Bible Commentator

AN ENCOUNTER BETWEEN FRANZ KAFKA (1884-1924) AND REB NAHMAN (1776-1810)

Rabbi Moshe Reiss

moshereiss@moshereiss.org

FRANZ KAFKA AND REB NAHMAN: A COMPARATIVE ENCOUNTER

By Rabbi Moshe Reiss


INTRODUCTION:

Reb Nahman of Breslov (1776-1810) was born in the Ukraine in the late eighteenth century and was raised in an ultra-Orthodox Hassidic environment. Franz Kafka (1884-1924) was born in Prague in the late nineteenth century in an urban secular home. Both were obsessed with writing. There origins came from strikingly different cultures and yet stunning parallels can be drawn in both their lives and works. Both were master story tellers and both were forced to cope with `demons within them'.  Both authors fashioned a similar literary genre often characterized by the creation of their own reality in which paradoxical and unexpected events occurred. The medium of their language and many of their tales have an antithetical and fragmentary nature.  


The `demons within them' alienated them from the reality of their own worlds and propelled them to strive for self definition. This struggle was often centered around omnipotent figures whose existence was central to their personal struggle. Their internal conflicts were fought through the medium of storytelling. Both were plagued by struggles with issues of identity, alienation, faith and doubt. Each perceived himself as a victim.


Reb Nahman founded a religious sect known as the Breslover Hassidism. Max Brod, Kafka’s friend and first biographer, equated Kafka to the ‘founder of a religion’.1  Both dedicated their lives to writing.  Both men suffered the last years of their lives fully cognizant of their inexorable fate; impending premature death by tuberculosis.  Both authored volumes of tales yet precious little was published during their lifetimes. Their destiny was to attain posthumous fame.  Both have exerted an enormous even lasting influence - Franz Kafka on the literary world and Reb Nahman on Judaism.  This influence can be seen by recent biographies on each of them and continued analyses of their writing. 2 Both had a faithful disciple who edited, published and disseminated their writings or teachings after their death; Max Brod for Kafka and Rabbi Nathan for Reb Nahman. Both wrote hagiographically towards their ‘Rabbis’.


Franz Kafka was born in the midst of the age of enlightenment; an era which produced Darwin, Marx, Einstein and Freud, and ended with World War I destroying ‘old’ Europe. He was raised in an isolated Jewish German-speaking assimilated family, in a country whose language was primarily Czech. Being Jewish the Kafkas’ were rejected by the Christian population and as German speakers rejected by Czechs. `The Chosen People were forced into the role of Chosen Enemy by both antagonists’ 3 Kafka tells us his father ran `down the Czechs, and then the Germans, and then the Jews . . . and nobody was left except yourself’. 4


As assimilated Jews the Kafka’s rejected the traditional Judaic law and its commandments. Paradoxically, as with many other elements in his life, Kafka simultaneously rejected and accepted Jewish law. To Felice Bauer, his fiancée he wrote “I do not actually strive to be good, to answer to a supreme tribunal”. 5 Notwithstanding his position as a nonobservant Jew he nonetheless wrote: "Keeping the commandment is not an outward thing. On the contrary, it is the very essence of the Jewish faith." 6


His diaries and letters reflect an obsession with Judaism. However the word Jew never appears in his numerous novels, stories and tales even when the title was Abraham, Mount Sinai, the Synagogue or the Temple.  When asked "What do I have in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself, and should hide myself quietly in a corner satisfied with the fact that I can breath." 7  Kafka was well aware that he lived at the beginning of rabid Anti-Semitism that ended with the Shoah destroying European Jewry.  


Few 20th-Century writers have exerted greater literary influence than Franz Kafka. Yale University literary critic Harold Bloom suggests that as Dante is the writer par excellence of the Catholics and Milton is the writer par excellence of the Protestants, so Kafka may be the writer par excellence of the Jews.  8


Reb Nahman was born in 1772 in the small Ukrainian city of Medzeboz amidst a population that was rural, peasant and Catholic. The major world events during his lifetime were the Napoleonic wars viewed by many Hassidic Jews as beginning the apocalypse and precursor war necessary before the coming of the Messiah. Reb Nahman, an ultra-Orthodox Jew lived in a late medieval society and at the outset of the age of enlightenment.


His great-grandfather Israel ben Eliezer known as the Baal Shem Tov or BeSHT (meaning the holder of the good name) founded the ultra-Orthodox Hassidic movement. 9 Hassidism stressed piety through joy and based its theology on Kabbalism – Jewish mysticism.  He revered his great- grandfather, inherited his charisma and his abilities as a faith healer and considered himself the BeSHT’s successor. Despite that Reb Nahman was an ascetic and could well be termed an existentialist (in twentieth century terms). His ultra-Orthodox sect the Breslover Hassidism continues to grow both in Israel and the United States and his writings are studied in numerous Seminaries.


Despite the very different subject matters both Kafka and Reb Nahman shared remarkably similar styles. Underlying their lives was an exquisite sensitivity to universal problems: both men suffered from similar identity problems that alienated them from their respective societies. Both sought to find the faith to solve their doubts. Both writers exerted extraordinary impacts on their friends and associates and continue to impact the literary and theological world today.  


I am of course not claiming any form of identity between these two men who lived in different eras and with different cultural backgrounds, but perhaps a resemblance that helps us understand both. To quote Prof. Geoffrey Hartman a Yale University literary critic "resemblance is not identity, but sometimes mapping of resemblance is the closest we can come to identity." 10


JUDAISM:

To discuss Reb Nahman’s Judaism would be superfluous inasmuch as his entire life was permeated with Hasidism.


Hence the focus of this section will be Kafka as a Jewish writer. Ernst Pawel has posited that Kafka had a negative Jewish identity and was a ‘secular Talmudist and a rational Kabbalist. 11 Reb Nahman, by contrast was the embodiment of positive Jewish identity, was a pious and erudite Talmudist as well as a mystical kabbalist. In the course of his lifetime he often wavered between self abhorrence and self adulation. It would not be amiss to conclude that neither Kafka nor Reb Nahman had a positive self image.


Kafka’s father emigrated to Prague from a Yiddish speaking community arriving only three years prior to Franz’s birth.  The name Kafka-- which is the Czech for jackdaw --probably comes from the Yiddish Yakov (Jacob) where the prefix was dropped and a German suffix added. 12 Franz had a typical Yiddish name Amshel while his father chose a clearly Germanic name Hermann for himself.


Kafka’s father’s outright rejection of Judaism became Kafka’s ultimate weltanschauung. These ideas are pivotal to our understanding of Kafka and his oeuvre. The majority of Kafka’s friends were assimilated Jews who while rejecting ritual Judaism, cared deeply about Judaism as a culture; many were in fact Zionists. Kafka admitted in his writings that only with eastern European ritually observant Jews did he experience a genuinely deep soul connection.


Kafka was hopelessly trapped and caught between his father’s rejection of Judaism and his insatiable attraction to traditional Jewish life which he loved and admired. One might suggest that his attraction was fuelled indeed by his father’s original fervent rejection.


 In Kafka’s important ‘Letter to His Father’ he criticizes his father for having given him an ‘insignificant scrap of Judaism you yourself possessed’. Your knowledge was ‘a mere nothing, a joke – not even a joke’. 13 His father who only took him to synagogue on the High Holy days could not even show him where in the prayer book a passage was being read. Their Passover Seder ‘developed into a farce with fits of hysterical laughter’. 14 He rejected his father’s assimilative approach to Judaism. ‘Had you Judaism been stronger, your example would have been more compelling too’. 15


Kafka wrote Brod that ‘German-Jewish literature is hopelessly suspended between a Judaic past destroyed by these writers and a German present which they could never make their own in truth’. 16


Three persons in particular can be singled out as figures who directly exerted a significant impact on Kafka’s Judaic experience—Yitzhak Lowy, Jiri Langer and Dora Diamant.


