the world of tomorrow.
the Author -- Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel
CONSOLAÇAM AS TRIBULAÇOENS DE ISRAEL
DEDICATION BY SAMUEL USQUE
PROLOGUE TO THE GENTLEMEN OF THE DIASPORA OF PORTUGAL
WITH THE NAME OF YCABO,
HAVING TAKEN REFUGE IN A PLACE
REMOVED FROM HUMAN SOCIETY,
LAMENTS HIS WOES.
HE IS DISCOVERED BY CHANCE
BY NAHUM AND ZECHARIAH,
PROPHETS IN THE GARB
AND NAME OF SHEPHERDS,
TO WHOM HE RELATES ALL HIS AFFLICTIONS,
AND THEY CONSOLE HIM.
FOR DIALOGUE I
HUNT OF CONIES & HARES
HUNT OF STAGS [& HERONS]
THE ORIGIN OF ISRAEL & THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE
TRIBULATIONS OF ISRAEL, ABBREVIATED
THE FIRST EXPERIENCES OF ISRAEL IN THE HOLY LAND
THE LIFE OF THE WICKED, IN THE GUISE OF CONIES & HARES
KINGS OF ISRAEL
THE HUNT OF STAGS TRANSFIGURED INTO THE LIFE OF THE WICKED
LAMENT OVER THE LOSS OF THE TEN TRIBES
CONSOLATION ON THE CAPTIVITY OF THE TEN TRIBES
ORIGIN OF IDOLATRY
HUMAN CONSOLATION FOR THE CAPTIVITY OF THE TEN TRIBES
DIVINE CONSOLATION FOR THE CAPTIVITY OF THE TEN TRIBES
CHAPTER ON THE KINGS OF JUDAH
HUNT OF HERONS, ADAPTED TO THE WICKED KINGS OF JUDAH
ISRAEL’S LAMENT ON THE LOSS OF THE FIRST TEMPLE
ON MATTERS OF SACRED SCRIPTURE
INTERLOCUTORS: YCABO, NUMEO & ZICAREO
YCABO: What an appropriate place this is for me to bemoan my misfortunes and for my sighs to rise to the farthest heaven! O trees and gentle waters, you alone are disposed to hear me; hear and take pity at my cries. O drooping spirits of mine, O limbs wearied and bruised, O bodily burden so heavy to bear, strengthen yourselves. O eyes of mine, tired of being an arid bed, send forth tears of blood by the thousands. O tall and thick branches that hold back the rays of my weakened sight, spread a little that my continuous and doleful sighs may mount higher than the clouds, and make room for my groans to be heard in all four corners of the earth.
O Asia, spacious, fortunate and great, sown with precious gems and planted with rich and noble trees, you pleasantly delight your tawny inhabitants with infinite wealth and soft and marvelous fragrances. O Africa, mountainous, rugged and scorched, pregnant with the finest gold, cloaked with sweet and handsome palms, and sprinkled with milk and honey, you keep your children happy with buried wealth and the savory foods of Nature.
And Europe, bellicose, wise and fair, swelled by crafty strategems and by proud and wondrous triumphs and converted into a terrestrial paradise, your children delicately suck your full breasts in boundless luxury, and anyone who grows up in any of your regions finds himself lovingly protected beneath the shadow of its wings.
But you, O ancient inheritance and pious motherland of mine, you who once were mistress of the nations, and like the eagle among the creatures of wing, a princess over all the provinces, where shall I go to seek your glories past? Your Temple mysteries have vanished. Your sublime miracles have taken refuge in the heavens. Vile abominations have adulterated your divine sacrifices. The joys of your holy festivals have been cloaked with mourning and sadness. Instead of the softness of the earth’s marvelous abundance, you feel the harshness of cruel peoples’ captivity. Instead of heaven’s continual favors, you feel its ire and its abandonment. Instead of your beloved children’s sacred repose and calmness of spirit, you see them cruelly banished from province to province in wretched fear and continuing misery. Instead of savory fruits, you breed poisonous vipers. And the clear waters of the Jordan and the fountain of Idumea run red with human blood.
Then where in the world can I turn that I may find a remedy for my wound, relief for my pain and consolation for such grave and pressing ills? O afflicted body of mine, the whole earth is full of my wretchedness and suffering. Among the riches and pleasures of joyous Asia I find myself a poor and wearied traveler, amidst the abundance of gold and fatness of the burning land of Africa, a wretched, famished and thirsty exile. Now Europe, O Europe, my hell on earth, what shall I say of you, since you have won most of your triumphs at the expense of my limbs? O Italy, depraved and bellicose, for what shall I praise you? Famished lions have fattened themselves within your borders by tearing apart the flesh of my lambs. O France, in your luxuriant pastures my ewes have grazed poisonous herbs. O Germany, haughty, rough and mountainous, my goats were dashed to pieces as they fell from the summit of your craggy Alps. O England, my cattle drank bitter and brackish drafts from your sweet, cold waters. And Spain, hypocritical, cruel and lupine, ravenous and raging wolves have been devouring my wooly flock within you.
