Innocence & Experience Part Two

Apr 22nd, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays, Prayer
William Blake wrote two series of poems, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, and one character appears in both; The Chimney-Sweeper. The poet focuses on one of the great ills of late-eighteenth-century London life; the use of young boys and girls, aged between four and seven, sent up into the London chimneys and destined for a life of incredible hardship and pain. It is known that many died in the chimneys, when fires were lit with the chimney sweep still there, and that many developed skin cancers, due to the fact that they often worked naked, so as to spare the cost of replacing ruined clothes.

I think of these poor chimney sweeps when I read of the children buried alive in the walls of Egypt. Acting with the guidance of “Morning, Noon, and Night; Finding the Meaning of Life’s Stages Through Books,” by Arnold Weinstein, I first present the voice of the Chimney Sweep speaking in Songs of Experience. This, I imagine, would be the voice of Micah looking back on his time in the walls:

From Songs of Experience:

A little black thing among the snow,

Crying! ‘weep! weep!’ in notes of woe!

‘Where are thy father and mother?  Say!’ –

‘They are both gone up to the church to pray.

‘Because I was happy upon the heath,

And smiled among the winter’s snow,

They clothed me in the clothes of death,

And taught me to sing the notes of woe.

‘And because I am happy and dance and sing,

They think they have done me no injury,

And are gone to praise God and His priest and king,

Who made up a heaven of our misery.’

It is not difficult to read these words and hear them spoken by one of the children of the walls:

“A little black thing among the snow,

Crying! ‘weep! weep!’ in notes of woe!

‘Where are thy father and mother?  Say!’ –

‘They are both gone up to the church to pray.”

We mention in the Haggadah how the parents prayed and cried “from their work” even as their children were being murdered. The child can only utter a feeble, “weep! Weep!” but their parents cannot hear, in the poem because they are in church praying, and in Egypt, too crushed themselves to pay attention.

I guess that if these children were destined to be evil, it was because there was no one to hear them! Moshe was horrified by the evil, but the Midrash does not describe him as hearing the children cry. He wanted them brought back to life, but we do not read of his instructing the parents to take special care to pay attention to the child’s needs and concerns.

Perhaps the Midrash is describing children who have been emotionally buried in the walls by their parents long before physically entombed by the Egyptians. It is not enough to simply free the child, just as it would not be enough to free the parents without guiding them through the process.

Micah was Moshe’s lesson in pulling his people out from the walls of Egypt and restoring them to life. Micah was a person lost. He needed healing and he could not learn to live with the experience of being brought back to life without direction. Micah was Moshe’s lesson in healing Israel and teaching them to live after Revelation at Sinai. Micah is understood by the Midrash as the father of the Golden Calf; he was the paradigm of one brought back to life without being guided back into life.

Micah was just one of more Thames half a million, and he would have Moshe’s attention. No individuals weak weeping could be ignored.

Micah is the individual child. Micah is the single student. Micah is the one whose cries are drowned out by his parents’ prayers and religious life. Micah is the child who feels stuck in the walls. He is the student of great creativity and passion for life who lives without proper direction and nurture. No wonder his story is presented as one of great love of a mother for a child. He is the child who runs into the open arms of anyone offering love and direction.

Can Israel sing Hallel as long as a single Micah is lost because we are too busy praying?

To be continued…

Author Info:
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