 Yitzchak Lowy as the director of a Yiddish theatre presented plays about ritually observant Jewish life in Eastern Europe. In 1910 Kafka attended these productions and from his diaries it is unmistakably evident that they exerted a formidable impact on him. It was not the quality of the plays nor the acting which impressed him - on the contrary, it was the awareness of Jews publicly displaying their Jewishness with pride and not experiencing paralyzing self consciousness. Kafka declared, “the Hassidic stories are the only element in which I ever feel initially at home, no matter what my momentary mood may be.”17  


Kafka’s friendship with Lowy became the vehicle for his introduction into knowledge of Jewish ritual life. Inasmuch as Kafka was already familiar with the Hebrew alphabet and was fluent in written and spoken German, mastery of the Yiddish language presented a small challenge. He learned to read Yiddish and subsequently learned to read and speak Hebrew. Lowy read him Yiddish poetry and fiction; and he himself read some Yiddish books as well as German translation’s of Yiddish books.


Kafka in fact introduced Lowy to the Zionist and Hebrew speaking Bar Kokhba Society of the Charles University of Prague. The import of such a dramatic move cannot be overstated; Kafka never spoke publicly. One may gain some insight into this unique move in light of Kafka’s words to Lowy, you are ‘the only one that spoke to my soul, the only one who half understood me.18  


In a letter written to Milena, his Czech translator (and possible lover), he said "If I'd been given a choice to be what I wanted, then I'd have chosen to be a small east European Jewish boy in the corner of the room, without a trace of worry.” 19 His father’s typical opinion of Lowy was summarized by "whoever lies down with dogs gets up with fleas.” 20


Jiri Langer was a friend of Kafka who was raised in Prague to an assimilated Jewish family but who made a dramatic conversion and fully embraced a Hasidic way of life (a ba’al teshuva). His brother Franticek, said of Jiri ‘my brother did not come home from Belz [the Hasidic community he joined], to home and civilization, he brought Belz with him.’ 21


Kafka’s world was vastly enlarged when he began to meet Hasidic Rabbis who were instrumental in Jiri’s life. The first time he met an Hasidic Rabbi with Jiri he noted the Rabbi eating with his fingers, a practice which was totally unacceptable in Kafka’s polite bourgeois society. But the effect on Kafka was magical and drew him to a totally different place. He found himself reminiscing on his childhood and noted that ‘when his hand rested on the table for a moment you saw only the whiteness of his skin, a whiteness such as remembered having been seen before only in your childhood imaginings – when one’s parents, too were pure’. 22 One wonders when Kafka thought his parents were pure?


Equally important for Kafka was his introduction in 1916, to the Rebbe of Belz – once again by dint of his friendship with Jiri Langer. It is remarkable to note the level of kinesthetic sensitivity to detail which impacted on Kafka. His impressions of this meeting was recorded as follows: ‘the sight of his back, the sight of his hand, which was on his hip, the sight of the movement of that broad back – all this gives a feeling of trust’.


In 1923, one year prior to his death Kafka met Dora Diamant, the daughter of a Gur hasid; they lived together during the last year of his life. Dora had been educated in strictly Orthodox Judaism in her youth –however, she had chosen to depart from ritually observant Judaism prior to her encounter with Kafka.


Kafka though non observant was fascinated with increasing his knowledge and understanding of Judaism. Dora’s intimate knowledge with this material made her irresistible to Kafka and she effortlessly assumed the role of his teacher and mentor. Kafka had already mastered Biblical Hebrew and was by then very familiar with eastern European Hasidic tradition. (Jiri, many years later tells us that Kafka was one of the few friends in Prague with whom he could actually speak Hebrew.) He and Dora spent many blissful hours reading Torah together along with Rashi’s medieval commentary - written in Rashi’s original cryptic Hebrew script.


Tragically Dora was probably the only woman Kafka truly loved, but by then he had already contracted fatal tuberculosis and knew his life was limited.


Ritchie Robertson considers ‘The Castle’ Kafka’s last uncompleted work to have numerous Biblical, Talmudic and Jewish historical and particularly messianic allusions; in fact to be his most Jewish work. 23 Franz Rosenzweig wrote that ‘I have never read a book that reminded me so much of the Bible as [Kafka’s] novel The Castle’. He continued ‘the people who wrote the Bible seem to have thought of God much the way Kafka did’. 24


The Castle ‘is deeply indebted to Kafka’s knowledge of the Messianic tradition. Through the figure of K. expresses the Messianic impulse, examines it critically, and finally condemns it. K. resembles the would-be-Messiahs of history, not only in the pun implicit in his profession, but in four of his salient characteristics.’ 25 The pun Robertson is referring to is ‘land-surveyor’ in Hebrew being ‘mashoah’; Messiah being ‘mashiah’ in German. The four characteristics are: K. is a questionable land surveyor and all previous Messiahs were questionable – either false or failed; K. is aggressiveness and has ruthless ambition, characteristics of false or failed Messiahs; the last characteristic is K.’s being proclaimed in a vision by the child Hans Brunswick as Messiahs are proclaimed by a prophet. 26


If Kafka was obsessed at least at the end of his life by Messianic thoughts this compares to Reb Nahman who was equally obsessed.


In Reb Nahman’s tale The Rabbi's Son a Hassidic Rabbi confronts a scholastic Rabbi. Great antagonism existed in the 18th and 19th centuries in Eastern Europe between groups of scholastic-elitist Rabbis and groups of Hassidic-pietistic Rabbis with their Tzadikim (righteous charismatic leaders).  The scholastic Rabbi in the tale was blessed with son born to him in his old age. He said: "’My son will be a great light against them; he will fight them entirely, with their ignorant Tzadikim.’  The youth grew up to be a great scholar, but weak in health. The youth pleaded ‘let me go see the Tzadik’.  Finally after the third time the Rabbi said ‘I will go with you to this ignorant man’.  En route the cart collapsed and the Rabbi concluded ‘this is an evil journey’ and they returned home. Days passed and the youth condition deteriorated and it became evident that he was dying. The son insisted to his father ‘I must go and speak with the Tzadik.’ Once again the Rabbi consented. Once again was an accident impeded the journey. The Rabbi said ‘This Tzadik must surely be an impostor’.  The youth begged and convinced his father, who loved him to undertake the journey once again. They embarked yet again and stayed overnight in an inn.  They met a merchant who declared he had just met the Tzadik and he was an impostor. The Rabbi rebuked his son ‘it is as I said’. They returned home and soon after the boy died. The Rabbi had a dream where he met the merchant again and he turned out to be the Satan. And he said ‘in your son there lived the power of the lesser flame, and the power of the greater flame was in the  Tzadik, and if they two had come together on this earth, Messiah would have descended! Nevertheless, I placed obstacles in your way, until your son was dead’.” 27 Reb Nahman had a young son who died shortly after his first birthday, whom he believed would be the Messiah.


