The Chosen by Chaim Potok

(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967), 272

To study Torah is not such a simple thing. Torah is a task for all day and all night. (111)

You think a friend is an easy thing to be? If you are truly his friend, you will discover otherwise. (120)

This was my favorite book I have read in quite some time: I learned a lot about Judaism, it tells a beautiful story, and it gave me a lot to think about—especially friendship, fatherhood, holiness, and studying scripture.

This is first and foremost the story of the beautiful friendship between Reuven and Danny. It is striking how they are at once so different, and yet so similar. Someone comments how their friendship is like that of David and Jonathan, and indeed the whole story is a commentary on friendship, including the great difficulties of true friendship. As a Christian reading this story of disagreement within the Jewish community, it is a good opportunity to reflect on how and why to build unity between Christians and Jews, as well as amongst Christians. As Reuven's father says, "Honest differences of opinion should never be permitted to destroy a friendship, he told me" (185), and "Ideas should be fought with ideas, my father said, not with blind passion" (199).

It is also the story of fatherhood with all its strength and failings. I cried as I finished reading this while holding my sleeping youngest son—you can't read this as a father and not think about your son(s) and how you can be a better and wiser father. The great challenge perfectly illustrated by this book is how to raise your children with freedom to choose for themselves, but confidence choose well.

The conflict between traditional and modern Orthodox Judaism is a theme that gets to what it means to be holy, or set apart. The Hasidic view is embodied in Reb Saunder's words: "Why do you think I brought my people from Russia to America and not to Eretz Yisroel? Because it is better to live in a land of true goyim than to live in a land of Jewish goyim!" (168). And David Malter acknowledges that "the fanaticism of men like Reb Saunders kept us alive for two thousand years of exile" (196). I appreciate how the novel teases out the perennial question of how to live in the world but not of the world (cf. The Benedict Option) without taking a superficial position that extremism is inherently bad.

This book gives a new exhilaration to study, especially study of scripture. The feats Reuven undertakes in his Talmud studies are incredible: memorize the passage, memorize the commentaries, anticipate questions, checking cross references and different versions, think about it at all times and in all places, and even reconstructing a lost text from various commentaries (206). This level of intensity—enabled by the slow "vertical" method until an area is covered exhaustively (137)—is perhaps not practical for someone not engaged full time, but it is inspiring. Danny exhibits similar prowess in his study of Freud, including learning German so as to read him in the original, reading sentence by sentence, and using other texts for commentary or comparison (152). This type of intense study is what I aspire to, and my simple book notes here are one step in that direction beyond consuming and forgetting1.

Some other small notes:

  • I was struck by the manners natural to the time, as in Reuven's "yes sir" and "thank you ma'am" in the hospital. Here is a smaller goal for fatherhood from this book.
  • God's ways are mysterious: the creation of the Jewish state after 2000 years of exile came out of the evil of the Holocaust.
  • “People are not always what they seem to be,” he said softly. “That is the way the world is, Reuven.” (63)


  • Reuven (Robert) Malter, a Modern Orthodox Jew, and his father David Malter
  • Danny Saunders, a Hasidic Jew, and his father Reb Saunders
  • Tony Savo and Billy: fellow patients in the hospital
  • Rav Gershenson: Talmud instructor at Hirsch College

Key Terms

  • Hasidism (Hasidic): describing the adherents and descendants of the Jewish spiritual movement started by Baal Shem Tov in 18th century eastern Europe
  • Talmud: the central text of Rabbinic Judaism, codified in the 3rd to 6th centuries as the oral traditions that comment on the Torah and expound Rabbinic law
  • Yeshiva: traditional Jewish school focused on the study of the Talmud
  • Apikorsim (apikoros): a Jewish heretic, or one lax in the practice of their faith
  • Yiddish: German-Hebrew hybrid vernacular language
  • Tefillin (phylacteries): black leather boxes with leather straps containing the Torah bound to the arm/wrist
  • Tzaddik: spiritual leader of a Hasidic community
  • Goyim: disparaging term for non-Jews
  • Pilpul: Talmudic debate among Rabbinic scholars
  • Mishnah is the written text of rabbinic oral law; in form and content it is for the most part terse and clipped, a vast collection of laws upon which are based almost all the rabbinic discussions which, together with the Mishnah, compose the Talmud. (208)
  • Kaddish: hymn praising God that is recited during Jewish prayer services

Plot Summary

Beware spoilers here and below...

