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  • Writer's pictureCorbin Allardice

August 22, 1911

There is a higher ethics and a lower one: one is the ethics of life, the other is that of the monastery.

Someone lives with everything, both in sin, and in the overcoming of sin. Every moment is a temptation which they resist. Around them--fear, rage, anguish, and baseness--and they accept it all upon themself. That is their sin, and they work it off.* That is a truly human life.

There are other people who are too weak to face temptation, too weak to accept the evil of the world upon themselves, and to live a holy life within that evil. They turn their backs on others: in one life, sin is overcome; in the other life, sin is feared and people guard themselves against it. The weak build walls, sturdy and opaque, lock their doors and windows, all so that sin might not reach them. It seems to them, within the walls of the cloister, and not just to them, but to others, who watch them from without, that they are of a higher spiritual level. That is not true. In truth, they are on a lower level. But a level, it is. Every life has its heaven. Not everyone is worthy.

Perhaps that is the highest point I can reach--not sinning? Of course, he who doesn’t sin--sins. Passivity is the most onerous of crimes. But perhaps that--that is my fate? And my mistake is desiring another heaven, one which was not destined to me?

By Moyshe Varshe

Translated by Corbin Allardice

*- Literally to “buy up or buy out” (oyskoyfn), when used with a reflexive the verb can mean to “atone, repay, pay off a debt.” Although Varshe does not use a reflexive here, the latter meaning seems more likely. This is especially likely as this entry is highly Nietzschean; Varshe’s economic vocabulary would match Nietzsche’s linkage of the categories of guilt (Schuld) and debt (Schulden). It is worth noting that, in 1918, Kolye (Kalman) Tepper, A good friend of Varshe’s and a co-editor of the present book, would publish a Yiddish translation of a monograph on Nietzsche. It is however possible that the line could be read conversely, "That is their sin, they buy it up." In either case, I believe Varshe's basic point remains the same: the truly ethical person does not avoid sin but claims all sin as being on their own head. It is, perhaps paradoxically, only through the "absorption" of sin that one can overcome it. Nonetheless, the difference between these two readings of the line is salient; feedback would be appreciated.

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