An old house-of-prayer. Students are studying Gemara2.
At one side sits the Messenger. Three "batlonim," always
half-starved but cheerful, pass the time singing a song,
"For What Cause? For What Cause?" and telling each other
stories of the greatness of the Zaddikim. One tells the
"At the house of the Zaddik of Rusin they had a band of
twenty-five musicians!" "The Zaddik of Talna went about
in golden shoes!" "The Zaddik of Nikolsburg conjured up
the original serpent of Eden to frighten a stingy rich
"But Susya of Anapolia," puts in the Messenger, " was a
poor man, and nevertheless worked just as many
miracles." Hanan (one of the students) joins in the
talk. "Were can one find such a miracle worker, such a
Kabalist as you've been talking about?" he wonders.
"Hanan is a genius," the students tell the Messenger. "Hanan
is the pride of the Yeshiva, and is already a great
scholar in Kabalah!"2
A woman runs in weeping. She wishes to pray at the
Sepher Torah3 for the health of her dying
daughter. She gives a few coins to the batlonim, and
they leave their table to go and pray for the invalid.
Hanan remains alone. His thoughts are concentrated upon
Leah. They love each other, but Leah's father, Sender,
wants a rich bridegroom for her. Till now, Sender has
not found one. All his efforts have been in vain. Hanan
thinks this failure is due to his (Hanan's) opposition.
Even now, although absorbed in spiritual matters, Hanan
thinks aloud about Leah: "To whom -- to whom will Leah
belong? She must belong to me! If not through heavenly
power, then -- What fearful thoughts!"
Hanan's companion, Enoch, rebukes him. "You have no more
faith in the Gemara."
"The Gemara is cold and dry," answers Hanan. "It holds
one down to earth. But Kabalah! That leads one into the
mansions of mysticism, to the holiest mysteries. It
lifts up a corner of the great Veil. But the road is
perilous. It leads one easily into sin. But isn't sin
itself created by God? No, surely not by God, but by
Satan. But who made Satan? Did not God make him? Satan
is the opposing side, the other side of God." And Hanan
becomes more and more inflamed. "What is the most awful
sin of all? What sin is most irresistible to man, and is
the most difficult to overcome? Passion for a woman. But
if one should purify this passion with flame, so that
there should remain only a pure spark, then it is
transmuted into holiness, a Song of Songs!" And from
Hanan's lips there breathe the sounds of a verse of the
Song of Songs: "Thou art fair, my beloved, thou art
Then something unusual happens. Leah comes into the
house of prayer, accompanied by her old nurse, Freda,
and her friend, Gittel. Leah has come to look at the
Holy Curtain before the sacred Ark, planning to make a
new one as a gift to the Synagogue on the anniversary of
her mother's death. The beadle of the house-of-prayer
shows them the old curtain. Leah sees Hanan. For a time
he had lived in Sender's house, eating at the same time,
where he was considered to be a future Zaddik. While
Leah's companions kiss the Sepher Torah, Leah and Hanan
greet each other, for the first time in their lives.1
"Sholom Aleichem (Peace be with you), Hanan! You are
"Yes," he replies. And that is all.
The women leaves. "I have won!" Hanan bursts out in joy.
And one of his comrades, Asher, brings him the news that
Sender's newest plan for Leah's marriage has also
But this is not true. The prospective fathers-in-law
have come to terms and the marriage will take place.
This news is brought by Sender himself, who comes to the
Synagogue to make the students rejoice with him. Hanan
is stunned. How is this? All his fasts, all his
penitential wanderings,2 all his prayers --
of no avail? He tries to find salvation in the book of
the angel Raziel (one of the most sacred books of
Kabalah), but his strength fails him. He dies.
Meanwhile, Sender sends out for wine and dainties. One
must celebrate the betrothal of one's only daughter with
one's brother Chassidim! They sing, they dance, more and
more swiftly and gaily, "All must dance! Call the
students! Hanan! Where is he? Hanan! Hanan!" Suddenly
they stumble on the prostrate body.
