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Pinchas. Fire and Passion

A few years back, my teenage daughter introduced me to the poem, “Two Elements”, by the Israeli poet Zelda:


The flame says to the cypress: “When I see how calm, how full of pride you are, something inside me goes wild – How can one live this awesome life without a touch of madness, of spirit, of imagination, of freedom, with only a grim, ancient pride? If I could, I would burn down the establishment that we call the seasons, along with your cursed dependence on earth and air and sun, on rain and dew.” The cypress does not answer. He knows there is madness in him, and freedom, and imagination, and spirit. But the flame will not understand, the flame will not believe.

The poem talks of the tension and contradiction between the flame – hot, passionate, free, energetic, jumping and gyrating, wild and dangerous – and the cypress tree, the tall evergreen conifer – controlled, perfect in form and shape, quiet, elegant, old, consistent, never changing.

It is the perfect poem to pit the ideological purism of youth against the steadiness of middle age. For my daughter, it may have represented the tension between the “secular,” open world outside Judaism on the one hand and a halakhic lifestyle, a life regulated by ancient laws on the other. Possibly, it was the tension between a passionate Hassidic, spiritual, expressive Judaism that she sees around her, in contradistinction to a more intellectual, quiet, conformist, Judaism that I practice. Or as I said above, the fire is the passion of youth, and the tree is the stability, staidness and caution of middle age.