Monday, June 28, 2010

The Chosen, Chaim Potok

"When I was young, my father, may he rest in peace, began to wake me in the middle of the night, just so I would cry. I was a child, but he would wake me and tell me stories of the destruction of the Jerusalem and the suffering of the people of Israel, and I would cry. For years he did this. Once he took me to visit a hospital- ah, what an experience that was!- and often he took me to visit the poor, the beggars, to listen to them talk. My father himself never talked to me, except when we studied together. He taught me with silence. He taught me to look into myself, to find my own strength, to walk around inside myself in company with my soul. When his people would ask him why he was so silent with his son, he would say to them that he did not like to talk, words are cruel, words play tricks, they distort what is in the heart, they conceal the heart, the heart speaks through silence. One learns of the pain of others by suffering one's own pain, he would say, by turning inside oneself, by finding one's own soul. And it is important to know of pain, he said. It destroys our self-pride, our arrogance, our indifference towards others. It makes us aware of how frail and tiny we are and of how much we depend upon the Master of the Universe. Only slowly, very slowly, did I begin to understand what he was saying. For years his silence bewildered and frightened me, though I always trusted him, I never hated him. And when I was old enough to understand, he told me that of all people a tzaddik especially must know of pain. A tzaddik must know how to suffer for his people, he said. He must take their pain from them and carry it on his shoulders. He must carry it always. He must grow old before his years. He must cry, in his heart he must always cry. Even when he dances and sings, he must cry for the suffering of his people."

This is one of the most poignant writings I have ever read. It comes at the end of Chaim Potok's acclaimed book, The Chosen.

The father speaking is a tzaddik like his father before him and also has raised his son without talking to him except for during Torah study.

In this passage, he is speaking to his son's friend with his son present, and explaining to them why he needed to raise his son in this way.

His son is a brilliant student, he has a photographic memory and a penchant for reading and learning. The father is fearful that without the sadness, his son would not develop compassion and a soul worthy of a true tzaddik.

He tells a story about when his son was very young and he realized just how brilliant he was he said,"...I cried inside my heart. I went away and cried to the Master of the Universe, "What have you done to me? A mind like this I need for a son? A heart I need for a son, a soul I need for a son, compassion I want for my son, righteousness, mercy, strength to suffer and carry pain, that I want for my son, not a mind without a soul!"

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