A translation from “The Words of the Lord” by Jacob Frank
[The following is posted here in memory of Harris Lenowitz, who for many years was my comrade in poetry and translation. He coedited with me Exiled in the Word (a.k.a. A Big Jewish Book) and was himself the author of The Jewish Messiahs: From the Galilee to Crown Heights. But his masterwork was the compilation and translation of The Words of the Lord, a gathering of the words and visions of the eighteenth-century messiah and mystic Jacob Frank, left unpublished by Harris at the time of his death. The selection below is taken from my presentation of it in Barbaric Vast & Wild: A Gathering of Outside & Subterranean Poetry from Origins to Present (Black Widow Press, 2015). My gratitude in all of this is enormous. (j.r.)]
from The Words of the Lord
1. I had a vision in Salonika, as though the following words were said to somebody, Go lead Jacob the wise into the rooms and when you and he come to the first room, I admonish you that all the doors and gates be opened to him. When I entered the first room, a rose was given to me as a sign by which I could go on to the next and so on consequenter from one room to the next. And so I flew in the air accompanied by two maidens [the like of] whose beauty the world has never seen. In these rooms I saw for the most part women and young ladies. In some, however, there were assembled only groups of students and teachers, and wherever just the first word was spoken to me, I immediately grasped the whole matter from it and the full meaning. There was an innumerable number of these rooms and in the last one of them I saw the First [= Shabtai Zvi] who also sat as a teacher with his students, dressed in frenk [= Turkish] clothing. This one immediately asked me, Are you Jacob the wise? I have heard that you are strong and brave-hearted. To this point have I come, but I have not the strength of proceeding from here further; if you want [to], strengthen yourself and may God help you, for very many ancestors took that burden upon themselves, went on this road, but fell. With that, he showed me through the window of this chamber an abyss which was like a black sea, hidden in extraordinary darkness, and on the other side of this abyss I saw a mountain whose height seemed to touch the clouds. At that I shouted, Be what may, I will go with God’s help, and so I began to fly on a slant through the air into the depth until I reached its very bottom, where, having felt the ground, I stopped. Walking in the dark, I came upon the edge of the mountain and seeing that because of the steep smoothness of the mountain I had difficulty getting up on it, I was forced to clamber up with my hands and nails and using all my strength until I reached the top. As soon as I stopped there, an extraordinary scent reached me; and there were many True-Believers there. Seized by great joy, I did not [yet] want to go up onto the mountain with my whole body, saying to myself, I will rest awhile here, for sweat poured from my head like a river in flood on account of the tortures which I had borne to climb this mountain; but when I am well rested then I will come up on the mountain towards all the good which is found there. And that is what I did, I let my feet hang and sat with my body and hands at rest on the mountain. Then I went up on the mountain.
2. Being sick once in Dziurdziów, I had a dream like this. I saw an extraordinarily beautiful woman, who had a well of the water of life and another well of clear water, and this [woman] said to me, Put your legs in the water and you will become healthy right away. I did so and became well. At the place where this woman was found, there was a broad beautiful field, in which she, taking me by the hand, said, Come, I will show you my daughter who is still a maiden, and I went with her into the depth of that field which gave off an extraordinary scent, from [many] different flowers. The Maiden, whose beauty nothing in this world could describe, came to meet us there, and she was dressed in a Polish rubran [a tight-fitting, twisted blouse of heavy, usually red, silk] and her uncovered breasts were visible. Having noticed this I suddenly saw from one end of the world to the other. Her mother informed me that if I was desirous to take her for a wife, she would permit it, but I answered that I had a wife and children.
44. My grandmother, my mother’s mother was a very learned astrologer. When I was born, all the witches assembled around our home and surrounded it, even their queen was there at their head. There was a dog in our house — a cross between a wolf and a [canine] bitch. This one did not sleep at all, but barked all the time, for if he had fallen asleep even for a moment, then they would have seen to it that he would have never awakened, but he kept watch vigilantly. Then on the 8th day at the circumcision, they surrounded our home as before and wanted to do something evil, but were unable to because that dog kept guard again, and the old grandmother with her craft fought against the evil also, saying, Watch him carefully, bring him up properly, for a new thing will come to the world through him.
451. On the 21st of October, 1784 the Lord saw a dream, I had a golden ring on my hand, and I dropped that ring onto a mirror, which broke into small pieces, Having turned that mirror onto the other side, I found shining glass there also, and likewise a bracelet fell from my hands and broke the other side. He himself gave the interpretation of that, My help hastens to come.
504. In a dream I saw Jesus, having priests around him, sitting at a spring of living and clear water. I noticed that this spring went away from them and came to me.
748. I saw a dream as if I were in a church, totally naked except for a gray cloak such as the Jesuits wear, but the chest was bare like the breasts of a woman. The priests were all prepared for the Resurrection service, but only one priest wore a cloak like mine. All present thought that they would raise something as was the custom at the Resurrection service, but nothing was raised except that priest came to me and sprinkled me with pure water. All the people present laughed, that I was dressed in such a cloak. I wanted to cover my chest, but in spite of all my endeavors, it remained bare.
