Page 163 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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LOW IN /THE JEWISH ART OF JOSEPH HELLER
151
certainly does not comprehend how God could punish David for
his sin with Bathsheba by killing the little boy born of their illicit
union. Time and again David returns as though obsessed by an
idee fixe
to the rumination about fathers wishing to destroy their
sons:
Destroying your own son for some slight and pardonable
infraction — as Saul wished to do to Jonathan — might ap­
pear an intoxicating treat to some fathers. Not to this one
(GK,
pp. 16-17). What is it with these fathers who want to
destroy their children? Whence comes this royal and noble
willingness to spill the blood of their own offspring? Saul
and Jonathan. Saturn and Chronos, then Chronos and
Zeus. Abraham and Isaac, Laius and Oedipus, Agamemnon
and Iphigenia, Jephtha and his daughter — the list is long. I
never hated Absalom. I know if I were God and possessed
his powers, I would sooner obliterate the world than allow
any child of mine to be killed in it, for any reason whatso­
ever. I would have given my life to save my baby’s, and even
to spare Absalom’s, but that may be because I am Jewish,
and God is not.
(GK,
p. 96)
Does God require of man more than he is able to give? Does He
require a Greek sort of heroism? Perhaps because the Jewish
value system excludes the tragic outlook, Jewish fathers cannot
be Greek heroes. “That was one flaw in my makeup,” David says.
“I felt for my children”
(GK,
p. 17). The doting love with which he
used to gaze on his son Absalom is for him a timeless example of
undying fatherly devotion. “ ‘Beware that none touch the young
man Absalom,’ I urged like a fool. No, not like a fool, but like a
fond, doting father who will overlook and excuse everything in
the child he loves best, and who breaks his heart”
(GK,
p. 97).
David finds it difficult to understand intra-family quarrels as
well. This is an area that was investigated with some talent in
Good
as Gold.
As the story of Joseph and his brothers testifies, it is not
only a contemporary problem. It all seems the height of cruelty to
King David:
What goes on in families that they perpetrate such heartless
deeds upon each other? God knows I’ve been guilty of
much in my time, but I’ve never been guilty of anything like
that. . . . It could be that the spoiled child in all of us never