  • Reuven and Danny meet in an intense baseball game that ends with Reuven in the hospital from the ball Danny hit.
  • Danny visits Reuven in the hospital and they become friends.
  • Danny starts reading Freud and wanting to pursue psychology rather than becoming tzaddik
  • The news of The Holocaust reaches the community, causing intense and divergent reactions. Reuven's father becomes an activist for Zionism and makes statements like "We cannot wait for God. If there is an answer, we must make it ourselves" (162) and "We cannot wait for God! We must make our own Messiah!" (167)
  • Reuven's father has a heart attack, so he moves in with Danny's family for a time
  • Reuven and Danny enter Hirsch College
  • Danny's father forbids them to speak to each other for several years after Reuven's father gives a Zionist speech
  • Reuven gives his interpretation before Rav Gershenson
  • Reb Saunders explains his silence to Danny through Reuven, and gives his blessing for him to leave to study psychology



  • They could be seen behind their counters, wearing black skullcaps, full beards, and long earlocks, eking out their meager livelihoods and dreaming of Shabbat and festivals when they could close their stores and turn their attention to their prayers, their rabbi, their God. (4)
  • Virtuosity in Talmud was the achievement most sought after by every student of a yeshiva, for it was the automatic guarantee of a reputation for brilliance. (4)
  • “I told my team we’re going to kill you apikorsim this afternoon.” (16)
  • I crouched down, waiting, remembering Danny Saunders’s promise to his team that they would kill us apikorsim. The word had meant, originally, a Jew educated in Judaism who denied basic tenets of his faith, like the existence of God, the revelation, the resurrection of the dead. To people like Reb Saunders, it also meant any educated Jew who might be reading, say, Darwin, and who was not wearing side curls and fringes outside his trousers. I was an apikoros to Danny Saunders, despite my belief in God and Torah, because I did not have side curls and was attending a parochial school where too many English subjects were offered and where Jewish subjects were taught in Hebrew instead of Yiddish, both unheard-of sins, the former because it took time away from the study of Torah, the latter because Hebrew was the Holy Tongue and to use it in ordinary classroom discourse was a desecration of God’s Name. I had never really had any personal contact with this kind of Jew before. My father had told me he didn’t mind their beliefs. What annoyed him was their fanatic sense of righteousness, their absolute certainty that they and they alone had God’s ear, and every other Jew was wrong, totally wrong, a sinner, a hypocrite, an apikoros, and doomed, therefore, to burn in hell. (20)
  • I walked over behind the rabbi and looked over his shoulder at the book he was reading. I saw the words were Yiddish. (21)


  • “My name is Reuven Malter.” (36)
  • “Abba, please tell me what’s the matter.” (40)
  • “No reading. So I brought you the radio. Very important things are happening, Reuven, and a radio is a blessing.” He put the radio on the night table. A radio brought the world together, he said very often. Anything that brought the world together he called a blessing. (42)
  • If you cannot pray with your tefillin, pray anyway. (43)
  • I lay still and thought about my eyes. I had always taken them for granted, the way I took for granted all the rest of my body and also my mind. (44)
  • “You’re very welcome, young man. It’s nice to meet polite young people. Good night, now.” “Good night, ma’am. Thank you.” (44)


