This is the last in what’s been a pretty skippy lookover of Jewish theatre, but I’d welcome any additional suggestions in that comment box down there. For now:
“I am the secret, not of darkness, but of light.” – Golem
Today’s play is another following a mythical spirit, as invoked by H. Leivick (“Slender, white-haired, a figure of austere simplicity, he had spent his life brooding over the problem of human suffering…when he turned from his rabbinical studies in his middle teens, he had already began to quarrel with God over the suffering he could neither understand nor justify.” – Joseph C. Landis, echoing the Jewish tradition of anti-devotional prayers).
The title names the creature in question – The Golem – a robot-like creature of earth, created as a servant and famed for its (unthinking) defence of its creators. In Leivick’s brooding take, the relationship between servant and master, golem and world, will prove rather more metaphysical, as one would expect of a play containing characters called The Invisible and The Figure of the Uncreated, as well as scenes titled Clay, Walls and Through Darkness.
The first scene is perhaps the play’s most powerful, as Maharal, the Rabbi of Prague sculpting the golem’s body is visited by a ‘shadow’s shadow’: “I have come to warn you: create me not.” The rabbi argues the need for “A people’s champion, a man of might” but is answered by “A servant – to be ruled, commanded”. And without so much as a shazam, Golem is being led into Maharal’s study, and being labouriously instructed in the fundaments of living among people. He is taller than doorways and terrified – possessed by the infant’s existential confusion (“I want to twist / My head from off my shoulders, twist my arms and legs. / Put out the fire around me. / Take away the walls.”)
A giant naturally gathers attention, and this one is particularly thin-skinned, paranoia building with the mob’s questions and laughter – he is childishly dependent on his maker, and infatuated with his daughter (though what this means is closed to him). Maharal’s tactic would now be characterised as tough love, hoping he will grow with his mistakes – “I cannot always be with you. Know / That you came here to be alone.”
Golem completes missions for his master, but is stricken by a paralysing lack of purpose after – he has consciousness but not will, and his dependence on the Rabbi is deeper and darker than love: “Stay here with me forever in the anteroom. / I will give up my sleeping bench to you / And I will lie at your feet upon the floor.”
This need overrides all else – Golem spills ‘Jewish blood’ and, although it at first looks like this feverish strategem has won his desire, Maharal feeling he can no longer leave him alone, the Rabbi now announces Golem’s last mission. He instructs him to lie down. To close his eyes. “Breathe out your final breath. Amen.” Golem’s obedience, and the ease of his decease make the scene more shattering than any struggle could have.
“How good it was to be mere clay, / To lie, lifeless and calm, / among the sands and stone of the earth / Between eternities.” – Golem