God’s Grace
by Bernard Malamud
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Cohn said Kaddish for one hundred souls whose names he had picked at random in a heavily thumbed copy of a Manhattan telephone directory he had snatched from the sea-battered Rebekah Q. He kept it for company in the cave as a sort of “Book of the Dead.”

He often felt an urge to read all those names aloud. The Dead must be acknowledged if one respected life. He would say Kaddish at least once for everyone in the book, although, technically speaking, to do so one needed the presence of ten live Jews. Yet, since there were not ten in the world, there was no sin saying it via only one man. Who was counting?

God said nothing.

Cohn said Kaddish.

There’s a legend in Midrash that Moses did not want to die despite his so-called old age. He was against it, respectfully, of course.

“Master of the World! Let me stay like a bird that flies on the four winds and gathers its food every day, and at eventide returns to the nest. Let me be like one of them!”

“With all due regard for services rendered,” God said, “nothing doing. You’re asking too much. That mixes everything up. First things first.”

Cohn said Kaddish.

If we were bound to come to this dreadful end, why did the All-knowing God create us?

Some sages said: In order to reflect His light. He liked to know He was present.

Some said: In order to create justice on earth; at least to give it a try.

Cohn thought: He was the Author of the universe. Each man was a story unto himself, it seemed. He liked beginnings and endings. He enjoyed endings based on beginnings, and beginnings on endings. He liked to guess out endings and watch them go awry. At first He liked the juicy parts where people were torn between good and evil; but later the stories may have let Him down; how often, without seeming to try, the evil triumphed. It wasn’t an effect; it was an embarrassing condition: His insufficient creation. Man was subtly conceived but less well executed. Body and soul hung badly together.

Maybe next time.

Cohn said Kaddish.

© Copyright Bernard Malamud, 1982. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this work may be reporoduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system now or hereafter invented, without permission in writing from the Publisher