, Salem, MA


March 18, 2014

Watson: Our past and our views can blind us


But the sheltered orthodox world in which he moves is not approving of his obsession. His teachers, peers, rabbi and, most of all, his father, sternly rebuke him for straying from the serious pursuits that would prepare him to be a traditional Hasid who would serve the faith.

His father, who agonizes over Stalin’s persecution of the Jews, cannot understand his son and repeatedly tries to get him to stop painting. He tells Asher that “in such a world as we have“ painting is foolishness, harmful, a desecration and worse.

When he discovers Asher painting classical nudes and famous copies of the crucifixion to hone his skills, he rages at his son. He tells Asher that his art is evil and vile and a gift from a force that would tear down religion. He goes so far as to question whether Asher is his son.

When Asher tries to explain to his father what painting means to him — how he is compelled to paint and how honestly and completely he can express himself with his pictures — his father shouts at him that only an animal can’t help himself, whereas a man has a will. The father says every man is responsible to direct his life in sacred directions, not indulge in worthless and profane activities.

Asher despairs. He sees the pain and suffering and injustice that exist in the world, and he sees how those realities torment his father, whose life is devoted to work which would lessen them. Asher cannot make his father — a Hasid emissary — see that he does with paint what his father does with words.

Ultimately, this story is about man’s capacity for blindness and the tragedies that occur because of it. Asher’s father is a good man, dedicated to making the world a better place. But his orthodoxy is so great, his life experiences so circumscribed and constricted, that certain perspectives and possibilities are simply beyond his comprehension. Even beyond the active considering that must precede comprehension.

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