A wandering, wondering, onedaringjew

(continued from previous post, Moral Dust.

Weizmann consigns the rabbis to the furnace. They are no use in a future Israeli state.  

Doré places a Jew, and obviously a devout Jew, in the same frame with  “that deceiver”, whose name a devout Jew finds difficult to utter. The Name that occasioned so much misery for Jews throughout the ages.

There are many who desire to live forever; they prefer a living death to the grave. “As long as there’s breath, I shall will to live. Don’t expect me to put my life on the line. Rather let me wander the earth forever, but just one  thing I ask: let me live.”

The Wandering Jew appears across classical literature. Besides medieval literature,  the Wandering Jew also appears in Percy Bysshe Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George MacDonald, Rudyard Kipling and John Galsworthy. There is also a new European Opera called The Legend of the Wandering Jew. “Every fibre of my frame quivers, every drop of my blood curdles, as I still hear the echo of the anathema that sprang first from my furious lips on that night of woe, ” HIS BLOOD BE UPON US, AND UPON OUR CHILDREN ! “[1]

I have described the Wandering Jew. But what is a OneDaringJew the title of this book? I suppose chutzpa comes into it, but I think its more to do with Wondering. You can describe water as “drinking water” but then it is not the water that’s doing the the drinking. But when I describe a Jew as a “wondering Jew” it is the Jew doing the wondering. Wondering about what? Wondering what is true, whether I’m living my life the right way. Wondering about  when to take, when to give, when to  endure, when to rebuke, when to beg, when to believe a promise. There are many other ways of “wondering.” Here are some examples[2]:

I’m wondering whether readers will understand what I mean. I’m wondering whether I have gone about things in the right way. I’m wondering what people are going to think when I dare to tell them some of the bad things I have thought and done (usually saved for a novel than an autobiography).

I’m wondering why I was the only member of my family of ten children to finish school. I’m wondering what would have been if I had become a medical doctor ( a “real” doctor, which for many Jews means “well off”) instead of a tongue doctor; a linguistics doctor[3] If I had become a “real” doctor I would have probably sliced someone’s aorta and ended up in jail. That’s why I moved into cutting up tongues, especially my mother tongue. Words, for me,  are far more remarkable than the organs that generate them.

I’m wondering what it would’ve been like to be a cantor of a synagogue in Israel. I’d have certainly done a better job than the raspy cantor (chazan) of the Israeli army, said my brother Joe when I visited him in Israel.[4] Inwardly I agreed.  Which leads me awondering what I could have been if I’d stayed Jewish, what I could have had – in Joe’s eyes:  a big house, a nice car, respect and adulation. My phylacteries would be broader, the fringes on my talith longer. I’d have the place of honor at feasts and the best seat in the synagogue. I’d be greeted in the marketplaces and called Chazan by others (Matthew 23: 5-8).

For the majority of Jews, the chazan is a celebrated figure, but not as much as a doctor – a medical doctor: the medical doctor treats the body; the chazan the soul; the medical doctor relieves suffering and prolongs life; the chazan brings comfort to aching hearts. As I can never be a chazan in real life, and get the big house, nice car, respect and praise, I will dare to be a chazan in this b(i)ography.  This b(i)ography is not only about words, but also about the songs I love to sing and the music I love to play that bring peace to the soul. Words, music, nature, mind, spirit are all of a piece.

There remains another meaning of “wondering” as in “filled with wonder”. You don’t have to be a sensitive Jewish intellectual to have a sense of wonder; you just have to be sensitive;  sensitive not to how great you are, but how wonderful the world is, how wonderful God is. When something wonderful happens to you, there are two ways to look at it: you’re unsurprised because you deserve it; or, you’re surprised because you don’t deserve it. The first way is false.

Some wonder why bad things happen and others wonder why good  things happen. For much of my life, even after I became a follower of Jesus/Yeshua, I wondered why bad things happened. Christians who understand the Gospel shouldn’t ask why bad things happen, but why good things happen. St Paul (Rav Shaul)  saw himself as not only the least of all the apostles but as the least of all men. His wretched opinion of himself was not just “psychological”. It went much deeper. He had offended an infinite, holy, personal God and deserved infinite judgment. The only way Paul could be saved from the wrath of God was through the saving death of the Son of God, who suffered the punishment in Paul’s place. How many professing Christians feel differently?

Helmut Thielicke (and Philip Yancey, who quotes Thielicke approvingly in his “What is so amazing about Grace,” Zondervan, 1997, p. 175):

“When Jesus loved a guilt-laden person and helped him, he saw in him an erring child of God. He saw in him a human being whom his Father loved and grieved over because he was going wrong. He saw him as God originally designed and meant him to be, and therefore he saw through the surface layer of grime and dirt to the real man underneath” (Helmut Thielicke, “Christ and the meaning of life,” Grand Rapids, Baker, 1975, p. 41).

Thielicke’s (and Yancey’s) Jesus and human being are not the Jesus  and human being described in the Bible. The Bible says the opposite: Jesus did not see “through the surface layer of grime and dirt to the real man underneath,” because the real man underneath was not only superficially grimy, he was filthy. The “real man” of the Bible is depraved in his very nature. But for the restraining hand of God, man is not as depraved as he could be. Everything in the Bible glorifies God and abases man. God saves men and women not because deep down they are good, but in spite of the fact that deep down they are evil. He chooses to save them – for one reason only: because He wants to. The natural man despises such a God. Many professing Christians also do,  but that is the biblical truth. It’s all over the Bible for those whose eyes God opens. In his “Religious Affections,” Edwards says, “There are very many of the most important things declared in the gospel that are hid from the eyes of natural men.” …but…”as soon as ever the eyes are opened to behold the holy beauty and amiableness that is in divine things, a multitude of most important doctrines of the gospel, that depend on it (which all appear strange and dark to natural men), are at once seen to be true.” Edwards “Religious affections.”

I wonder why God singled me out for his mercy.  Why did I and not any of my siblings come to Christ? I told a friend of my youth, a theology professor and former Roman Catholic priest that I had become a Christian. Out of the abundance of his heart – before he could bite off his tongue – he shot: “YOU? But I was praying for Sammy.” (Sammy is my elder brother). Somebody else was praying for me. Why did God answer that person’s prayers for me and not the theology professor’s prayers for Sammy? “Because my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

There is one last reason why this bography is called the “OneDaringJew”: it’s a variation of the Wandering Jew and the Wondering Jew. If you suspect that this play on words is the main reason for the “OneDaringJew”, I will say this. It did start with play. Does it then follow that the bography of OneDaringJew should not be taken seriously? Only if you think that play –  and thus playing with words – is not a serious matter. Playing with words may be foolery, at worst, wit, at best. But it can also involve serious digging into the hidden sedimentations of language – and, by association, of thought. Consider this: playing is about enjoyment. Cut out joy and all you’re left with is a lifeless clutch of dangling particles. It’s  the play of joy and the joy of play that transforms the lifeless clutch into a living embrace.


[1] Salathiel: The Immortal by Rev George Croly LL.D. David Bryce. London  1856. (I acquired a yellowed copy of this book in a charity bookshop in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where I live. You can find an e-copy of the book on Googlebooks. It’s much nicer, though, to have the feel and smell of a ” real” book.

[2] The British National corpus of English usage is a 100 million collection of samples of English from a extensive range of sources. The corpus has more than 2300 samples with the word “wondering”.

[3] Latin lingua “tongue”.

[4] My last visit to Israel in 1997. We watched the cantor on Joe’s TV.

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