The Messenger lifts up the book which fell from Hanan's
hand as he died. "The book of the angel Raziel!"
Leah's wedding. According to custom, a meal has been
prepared in Sender's home for the poor people, so that
they may join in the celebration before the wedding. The
beadle and Sender's relatives wait on the guests.
Sender appears, and the singing and dancing begin again
in his honor. All are delighted with the meal. What
rejoicing! What good cheer! At last the beggars are
greeted by the bride herself.
All dance in her honor. Afterwards the women dance in
turn with the bride. This honor is granted to all except
the imbecile, Dresel. She insists on her right. For
forty years she has not danced. For a moment everybody's
attention is diverted by the distribution of money, but
Dresel remains insistent. She suddenly seizes the bride,
and begins again to dance. The bride is half-terrified,
half-pleased. She feels that they are her friends. Soon
her strength fails, but Dresel, together with the whole
crowd of beggars, insist, "More! More!" There is wild
confusion. Leah faints. The beggars set her down and run
Leah gradually comes to her senses. "A kind of unearthly
force seized me and carried me, far, far away," she
tells her nurse. "Is it true that the souls of those who
died before their time live among us -- surround us?"
But instead of her nurse, there suddenly appear the
Messenger. "The souls of those who died before their
time return to earth in new incarnations," he says. "But
it also happens that the straying soul takes possession
of the body of a living person, assimilates that soul,
and fulfills there his destiny. Such a spirit is called
The Messenger disappears. But his words have pierced
Leah's heart. After receiving her father's blessing,
Leah goes with her nurse to the cemetery, to invite her
dead mother to the wedding." She extracts from her nurse
permission to invite Hanan, too.
At this moment appears the bridegroom (Manassah), his
father, and his rabbi. There is music. The fathers go
away to make a final settlement as to the dowry and
other important matters. The Rabbi tries to make the
bridegroom rehearse the speech which he must make after
the wedding meal.
The bridegroom, however, is all in a flutter. Everybody
will look at him, he says, and worst of all she, too,
will look, she whom he has never seen in his life.2
The Rabbi quiets him, and leads him away.
The beggars appear again. Their meal is over. They
criticize everything. "What a wretched meal that was! So
miserly! They tried to save money on everything! But
it'll be quite different when it comes to the meal for
the rich friends! A plague take them!?
And the crowd streams threateningly towards Sender's
house. The master of the house himself appears. All step
back, and, hiding their animosity, become silent. Sender
is irritated. "Where is the bride?" At last she also
appears, and goes to dress herself for the wedding. The
beggars help to put things in order for the ceremony.
Now the melancholy strains of the wedding song are
heard. The bride is solemnly led in and seated upon a
chair. They lead the bridegroom to her. But when
Manasseh prepares to cover the bride's face with the
veil she springs up and thrusts him back.
"You are not my bridegroom!" she cries out. And from her
very heart there bursts forth in Hanan's voice the
melody of the Song of Songs.
"A 'Dybbuk' has taken possession of her!" cried the
Messenger. The beggars receive the news with
exclamations of triumph and satisfaction.
At the house of Rabbi
Azriel, the Zaddik, in Miropol. The after-Sabbath meal.1
Rabbi Azriel is restless. He is troubled with a feeling
that he is needed to bring salvation to a Jewish soul.
The call has already come. Sender has has brought his
daughter to him so that the Dybbuk may be cast out.
At first the Rabbi feels
helpless, and pities himself. "Who am I that people come
to me from the four corners of the earth to get relief?
I alone am nothing." But, reminding himself of his great
ancestors, his confidence is strengthened. "Call
Sender!" he orders his attendant.
Rabbi Azriel examines
Sender, asking whether he knew Hanan previously, and
whether he had not put Hanan to shame. Sender answers:
"I knew him; but I did not put him to shame, as far as I
know. But who can be certain? We are only human beings."