  • “Hello,” Danny Saunders said softly. “I’m sorry if I woke you. The nurse told me it was all right to wait here.” I looked at him in amazement. He was the last person in the world I had expected to visit me in the hospital. (52)
  • I didn’t feel like having a conversation just then, so I remained silent. I was feeling a little regretful that I had been so angry with Danny Saunders. (54)
  • “Whenever I do or see something I don’t understand, I like to think about it until I understand it.” He talked very rapidly, and I could see he was tense. “I’ve thought about it a lot, but I still don’t understand it. I want to talk to you about it. Okay?” (56)
  • What he was saying and the way he was saying it just didn’t seem to fit in with the way he was dressed (57)
  • To our own people, I mean. You know, not everyone is religious, like you or me. (59)


  • “No one knows he is fortunate until he becomes unfortunate,” my father said quietly. “That is the way the world is.” (62)
  • “People are not always what they seem to be,” he said softly. “That is the way the world is, Reuven.” (63)
  • “Reuven, listen to me. The Talmud says that a person should do two things for himself. One is to acquire a teacher. Do you remember the other?” “Choose a friend,” I said. (63)
  • He laughed. “I must be the Messiah. No mere Hasid would get a greeting like that from an apikoros.” (67)
  • “Sure I believe it,” he said quietly. His shoulders were bowed. “Sometimes I’m not sure I know what God wants, though.” (68)
  • “I read a lot,” he said. “I read about seven or eight books a week outside of my schoolwork. (68)
    • “I don’t read seven or eight books a week, though, like you,” I said. “Only about three or four.” (71)
  • Suddenly realized it was my father who all along had been suggesting books for Danny to read. My father was the man Danny had been meeting in the library! (72)
  • I suggest a book, and two hours later he returns, thanks me, and tells me he has finished reading it, is there anything else I can recommend. I am a little astonished, and we sit for a while and discuss the book, and I see he has not only read it and understood it, but has memorized it. (73)



  • I had lived in it all my life, but I never really saw it until I went through it that Friday afternoon. (82)
  • I had spent five days in a hospital and the world around me seemed sharpened now and pulsing with life. (84)


  • Poland actually encouraged the Jews to come and live and be part of her people. This was in the thirteenth century (86)
  • But in the year 1648, a man named Bogdan Chmielnicki became the leader of the Cossacks, and he led an uprising against Poland. The Jews became the victims of the Polish peasants, who hated them, and of the Cossacks, who also hated them. The revolution lasted ten years, and in that time something like seven hundred Jewish communities were destroyed and about one hundred thousand Jews were slain. (87)
  • Those Jews who believe in the Messiah believe also that just before the Messiah comes there will be an era of great disaster. At the moment when there seems to be no meaning in life, at that moment a person must try to find new meaning. (87)
  • The Chmielnicki uprising was a physical disaster; the false Messiah was a spiritual disaster. (87)
  • He was born about the year 1700 in Poland. His name was Israel. (89)
    • He would sneak away and escape to the woods (89)
    • But it was not the Talmud that he studied, it was the Kabbalah, the books of Jewish mysticism. (89)
    • The Carpathian Mountains are beautiful, and Israel built a little house and spent many days there alone, praying, dreaming, and singing to the great hills. (90)
    • It was in these mountains that Israel gave birth to Hasidism. (90)
    • And so they came to call him the Ba’al Shem Tov—the Kind or Good Master of the Name. He mingled with the people and talked to them about God and His Torah in plain, simple language that they could easily understand. He taught them that the purpose of man is to make his life holy—every aspect of his life: eating, drinking, praying, sleeping. 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. (90)
    • He opposed any form of mechanical religion. (91)
  • Rabbi Elijah of Vilna, a great Talmudist, a genius, and a strong opponent of Hasidism. (91)
  • Reb Saunders’s son has a mind like Solomon Maimon’s, perhaps even a greater (93)
  • And I want you to let him be your friend and to let yourself be his friend. I am certain you and Reb Saunders’s son can help each other in such a friendship. (93)
  • “Reuven, as you grow older you will discover that the most important things that will happen to you will often come as a result of silly things, as you call them—‘ordinary things’ is a better expression. That is the way the world is.” (94)


