Buida’s Ermo.

I finished Yuri Buida’s second novel, Ермо [Ermo] (1996), with a mixture of satisfaction and frustration that I have felt before. As with Veltman’s Странник [The wanderer] (see this post) and Pisemsky’s Сергей Петрович Хозаров и Мари Ступицына. Брак по страсти [Sergei Petrovich Khozarov and Marie Stupitsyna: Marriage for passion] (see this post), I ask “Why does nobody know about this wonderful book?” “Nobody” is an exaggeration, of course, but I can’t find any discussion of it aside from a couple of unperceptive paragraphs in Norman Shneidman’s Russian Literature, 1995-2002 (“one may wonder whether Buida and Ermo are not one and the same person” [!]) and an admiring review by Andrei Nemzer (“Он красиво и продуманно выстроен, написан с должным стилизаторским мастерством и еле приметной, но оттого особенно действенной, самоиронией, наконец, но не в последнюю очередь, вполне интеллектуален” [It is beautifully constructed and carefully thought out, written with fitting mastery of style and a barely perceptible, but for that reason particularly effective, self-irony; last but not least, it is quite intellectual]), and I can’t find a copy for sale either new or used (I really want to reread it in a physical copy that I can annotate). I admit that I’m particularly susceptible to this kind of writing, which might be called “cosmopolitan,” using as it does all the resources of world culture, scattering names, quotations, and allusions on every page — other Russian writers who scratch that itch for me are Leonid Girshovich and Lena Eltang. But I would think anyone who enjoys, say, Borges and Nabokov would love this novel, and I commend it to the attention of translators looking for something to do. And since the main character is an American (even if Russian-born and resident in Italy), I would think it would appeal to readers in these United States. But enough generalities: what’s it about?

It’s a literary biography of an invented writer, born Georgy Mikhailovich Ermo-Nikolaev in St. Petersburg in 1914 just after the outbreak of war, whose father, an engineer of noble birth, soon took him to New England, where he grew up: “В отличие от Бунина и Набокова, рядом с которыми его чаще всего ставят, он не вывез из России почти никаких воспоминаний и впечатлений” [Unlike Bunin and Nabokov, with whom he is most often compared, he brought almost no memories and impressions out of Russia]. His beloved Sofya marries another man, he studies literature and begins a career as a professor (writing a promising essay on Dante and Bonagiunta), unexpectedly goes to Spain as a war correspondent, and winds up living in a palace in Venice, where his writing becomes more and more famous and eventually wins him a Nobel Prize. (Cleverly, Buida leaves us guessing what language he writes in until halfway through, when he reveals it’s English, though Ermo also begins writing essays in Russian; I think it might have been even better never to tell us, leaving it a mystery, like so much in the book and in life.) Though it tells a chronological tale, it jumps around, opening with a long quote from Ermo’s last novel, Als Ob (German for ‘as if’ — Ermo is just as multicultural as Buida), and frequently jumping back and forth in time, with ever-richer accumulations of repetitions and allusions. By the time it’s over, you have not only a strong sense of who Ermo was but an appreciation of Buida’s skill at simulating an eager, slightly pompous biographer who perhaps takes too many liberties (“что и вовсе затрудняет работу биографа, оказывающегося в опасном зазоре между вымыслом и домыслом” [which greatly complicates the work of the biographer, who finds himself in the dangerous gap between invention and speculation]).

The book is full of brilliant little set pieces and stories-within-stories, but I don’t see any point in trying to summarize them; instead I’ll quote some favorite passages so you can get an idea of what it’s like. From a description of his forebears:

Finally, Senator Ermo-Nikolayev, the pacifier of the Western Krai — there he was, a gaunt old man with a geometrically correct face propped up by a high embroidered collar, with a ribbon and a star of St. Andrew. When he retired, he began to rewrite his genealogy: he denied that his family was of Tatar origin and traced its history to one of the seventy apostles, whom he believed to be a Dalmatian bishop (although the Dalmatian bishop was called Erm [Hermas]; the apostle, a disciple of Paul, was a bishop in Philippopolis). As his uncle once put it, the senator “ermed” at the family’s history.

