“Draw me something pretty…make the world pretty, my Asher.” // Rivkeh Lev.
“My name is Asher Lev, the Asher Lev…the notorious and legendary Lev of the Brooklyn Crucifixion” // Asher Lev.
My Name is Asher Lev is horrifyingly beautiful. It is both, at once, an agonizing inhale and a relieving exhale. Asher Lev, the son of the revered Aryeh Lev, the grandson of his namesake, was born with a gift, the gift to create and destroy: painting. But Hasidic Jews like Asher Lev do not paint. Hasidic Jews like Asher Lev observe Shabbos, sing zemiros, learn Torah, attend Synagogue, and avoid anything goy (Gentile) or from the sitra achra (the Other Side). Hasidic Jews do not hurt other Jews. Hasidic Jews especially, though not explicitly told so for obvious reasons, do not paint crucifixions. But Asher Lev did.
Rereading this around has impressed me with two things: a new level of understanding the word “painstaking” and the undeniable link between pain and life. And the two are related.
Chaim Potok “painstakingly” created three “painstaking” characters: Asher Lev, Aryeh Lev, and Rivkeh Lev; the son, the father, and the mother. Through tortured and “painstaking” years, these three arduously work to love each other. For years there were avoidance and brooding anger, and, other times, the coldness was lifted at the coming of acceptance’s warmth. And pain is at the heart of these relations. The pain of disappointment, the pain of being misunderstood, the pain of mis- or non-communication, the pain of loss, the pain of being alone, the pain of incomplete work, the pain of a divided home, the pain of being the bridge, the pain of fear, and the pain of causing pain. It is, therefore, undeniable: there is no life without pain. But the reverse is also wondrously true: there is no pain without life. Life pierces and is pierced (stakes and is staked) by pain. And to see that is not to ignore the mother’s plea, but precisely the opposite: it is to “make the world pretty.”