The Zaddik and Leah remain
alone. As long as Leah speaks herself she is weak and
submissive; but when Hanan, hidden within her, begins to
speak, her words are full of extraordinary perversity.
To all the requests and pleadings of the Zaddik, the
Dybbuk answers the same thing: "I will not go out of
her. In the whole world my soul has found only this one
home, and do you wish to drive me out of there also? I
will not go out!"
The Rabbi of the town
enters hastily, together with his two Dayonim
(assistants). The night before, there had appeared to
them three times in dreams Nisan, the dead father of
Hanan, asking that Sender be brought before a religious
court of law. Evidently this has a connection with the
Dybbuk. Rabbi Azriel immediately calls the court of law
before him. Rabbi Shimshon and his assistants beg the
Zaddik to preside. On one side is the plaintiff -- the
dead Nisan -- and on the other side the trembling
defendant, Sender. The explanations make it clear that
during their youth Nisan and Sender were friends. They
married at the same time, and betrothed their children
even before they were born. But, soon after, they parted
and never met again. Sender who had become rich, had a
daughter, Leah. Nisan, who died poor, had a son, Hanan.
When these souls,
predestined for each other, met, Sender interfered, and
opposed their union. In vexation of soul, Hanan fell
into the snares of Satan, and passed away prematurely.
His father, Nisan, thus remained cut off from both
worlds without offspring, and without a Kaddish (a son
to pray for his soul).
The court decrees that
Sender shall say Kaddish all his life for Nisan and
Hanan, and that he must give away half his wealth to the
poor. Then the court asks the spirit of Nisan to forgive
Sender because he had not known whose son Hanan was. The
court also asks Nisan to command his son to leave the
body of Leah. But when the question is asked as to
whether the two parties accept the judgment of the
court, Sender along answers yes, while Nissan
disappears, without giving a reply.
This is regarded by all as an ill omen.
But Rabbi Azriel is
determined to bring the matter to a conclusion. His plan
is, in his opinion, a righteous on. Among living persons
one must give first consideration to the living. The
soul of the dead Hanan must be driven out of Leah, and
Leah must be married to a living being. But the Dybbuk
refuses to go of his own accord. Then Rabbi Azriel takes
steps to pronounce excommunication upon the spirit. The
assembly gives unanimous approval. They raise the Sepher
Torah; black candles are lighted, the Zaddik blows the
Shofar.1 Three times the Zaddik commands the
Dybbuk to go out. Finally, after solemn excommunication
is pronounced in its most severe form, Hanan's soul is
compelled to leave Leah's exhausted body... She faints.
Rabbi Azriel congratulates Sender, and bids him call the
bridegroom at once, to prepare for the wedding. The
Chassidim, with Rabbi Azriel at their head, march with
joyful songs toward the bridegroom.
Leah remains alone, in the
magic circle which Rabbi Azriel had drawn around her. A
groan is heard from outside the circle, and then another
one from within. "Who groans?" asks Leah, coming to her
senses. For answer is heard the melody of the Song of
Songs. "I hear your voice, but your face I do not see.
Who are you?" she asks. "I have forgotten; but the
memory of me lives in your heart." "Ah, it is you! I
come to you, my bridegroom!"
The Song of Songs is heard
from both. With the strength of her love, Leah breaks
through the magic circle, with which Rabbi Azriel had
surrounded her. Her soul unites with the soul of Hanan,
and her body falls dead.
The Messenger covers her
up just as he had formerly covered the body of Hanan.
"Too late! too late!" he calls out, when the sounds of
the wedding music are heard. It grows dark. "Blessed be
the truthful Judge."
The curtain falls to the
sound of the same melody: "For what cause, for what
cause, did the soul descend from the loftiest height
into the nethermost abyss?"
1 -- From
the play program for "The Dybbuk", 1927-8. Courtesy of
the New York Public Library.