In the early twentieth century Martin Buber became the interpreter of Reb Nahman and made him known to Kafka and his friends. Reb Nahman was thus another Judaic influence of Kafka. Joseph Kanofsky wrote about both Reb Nahman and Kafka ‘Indeed the totality of his craft, the integration of despair and hope, exile and redemption, assure us that his tales share the same literary genesis as much of Judaic literature.’ 28


ON WRITING:

Despite the myriad of facts amassed concerning Franz Kafka (from many biographies), he remains unknown to us as he was to himself.  He witnessed a different and personal dimension of reality.  The world to him was not linear rather it was convoluted and involuted. Kafka described the first son in his story The Eleven Sons: “he looks neither to the right nor to the left, not into the far distance; he runs around all the time, or rather revolves, within his own little circle of thoughts.” 29 He was painfully aware of every shade of every issue; hence he was perpetually indecisive. Arthur Cohen has said that for Kafka the world was discontinuous and dangerous always. 30  ‘He saw the world as being full of invisible demons which assail and destroy defenseless man’. 31


However his language stands in stark contrast; as when the father in The Judgment said to his son. "I sentence you to death by drowning." 32 One could hardly imagine a more direct compact and unadorned syntax. One cannot help but question the source of the reality behind these words.  


Both Reb Nahman and Franz Kafka are the antithesis of systematic authors.  Neither one elaborated a theological nor a philosophical synthesis.  Both wrote and spoke at different times allusively, paradoxically, fabulistically, and from an idiosyncratic and metaphysical point of view.  For Reb Nahman writing and the telling of tales was his way of teaching.


Reb Nahman wrote about his dreams and Kafka wrote about his ‘dreamlike inner life’. 33  Arthur Green writes of Reb Nahman: "He frequently gives one the impression of a creative artist straining against the limitations of his medium, and seeking to extend its borders so that he will have room in which to create." 34


Two knowledgeable critics use surprisingly similar terms in describing these authors; Arthur Green in his psycho-biography of Reb Nahman and Joyce Carol Oates (in a forward to Kafka’s stories) for Franz Kafka. Green stated his “tales take place in a dimension of reality other than our own.”35 While Oates wrote of Kafka; they “have as interior obsessive landscape, and are carried along by the sheer flow of thought of an alien consciousness.”36 Green commented that Nahman’s writing “have an archaic tone that lends a certain simple dignity.”37 And Oates they “are so undetermined by history and locality that they possess the beauty of folk ballads. My wisdom is childlike yet as old as the race. We experience a vast timeless and I indeed indecipherable drama.”38 Nahman’s writing “are meant to evoke a sense of the readers inner life buried in the depths of his soul.”39  Kafka writing that they “exert by degrees a remarkable inner power.” 40


Kafka’s felt his writing was critically important to his life.  In a letter written to Felice he said "My job is unbearable to me because it conflicts with my only desire and my only calling, which is writing.  Since I am nothing but my writing and neither can, nor wish to be, anything  else  . . .   Everything that is not writing bores me and I hate it  . . .   When I arbitrarily write a single sentence  . . .   it already has perfection  . . .   It is my form of prayer . . .  The joy of renouncing the greatest human happiness for the sake of writing keeps cutting every muscle of my body.”41


Reb Nahman wrote all his imaginative tales toward the end of his life (after 1806) when he considered his attempt to bring the Messiah had failed. He understood the imaginative faculty as related to prophecy. He quotes ‘I am imagined by the prophets (Hos. 12:11) and then states ‘the imagination is restored by prophecy and this leads to the restoration of proper faith’. 42 The importance of the tales to Reb Nahman’s current day disciples can be seen; in every Shabbat at the third meal one passage is read in hushed reverence as if reading from the Torah.


Writing was a religious and spiritual experience for both men.


Dora Diamond, the last of Kafka’s women friend’s was commanded by him to destroy twenty of his notebooks at his request and she did so in his sight. She managed to conceal others which were published decades after his death. He instructed his literary executor Max Brod to destroy the remainder he held which included the novels `The Trial’, `The Castle’ and ‘America’ (a title created by Brod) his diaries, letters and many short stories. Kafka even asked Brod to write to people he had written to burn his letters. Kafka’s need for perfection prevented him from completing any of these three major works as well as many shorter works. Fortunately for us Brod disobeyed his friend’s request. Kafka was seeking an auto de fe of his books.


Reb Nahman forbade publication of his tales during his lifetime, yet he loved telling them. He instructed his scribe, Reb Nathan to posthumously publish only those tales he himself had edited and only after his death. He also ordered his scribe to destroy his secret book on how the Messiah could be hastened in his arrival. Reb Nathan followed his Rabbi’s wishes. In the introduction to these published tales in 1814 (after his death) his scribe Reb Nathan says: “It should be clear to any intelligent person that when you hear statements from my mouth it is not like he who sees them in a book, especially in such allusory matters. Every time you open the book and read one word, my spirit shall be called forth, and I shall be in your presence.”43


Max Brod said of Kafka that “he never spoke a meaningless word . . . [and] in his presence the everyday world underwent a transformation’. 44 Kafka defined a writer as “the scapegoat of mankind. He makes it possible for men to enjoy sin without guilt, almost without guilt” 45 It seems more likely that Kafka saw guilt without sin.


Kafka's short story The Judgment is a nightmarish story composed and completed in a stroke of inspiration in one night, the eve of Yom Kippur, the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar.  It is a day when work including writing is forbidden and only fasting and praying for forgiveness is allowed. Given that Kafka usually obsessed over his writing, and left most of his writings incomplete, it is extraordinary for him to reach completion in one night. Was this writing his prayer for forgiveness?


In the first half of the story, Gregor, the main character, obsesses as whether to inform his friend in Russia about his engagement to Frieda. He then enters the darkened room of his old dirty widowed father.  He opens his father's window shade and consults him as to whether to inform his friend.  His father says you don't have a friend in Russia.  His father then tells the son that he has already told his friend.  The story ends with the Father surprisingly stating to his son ‘I sentence you to death by drowning’. The son blindly obeys his father’s order. As he jumps from the bridge his last words are ‘My Dear Parents, I have always loved you, all the same’.” 46   


Kafka is reported to have tears in his eyes when he read this to his friends. 47 Who but his real father had such irresistible power to determine his life or death? The last verse of the story is as extraordinary as the penultimate. “At this moment an unending stream of traffic was just going over the bridge.”

The above tale would seem to emphasize that the world and perhaps even his own father were indifferent to his flight unto death. Kafka stated that he could not find "coherent meaning that one could follow  . . .  nor can I explain anything in it." 48 Kafka broke his relationship with his fiancée Felice after writing that story.


Kafka said in ‘The Letter to his Father: "The world was for me divided into three parts: one in which I lived under laws which had been invented only for me and which I could, I did not know why, never completely comply with; then a second world, which was infinitely remote from mine, in which you lived, . . . and finally a third world where everybody else lived happily." 49 Of course the only way to escape such a double bind is defined in The Judgment when the father sentences his son to "death by drowning". Kafka called The Judgment his favorite work. 50 While we see Kafka’s sense of guilt and inadequacy in his Letter to His Father and The Judgment his sense of alienation seems so profound as to suggest one who is incapable of relating to others human beings. Hermann Kafka’s laws became his son’s.  Franz like Gregor was suffocated from the burden of his father’s judgment.


In discussing the dimension of fantastic literature Ora Wiskind-Elper states that ‘both critic and author are really trapped in a tight, small space between life and literature. 51   For her the Jewish mystic ‘tells a story about the night as if he knew it intimately’. 52 Kafka’s stories ‘take place in infinity’ 53  and he tells us that `I am separated from all things by a hollow space, and I do not even reach to its boundaries’. 54 He also tells us that his `truth . . . glints through the mesh of what we call reality’.55  This trapped pursuit fits both Reb Nahman and Kafka.  Perhaps for both of them their vision represented a truer vision of reality.