  • “It depends upon your point of view,” Danny said quietly. “I can’t understand how Jews can follow another human being so blindly.” “He’s not just another human being.” “Is he like God?” “Something like that. He’s a kind of messenger of God, a bridge between his followers and God.” “I don’t understand it. It almost sounds like Catholicism.” (101)
  • Reb Saunder's sermon:
    • “The great and holy Rabban Gamaliel,” he said, “taught us the following: ‘Do His will as if it were thy will, that He may do thy will as if it were His will. Nullify thy will before His will that He may nullify the will of others before thy will.’ (110)
    • “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.” (111)
    • 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 unto thee and I will bless thee.”’ (111)
    • If one man studies Torah, the Presence is with him. If one man studies Torah, the Master of the Universe is already in the world. A mighty thing! And to bring the Master of the World into the world is also to raise oneself up from the dust. Torah raises us from the dust! Torah gives us strength! Torah clothes us! Torah brings the Presence!” (111)
    • But to study Torah is not such a simple thing. Torah is a task for all day and all night. (111)
  • This went on and on, until I lost track of the thread that held it all together and sat and listened in amazement to the feat of memory I was witnessing. (116)
  • b’kiut, in straightforward knowledge and simple explanations of the Talmudic passages and commentaries they were discussing. (116)
  • You think a friend is an easy thing to be? If you are truly his friend, you will discover otherwise. (120)
  • “I’ll come over anyway. I’ll sit and think while you read.” (123)
  • If a person has a contribution to make, he must make it in public. If learning is not made public, it is a waste. (124)


  • He did not seem to be reading from side to side but up and down, and, watching him, I had the distinct impression that he was reading the middle of the page only and was somehow able to ignore, or absorb without actually reading, what was written on the sides. (128)
  • “Your father said I should read Jewish history. He said the first important step in anyone’s education is to know your own people. (130)
  • Rabbinic literature can be studied in two different ways, in two directions, one might say. It can be studied quantitatively or qualitatively—or, as my father once put it, horizontally or vertically. The former involves covering as much material as possible, without attempting to wrest from it all its implications and intricacies; the latter involves confining oneself to one single area until it is exhaustively covered, and then going on to new material. (137)
  • Reb Saunders was far happier when he lost to Danny than when he won. His face glowed with fierce pride and his head nodded wildly—the (138)
  • “What can I do?” he asked himself softly. “I can no longer speak to my own son. The Master of the Universe gave me a brilliant son, a phenomenon. And I cannot speak to him.” He looked at me and seemed suddenly aware again of my presence. “The pain of raising children,” he said quietly. (141)
  • My father believes in silence. When I was ten or eleven years old, I complained to him about something, and he told me to close my mouth and look into my soul. He told me to stop running to him every time I had a problem. I should look into my own soul for the answer, he said. We just don’t talk, Reuven.” (142)



  • Freud had to be studied, not read. He had to be studied like a page of Talmud. And he had to be studied with a commentary. (152)
  • He was reading Freud now sentence by sentence. He didn’t go on to the next sentence until the prior sentence was perfectly clear in his mind. If he came across a German word he did not know, he looked up its English meaning in the Cassell’s. If the Cassell’s gave him a translation he didn’t understand, one that wouldn’t fit the meaning of the sentence, he looked the English word up in the psychology dictionary. That psychological dictionary was his commentary. (152)
  • I always talked to my father. I was lucky, he said. (153)


  • “How the world drinks our blood,” Reb Saunders said. “How the world makes us suffer. It is the will of God. We must accept the will of God.” He was silent for a long moment. Then he raised his eyes and said softly, “Master of the Universe, how do you permit such a thing to happen?” (161)
  • “You are satisfied with that answer, Reuven?” “No.” He blinked his eyes again, and when he spoke his voice was soft, the bitterness gone. “I am not satisfied with it, either, Reuven. We cannot wait for God. If there is an answer, we must make it ourselves.” (162)
  • “A madman has destroyed our treasures. If we do not rebuild Jewry in America, we will die as a people.” (162)
  • On the first day of July, I packed a bag and took a cab to Reb Saunders’s house. I moved into Danny’s room. (163)


  • Danny and I did everything together that month. We would rise a little before seven, go down to the synagogue to pray the Morning Service with the congregation, have breakfast with the family, then go out onto his porch if the day was nice, or stay in his room if it wasn’t, and spend the morning studying Talmud. After lunch, we would go together to the library, where we would spend the early hours of the afternoon. Danny was reading Freud, and I was doing symbolic logic. It was in the library that we did all the talking we had been unable to do during the year. Then, at about four o’clock, we would take the trolley together to the Brooklyn Memorial Hospital and visit my father. We would have supper together with Danny’s family, then spend the evening either chatting with his sister and mother in the living room or reading quietly. (164)
  • Freud had clearly upset him in a fundamental kind of way—had thrown him off balance, as he once put it. But he couldn’t stop reading him, he said, because it had become increasingly obvious to him that Freud had possessed an almost uncanny insight into the nature of man. And that was what Danny found upsetting. Freud’s picture of man’s nature was anything but complimentary, it was anything but religious. It tore man from God, as Danny put it, and married him off to Satan. (165)
  • “What do we have left to us now, if not American Jewry?” he said. “Some Jews say we should wait for God to send the Messiah. We cannot wait for God! We must make our own Messiah! We must rebuild American Jewry! And Palestine must become a Jewish homeland! We have suffered enough! How long must we wait for the Messiah?” (167)
  • Why do you think I brought my people from Russia to America and not to Eretz Yisroel? Because it is better to live in a land of true goyim than to live in a land of Jewish goyim! (168)
  • A secular Jewish state in my father’s eyes is a sacrilege, a violation of the Torah. (169)
  • That September Danny and I entered Hirsch College. (172)



  • “I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning. That I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here. Do you understand what I am saying?” (183)
  • *Once I asked my father why they had remained friends, their views about almost everything of importance were so different. He replied by expressing dismay at my question. Honest differences of opinion should never be permitted to destroy a friendship, he told me. *(185)
  • My father sighed. “Reb Saunders sits and waits for the Messiah,” he said. “I am tired of waiting. Now is the time to bring the Messiah, not to wait for him.” (186)
  • The library had a large section devoted to psychology. I found some books on experimental psychology and leafed through them slowly, then checked the indexes and bibliographies. (187)
  • He admitted that Freud was a genius and a cautious scientist, but he said that Freud evolved a theory of behavior based only on the study of abnormal cases. He said that experimental psychology was interested in applying the methodology of the natural sciences to discover how all human beings behaved. It doesn’t generalize about personality behavior only on the basis of a certain segment of people. That makes a lot of sense.” (189)
  • experimental psychology. He told me that it was almost impossible to study human subjects because it was too difficult to control the experiments. He said we use rats because we can vary the conditions. (190)
  • So I began coaching Danny in math. (191)
  • My father and I had been excommunicated from the Saunders family. (195)
  • Reb Saunders had drawn the line not at secular literature, not at Freud—assuming he knew somehow that Danny had been reading Freud—but at Zionism. I found it impossible to believe. My father and I had been excommunicated—not only from the Saunders family, apparently, but also from the anti-Zionist element of the Hasidic student body. (195)
  • What can he tell his people now? Nothing. He had to do what he did. How could he let you continue to be friends? (196)
  • “He’s such a—a fanatic!” I almost shouted. “Reuven,” my father said quietly, “the fanaticism of men like Reb Saunders kept us alive for two thousand years of exile. If the Jews of Palestine have an ounce of that same fanaticism and use it wisely, we will soon have a Jewish state.” (196)


