In the run up to Rosh Hashanah I am sharing reflections inspired by the sculptor Alberto Giacometti, whose work is currently on show at the Tate Modern. There is much, rabbinically, to disagree with or find offensive in his work, but I’m not going to do any of that here. Rather I’ll be sharing where these works of art have taken me as I turn my heart towards the work of this time.
I begin with ‘Reclining Woman Who Dreams.’
Here she is. Here I am. Stripped back to my most basic elements and dreaming.
It’s an abstracted naked form sculpted in white plaster (not the reddy-brown clay - with which Giacometti is more associated), then cast in reddy-brown bronze, but then painted white.
Giacometti is being pulled between two competing views of life. Are we best represented as red - bloodily vigorous (and to the Biblical mind the blood is the source of our soul) - or white - cadaverous and skeletal?
When we rise in the morning we dress up, we clothe our essential skeleton with an overlay which allows us to play the various roles of our existence. These clothes, masks perhaps as well, are what Kabbalists call Klippot - literally husks. These Klippot serve two functions; on the one hand they protect an inner fragile kernel, but this protection comes at the cost of distancing everyone we come into contact with, and even ourselves, from our essential fragile truth. Stripped of all of that, what do we have left?
Theodor Herzl’s aphorism, ‘If you will it, it is no dream,’ suggests - in translation - a pejorative dismissal of dreams, not present in the Hebrew. Our dreams are the things that give meaning to our bony existence, they bring life and open up new futures to these dry bones. What Herzl meant - as we all understand - is the ‘unless we dream, nothing important will ever change in our lives.’ Our dreams are checks on the clothe and mask wearing - are we really doing what is really important? Without them we are but dust and ash.
Find time, this month, to lie back and dream. Allow this time to serve as an invitation to drop the masks, the clothes and even the fleshy-over-layers. Allow an encounter between the very bones of our existence and the hopes that elevate to that become that most precious of all creations - a human, please God, a Mentsch.