My Name is Asher Lev

I am having trouble sleeping.  I see figures in my dream.  Large, looming figures that invade my privacy.

I am reading My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok.  It amazes me, pleases me and tortures me all at once.  How can one man say so much in so few pages?  How can so much tension be revealed in ordinary words?  indicate such caring in just the pouring of orange juice?

And.  And it tortures me because it immerses me in issues and questions I have about humanity.  Empathy.  Clarity.  Incisiveness.  Blindness.  Mutability.

I think it is a fabulous book, but perhaps because I am fascinated by different cultures and have a vested interest in art.  It is about a Hasiddic boy, Asher Lev, growing up in a Hassidic community in Brooklyn.  His parents are pious and committed to important work.  The father travels.  The mother worries.  He is compelled to travel, to do this work.  He is sullen and unfulfilled when he must stay home.  The mother too, ends up getting involved with his work.  It seems to me, they work and neglect their son.

It becomes evident pretty early on that Asher Lev is an art prodigy.  The visual arts are not appreciated or condoned  in his community.  Most of all, it is not appreciated or condoned by his father.  His father has advanced degrees in political science, but he cannot understand the concepts of art that his teenage son is trying to explain to him.  He also will not accept this, what he believes is from the Dark Side.  It threatens everything he knows about life, a life consumed by tradition and the dicatates of the Rebbe, their leader.

Asher's mentor talks about the aesthetically blind and includes Asher's father.  I understand that some people just cannot understand.  I can see in my son the inability to comprehend some things, not just moral complexity beyond his years, but even something age-appropriate due to his innate make-up.  It gives me an over-view of what it might be like.  I certainly don't understand certain things.  The stock market for example.  In the most rudimentary way, yes.  But start talking about trading loans, breaking packages apart and selling them off based on risks and it's all Monopoly to me.  Which I don't like to play, by the way.  So.  I understand that some people can't understand.

Then there are those that won't understand.  Asher's father falls into both camps.  He shows that despite his intellectual prowess, he is incapable of understanding things like - expressing feelings and emotions with color, form and line.  Expressing tension and progression.  The interplay of the 2-dimensional canvas with the 3-dimensional world with the multi-dimensional mind.  But Asher's father is also unwilling to accept Asher's gift or even see the positive aspects - that his son is talented and happy.  Even such a man driven by his desire to travel, at the expense of his wife, at the expense of his only child, will not accept the compulsion his son has to draw draw draw.  It threatens everything he knows.  To him, art is wrong.  And God of Abraham!  Nudity is wrong.  Not just wrong.  Wicked.  He holds on to this despite the Rebbe's approval of Asher's gift.

I'm not saying a father should abandon his moral structure for his child's peculiarities.  In fact, that is abhorrent to me.  I remember some people I knew who were extremely conservative politically, socially and religiously.  They found a religion that fit their world order.  Until their daughter got divorced.  She was an attorney, he was a draftsman.  There was no cheating on either side.  All of a sudden, this same religion became to themclosed-minded, insensitive and judgmental because it would not condone the daughter's divorce.  It never would have.  It had very clear, strict guidelines for divorce.  Hello!?  Needless to say, they left that congregation.

I wonder though, in both fathers' cases, if the forces of the world and not Heaven were influencing them.  Is it cowardice that keeps them from incisively reviewing the situation and finding a place of reason in their world order?  Is it impossible to see any light?  He will not accept Asher's gift, a substantial gift, even though the Rebbe approves.  So it seems, it has nothing to do with his religion and all to do with his box.  The proverbial round peg.  And perhaps his own dream of travelling with his son. Doing this important work together.

Cannot or will not.
Impassive.  Indifferent.  Callous.
A compulsive man could not, would not empathize with a compulsive son.

Is it any wonder we do not have peace in the world?

No comments: