LATELY — 13 January 2006

Books and parables

So I’m sitting here in my parents’ apartment, and I see, looking at the bookshelves, that my father (I’m guessing it’s my father)–my father who organises his fiction by country, like real libraries–has a book called “Anti-Semite & Jew” and another called “What is a Jew?”. The first it by Sartre so I’m guessing this is not hate literature but still … so curious! Perhaps I should take a look.

A story from The Joys of Yiddish, p. 126:

The famous Duvner maggid, a gaon, was asked by an admiring student: “How is it that you always have the perfect parable for the topic under discussion?”

The gaon smiled. “I’ll answer with a parable.” And he told the following story:

A lieutenant of the Tsar’s cavalry, riding through a small shtetl, drew his horse up in astonishment, for on the side of a barn he saw a hundred chalked circles–and in the center of each was a bullet hole! The lieutenant excitedly stopped the first passerby, crying, “Who is the astonishing marksman in this place? Look at all those bull’s-eyes!”

The passerby sighed. “That’s Shepsel, the shoemaker’s son, who is a little peculiar.”

“I don’t care what he is,” said the lieutenant. “Any man who can shoot that well–”

“Ah,” the pedestrian said, “you don’t understand. You see, first Shepsel shoots–then he draws the circle.”

The gaon smiled. “That’s the way it is with me. I don’t search for a parable to fit the subject. I introduce the subject for which I have a perfect parable.”