Page 280 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
always aware of the perilous position of his people, retains a form
of this conflict within his own heart. . . .
Al tifrosh min ha-tzibur,
we read in Pirkey Avot: “Do not separate
yourself from the community.” But if you are a writer, no matter
how much you may wish to heed this admonition, no matter how
thoroughly you appreciate the strength of its wisdom and sense,
you are by nature someone who in certain unalterable ways does
stand apart. Indeed, it is precisely this standing apart and observ­
ing which has both impelled and allowed you to become a writer
in the first place. For who becomes a writer? Which Jewish son or
daughter is likely to enter into this peculiar condition o f life? Of
the four sons described in the Haggadah, it cannot be the wise
son, who dutiful and serious, asks to be instructed more fully in
regulations and practices; and it’s certainly not the one who
doesn’t know how to ask. Nor is it the wicked son, either, because
he, by virtue of his question, purposely and specifically excludes
himself from the common historical experience, hence foolishly
depriving himself of valuable material and gravely limiting his
imaginative grasp of all of life. To my mind, then, it’s the simple
son, the
tarn,
who becomes a writer. Because his question,
Mah
zot
?, “What is all this about?,” issues out of a sense of wonder, and
in this way exemplifies the writer’s musing, curious stance. “What
is all this?” the
tarn
asks, and even while he is listening to the
dramatic and powerful response, is already slipping away into the
texture of his own private memories and experiences, already
unwittingly transposing smells and sounds and colors; in short,
already making up stories.
Making up stories. The Proverbs have something to say about
this and it’s nothing a writer can take comfort from. “He that
goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets; But he that is of a
faithful spirit concealeth a matter.” It does not appear to be
suggesting here that the secret referred to is false, or that the tale
is ugly or slanderous; merely that a faithful person would not tell
it, would keep it hidden. So here is another Jewish injunction that
a writer cannot fulfill because he is in the business of unveiling or
discovering rather than concealing; and secrets — the secrets o f a
family, the secrets one keeps from oneself are what stories and
novels are about. But on this issue the individual pursuits o f the
Jewish writer and the communal interests of the Jewish people
can sometimes appear most conspicuously divergent. Do secrets