Page 15 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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— H
o l iness
a n d
isco nt ent s
daily sense of unfamiliarity in a new place. I t is a miniaturization
of our old habit: feeling homeless, we make a home in Torah.
But it is only half her means; besides studying Hebrew and going
to hear Rabbi Soloveitchik, my friend reads intensively in Emer­
son, and ends by teaching Emerson at Harvard. Torah is a home,
but Emerson, she explains, is a traveler’s keepsake. Recently she
wrote me a letter about all this. Though the letter says “you,”
it is not the “you” of the alienated son in the Haggadah: it is
clear that she means herself too, and all Diaspora writers who
are trying to think seriously about being Jews. She writes:
“More and more you are peeling away what seemed so attrac­
tive in the Gentile world—that seemingly impeccable taste and
style and rightness. You want, I think, to show the trivialness
beneath the charisma of even the best Gentiles. I gasp at the
audaciousness of it when every once in a while it comes over me.
Is it an either/or struggle? Must I melt down these little keep­
sakes I ’ve lugged through the years? What a feeling of freedom
that gives just to think about it! What a marvel it would be to
come into some wholeness of mind after so many splintered years!
Soloveitchik offers wholeness of mind, but I have to sit at a sec­
ond-class table to get it.”
(The reference to the second-class table is literal, not meta­
phoric. Wherever the Master of Halakhah presides, there looms
What I marveled at in my friend’s letter was the word “auda­
ciousness.” Is it “audacious” to want to have what she herself
calls “some wholeness of mind,” or is it the very opposite, a desire
for repose and relief, the surrender of the relaxed will? The
splintered condition, it seems to me, is the more usual vessel of
audaciousness. I t takes nerve to attempt to live in two cultures
which often conflict, and, even when they do not conflict, do not
quite match; what it means is developing two distinct self-charac­
terizations, one never quite at home with the other. But wholeness
is a coming home to oneself, and it ought to be ease rather than
daring we experience when we are knowingly and confidently
at home. Why, then, does my friend suppose that it is necessary
to be audacious—all spikes up and out and at the ready—in order
to achieve a Jewish wholeness?
Before I have a try at what I think might be the answer, I would
like to tell you what happened on a fragrant green lawn in the
first explosion of Spring about two weeks ago. My little daughter
is in the first grade of a suburban yeshiva. One afternoon, while
visiting her school, I encountered the headmaster. We began to
talk about the very things my novelist-friend had written in her
letter. The headmaster, a Cambridge mathematician of radiant