IDENTITY:

It is not surprising that both Kafka and Reb Nahman struggled with issues of identity. For both the struggle began with unique relationships with a patriarchal almost omnipotent ancestor. Kafka’s relationship with his father was paramount in his life yet charged with massive ambivalence even hostility. Kafka feared his father.  He composed a letter almost one hundred (handwritten) pages in length in which he expounds to his father Hermann, why he feared him. (The letter, a work of literature, is also a self portrait.) He addressed his father as "Dearest Father" but in fact gave the letter to his mother. Did he ever expect his father to receive the letter? His mother never gave it to her husband.  He said of his father "He would not let me live in his world . . .   is not fathers’ power such that nothing could resist his decree?" 56  


Kafka’s oeuvre is rampant with recurring overtones of the conflictual relationship with his father.  This problem is clear in The Letter to his Father, it reappears on numerous occasions in the form of various characters in his fiction and resurfaces in his aphorisms, parables, letters and diaries.  In fact one could claim the entire letter to his father is a plea for self definition.  "My writing was all about you. 57 [and an] attempt to get away from [you]” 58


A significant aspect of Kafka’s identity crisis lies within his unresolved Jewish legacy. He said "But with their posterior legs they were still glued to their father's Jewishness and with their waving anterior legs they found no new ground." 59 He also wrote ‘Things will not get better, things will never get better for me. Sometimes I think I am no longer in the world but drifting around in some limbo. 60


Kafka composed a lengthy letter to Carl Bauer, his prospective father-in-law in which he stated ‘I am taciturn, unsociable, morose, selfish, hypochondriac, and actually in poor health. Fundamentally I deplore none of this: it is the earthly reflection of a higher necessity. What I am really capable of is not the question here, and has no connection with it. 61 He sent the letter to his fiancée Felice Bauer. Did he expect Felice to deliver it to her father?  She in fact never delivered it to her father. One could argue that the two letters to the most important people in his life at that point in time, were not intended to be delivered just to be written. His life was about writing, not living.


Reb Nahman on the other hand revered his great-grandfather, the BeSHT. At the tender age of seven he already adopted ascetic rituals around the grave of his great-grandfather. He prayed at the grave and then went to immerse and purify himself in the cold winter waters of the nearby river. Throughout his life he continued these practices.


But Reb Nahman also had an older opponent who had known his great grandfather known as the Zadie (to be discussed below). He saw Reb Nahman as an ‘unfit guide’ and Reb Nahman and his disciples saw him as a representative of Satan. Reb Nahman called him ‘a lying hypocrite who imitate the true tzadik like a monkey’. 62 He even accused him as being responsible for the enlightenment’s (the haskala in Judaic terms) success in assimilating Jews to secularism. 63


Reb Nahman revered and loved his great-grandfather and Kafka obsessively feared his father. Reb Nahman’s public love for the BeSHT and his insistence that he succeeded his great grandfather created as many problems for him as did Kafka’s hostility for his father. But on the other had Reb Nahman’s hostility towards the Zadie had an enormous impact of his life. His uncle Barukh (his mother’s brother) backed the Zadie and thus another older associate, a father surrogate became an enemy.  Reb Nahman’s father Simha was largely missing in his lifetime.


In both cases the ancestors exerted an enormous influence on the lives of their descendants. Both acted as if their ancestor's powers were God-like. He can see the effect of this ‘love’ versus ‘fear’ in the following tales when we contrast The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and The Turkey Prince by Reb Nahman.


Kafka’s story can be summarized as follows: A young man awakens one morning to discover he has been transformed into an insect. From his perspective he is the same person only his external shape has been altered. He is the sole supporter of his family, which includes his mother, father and sister.  His family is horrified at his appearance and wring their hands in helplessness. They attempt to hide his new appearance. They refuse to enter his bedroom not even to feed him. Finally his sister musters the courage to enter his room and she feeds him. Neither mother nor father wish to see their son. They eventually throw an apple at his back inflicting a mortal wound and causing his death.” 64


Compare that to Reb Nahman’s tale of The Turkey Prince.

“A Prince wakes up one morning and thinks he is a Turkey. He becomes naked and sits under the dining table and only eats what is thrown to him. The King sends for the wise men, but they cannot cure him. Finally another wise man comes, takes off his clothing and goes under the table with the Prince. The wise man asked the Prince who he is? The Prince responds a Turkey. The wise man undresses and says I am also a Turkey. The two men sit under the table and when food is thrown they eat together with their hands. After a couple of days the wise man asks for a shirt and puts in on. The Prince asks why he is wearing a shirt. The wise man says a Turkey may wear a shirt. Then the Prince asks for a shirt. A day later the wise man asks for a pair of pants and then finally shoes.  The Prince follows the wise man. Then one day the wise man gets up and eats from the table and the Prince follows.” 65


The difference between these two tales lies in the reactions of the families to their son’s respective dilemmas. In Metamorphosis the son is not the focus of the story. The sole focus is the reaction of the family. They do not see the son an integral part of the family system whose problem needs a solution. Their solution is the ‘final solution’. Conversely Reb Nahman chose to place the son as the focus of the family problem. The king (as opposed to Kafka’s father) is not self centered and autocratic but first and foremost a father to the Prince. He will spare no effort to find a solution for his son. The Kafka son body has changed identity - to an insect – and to his family his new identity shamed them in their own eyes. The home described in the story by Kafka (as his sister told him) was in fact his home. They required his death. Did Kafka indeed perceive his father and his family in such harsh terms?  


Conversely, the King is most supportive of his son and responsive to both conventional and non-conventional attempts to cure him. He accepts a ‘wise’ man who would join the Prince as a turkey. For Franz Kafka, God represented by his father is unknown and inaccessible. While much has been said of Kafka’s father one does not know whether he considered his mother an ally of his father. He noted in his letter to his father that ‘mother unconsciously played the role of beater during a hunt’ 66He also noted in a short story that ‘I lost her [mother] when I was a child’. 67 Was he thinking of his own mother? For Reb Nahman God may be unknown; but accessibility was the goal and struggle and purpose of life.


The last verse of The Metamorphosis is as follows: “And it was like a confirmation of their new dreams and excellent intentions that at the end of their journey their daughter sprang to her feet and stretched her young body.” This can be compared to the last verse of The Judgment noted above. Both suggest that regardless of life or death everything is useless. For Kafka hope and success were impossible, failure the only possibility.


FAITH AND DOUBT:

Jews wrestle with faith and doubt, like Jacob wrestled with an angel on the riverbank of the river Jabok, a variant of his own name. A midrash claims the angel is his shadow self (per Gustave Jung) and his twin brother Esau. The Hebrew Bible is a history of Jewish doubts including idolatry and prophets who proclaim the coming exile or apocalypse. For both Kafka and Reb Nahman doubt ceased to be a private matter and needed to find a public voice; that is why they needed, teaching and writing.