791. In a dream I saw a very old woman, 1500 years old. Her hair was white as snow; she brought me 2 silver belts and a Walachian sausage. I bought one from her and stole the other.
793. In a dream I saw that I went to a great church having a great window, having neither an altar nor any paintings. The walls were covered with silver. Many Polish lords sat there, they ate and they drank. They asked me to eat with them, but I said I was weak and could not eat. Moreover, I had not heard Mass yet. I went to the sacristy, and the sacristy too was beautiful. I saw that a priest threw off his chasuble and put on another. He went to pray with his hands raised, but without the chalice, after having entered a certain room, before which hung a curtain of silver material. I followed and saw a man lying on the ground. He was about 10 cubits long and rolled in the dirt, but the priest prayed to him. I went to those lords and said to them, Come, I will show you a tasty comedy, how a man is rolling in the dirt and a priest praying to him. But I was dressed in a long Polish zupania [the undergarment of the Polish folk costume] and girdled with a precious Persian belt whose ends were very precious; and I wrapped myself around several times with that belt, but still its end trailed on the ground. The Lord himself interpreted: Some new road is prepared for me.
804. The Lord saw a dream the 14th of June 1784: Two women came to me, and one man 6 cubits tall. They were very beautiful, and they said to me, We have heard in the place where we live that your people have abandoned you and that you do not want to send them on any mission. We have been dead several thousand years and we have worked a lot, and still we have no peace. We ask you, Send us. We will go on your mission wholeheartedly. I answered them, I have already said that I will make revelation to no man, nor bring any near, nor will I send any on a mission. They asked me, But the signal has already gone out that a great deal of blood will flow in the world, and we want to go and rescue many; only you bless us for the way. I am a prostak, I replied, and cannot make a blessing. They asked me, But you bless your people? I replied, I can say no more than this word: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and this verse: The angel who delivered me & & ... They said to me, We have a book here in which stand blessings. Bless us with that book; we only ask you that you bless us out loud. They gave me the book which was written in large Hebrew letters without dots. They bent their heads and I, after raising my hands above their heads, blessed them. There were beautiful words there, but I do not remember more than two words that were at the end: Du Jankiew, That is Jacob.
852. Her Highness [his daughter Eva] saw a dream on the 5th of July 1784: I saw a little child in my room; one black man came in with horns on his head. I asked him, What do you want here? He answered, I have come to take that child from your house. I will not give you that child, I said. He said, If you will not give him to me willingly, then I will take him by violence. I asked him who he might be? He replied, First I will take the child, then I will tell you who I am. He took the child by violence under one arm and under the other he caught up that French girl who was with me. I asked him again, Who are you? He answered, I am the worst devil of all the devils. The French girl started to scream loudly and to ask that I rescue her from him, but he did not listen to her and left with her. Immediately a great fire began to burn in my room, which I tried to put out, but I couldn’t. The Lord came along to put it out, at which a great outcry arose that in the Lord’s room it was burning terribly.
868. It would be better for you if you had been taught the wisdom of sorcery; you would have known a great deal.
Translation from the Polish Manuscripts by Harris Lenowitz
source: Harris Lenowitz, The Collection of the Words of the Lord [Jacob Frank] from the Polish Manuscripts. The full translation (nearly 3000 “sayings”) is available here.
As a time of growing dislocations and deconstructions, the eighteenth century saw changes of mind that reached into isolated corners of Europe, far removed from the strongholds of both the Enlightenment and the “natural supernaturalism” and radical mysticisms that were among the marks of an emerging Romanticism. With Jacob Frank as its messiah, the messianic Frankist movement as it affected Eastern European Jews involved, like its literary and Western counterparts, a shift in language and its attendant symbols that resembled the shifts emerging as well in the dominant cultures.
Of the work presented above, Harris Lenowitz writes as translator: “These are some of the sayings of Yankiev Leivich, Yakov ben Lev (Polish, Yiddish, 1726–1791), who called himself Yakov Frank and whom some called Wise Jacob. Jacob Frank was a creature of Podolia, Turkey, Poland-in-its-disintegration. He traveled. His father was a traveling preacher. Frank was a peddler too and spoke everybody’s language: Balkan, Turkish, Yiddish, Polish, Ladino, with quotations, citations, and language play from Hebrew and Aramaic. He joined up with Sabbateans, followers of the messianic movement begun by Shabtai Zvi and Nathan of Gaza [in the seventeenth century], continued through Barukhya Russo [d. 1721], and temporarily short one messiah. With them he turned against the Talmud, into the Zohar, and out through the Sabbatean pore. He added some things to the movement: a new emphasis on the Virgin, a passage through Christianity, after the passage through Islam which Shabtai/Nathan originated, on the way to Esau. Perhaps more sex. He became a messiah to thousands of Jews.
“In the ‘words’ written down by his followers, the mini-narratives show a range of transformative experiences that came to him, like vatic prose poems, in the form of dreams & visions or by observations, simple or not, of the people & events to which his way of life had brought him.”
Poems and poetics