According to the account which he gave to the Hebrew writer, Reuben Brainin, less than a year before his death, Herzl was attracted to the Messiah legends of the Jews from early adolescence. At the age of twelve, he had a “wonderful dream,” which he recounted as follows:
The King-Messiah came, a glorious and majestic old man, took me in his arms and swept off with me on the wings of the wind. On one of the shining clouds we encountered the figure of Moses. The features were familiar to me out of my childhood in the statue by Michelangelo. The Messiah called to Moses: “It is for this child that I have prayed!” And to me he said: “Go and declare to the Jews that I shall come soon and perform great wonders and great deeds for my people and for the whole world!” 19
Shortly after this dream Herzl read a popular science book which presented electricity as the new King-Messiah which would liberate the nations and all mankind from servitude. At first he was indignant but then he began to wonder if electricity might not be the promised redeemer and decided to become an engineer—a childhood ambition which he never fulfilled. What is striking in this dream is the strong identification with Moses, with the Exodus from Egypt and technological advances that could totally transform the lives of humanity. It is precisely such a fusion of tradition and modernity, the idea of a new Jewish exodus and the Promethean redemption of mankind through the Zionist enterprise, that provided the élan vital of Herzl’s project.
Such essays are passed to BackChannels along with the day’s feed in news. Although so much reading online makes for a fragmented educational and informational experience, the fragments, when they are true — valid and reliable — do come together in three-dimensional mosaic. The Torah, commentaries, histories far and near, and current events test each sentence.
Are dreams such as that of the “King-Messiah” poppycock?
Having attained and age in which cynicism and skepticism greet sentimentality too often, the BackChannels editor might say, “Probably so”, but let’s see where it goes. However, the sentence, “It is precisely such a fusion of tradition and modernity, the idea of a new Jewish exodus and the Promethean redemption of mankind through the Zionist enterprise, that provided the élan vital of Herzl’s project” has its weight supported by Israel’s exuberant contributions to the world in the creation and manufacturing of the broadest spectrum of new and continuously improved technologies.
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