Both Kafka and Reb Nahman convey the struggle of finding the manifold aspects of the truth. Kafka wrote "Whoever has faith cannot define it, and whoever has none can only give a definition that lies under the shadow of grace withheld. The man of faith cannot speak and the man of no faith ought not to speak ". 68 Reb Nahman said "We cannot lose what really belongs to us, even if we throw it away."69


Kafka looked for people with a faith in God he could not have. Max Brod felt that Kafka had “a certain degree of understanding [that] one never loses the way any more.” 70   In a short fragment Kafka called Give it up!  Kafka's fictional voice "asked [a policeman] the way . . .  [the policeman said] give it up!  Give it up!". 71 Despite that Kafka wrote “Man cannot live without a permanent faith in something indestructible in himself”. 72 Reb Nahman once said ‘the end of knowledge is that we do not know’. 73


Guilt is never to be known as Kafka  shows In Before the Law, The  Problem of the Law  and The Judgment,  In The Trial guilt can never be appealed but acquittal is always appealed to the highest court that is inaccessible. He sought justice perhaps through his Judaic roots but found exile and discontinuity.


In The Penal Colony "guilt is never to be doubted"  74 and in fact Justice is by definition distorted. In this short story there is a punishment apparatus that inscribes the disobeyed law on the back of the prisoner. It was designed by the old commandant who has since died but his officer disciple is considering reinstating the machine. He puts himself in the machine to inscribe ‘Be Just’; he would slowly die as the machine wrote his penance. However the machine malfunctioned, mutilates him and destroyed itself. Kafka proposes that writing ought to be seen as art but the machine failed. The faith of the officer had failed. Is writing intended as a punishment? For Kafka absolute moral values could no longer live in the modern world.


This is also the basis of The Trial written at the same time as WWI was breaking out.  Josef K., the protagonist, is arrested and warned by the inspector in a black suit (representing a higher authority) not to concern himself with his innocence. He should reflect about himself - on his own identity. His own identity may be the sin.


By protesting his innocence he confirms his guilt. Months later in the Cathedral Joseph K once again discusses his case with a priest and again is warned to not to seek outside help. The Priest tells Josef K. the story of the ‘Doorkeeper’. "Before the law stands a doorkeeper with a Tartar beard and black uniform. . . To this doorkeeper there comes a man from the country and prays for admittance to the law. But the doorkeeper says that he cannot grant admittance at the moment . . .  Since the gate stands open, as usual, and the doorkeeper steps to one side, the man stoops to peer through the gateway to the interior.  Observing that, the doorkeeper laughs and says `If you are so drawn to it, just try to go in despite my veto' . . .  These are difficulties the man from the country has not expected; the law, he thinks, should surely be accessible at all times and to everyone . . .  The country man stays for years until he dies. As he is dying the doorkeeper says to him `No one else could ever be admitted here since this gate was made only for you I am now going to shut it'".  75


Who is responsible for the ‘country man’ wasting his life in front of the official? According to the priest, the ‘doorkeeper is simply an official unfree under the law.  Officials cannot exist in freedom’. 76 His job is to forbid Josef K. from entering into the Law. Does the Law represent an absolute truth beyond understanding? Who represented the doorkeeper - this higher authority - Kafka's father? Kafka’s father is the one person who could guard the door and intimidate Kafka. Kafka defined his father as ‘the ultimate authority’, ‘the towering authority’ and said ‘everything that you shouted at me was virtually a commandment from heaven’.77  And yet Kafka writes us that he ‘admire[d his] father. 78 (He even dedicated his book A Country Doctor, Short Tales to his father.  79) He apparently ‘loved, hated, admired and feared his father’. 80 Can the doorkeeper represent the angels with fiery flashing swords who prevent humankind from returning to Paradise? Kafka said there is ‘plenty of hope - for God - no end of hope - only not for us’ 81


According to Kafka’s most recent biographer he and Felice met in a hotel in a town on the German-Austrian border at the end of 1914. Felice was evidently ready for sex, or she would not have permitted herself to go to a man's hotel room, but Franz was not. What he did instead, astonishingly, was to read out loud to her, from the manuscript of The Trial, the episode "Before the Law." Stach tartly observes: "Was he not also standing before an open gate? And not entering. Instead he read her a story about entrances, doorkeepers, and waiting in vain." 82


Reb Nahman wrote ‘a person enters the service of the Lord and begins to ascend from step to step and suddenly it seems to him as if he has been cast out from holiness to the very edge of the earth and the farthest sea. For at such time he is about to enter into the end of perfection, because he has already come to such a rung that he is close to holiness and went to enter into holiness and yet he cannot enter until he will have passed through all the evil places where he had once been and corrected them.’ 83  

 

In The Problem of Our Laws Kafka wrote a tale about nobles who scrupulously administer the traditional law. But none of the people know the law. "The laws are very ancient  . . .   There is wisdom in that - who doubts the wisdom of the ancients laws?  - But also hardship for us; probably that is unavoidable . . .  The sole visible and indubitable law that is imposed upon us is the nobility, and must we ourselves deprive ourselves of that one law?" 84


The question is, whom do the nobles represent? Could they be God, the Torah or the Rabbis? The law in the Torah is explicitly known.  Is Kafka suggesting that faith in the law is more important than our ability to obey it?


Reb Nahman believed his soul was unique; that it transmigrated from Moses to Simeon bar Yochai (the reputed author the Zohar - the key Kabbalistic text), to Isaac Luria (H’Ari – the founder of modern Kabbalah), and the BeSHT his great grandfather. Each of these was considered a unique soul – the Tzadik Hador, the greatest of their generation – and thus he a young man at the time considered himself in their category. He once claimed that by his thirteenth age – his bar mitzvah age – he had already exceeded his great grandfather’s holiness. 85  At another time he called himself the ‘even shetiya’ the foundation rock at the center of the world where according to Jewish lore Adam was created and Abraham attempted his sacrifice of Isaac. 86


He almost certainly considered himself a Messiah, perhaps the Messiah ben Joseph. That Messiah under Jewish lore must die before the true Messiah ben David arrives.


Among the Rabbis from the older generation he conflicted with was Aryeh Leib of Shpola (1725-1812) a man who had met and known his great grandfather. Reb Nahman was born after his great grandfather had died. He was known affectionately as the ‘Zadie’ the grandfather in Yiddish. Reb Nahman went to live in a village in the region considered under the spiritual guidance of the Zadie. It was an obvious provocation and resulted in an enormous row. The Zadie started a movement to ban and excommunicate Reb Nahman reminiscent of the excommunication of the BeSHT by his opponents, which Reb Nahman undoubtedly knew. (Reb Nahman tried in turn to have the Zadie excommunicated; he also failed. 87)The Zadie asked ‘is Nahman a fit guide?’ (Reb Nahman’s disciples considered the Zadie a disciple of Satan. 88) In fact many of the Hassidim of the BeSHT tried to disinherit Reb Nahman from what he believed was his rightful role as successor to his great grandfather. The movement to ban Reb Nahman failed; although Reb Nahman and his followers were persecuted by the supporters of the Zadie and others. Some Rabbis did not want the great grandson of the BeSHT banned while others saw the martyrdom impact to be exactly what Reb Nahman sought.


Reb Nahman told an account of a dream or nightmare: “I was in my house and no one came to see me. It seemed strange to me. I went into the second room but there too, there was not a soul. I went to the farmhouse and to the house of study, but no one was there either . . .  I went [out] and saw people were standing in circles, whispering together; some were mocking me, others laughing at me, and some being rude. `What is this all about?' `How could you have done such a thing? Is it possible that you have committed such a monstrous sin'?  I decided to journey to some other  country . . .  `I am an outcast, I shall [at least] have a share in the World to Come'. And [the Old Man] replied: `A share in the World to Come! Even in Hell there would be no place for you to be buried! Because you have committed such a profanation of the Divine Name! ... Later the Old Man returned carrying a book in his arms. ... I opened the book and could not understand it at all. It appeared to me as written in a different script and in another language . . .  And I threw my head backward with great bitterness . . .  [When his men came back  they said] that even a man who had transgressed the Torah eight hundred times, if he had  cast his head back with such bitterness, his sins would certainly have been forgiven him." 89


The nightmare quality of this dream appears to be straight forward.  The great Tzadik and scholar was paradoxically unable to read the Torah. How else could one conceive of the ‘book’?  He profanes the `Divine Name’ and transgresses the `Torah’ eight hundred times. Consequently, he could not inherit a share in the World to Come. The ‘old man’ (the higher authority) who in the dream tells him he cannot partake in the world to come, is of course the “Zadie’.


He said about himself ‘either he is, God forbid just as those who oppose him say he is or if not he is a true Tzaddik. In that case he is uniquely awesome and wondrous to an extent which cannot be encompassed by the human mind. 90 Reb Nahman wrote ‘each man is given barriers to his faith, the greater the man the greater the obstacle.’ 91


Kafka once stated that, to his father he was ‘in truth a disinherited son’. 92


In a short story called Paradise Kafka refers to death which was to result from eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. "Men did not die, but became mortal . . . We are guilty not only because we have eaten of the tree of knowledge but also because we have not eaten of the tree of life." 93 Since the Fall we have been essentially equal in our capacity to know Good and Evil . . . But only on the far side off this knowledge do the real differences begin. . . . nobody can be content with knowledge alone, but must strive to act . . . But he is not endowed with the strength for this, hence he must  himself, even at the risk of in that way not requiring the necessary strength, but there is nothing else he can do except make this last attempt. . . .  indeed the whole visible world is perhaps nothing other than a motivation of man’s  wish to rest - an attempt to falsify the fact of knowledge, to try to turn knowledge into the goal. 94


in A Hunger Artist the protagonist is a carnival performer's whose artistry is to starve in front of  people. This story is follows.


"During these last decades the interest in professional fasting has markedly diminished. It used to pay very well to stage such performances under one's own management, but today that is quite impossible. We live in a different world now. He sits in a cage. He finally says he will try to have people understand the `Art of Fasting'.  So he goes on for weeks. Finally his overseer says ‘are you still fasting . . .  he says forgive me, everybody',  . . .  of course says the overseer ‘we forgive you'.  `I always wanted you to admire my fasting,' ‘We do admire it,’ ‘Well but you should not admire it’ . . .  because I have to fast' I cannot help it,' . . .  because I could not find the food I liked. These were his last words." 95


Kafka has an insatiable inner hunger that cannot be quenched by external nourishment. Is the hunger artist in attempting to find ‘food I like’ seeking his identity by taking it inside and tasting and digesting it? Did he find it impossible to find his Jewish identity outside as a result of his father’s assimilative secular life? Or is he concerned that keeping it outside he will not be able to digest it? Could he find it, eat it and transform it? Kafka as his tuberculosis progressed could not in reality eat, it had affected his throat.


In a tale written by Reb Nahman he instructs four of his disciples to bring him the fruit picked from the first tree they encounter.  Upon sighting the first tree "One of the four turned to the others and warned them: `Most certainly this tree has been enchanted, as must be the fruit. If we attempt to pick it we too, may become enchanted. Even to touch it is dangerous.' The second nodded his head in agreement: `Yes, it is possible we have stumbled on the tree that bears the forbidden fruit. If we pluck it we may bring a great sin down on ourselves'. But the third protested this conclusion: `Reb Nahman has directed us to bring back the fruit of the first tree we come across. This is the tree, whose fruit is no doubt a great blessing that must not be ignored.' For a while after this there was silence, then the fourth Hassid spoke: `I, for one, do not believe this tree and its fruit exist in this world; therefore, it is an illusion, and we must be dreaming.'" 96


Both Reb Nahman and Kafka attribute the `fall' to Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge as a fall from grace. Reb Nahman's tale is more specific and more parabolical.  He asks his four disciples to pick the fruit and bring it to him; thereby reversing the role of Adam and Eve as well as suggesting his role to be the redeemer who restores humanity to grace.  But in Reb Nahman’s absence how are they to be certain of choosing the right tree.


According Joseph Weiss a mid twentieth century interpreter of Reb Nahman true faith can only exist in God’s absence. Perhaps only by being alienated (even from God) can one understand God.


Kafka wrote a short tale about Prometheus  in which he said there are four legends about him. “According to the first he was clamped to the rock  . . .  for betraying the secret of the god's to men . . .  according to the second Prometheus goading by the pain  . . .  pressed himself deeper and deeper into the rock until he became one with it. According to the third his treachery was forgotten in the course of thousands of years, forgotten by the god's the eagles, forgotten by himself.  According to the fourth everyone grew weary of the meaningless affair. The gods grew weary, the eagles grew weary, the wound closed wearily."97


This story is about memory and its importance despite the weariness of everyone involved, the gods, the eagles, and the wound, yet Kafka remembered.  But what is he remembering?


Reb Nahman wrote about memory in The Seven Beggars. It begins as follows: "I am a very old man, and at the same time entirely youthful. I have not even begun to live, and yet I am very old . . .  [Then the blind beggar]  . . .   said each of them should tell an old story, the story that represented the earliest thing that he could remember, from that very point where his memory began.  There were both old and young people there, and they gave to the eldest among them the honor of beginning. He said `what can I tell you? I remember when they cut the apple from the branch.' No one quite understood what he meant by that but the wise men agreed that this was indeed a very ancient memory. The second elder, who was just a bit younger than the first, was then given the honor. `Is that an old tale?' He said. ` I remember that one too, but I also remember when the candle was yet burning.' They agreed that this memory was older than the first, but were puzzled to find that it was the younger man who had the older memory.  Then they called upon the third, who was still younger. `I remember,' he said `when the fruit began to be formed.' They agreed that this was a still older memory. The fourth, who was still younger, said `I remember when they carried the seed to plant the fruit.' The fifth claimed that he remembered the sages who contemplated the seed. The sixth remembered the taste of the fruit before it entered the fruit. The seventh remembered the aroma before it entered the fruit, and the eight recalled its appearance in that same way.  And I (said the blind beggar who was telling all this) was yet a child, but I was there too. I said to them; ` I remember all these events. But I also remember nothing'. And they answered: `this is indeed an older memory than all.'. . . The younger a person seemed, the older he really was. . . .  And the oldest among them was the youngest of them all." 98


The blind beggar himself is designated as the ‘great eagle’ whose wings, according to Isaiah ‘shall not grow tired nor weary’ (Is. 40:31). The blind beggar was called a very old man, and at the same time entirely youthful who had not even begun to live.


Reb Nahman for whom understanding is self understanding was the youngest of this group of Hasidic masters but felt he was the greatest, the Tzadik Ha’dor (the righteous one of the generation). Kafka’s tale about the mythological figure Prometheus; Reb Nahman creates a mythological figure who is himself, the very old man who is entirely youthful.


Kafka said of himself ‘I shall never grow up to be a man, from being a child I shall immediately become a white-haired ancient. 99 This is also a story of memory, but more hopeful than Kafka's, for whom everything was weariness. Reb Nahman’s tale is the remembering of the time before the `fall' when we were all in the Garden of Eden. The oldest memory is of nothing but we proceed from there to today.