Наконец – сенатор Ермо-Николаев, усмиритель Западного края, – вот он, сухой старчище с геометрически правильным лицом, подпертым высоким шитым воротником, с лентой и звездой Андрея Первозванного. Удалившись на покой, взялся переписывать родословную: отрицая татарское происхождение семьи, возводил историю рода к одному из семидесяти апостолов – по его мнению, тот был далматинским епископом (хотя далматинского епископа звали Ермом; апостол же, ученик Павла, был епископом в Филиппополе). Как однажды выразился дядя, сенатор «ерманулся» на истории семьи.

On Ermo’s view of Russian literature:

The twentieth century has pushed the specialization of literature to its limits. A person who combines the qualities of a good poet and a good prose writer has become a rarity. So-called “poets’ prose” has emerged, demanding indulgence simply on the grounds that it belongs to a dilettante. Real poets do not succeed in writing real prose: the examples of Rilke, Andrei Bely, and Boris Pasternak are more than eloquent.

The literature of the Russian emigration is no more interesting than the literature promoted in the USSR: Shmelyov, Zaitsev, Merezhkovsky, Ivanov, and others are in a sense even inferior to Platonov, Sholokhov, or Vsevolod Ivanov. In any case, Russian literature of the twentieth century is generally much less interesting than, say, Polish or Serbian literature. The Russians have stood strangely apart from the kind of humanist concerns that have agitated and are still agitating a world which has lived through two world wars; they continue to appeal to names that constitute the pride of civilization, but that belong to the nineteenth century — these seeds, however, have germinated in other cultures.


He was especially jealous of Bunin and Nabokov. He considered Ivan Bunin a splendid storyteller and a worthless novelist, believing that his only completely successful novel was these four lines from the ballad The Musket:

He rose and killed his wife,
He hacked his sleepy little ones to death,
And went off to Turkland, and he was
In Tsargrad in forty days.

He valued Nabokov’s commentaries on Eugene Onegin and the novels The Gift and Lolita, though even here he was irritated by excessive attention to style: “His obstinate striving to achieve in each novel the perfection of the short story evokes in me only admiration: morituri te salutant. If you go down that path, Don Quixote, War and Peace, and The Brothers Karamazov are impossible, but someone must use his fire to light the way to the abyss.”

«XX век довел специализацию литературы до предела. Человек, сочетающий в себе качества хорошего поэта и хорошего прозаика, стал редкостью. Возникла так называемая «проза поэтов», требующая снисходительности лишь на том основании, что она принадлежит дилетанту. Настоящим поэтам настоящая проза не удается: примеры Рильке, Андрея Белого и Бориса Пастернака более чем красноречивы».

«Литература русской эмиграции ничуть не интереснее литературы, поощряемой в СССР: Шмелев, Зайцев, Мережковский, Иванов и другие в известном смысле даже уступают Платонову, Шолохову или Всеволоду Иванову. Впрочем, русская литература XX века вообще явление гораздо менее интересное, чем, скажем, литература польская или сербская. Русские странным образом оказались в стороне от той гуманистической проблематики, которая волновала и волнует мир, переживший две мировые войны; они по-прежнему апеллируют к именам, составившим гордость цивилизации, но принадлежащим XIX веку, – но эти семена проросли в других культурах».


Особенно ревниво он относился к Бунину и Набокову. Ивана Бунина он считал великолепным рассказчиком и никудышным романистом, полагая, что единственный роман, который ему вполне удался, заключается в четырех строках баллады «Мушкет»:
Встал, жену убил,
Сонных зарубил своих малюток,
И пошел в туретчину, и был
В Цареграде через сорок суток.

У Набокова он ценил комментарии к «Евгению Онегину», а также романы «Дар» и «Лолита», хотя и в них его раздражало избыточное внимание к стилю: «Его упрямое стремление добиться в любом романе совершенства новеллы не вызывает у меня никаких других чувств, кроме восхищения: morituri te salutant. На этом пути невозможны ни «Дон Кихот», ни «Война и мир», ни «Братья Карамазовы», но кто-то же должен своим огнем осветить путь в пропасть».

From a Literaturnaya Gazeta interview:

LG. The great Russian writer and Nobel Prize winner Vladimir Nabokov has died… What is your attitude toward the work of this complex writer and human being?