NUMEO: Zicareo! Either I am deceived, or someone is walking in this forest, for I hear a sound like a human voice. I beg you, wait a moment, and we shall hear it.
ZICAREO: It must be Yranio, who is feeding his cattle on the other side. Perhaps his mastiffs are chasing a wolf. Let us hurry, for our flocks are moving far ahead and the passes in these parts are not very secure. NUMEO: They are well protected by the mastiffs. Wait, because we shall not be long detained. Be attentive, for whoever he is, he is continuing his discourse.
YCABO: O world, world, since you do not permit your rational creatures to be grieved by my tribulations and miseries, if the heavens have infused some secret mode of pity in insensitive things, grant permission to the rivers, which cascade from the high mountains with a frightening rumble to break their frothy waters down below, to check their frenetic pace. Let them accompany the continuous flow of my tears with a gentle and plaintive murmur, and by their wearied course let them show a new sympathy for my long agonies.
And you, Nile, Ganges, Euphrates and Tigris, chief among them all, who detach yourselves from the terrestrial paradise and come freely to give water to the thirsty Egyptians and to the soft and scented Indians; who change your course, hide in the sands for many days and then emerge and appear to the wild and dark Guineans; who rise and fall through rugged and mountainous wastes on your way to greet the cruel and warlike Tartars; who there commune with the longed-for messenger who was carried swiftly away to the heavens in a chariot with horses of fire; I entreat you now graciously to tell me this secret:
When will my afflictions and toils have surcease? When will I see the end to wrongs and offenses against me, to my longings and agonies, to the wounds in my soul and the bruises on my body? When will my happiness not be confined to dreams and my misfortunes not be real? When will my ever-present ills be removed and the fulfillment of my wearied hopes not seem a distant reverie? And when will peace come to my battered body, or to the fears, suspicions and apprehensions of my spirit? How long must I moan and sigh and slake my thirst with my tears?
ZICAREO: You heard correctly, brother Numeo. It was a human being. But it was not Yranio, feeling our divine and indescribable absence, for I know his voice well. It is another shepherd who is lamenting in the same tones.
NUMEO: Though I run a great risk, I would not lose the opportunity of finding out if this is the shepherd whom we have wanted to meet for such a long time. Upon your word, Zicareo, let us go to find out about him.
ZICAREO: Let us go.
YCABO: In order to reflect more calmly upon my troubles without the noise of shepherds disturbing me, I have withdrawn to this thick grove, which nature formed at the foot of this rough mountain. But if fortune has not deprived me of my sense of hearing, as it has stripped me of my other blessings, I perceive the steps and speech of more than one person not far from me.
NUMEO: O good shepherd, what are you doing in this strange and secluded place? And where are you from, you who show yourself so courageous by withdrawing to such a solitary and awesome spot? May good fortune gladden you with an increase of your sheep and lambs if you do not conceal your secret from us. Indeed, if some remedy for your hardships were within our power, we would very gladly offer it to you forthwith. Cheer, cheer your unhappy countenance, and raise it toward us. Let your long and wearisome sighs now cease; for I see them throbbing in your breast at times gently, at times with restless, almost live palpitations.
ZICAREO: O brother, get up from where you are. Come with us to the clear brook nearby, where you will wash your eyes that are so wet and heavy from crying. And if you should want our company further, you may return with us to our cottages. There you will rest, and we shall refresh you with some white milk and fresh cream.
YCABO: Kindly and friendly shepherds, the time of my rest has as yet not arrived, and all the contentments and pleasures I take in this world, since they are unbecoming, cannot satisfy me or even penetrate my coarse shepherd’s cloak. Therefore do not try to offer me cheerful things, for they only add to a sad man’s sorrows. And, though you did not mean to, you have aroused my sorrows, which were calmly reasoning with me. Turn about and I shall still them again.
ZICAREO: We will certainly not turn away, for every care is harmful. Instead, we entreat you fervently to unburden your passions before us. Without a doubt I believe you will feel some improvement in your pain, for the way to relieve misfortunes is to talk about them.
YCABO: Ah, brothers, I cannot without great anguish of spirit recall times passed or reflect how my memory of them clashes with the picture of me today. It suddenly sends a chill wind which seems almost alive through every limb of my body, and as it moves, it congeals the blood diffused through all my veins.
They say that the body’s natural color is the seat of the soul’s divine and precious form. I have lost my natural color. So do not marvel if my face appears unnatural, my eyes dull and lightless, my hair disheveled, my hands cold, and my nails blanched. Do not wonder if my body lies unconscious on the ground, alone beneath this tree, deprived of all its instincts, including self-preservation. But if I think of those past times again, I will bleed the raw wound still more, though its condition cannot tolerate too much contact. Yet, despite the discomfort it may bring me, I do not wish to appear ill-mannered and ungrateful for your virtuous and guileless offer of friendship, which I fully appreciate, and I wish to please you. I will open my heart fully and tell you of myself and the sorrow imprinted on my soul.
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