And as much as I like to eat, the real joy was being with my two favorite girls, my wife and daughter, and I was reminded of a Buddhist saying that goes something like this. “Even offering three hundred bowls of food three times a day does not match the spiritual merit gained in one moment of love.” The sushi chef stood there in his hat and white apron smiling in a big way truly wanting me to enjoy my meal.
His apron made me think again of the small prayer shawl, a symbol of love for God, the garment that looked like an apron hanging out from under my vest when I played the butcher, Lazar Wolf in Fiddler on the Roof. I love that show.
The skill of sculpting fish and meat are both true art forms.
The prayer shawl can be any color or design. These days, they tend to be plain white, sometimes with a stripe across the bottom. I used a little gold on mine which I hope was okay because after all, Lazar Wolf was a man of means in Anatevka.
Anyway don’t ever make the mistake of pulling those “strings” which are really white tassels that are called tzitzis (TZIT-tzis) or tzitzit (TZEET-tzeet), depending on someone’s ability to do justice to Hebrew dialect. Two of the tassels hang in front, and two in back with several meanings among other things, the four directions (East, South, West, and North) to symbolize that God is everywhere. I like that thought. They are displayed tied to the corners of a four-cornered garment that is supposed to be worn by all Jewish men because of this commandment my research tells me:
Speak to the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes on the borders of their garments throughout their generations… (Numbers 15:38)
“A little bit of this, a little bit of that.” We Anatevkans sang. When we did, I thought of that little Russian village and the Russian total experience and all such roads lead somehow to Dostoevsky the Russian writer whose work delved deeply into the psychology of the Russian and the human soul and had a deep influence on the 20th century. An epileptic all his life, Dostoevsky died in St. Petersburg in 1881. Today he is with me.
So have a cup of tea and a bowl of borscht and join us for a moment at his country house, his dacha.
Sir, in the land of the Czars and later a failed socialist experiment, what should the mindset of the individual be?
“Neither man or nation can exist without a sublime idea. If you want to be respected by others the great thing is to respect yourself. Only by that, only by self-respect will you compel others to respect you.”
And the host of bad Czars followed by the likes of Stalin?
“Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”
And what about the men of the arts and the humanities who suffered in exile in Siberia? In the Gulags?
“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
You seem to be, despite all of the circumstances, a man of shall we say faith and hope?
“Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it.”
In the 1860’s, your wife and your brother die. You are riddled with debt and you develop a gambling problem and yet you write some of your best work including Crime and Punishment. You seemed to be unencumbered despite yourself and your burdens.
As I wrote, “It’s in the homes of spiteful old widows that one finds such cleanliness.”
So you remarry a woman who can handle your quirks and foibles and you travel around and become accepted by your own countrymen and crank out another masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov. Quite remarkable don’t you think?
“The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.”
Uh-oh I think but I go on. Sir, in The Brothers Karamazov, it seems we see an underlying spiritual theme dealing with the struggles between such human issues as faith, doubt, reason, and free will. These are my issues. Freedom particualrly is a never ending battle isn’t it?
“Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that great gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born.”
Weighty stuff. That brings to mind Winston Churchill’s quotation, made in a radio broadcast in October 1939: “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma…”
Yep. Da indeed.
Capitalist Comrade Tom