Er. I was saddened by the news of his death. We never met, and to be honest, I don’t regret it: what would we have to talk about? But he was a real homme de plume. He wrote some splendid works – The Gift, Lolita – and therefore lived a happy life…

LG. But in one of your interviews you said that Nabokov suffered defeat after defeat…

Er. And that’s exactly why he was a real writer. A real writer goes from defeat to defeat, he cannot do otherwise. People who win are called something else — generals, engineers, politicians, brokers, but not writers. The difference between the artist and everyone else is probably that the artist throws down a challenge to eternity, while the rest seek to overcome time… As for Nabokov, of course I have a complicated attitude toward him. He was a chess player, loved chess and, they say, played well. His passion for chess was no accident. A man caught between two languages, Russian and English, chose a false, artificial language as a middleman: after all, chess, from the point of view of linguistics, is a quasi-language, since content and expression are not distinguished… Chess is a metaphor for that new reality in which Nabokov traveled in complete solitude… This new reality is arbitrariness of the second or even third order, compared to the arbitrariness of language, whose immaterial substance is the writer’s House, his homeland, cradle, and grave. If he remains anywhere, it is only in that House – a suffix, a preposition, a shade of meaning…

«ЛГ». Умер великий русский писатель, лауреат Нобелевской премии Владимир Набоков… Каково Ваше отношение к творчеству этого сложного писателя и человека?

Ер. Меня опечалило известие о его смерти. Мы никогда не встречались, да я, признаться, и не жалею об этом: о чем бы нам с ним говорить? Но он был настоящим homme de plume. Он написал несколько великолепных произведений – «Дар», «Лолита» – и потому прожил счастливую жизнь…

«ЛГ». Но в одном из своих интервью вы заявили, что Набоков терпел поражение за поражением…

Ер. И именно поэтому он был настоящим писателем. Настоящий писатель идет от поражения к поражению, иного ему не дано. Людей, которые побеждают, называют как-то по-другому – генералами, инженерами, политиками, брокерами, но не писателями. Разница между художником и всеми остальными заключается, наверное, в том, что художник бросает вызов вечности, тогда как остальные стремятся побороть время… Что же касается Набокова, то у меня, разумеется, непростое к нему отношение. Он был шахматистом, любил шахматы и, говорят, неплохо играл. Его шахматная страсть не случайна. Человек, оказавшийся между двумя языками, русским и английским, в качестве посредника избрал ложный, искусственный язык: ведь шахматы, с точки зрения лингвистики, есть квазиязык, поскольку содержание и выражение в нем не различаются… Шахматы – метафора той новой реальности, в которой в полном одиночестве путешествовал Набоков… Эта новая реальность – условность второго или даже третьего порядка – в сравнении с условностью языка, нематериальная субстанция которого и является Домом писателя, его родиной, колыбелью и могилой. Если он где-то и останется, то только в этом Доме – суффиксом, предлогом, оттенком значения…

Which sounds exactly like an eloquently grumpy Great Writer giving an interview. And this provided me with the source of the wonderful passage from Godard’s Helas pour moi I quoted here:

When I look at it, it reminds me of a story… I read it in Scholem… it’s about Jewish mystics… Hasidim… Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Dov Ber, Yisrael – they were Hasidic rabbis… So when Rabbi Baal Shem had to perform a difficult deed, he would go to a certain place in the woods, build a fire, and immerse himself in prayer … and what he intended to do would be done. When, in the next generation, the Magid of Mezeritch was faced with the same challenge, he would go to the same place in the forest and say, “We can no longer light the fire, but we can recite the prayers…” And what he wanted to accomplish was accomplished. After another generation, Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov had to perform the same deed. He also went to the forest and said: “We can no longer light the fire, we do not know the secret meditations that enliven prayer, but we know the place in the forest where it all happens … and that should be enough.” And that was enough. But when another generation passed and Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin had to perform the deed, he sat down in his golden chair in his castle and said: “We cannot light the fire, we cannot recite the prayers, we do not know the place any more, but we can tell the story of how it was done…”

Когда я смотрю на нее, мне вспоминается одна история… я вычитал ее у Шолема… речь идет о еврейских мистиках… о хасидах… Баал Шем Тов, рабби Дов Бер, Исраэль – они были хасидскими раввинами… Так вот, когда рабби Баал Шем должен был свершить трудное деяние, он отправлялся в некое место в лесу, разводил костер и погружался в молитву… и то, что он намеревался свершить, свершалось. Когда в следующем поколении Магид из Межерича сталкивался с такой же задачей, он отправлялся в то же самое место в лесу и рек: «Мы не можем больше разжечь огонь, но мы можем читать молитвы…» И то, что он хотел осуществить, осуществлялось. По прошествии еще одного поколения рабби Моше Лейб из Сасова должен был свершить такое же деяние. Он также отправлялся в лес и молвил: «Мы не можем больше разжечь огонь, мы не знаем тайных медитаций, оживляющих молитву, но мы знаем место в лесу, где все это происходит… и этого должно быть достаточно». И этого было достаточно. Но когда минуло еще одно поколение и рабби Исраэель из Ружина должен был свершить это деяние, он сел в своёе золотое кресло в своем замке и сказал: «Мы не можем разжечь огонь, мы не можем прочесть молитв, мы не знаем больше места, но мы можем поведать историю о том, как это делалось»…

Now I just have to find out where Gershom Scholem tells that story.

