In 1957 – Buber had written Elijah in 1956 – there proceeded in Jerusalem an ideology conference titled ›Israel’s mission and Zion‹. What happened during this gathering can be seen as the exact modern resurgence of the conversation between Elijah and King Achab in Doráti’s opera Der Künder (The Chosen), impersonated here through Buber and President Ben-Gurion. What Buber said to Ben-Gurion, you may read today as reincarnation of the classical opposition between king and prophet in ancient Israel: Enunciators cannot be apprehended independently from their mission which consists of reminding those in power of their responsibility towards God. After all, God entrusted statesmen with authority only under reserve …
Since his immigration to Palestine in 1938 Buber worked with a lot of personal engagement on behalf of the interfaith understanding between Jews and Arabs. According to Buber the Arabic question in effect became the touchstone for the values of Jewishness after the state of Israel had been established. Buber’ religious Zionism stands in sharp contrast to the so called official ›Machtpolitik‹ which ignored the Arab presence in Palestine. The unilateral support for all matters Arabian raised doubts about Buber’s stance in his own country. In the beginning, people said, his knowledge of Hebrew was insufficient to make himself understood, later only to become incomprehensible after he had learnt the language. Buber was seen as an ›unchosen‹ ambassador, because he made the realization of the Zionistic project conditional on Arabic consent.
To perceive inner duality and the necessity to make one’s choice – by way of unification of the soul – people split themselves in two factions: some want to make a decision, want to choose. They are committed to termlessness and are bound to their goals. Others surrender themselves to ›laissez-faire‹ and indolent indetermination. Their objective is self-aggrandizement and self interest or, in the biblical idiom, it is either about people who serve God or worshippers of Baal. But we must not forget that the latter do not decide for Baal and against God but – as Elijah heralds – that they swing back and forth between two limbs.
You do not select to revere Baal, you fall under Baal’s spell. In other words: since Baal is the proverbial ›possessor‹, humans do not opt for ›possessing‹ and against ›being‹, they rather get devoured by the ›possessing‹ … Hitler, the modern Baal, must be seen as an exemplification of a man, with whom no more dialogue is possible.
Elijah addresses the people and speaks about his own dialogue with God in a particular historical moment. He does not act as slave for a superior divine entity which instrumentalizes him, but acts in commission of his own inner voice. In return God rewards the sincere prophet with redemption.
All his life Buber wanted to be no more than a storyteller who recites simple incidents unadornedly. What he wanted was to describe the human existence and everything that happens between human beings. Theatre for Buber was a »dialogical occurrence« – the tension between person and person, between understanding and misunderstanding in a concrete situation.