Friday, May 16, 2008

Writers & Artists, Pt. 2

Oh, Chaim. Chaim, Chaim, Chaim...

I just finished reading The Gift of Asher Lev.

It ended as I suspected it would -with a twist of knife in the end. Beauty and pathos.

Alienation wins. Asher gives his very best to his community, but still he cannot be a part of them.

I was saddened. It is so true to how often life emerges in the world. How supernatural MUST be any victory over the bitterness and selfishness of men.

In fact, it too is like the suffering Messiah.

Asher is struggling internally with ghosts and visions of everything from Pablo Picasso to the Rebbe (blessed be his name), and in the end, cannot see the Way Out.

Thus, he gives his best - but because of one person, he withdraws. He cannot stand in the face of fear, of evil. Of unjust criticism.

It would take a miracle to rescue Asher from this ending. It is a completely human ending and that is its tragic beauty and failing.

As a follower of Christ, the Anointed One, I see both the Tragedy of the crucifixion and the Comedy of the resurrection. Mark those words: Tragedy of the crucifixion and Comedy of the resurrection.

Chaim, honest and faithful to his Judaism, cannot see this comedy. How can he? Neither can many Christians, either.

Before you get too confused, let me explain something about Drama, about one thing I was taught as the essential difference between Shakespeare's Comedies and his Tragedies.

They have all the same elements: mistaken identities, miscommunication, misinformation, anger and conflict between outside parties over the protagonists, etc.

"The only difference," said one teacher to me two decades ago, "is how they end."

I sat there stunned as I realized that instructor was right. Every joke I ever told, every punchline or bit of comedy had a "zinger" at the end, a bit of hidden information. The closer to the end the punchline is, the funnier it is. The LAST bit of revelation changes the WHOLE thing perspective.

I'll tell one so you can see for yourself. (We love superheroes, so here goes.)


A guy walks into a fancy rooftop bar in New York City. He starts talking about the winds that funnel up between the skyscrapers and how on some really hot days, because the buildings are so tightly packed, a man who jumps off a building won't even reach the ground. The winds will just shoot him back to the top.

"Bull!" says another customer. "Let's see it!"

"Alright, alright!" slurs the first man, "I'll show you." He teeters to the edge of the rooftop and jumps off. Everyone screams, but two seconds later, he is flung back up onto the roof!

As he stands there wobbling, the second guy says "That's the most AMAZING thing I have EVER seen!"

"Tol'ja!" slurs the first.

"Do it again!"

He does it again. The customers are amazed.

"Let me try!" says the second man. "Sure, g'head," says the first.

The guy jumps off the building, falls thirty-two stories straight to the pavement and goes splat.

The crowd is totally shocked. People faint.

The manager of the bar comes rushing out, looks down and looks at the staggering drunk still standing there.

Shaking his head, he growls, "You are one mean drunk, Superman!"


That's comedy. The end explains it all.

Granted this one is cruel, but the point is made: the ending changes everything. In this case, it is TWICE as funny because Superman is known for his good deeds and compassion. Why is he drunk? And why is he getting people killed? But of course, he has the power and ability to do this, 'cause he is Superman.

And that brings me to the painful truth of why Chaim ended The Gift of Asher Lev with Asher remaining an outcast to his community, though they love him. Though the Rebbe affirms him. Though Asher himself admits to his selfish need to create and how it is perhaps his undoing.

It would take a miracle to get Asher to not protect his self, his art, his joys. It would take love beyond the natural - what man does not naturally love his children, his wife?

But he is powerless. To die - to die completely to self - that is not possible.

"With man, this is impossible, but not with God. With God, all things are possible!"

Jesus said this, after His disciples asked him how can any man enter the Kingdom of Heaven when a good man, a rich young ruler, who observed Torah, could not.

Isaiah also writes of our lack of true perfection in love and righteousness:

"There is no one righteous, no -not even one."

What keeps Asher from his community? His natural loves. His gifts that bring him joy. Ironic and painful, isn't it?

But, as Asher saw dimly, the truth is there in Abraham willing to sacrifice his son Isaac. In his wife who learned a Christian song about Jesus in paradise. Chaim gets SOOO close to seeing the parallels between Father Abraham and Father God sacrificing their sons. But whereas Abraham was indeed willing, God would not permit him to follow through. No - he would never have a man do what He Himself for His Name would do.

Abraham was willing to give up what was most precious to him. His son, his only son - because he knew he came from God, and God had the right to ask for that miracle child.

But in that act of loving God MORE that his own natural son, he became our Father of Faith. He trusted God more than his own eyes, his own loves, his own flesh.

That was the test. And passing it, his sacrifice was provided for. Abraham even prophesied this BEFORE the test was completed.

"My father?"

"Yes, my son?"

"Here is the wood and fire, but where is the offering?"

"God will provide, my son."

Abraham could never doubt the character of God.

And so, this is the Tragedy and the Comedy in a nutshell:

God has suffered more than any of us.

His priceless gift was His perfect Son, born a Jew who observed all the Law.

He came to redeem His community from fear, anxiety, depression, darkness. As Asher Lev radically opened his closed community to the world through art and beauty, so Y'shua brought light into the rigid formalism of the Pharisees.

But after years of living in a cultural box - or, as Asher's wife lived, in a dark apartment during Nazi occupation - coming into the light is too terrifying for those accustomed to darkness, to boundaries.

Grace permits us to roam freely, to love lawfully.

Because it has been paid for by Another.

That's the joke. No matter what, I'm paid for.

I cannot save myself. I've tried, and I've failed miserably. Added to that, I cannot even sanctify myself - act more like Jesus, more loving - unless I accept that He has paid.

As I said, the Tragedy turns into Comedy on the last fact given.

The Tragedy of the Faithful turns into the Comedy of the Redeemed at this point.

It is also seen in Psalm 130.

"He Himself will redeem Israel (God's people) from all their iniquities."

The word is all not some.

If that is true, and the Word cannot be broken, we must laugh, those who have accepted Y'shua as the Meshiach.

A Jew has saved us goyim by observing Torah and dying. But even better, He is alive.

Tragedy became Comedy on Easter.

"Caught any fish?"


"Throw your net on the other side - you'll get some."

And He, the Nazarene is laughing. With tears down His cheeks, maybe, but He is laughing.

"Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. My yoke is easy, my burden - it is light."

May this day you give the burden of your redemption to Y'shua the Meshiach.

Sholom aleichem.

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