Friday, May 12, 2006

the chosen

A few days ago I finished reading “The Chosen” by Chaim Potok. It’s an excellent book, the first of his that I’ve read although I’ve heard for years that he’s a great author. It’s about two Jewish boys growing up in New York City during World War II. It was interesting to read it after taking Hebrew this year. I think we should learn more about modern Jewish culture in that class, and in seminary in general, because it’s helpful to see the connecting places, the things we agree about, to see that of God in the religion out of which Christianity (and, indirectly, Quakerism) was birthed. I had fun reading it and understanding Hebrew terms before they were explained! =)

It was also really interesting to see the similarities between Judaism—particularly Hasidic Judaism—and Quakerism. I thought they would be completely opposite, with Hasidism trying to influence Jews to become more devoted than they had been and to practice all the traditions, which in my mind read “Fundamentalist.” But it seems like it’s more of an attempt to take Judaism back to its spiritual roots. Here are some quotes (it was written in 1967 so excuse the masculine language, I guess):

“God is everywhere, he told them, and if it seems at times that He is hidden from us, it is only because we have not yet learned to seek Him correctly. Evil is like a hard shell. Within this shell is the spark of God, is goodness. How do we penetrate the shell? By sincere and honest prayer, by being happy, and by loving all people.” (of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the Kind or Good Master of the Name, founder of Hasidic Judaism)

“Rabbi Halafta son of Dosa teaches us, ‘When ten people sit together and occupy themselves with the Torah, the Presence of God abides among them, as it is said, “God standeth in the congregation of the godly.” And whence can it be shown that the same applies to five? Because it is said, “He had founded his band upon the earth.” And whence can it be shown that the same applies to three? Because it is said, “He judgeth among the judges.” And whence can it be shown that the same applies to two? Because it is said, “Then they that feared the Lord spake one with the other, and the Lord gave heed and heard.” And whence can it be shown that the same applies even to one? Because it is said, “In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come into thee and I will bless thee.”’ Listen, listen to this great teaching. A congregation is ten. It is nothing new that the holy Presence resides among ten. A band is five. It is also nothing new that the holy Presence resides among five. Judges are three. If the holy Presence did not reside among judges there would be no justice in the world. So this, too, is not new. That the Presence can reside even among two is also not impossible to understand. But that the Presence can reside in one! In one! Even in one! That already is a mighty thing. Even in one! If one man studies Torah, the Master of the Universe is already in the world. A mighty thing!”

“A word is worth one coin; silence is worth two.” —The Talmud

“You can listen to silence, Reuven. I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own. It talks to me sometimes. I feel myself alive in it. It talks. And I can hear it….You have to want to listen to it, and then you can hear it. Sometimes—sometimes it cries, and you can hear the pain of the world in it. It hurts to listen to it then. But you have to.”

“A man is born into this world with only a tiny spark of goodness in him. The spark is God, it is the soul; the rest is ugliness and evil, a shell. The spark must be guarded like a treasure, it must be nurtured, it must be fanned into flame. It must learn to seek out other sparks, it must dominate the shell.”

Interesting, isn’t it? Quakers think we have a corner on the market for silence focused on God, but it seems this character knows that silence, and the Presence that dwells there. And it’s interesting that they have a term for what we call the Inner Light, or that of God in every person. Yes, maybe they don’t know Jesus as the Messiah they’re expecting, but it’s exciting to see them seeking after God, living lives of expectancy that we often forget, now that we believe the Messiah has come. And there’s something beautiful about preserving traditions that have been handed down for millennia, although this book deals well with how to also adapt to new situations and the modern world.


QuakerDave said...

This is the first novel that actually made me weep. Not choke up - cry. It brought up so many issues for me: fatherhood, being a father, being a son, being a spiritual being, doing battle to be spiritual in a secular world, etc. It's wonderful.

Just found your blog. Keep it up: you have a lot that needs saying out here.

Unknown said...

Yep, one of my new favorite books, too! These were just the quotes that stood out to me as a Quaker, but there was so much more in there! What a writer.