Asher Lev’s Gift to Me

My middle son’s name is Asher. He is named after the protagonist of Chaim Potok’s classic bildungsroman My Name is Asher Lev.

In the month before Asher was born, my friend Thom Smith loaned me a copy of the novel. Many books have affected me profoundly, but this one remains very near the top.

I had always loved writing and music, but the community in which I was reared did not value the kind of writing I felt compelled to do. With so many souls in need, how could I waste my time with stories that did not serve that purpose? If you do have a gift, I was told, you have an obligation to use it to further the Kingdom of God—in practical and measurable ways. That was their view of my writing; the music I loved, well that was written off as evil from the start.

For years, I tried to contort myself into acceptable shapes. I capitulated as best I could. I went to seminary, dreading the thought of ministry. While there, I told one of my professors about my writing. He said, great, we need writers. He even referred me to a guy who wrote gospel tracts for a living, so he could teach me how to do it. In those days my soul felt like a plant yanked from the earth roots and all, shrinking in on itself as it died.

The story of Asher Lev hummed true all the way into my bones.

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Silence Wounds, Silence Heals

It was there all along.

Troubling me.

It hurt me and aroused my sympathy for that boy, that young man, the Reb’s firstborn son being groomed to replace, one day, his father as head of a Hasidic dynasty.

A father who tested this son, his future, his sect’s future, every Sabbath afternoon before an audience of devoted followers. They looked with awe on their rebbe and his son, their future leader, who never failed to catch the mistake his father would slip into the lesson he offered from the head of the table around which men and boys gathered for a light meal, the mystic’s meal, for at that hour they had little need for physical nourishment. The Sabbath’s waning hours: by then the faithful were nourished almost entirely by the soul. [Read more…]