At one point there’s a mention of a photograph of “Ермо и Равель с равелем – трехструнной скрипкой” [Ermo and Ravel with a ravel — a three-stringed fiddle] which puzzled me until I realized that “ravel” is a variant of rebec (cf. Spanish rabel beside rabeca and Middle French rebelle, “a variant of rebibe with dissimilation” per OED s.v. ribible); I can’t resist novels that lead me down that kind of obscure path. (Oh, and note that Buida slyly awards Nabokov in this fictional universe the Nobel he richly deserved but did not get in the fallen world we live in.)


  1. Here you go. It’s the only book of Scholem’s translated into Russian.

  2. and I can’t find a copy for sale either new or used

    Findbook indicates several copies.
    I think you used Ozon and it would send books abroad?

    Alib is where private booksellers sell books. Libex is another such site.

  3. “I finished Yuri Buida’s second novel, Ермо [Ermo] (1996), with a mixture of satisfaction and frustration” — isn’t it always like that? You always finish a book you like with a mixture of satisfaction and frustration that you will have no more of it?

  4. David Marjanović says

    Als Ob

    Uppercase Ob can only be the river in Siberia; German does not have separate conventions for headline capitalization.

  5. Findbook indicates several copies.

    Thanks! Didn’t know about Findbook. How come a search on Ozon didn’t find it??

    German does not have separate conventions for headline capitalization.

    But it’s not a German book, it’s a (fake) English one with a German title.

  6. I just ordered it from Ozon — thanks a million!

  7. рабби Моше Лейб из Сасова

    That threw me a bit:


  8. David L. Gold says

    1. “a long quote from Ermo’s last novel, Als Ob (German for ‘as if’)”

    2. “Uppercase Ob can only be the river in Siberia; German does not have separate conventions for headline capitalization.”

    3. “But it’s not a German book, it’s a (fake) English one with a German title.”

    In all likelihood, Buida picked Als Ob as the title of the fictitious English book because he wanted to allude to Hans Vaihinger’s proposal that certain fictions, such as free will, immortality, and objective morality, should be supported and lived as if ( = als ob) they existed because it is biologically advantageous for people to believe in their reality.

    One would expect, therefore, that Buida picked that name because Vaihinger’s proposal is relevant to the contents of Ermo. Do readers of Ermo find that to be the case? Do you relate to the novel in a different way now that the significance of the title of the fictitious book is clear?

    With respect to upper or lower case, the title page of the first edition of Vaihinger’s PHILOSOPHIE DES ALS OB tells us nothing because the title is in all capitals, but on page XIV of his introduction to the first edition (1911). he twice writes “die Philosophie des Als Ob” (I cannot get German quotation marks). The entire text may be seen here: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015030959889&view=1up&seq=18&skin=2021.

  9. A lot of Hassidic tales have parallels in the Christian tradition: lives of saints, apocrypha and folklore. A few years ago, I heard a similar but slightly different tale: a saint from a not too distant past allegedly prophesied that the saints of the last days – the eleventh hour so to say – would perform no miracles, would not pray night and day, would not fast all that much but would achieve no less than the great ascetics of the early Church. “It would be enough.”

    Buida is “widely known in narrow circles” as Russians say.

  10. David Marjanović says

    “This item is not available online ( Limited – search only) due to copyright restrictions. Learn More »”

    die Philosophie des Als Ob

    Ah, nominalized. 🙂 Should get a hyphen, though.

  11. Hathitrust has an excellent collection of old German books (and I use it daily sometimes).
    They just do not want German speakers to read them. It is creepy: a German speaker reading a book in German. Like narcissim or somehting.
    Of course Iranians do not have such issues because they use VPN anyway.

