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.”