  • I hated the silence between us and thought it unimaginable that Danny and his father never really talked. Silence was ugly, it was black, it leered, it was cancerous, it was death. I hated it, and I hated Reb Saunders for forcing it upon me and his son. (198)
  • And my father only added to it, for whenever I began to talk to him of my feelings toward Reb Saunders he invariably countered by defending him and by asserting that the faith of Jews like Reb Saunders had kept us alive through two thousand years of violent persecution. He disagreed with Reb Saunders, yes, but he would countenance no slander against his name or his position. Ideas should be fought with ideas, my father said, not with blind passion. (199)
  • The death of the six million Jews had finally been given meaning, he kept saying over and over again. It had happened. After two thousand years, it had finally happened. We were a people again, with our own land. We were a blessed generation. We had been given the opportunity to see the creation of the Jewish state. “Thank God!” he said. “Thank God! Thank God!” We alternately wept and talked until after three in the morning when we finally went to bed. (204)
  • I told myself it was bitter and ironic that my father needed to have a heart attack in order for some contact to be established once again between myself and Danny. (205)
  • And I waited out the silence by studying. I began especially to study Talmud. In the past, I had done all my Talmud studying on Shabbat and during the morning preparation periods. Now I began to study Talmud in the evenings as well. I tried to finish my college work as quickly as I could, then I would turn to the passage of Talmud we were studying with Rav Gershenson. I would study it carefully, memorize it, find the various commentaries—those which were not printed in the Talmud itself could always be found in my father’s library—and memorize them. I tried to anticipate Rav Gershenson’s tangled questions. And then I began to do something I had never done before with the Talmud I studied in school. After I was done memorizing the text and the commentaries, I began to go over the text again critically. I checked the Talmudic cross-references for parallel texts and memorized whatever differences I found. I took the huge volumes of the Palestinian Talmud from my father’s library—the text we studied in school was the Babylonian Talmud—and checked its parallel discussions just to see how it differed from the discussions in the Babylonian Talmud. I worked carefully and methodically, using everything my father had taught me and a lot of things I now was able to teach myself. I was able to do all of this in real depth because of Rav Gershenson’s slow-paced method of teaching. And by doing all of this, I was able to anticipate most of Rav Gershenson’s questions. I also became more and more certain of when he would call on me again. (206)
  • I began painfully to unravel the puzzle. I did it in two ways. First, in the traditional way, by memorizing the text and the commentaries, and then inventing all sorts of questions that Rav Gershenson might ask me. I would ride the trolley, walk the streets, or lie in bed—and ask myself questions. Second, in the way my father had taught me, by attempting to find or reconstruct the correct text, the text the commentator who had offered the simple explanation must have had before him. The first way was relatively simple; it was a matter of brute memorization. The second way was tortuous. I searched endlessly through all the cross-references and all the parallel passages in the Palestinian Talmud. When I was done, I had four different versions of the text on my hands. I now had to reconstruct the text upon which the simple commentary had been based. I did it by working backward, using the commentary as a base, then asking myself what passage among the four versions the commentator could have had before him as he wrote the commentary. It was painstaking work, but I finally thought I had it down right. It had taken hours and hours of precious time, but I was satisfied I had the correct text, the only text that really made sense. I had done it this way only to satisfy myself. When Rav Gershenson called on me, I would, of course, only use the first method of explanation. When my father returned from the hospital, I would show him what I had done with the second method. I felt very proud of my accomplishment. (207)
  • Rav Gershenson said nothing. He just sat there and dismissed the class with a wave of his hand. (209)
  • He sighed loudly. “Nu,” he said, “no one can explain it. . . . The truth is, I cannot explain it myself. It is a difficult inyan. A very difficult inyan.” He was silent for a moment, then he shook his head and smiled. “A teacher can also sometimes not know,” he said softly. That was the first time in my life I had ever heard a rabbi admit that he didn’t understand a passage of Talmud. (212)
  • (Don't understand this): That evening after my last class, I went to the school library and looked for Rav Gershenson’s name in the Hebrew and English catalogues. His name wasn’t listed anywhere. It was then that I understood why my father was not teaching in this school. (214)