  12. I used Opera and it has built-in free VPN (may be needed to be switched on in settings). Unfortunately our government asked them to disable it for Russians and so they did. We, of course, quickly found a way to fix that, but with a new update Opera tried to prevent that too, of course unsuccessfully. But then with the next update they tried again and it appeared that their compliance is willing rather than formal. That irritated me, I tried Mozilla. As far as I understand it now has its own free VPN, but I have not tried it, and I do not know if it does the job. Among their free add-ons the one that did was called Browsec (possibly not the best, and it was slow, but it was sufficient). I do not like Mozilla, so I am using a more esoteric browser for the moment.

    Of course it is not real VPN. And the situation is idiotic, it is “German books”. Old descriptions of some Berber variety.

  13. One would expect, therefore, that Buida picked that name because Vaihinger’s proposal is relevant to the contents of Ermo. Do readers of Ermo find that to be the case?

    Not only is it the case, Vaihinger is mentioned in that context:

    Впрочем, его разрозненные высказывания о русской литературе так и не сложились в нечто целостное. Гораздо более интересными представляются его размышления о теме двойничества и связанной с нею «теме зеркал», вошедшие впоследствии в книгу «Лекции в Шато-сюр-Мер» и отразившиеся во всех его произведениях вплоть до «Als Оb» (именно во Франции он принялся систематически читать Платона и Плотина, там же прочел «подвернувшегося под руку» кантианца Файхингера – «Die Philosophic des Als Оb» – «Философия Как Если Бы» – и «Psychologie und Dichtung» Юнга, вошедшую в цюрихское издание его трудов (1947 г.).

    Buida is “widely known in narrow circles” as Russians say.

    That’s the impression I get, and I find it baffling. I take nothing away from Pelevin and Sorokin, who are both wonderful writers, but they both have little interest in actual people and their actual lives — Pelevin uses characters in fantastic situations to present his philosophical and religious ideas and Sorokin reduces everything to madness and gibberish. Buida, on the other hand, has the values of Great Russian Literature™: he investigates how fallible, damaged people deal with the shit life hands them. I realize that in the ’90s Russians were overwhelmed with a suddenly changed and unbearable reality and preferred fantasy and gibberish, but I would have hoped that by now they’d appreciate the virtues of a writer like Buida.

  14. David Marjanović says


    As odd as the spelling looks, Vaihinger is real, and so are at least two places called Vaihingen. Wikipedia says the h is silent (i.e. it was probably only inserted as a graphic hiatus marker).

    «Философия Как Если Бы»

    …that would be Philosophie als “als ob”, but I can’t come up with a better solution to the problem that Russian can’t indicate the genitive of something indeclinable.

  15. Whence the name? Anything to do with Spanish yermo ‘wasteland’?

  16. Certainly not (there’s no way the ῆ would have dropped out of ἐρῆμος even if by some bizarre happenstance that had given rise to a Russian name), but I was wondering about the etymology myself. My best guess is that it’s related to the given name Yermolay, but it would be very odd to have the last syllable cut off and the stump treated as a surname (the actual surname derived from it is Yermolayev). I’m not even sure where the stress goes — I mentally use final stress, but is that right? All thoughts welcome!

  17. Incidentally, the Buida novel is sometimes rendered in English as Yermo, which reflects the pronunciation, and I recently did that myself, but I think I prefer it to match the spelling of the Russian, as I prefer Esenin to Yesenin.

  18. I wondered if Buida got it directly from the Spanish, if that was something he would do.

  19. Ермо-Николаевка. The first part comes from a village name Ерма. That’s probably where Buida took the name from. “In universe” justification mentions something Tatar, but a very quick search doesn’t reveal anything relevant.

  20. Thanks very much, that must be it! Alas, the article doesn’t indicate stress, but now I’m leaning toward the first syllable.

  21. Just a note—the Attic form was ἔρημος, affected by Vendryes’ Law, and this is doubtless what is reflected in Italian ermo, both ‘deserted, solitary’ and ‘hermitage’ (this in the Purgatorio), and Spanish yermo, etc., with syncope (rather than *erémo), and in Modern Greek έρημος (also found as a place name). I wonder if Buida was playing with some of these resonances.

    The Attic accentuation is what is given in New Testament editions (Matthew 11:7)…

    Τί ἐξήλθετε εἰς τὴν ἔρημον θεάσασθαι;
    What went ye out into the wilderness to see?

    The old length seems to be remembered in learned contexts… Vox clamantis in eremo.

