Darsheni! Know Your Place

Up early but I slept very well last night. As we were walking across the Charles Bridge yesterday, we ran across a famous statue on the Bridge which called out “Darsheni” (“Explain Me!” in Talmudic parlance).

I don’t really expect to understand the full scope, history and beauty of Prague after 20 years since my last visit, but I would say in Day 1, this was a highlight.

Walking across the Charles Bridge, one is struck by the beautiful statues that line both side of the walkway. Thousands of tourists cross the bridge daily and the site is one for photographers, lovers to kiss, buskers to play and tchotchke vendors to sell, and the like.

To me it sums up the beauty, history and chaos that characterizes today’s Prague.

The Charles Bridge dates to the Late 13th/Early 14th century.

But one statue in particular jumped out at me and demanded an explanation.

Prague’s Jewish history is dotted with glorious good times of wealth and power and influence. The “Maharal” (Judah Loew ben Bezalel, or simply, The MaHaRaL, the acrnym “Moreinu Ha-Rav Loew” (“Our Teacher, Rabbi Loew”), was an important Talmudic scholar, mystic and philosopher who, for most of his life, served as a leading Rabbi in the cities of Mikulov in Moravia and Prague in Bohemia. He had outsized influence in this beautiful city and was among other things the founder of the legend of the famous “Golem of Prague.”

But I digress…It’s very easy to do here! 🙂

But, there were also times of utter depravity suffering and misery. And this statue summed that up for me.

“DARSHENI!”

Explain me!

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So what do you notice? A rather common cross with the Christ figure. But in gold lettering over INRI, you notice the Hebrew words “Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh, Adonai Tzevaot” which many might recognize as the central theme of the daily “Kedushah” in the liturgy. So what does, “Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh, Adonai Tzevaot” and a Christ figure on the cross have to do with one and other?

DARSHENI!

When you unpack the history you get a sense of the complex dynamic of the Jews of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia which we will be traipsing across for the next few days on our way to the great simchah in Olomouc.

The significance is as follows. (Thank you Mark Talisman, our former UJA Scholar in Residence from my last trip here in 1998 for the explanation). How’s this for IN YOUR FACE?

“An old Jew was walking across the Bridge and spit at the Christ figure on the cross , and so had to pay for that statue with gold lettering added as penitence!”

So, just when you think you have it made. Or, just when someone arbitrarily decides to alter your fate, you are put in your place. Don’t think that you have power over your own destiny.

Jews were both celebrated in Prague with the Maharal and screwed at the same time! Watch your step, someone is watching! How’s that for a powerful indictment for living in a state of power and powerlessness? Perhaps something we as American Jews need to be watchful for in today’s present circumstance?


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