  • Kaddish (217)


  • “The ban has been lifted,” he said simply. (219)


  • “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.” (225)
  • “You have to want to listen to it, and then you can hear it. It has a strange, beautiful texture. It doesn’t always talk. 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.” (225)
  • “Hasidim!” I heard him mutter, almost contemptuously. “Why must they feel the burden of the world is only on their shoulders?” (228)
  • “I’m afraid. I’m afraid of the explosion. I’m afraid of anytime I’ll have to tell him. God, I’m afraid.” (233)
  • He seemed to be shouting down the silence with his work. (233)


  • “My son, my Daniel, has also become a man. It is a great joy for a father to see his son suddenly a man.” (237)
  • “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. (238)
  • There was no soul in my four-year-old Daniel, there was only his mind. He was a mind in a body without a soul. (238)
  • I went away and cried to the Master of the Universe, ‘What have you done to me? A mind like this I need for a son? A heart I need for a son, a soul I need for a son, compassion I want from my son, righteousness, mercy, strength to suffer and carry pain, that I want from my son, not a mind without a soul!’ ” (238)
  • My father himself never talked to me, except when we studied together. He taught me with silence. He taught me to look into myself, to find my own strength, to walk around inside myself in company with my soul. When his people would ask him why he was so silent with his son, he would say to them that he did not like to talk, words are cruel, words play tricks, they distort what is in the heart, they conceal the heart, the heart speaks through silence. One learns of the pain of others by suffering one’s own pain, he would say, by turning inside oneself, by finding one’s own soul. And it is important to know of pain, he said. It destroys our self-pride, our arrogance, our indifference toward others. It makes us aware of how frail and tiny we are and of how much we must depend upon the Master of the Universe. Only slowly, very slowly, did I begin to understand what he was saying. For years his silence bewildered and frightened me, though I always trusted him, I never hated him. And when I was old enough to understand, he told me that of all people a tzaddik especially must know of pain. A tzaddik must know how to suffer for his people, he said. He must take their pain from them and carry it on his own shoulders. (239)
  • I did not want to drive my son away from God, but I did not want him to grow up a mind without a soul. (240)
  • I knew your soul, Reuven, before I knew your mind or your face. A thousand times I have thanked the Master of the Universe that He sent you and your father to my son. (241)
  • Let my Daniel become a psychologist. I have no more fear now. All his life he will be a tzaddik. He will be a tzaddik for the world. And the world needs a tzaddik.” (241)
  • “Daniel,” Reb Saunders said, speaking almost in a whisper, “when you go away to study, you will shave off your beard and earlocks?” Danny stared at his father. His eyes were wet. He nodded his head slowly. Reb Saunders looked at him. “You will remain an observer of the Commandments?” he asked softly. Danny nodded again. Reb Saunders sat back slowly in his chair. And from his lips came a soft, tremulous sigh. He was silent for a moment, his eyes wide, dark, brooding, gazing upon his son. He nodded his head once, as if in final acknowledgment of his tortured victory. (242)
  • “Daniel,” he said brokenly. “Forgive me . . . for everything . . . I have done. A—a wiser father . . . may have done differently. I am not . . . wise.” (242)
  • I was crying, too, crying with Danny, silently, for his pain and for the years of his suffering, knowing that I loved him, and not knowing whether I hated or loved the long, anguished years of his life. (243)

Topic: Novel, Fatherhood, Judaism


Created: 2023-02-27-Mon
Updated: 2024-01-30-Tue

  1. And this also motivates why I publish these: "If a person has a contribution to make, he must make it in public. If learning is not made public, it is a waste." (124, cf. Show Your Work