In Kafka's parable called On Parables the first person said "If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid  of all your daily cares. Another said: I bet that is also a parable. The first said: you have won. The second said: but unfortunately only in parable. The first said: no, in reality: in parable you have lost." 100


CONCLUSION:

Kafka was alienated from himself, from his father and from the world.  He wrote in diaries in 1922 ‘It would be very unjust to say that you deserted me; but that I was deserted and sometimes terribly so, is true’. 101 He does not say who deserted him (he is referring to his father) but his alienation is clear. Reb Nahman was alienated from the Hassidic community (the creation of his great-grandfather) and from this world. Arthur Green suggests that Reb Nahman developed a theology based on the principle of conflict as an underlying force in the universe. 102 ‘The more a person is pursued, the closer he is to God’. 103 Max Brod suggested that Kafka believed in a theology of conflict.104  


Reb Nahman authored a parable entitled The  Wise Man and the Simpleton, whereby two protagonists are the recipients of identical messages from the King. The simpleton responds quickly and receives his reward. The wise man responds to the man who had brought his letter: `Wait here tonight and let us discuss this matter'  . . .  The wise man with his philosophic mind, set to thinking about it and said ` Why should the King be sending for an unimportant fellow like me? Who am I that the King, out of all his vast Kingdoms, should send for me? Compared with the King I am a nobody; how can it possibly make sense that the King should send someone after a person as small as I am? If I were to say that it is because of my wisdom - certainly the King has his own sages, and he himself is also a very wise man. So why is the King sending for me?'  He became very much confounded by the letter and finally concluded by saying `It is now very clear in my mind that there is no King in the world at all.  The world is full of fools who think there is a King.  How is it possible that they should all have subjected themselves to one man, thinking that he is the King, when in reality there is no King at all?” 105


The King may be viewed as representing God or the Messiah.  Is Reb Nahman using the wise man ironically or does it represent his own conflicted mind? Or despite his obvious intellectualism did he fear thinking and preferred that he and his follows be simpletons in unquestioning faith and disregard the doubt he himself had? During his day enlightenment skepticism and rationalism was taking Jews away from ritual observance. They considered themselves wise men. There is a ‘wisdom which is really no wisdom at all.’ 106


Kafka wrote a parable called An Imperial Message. ‘The Emperor, so a parable runs, has sent a message to you, the humble subject, the insignificant shadow cowering in the remotest distance before the imperial sun; the Emperor from his deathbed has sent a message to you alone. He . . . has whispered the message to him . . . The messenger immediately sets out on his journey; a powerful, an indefatigable man; now pushing with his right arm, now with his left arm, he cleaves a way for himself through the throng; if he encounters resistance he points to his breasts, where the symbol of the sun glitters; the way is made easier for him than it would be for any other man. But the multitudes are so vast; their numbers have no end. If he could reach the open fields how fast he would fly . . . But instead how vainly does he wear out his strength . . . never will he get to the end of them and if he succeeded in that nothing would be gained; he must next fight his way down the stair . . . the courts would still have to be crossed . . . and after the courts the second outer palace . . . and once more another palace; and so on for thousands of years and if at last he should burst through the outermost gate - but never, never can that happen - the imperial capital would lie before him, the center of the world.  107


Who is this dying Emperor - a dying God - and what is his message? The messenger may be a simple man like Reb Nahman but for Kafka no one can succeed. As Kafka wrote “What is the Talmud if not a message from the distance.” 108


Reb Nahman created another tale called A Letter in which “a Prince is separated from his father, the King. He yearned for reunion with his father but was too far away. Then one day he received a letter from his father. Oh, if only I could see my father again he cried. If only I could touch him. If only He would stretch out his hand to me. I would gladly take his hand and kiss each finger. Oh, my father, My father! My light! If only I could touch your hand. . . . a thought came to him. Do I not have my father’s letter? And is this letter not written by his hand? And is not the handwriting of the king something akin to his hand? He treasured and fondled the letter and said happily over and over again: The handwriting of the king - the hand of the king.” 109


In Kafka’s ‘Imperial message’ the letter cannot be delivered; what is the content of the message that can not be delivered? In Reb Nahman’s letter, the son touches the letter, relates it to his loving father, but we are not told that he read the letter; is the message irrelevant? Both of these men for whom language and writing is critical to their lives find their messages cannot be delivered.


Can the Emperor and the King in fact be a God who is inaccessible?


Both of these men saw absolute moral values that did not seem to operate in the real world. Both were alienated from this world and despite faith in some absolute did not know how to achieve peace in this world. Reb Nahman believed in ritual Judaism but it did not make his life shalom. He suffered greatly but did not as Job achieve an epiphany with God. Kafka’s finally found some peace with non-ritual and cultural Judaism as exemplified with Dora Diamond but it was too late for him; he about to die. Kafka’s believed his tuberculosis which eventually killed him was due to his morally damaged life. Reb Nahman believed that his early death (the result of the same disease) was caused by his attempt to bring the messiah before its time.


Dora perhaps Kafka’s sole intimate woman friend who accompanied in the last year of his life until his death said of him: "everything was linked with cosmic causes  . . . this kind of attitude, this insistence on the totality of life, is found in the East. There are certain spiritual requirements in the East that have to be met if people are to live fruitful lives.  Kafka sensed that. The West has forgotten it.  That is why God has forsaken the West. And that seems to [be]. . . why we are so interested in Kafka today; because he knew that God has forsaken us." 110


Reb Nathan described Reb Nahman’s death as follows: "But the true significance of his death cannot be comprehended at all.  Whosoever understands even a small amount of his greatness from his works, conversations and tales ... will understand that it is utterly impossible to speak of such a wondrously unique passing  from this world. What shall I say? How can I speak? What shall I return to God for being worthy of standing there when his soul departed? If I had come into the world for this alone...      [Dayanu] ... it would have been sufficient." 111


As Kafka lay dying he begged his friend Dr. Klopstock, "’Don't leave me’." Klopstock replied ‘I am not leaving you’, Kafka then retorted ‘But I am leaving   you’."112


When Reb Nahman death became evident his disciples approached him in despair "what are we going to do without you?" He replied “I am not leaving you.”113


In the words of Marco Roth Kafka’s parables are self consuming. 114 A parable according to Kafka is to understand that the incomprehensible is truly incomprehensible.  Reb Nahman said ‘I am a secret, but I am the kind of secret that remains a secret even after it is revealed.’ 115 Both men hid their teachings; Reb Nahman said the world is full of blind men and when their eyes awake an excess of light would destroy their new fold vision.     


Who were these two men? Both knew they would die young before the Messiah ben David representing a ‘tikkun’ a correction in this world and possible even peace for them. Going to the edge of the void neither could find a middle ground in life and thus had no exit; perhaps their early death’s became inevitable. As a result of their writing centering on their own minds and souls they were ‘riddles without an answer’.


1 Brod, Max, The Biography of Franz Kafka, Seiker and Warburg, London, 1948, pg. 41.

2 The latest Kafka biography ‘Kafka: The Decisive Year’ by Reiner Stach was published on January 1, 2006.

3 Pawel, Ernest, The Judaism of Franz Kafka, Journal of the Kafka Society, Temple University, June 1986, pg. 80.

4 Kafka, Franz, Dearest Father, Stories and Other Writing, Schocken Books, N.Y., 1954,  pg. 145.

5 Kafka, F., Letters To Felice, Schocken Books, N.Y., 1973, pg. 545.

6 Felice, pg. 502.

7 The Diaries of Franz Kafka, ed. Max Brod, Volumes I and II, Schocken Books, N.Y., 1965,  Vol II, pg. 11.

8 Bloom, Harold ed., Franz Kafka, Chelsea House Publishing, N.Y., 1986 pg. 15-16.

9 Kafka knew of the BeSHT as we see in his Letters to Friends and Editors, Schocken, N,Y., 1977, and knew of Reb Nahman from Martin Buber’s publication’s in 1906. Buber and Kafka were colleagues if not friends.