  22. “Alas, the article doesn’t indicate stress, but now I’m leaning toward the first syllable.”

    Oh yes. if it is the first syllable it is like from Ермолай Hermolaus
    And ермолка yarmulke also sound as a diminutive of Ермола, Hermolaus.
    Stressed on the second it is more like a misspelling of ярмо:-/

    P.S. oh, sorry. IF there was a village Erma, it can hardly be from Ермолай. It could get contracted in a compound, but not in the village name…

  23. DM, “как если бы” means “als ob”.

    “если бы” means “If I were … I would…”, “If I did X, Y would have followed”…

    “как если бы” I think, occurs in books in translation. My friends too use it but it feels a bit like we are reinventing it, as if we meant “it is as…. [imagine what would have happened] if you did X”.
    More cerebral — like my phrase above, also using as if — and impossible without a verb in past (that is, impossible in “as if trying…”).
    It is long and allows another interpretation: Philosophy as [interpreted as] “if it were.. “. You misinterpreted it for the same reason and it is a bad translation.
    “как будто” and “будто” are set phrases. They too used in literature (fiction) and introduce comparisions and role-playing. They do not make you think about past events that haven’t occured, they only suggest that you may be are not really what you are compared to and mildly so.
    Thus they can express uncertaintly: “when did it happen?” “как будто yesterday..(I am not sure)” .

    I do not know what is closer to the original meaning, but the former translation is bad, because ambiguous.
    Genetive… Many titles contain something indeclinable that is meant to be genitive.
    Yes, it is confusing.
    But we can insert underlying genitive here, and so we do.

  24. J.W. Brewer says

    How does the unreliable narrator’s understanding of Venice compare with his understanding of New England, as discussed in a prior thread?

  25. «Философия Как Если Бы»

    I guess, I am banging the same drum as drasvi, but still. “если бы” is irrealis by itself and “как если бы” is a pleonasm. In 1990s, “как бы” became for a time a “discourse particle” aka filler. If бы Buida wrote a straight parody the name «Философия Как Бы» weren’t бы out of place.

  26. How does the unreliable narrator’s understanding of Venice compare with his understanding of New England, as discussed in a prior thread?

    You’ll have to ask someone who’s as persnickety about Venice as you are about New England.

  27. D.O. yes, “философия как будто” and “философия будто” also can be read as “like, philosophy”.

  28. David Marjanović says

    “как если бы”

    I see (more or less), but Philosophie des “als ob” is “philosophy of the ‘as if'”, “philosophy of a nominalized As-If” – and that may be simply impossible to translate without some major detour.

  29. This is why since the days of Kant and Schelling Russians have had to learn German to discuss philosophy.

  30. January First-of-May says

    Stressed on the second it is more like a misspelling of ярмо:-/

    I thought of that too! But AFAIK Yermolka is stressed on the second syllable as well.

    (I agree that the author probably got it from the village name, and that the village name almost certainly has initial stress.)

    and that may be simply impossible to translate without some major detour

    A hyphen would work in modern Russian, I think: философия если-бы. IIRC connecting hyphens were more common pre-1956, though, so it might not have been interpreted correctly then.

  31. I got my copy of Ермо (plus two other Buida books)!

    Also, I finally figured out what book Y was referring to in the first comment (the link didn’t work for me) — to Основные течения в еврейской мистике, the Russian translation of Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism; the quote is from the last page of the book proper (before the glossary). Here’s the original:

    When the Baal Shem had a difficult task before him, he would go to a certain place in the woods, light a fire and meditate in prayer—and what he had set out to perform was done. When a generation later the “Maggid” of Meseritz was faced with the same task he would go to the same place in the woods and say: We can no longer light the fire, but we can still speak the prayers—and what he wanted done became reality. Again a generation later Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov had to perform this task. And he too went into the woods and said: We can no longer light a fire, nor do we know the secret meditations belonging to the prayer, but we do know the place in the woods to which it all belongs—and that must be sufficient; and sufficient it was. But when another generation had passed and Rabbi Israel of Rishin was called upon to perform the task, he sat down on his golden chair in his castle and said: We cannot light the fire, we cannot speak the prayers, we do not know the place, but we can tell the story of how it was done. And, the story-teller adds, the story which he told had the same effect as the actions of the other three.

  32. John Cowan says

    And, the story-teller adds, the story which he told had the same effect as the actions of the other three.

    Naturally this part gets left out. Naturally.

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