10 Hartman Geoffrey, and Budick, Sanford, eds., Midrash and Literature, New Haven, Yale University Press,  1986, pg. X.

11 Ernst Pawel, The Judaism of Franz Kafka, Journal of the Kafka Society, December 1986, pg. 82.

12 Robertson, Ritchie, Kafka: Judaism, Politics, and Literature, Clarendon Press, Oxford , 1985,  pg. 4.

13 Dearest Father, pg. 77

14 Op cit pg. 79.

15 Op cit pg. 83.

16 W.H. Sokol in Bloom, Kafka, pg. 175

17 Kafka, Franz, Letters to Milena, Schocken Books, N.Y., 1954, pg. 208.

18 Brod, Biography, pg. 91.

19 Milena pg. 208

20 Glatzer, Memory, pg. 34

21 Langer, Jiri, Nine Gates to the Chasidic Mysteries, Jason Aronson, Northvale, N.J., 1961, pg. xvii.

22 Diaries, 14 Sept, 1915, quoted in Robertson, Ritchie, Kafka: Judaism, Politics and Literature, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1987,  pg. 22.

23 Robertson, Kafka, pgs. 227-272.

24 Glatzer, Nahum, N., Franz Rosensweig; His Life and Thought, Schocken Books, N.Y., 1953, Pg. 160.

25 Robertson, pg. 232.

26 Robertson, pgs. 228-235.

27 Kaplan, Aryeh, Rabbi Nachman’s Stories, Breslov Research Institute, N.Y., 1983, pg. 154-159.

28 Joseph Kanofsky, ‘Kafka, Nahman of Bratslov and the Juaic Lierary Imagination, Symposium, 524, Winter 1999.

29 Glatzer, N.N., Franz Kafka, The Complete Stories, Schocken Books, N.Y., 1946, pg. 419.

30 Stern, D., and Mendes-Flohr, eds., An Arthur Cohen Reader, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1998, pg. 517.

31 So stated Milena Jesenska, a woman friend, in her obituary of Kafka’s death. Memory, pg. 251.

32 Complete Stories, pg. 87.

33 From Kafka’s diary, quoted in Kafka, Franz, Letter to the Father, Vitalis, Prague, 1998, afterward by Thomas Anz, pg. 85.

34 Green,  Master, pg.343.

35 ibid.

36 Kafka, Franz,  The Complete Stories and Parables, ed. N.N. Glatzer, Forward by Joyce Carol Oates Quality Paperback, N.Y., 1983,  Pg. 3.

37 Green, Master, pg. 343.

38 Oates, pg. 3.

39 Green, Master, pg. 343

40 Oates, pg. 3.

41 Felice,  pg.311

42 Green, pg. 342.

43 Band, A., The Tales of Nahman of Bratslav, Paulist Press, N.Y., 1978, pg. 31-32.

44 Brod, Biography, pg. 55.

45 Letters to Friends, pg. 335.

46 Glatzer, Complete Stories, P. 87-88.

47 Brod, Biography, pg. 111.

48 Felice, P. 265.

49 Dearest Father,  pg. 148.

50 Letters to Friends, pg. 126

51 Ora Wiskind-Elper, Tradition And Fantasy In The Roles Of Reb Nahman Of Bratslav, S.U.N.Y., Albany, 1998, pg. 121.

52 Wiskind-Elper, pg. 120.

53 Erich Heller, The Castle, in Bloom, Kafka, pg. 134.

54 A letter by Kafka quoted by Heller, in Bloom, Kafka, pg. 133.

55 Brod, Biography, pg. 42.

56 Franz Kafka Diaries, ed. Max Brod, One volume edition, Schocken, N.Y., 1964, pg. 407.

57 Dearest Father,  pg. 177

58 Brod, pg. 23.

59 Heller, in Bloom, Kafka,  pg. 3.

60 Letters to Friends, pg. 102.

61 Memory, pg. 94.

62 Green, pg. 109.

63 Green, pg. 109

64 Complete Stories, pg. 89-139.

65 Greenbaum, Avraham, Under The Table, Tsohar Publishing, Jerusalem, 1991, pg. xvi-xvii.

66 Letter to the Father, pg. 47.

67 Complete Stories, pg. 456

68 Janouch, G., Conversation With Kafka, Praeger, N.Y., 1953,  pg. 92.

69 Wisdom, pg. 271.

70 Brod, Biography, pg. 136.

71 Glatzer,Stories, pg. 456.

72 Op cit, pg. 135.

73 Green, pg. 294.

74 Complete Stories, pg. 145.

75 Told as a short story and in the novel The Trial, Complete Stories, pg. 3-4. In the novel the story continues with the discussion of the Priest.

76 Rolleston, J., Ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Trial, Prentice -Hall, Englewood, N.J.. 1976,  Article by Ingeborg Henel, The Legend of the Doorkeeper and Its Significance for Kafka’s Trial, pg. 43.

77 Letter to the Father, pg. 14, 19 and 20.

78 Felice, pg. 310.

79 Letters to Friends, pg. 194.

80 Hall, C.S. and Lind, R.E., Dreams, Life and Literature: A Study Of Franz Kafka, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1970, pg. 49.

81 Brod, Biography, pg. 61.

82 Stach, Kafka, Quoted by Robert Alter, The new Republic, The Trials, March 9, 2006

83 Weiss, Joseph, Studies in Eastern European Mystics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1985, pg. 265.

84 Glatzer, Complete Stories, pg. 437-438.

85 Green, pg. 111.

86 Green, pg. 119.

87 Green Pg. 110.

88 Green, pg. 109.

89 Green, Master, pg. 198-199.

90 Green, pg. 106.

91 Weiss, pg. 267.

92 Letter to the Father, pg. 53.

93 Glatzer, Complete Stories pg. 462.

94 ibid.

95 Complete Stories, pg. 268-277.

96 Schwartz, Howard, Captive Soul of the Messiah, Cauldron Press, St. Louis, 1979, pg. 54-55.

97 Op cit  pg. 432.

98 Kaplan, Tales, pg. 354-438.

99 Brod, Biography, pg. 33.

100 Glatzer, Complete Stories pg. 457.

101 Lauar Quinny in Bloom, Kafka, pg. 221.

102 Green, Master, pg. 115.

103 Green, Master, pg. 245.

104 Brod, Biography, pg. 29-30 and 141.

105 Band, Tales, pg. 155-159

106 Green, pg. 313

107 Complete Stories, pg. 4-5.

108 Quoted in Bloom, Kafka in a letter to Dr. Robert Klopstock, pg. 8.

109 Schwartz, Howard, Gates to the New City, Jason Aronson, Northvale, N.J., 1983, pg. 353.

110 Memory, pg. 239

111 Green, Master, pg. 282.

112 Brod, Biography, pg. 165.

113 Kaplan, Until, pg. 204.

114 Marco Roth in reviewing Reiner Stach’s ‘Kafka: The Decisive Year, N.Y.T. January 1, 2006.

115 Mark Zvi in Jerusalem Post, April 19, 2008.