Russell and Duenes

Paragraphs Change People: The World Needs a Righteous Man

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“Books don’t change people – paragraphs do; sometimes even sentences.” – John Piper

Perhaps my favorite movie is The Chosen, based on the novel by Chaim Potok. The movie explores many themes: friendship, faith, familial relationships, and Hasidic Judaism. But most profoundly, it addresses the place and value of suffering. For that, I have loved it. And there are few paragraphs that have had the emotional and spiritual staying power than the one below. Daniel Saunders, the brilliant son of Rabbi Saunders, has spent the entire movie in a seemingly non-relationship with his father because, well, they don’t speak to each other. Thus, the viewer is left with the impression that Rabbi Saunders is a cold-hearted, distant father, with no true love for his son. Which is often the way people assume that God relates to them: silent, cold, distant and uncaring. Yet we then come to the end of the film, and these words by Reb Saunders, still not spoken directly to his son, Daniel, but to Daniel’s best friend, Reuven Malter, with Daniel sitting beside him in the Rabbi’s study.

So, you’re going to a become a Rabbi, and my Daniel…my Daniel will go his own way. [Daniel & Reuven look at each other.] Reuven, I’m going to tell you something. When my Daniel was four years old, I saw him, he read a book. He didn’t read the book–he swallowed it. He swallowed it like one would swallow food. And then he came to me, and then he told me the story that was in the book. And this story was about a man whose life was filled with suffering and with pain. But, that didn’…it didn’t move Daniel. You know, Daniel was happy. He was happy because he realized, for the first time in his life, what a memory he had. “Master of the Universe,” I cried, “what have you done to me? You give me a mind like this for a son? A heart I need for a son. A soul I need for a son. Compassion and mercy I need for my son. And above all, the strength to carry pain. That I need for my son.” How was I to do this? I mean, that was the question. How was I to…to teach him? How was I going to be able to do this to this son that I love…and not lose the love of my son? When Daniel was young, I used to hold him close. We used to laugh together. We used to play together. We used to whisper secrets to each other. We played. Then as he became older, and he became indifferent to people less brilliant than he thought he was, I saw what I had to do. I had to teach my Daniel that way: through the wisdom and the pain of silence…as my father did to me. I was forced to push him away from me. He became very frightened, he became bewildered, but slowly, he began to understand that other people are alone in this world, too. Other people are suffering. Other people are carrying pain. And then, in this silence we had between us, gradually his self-pride, his feeling of superiority, his indifference began to…to fade away. And he learned, through the wisdom and the pain of silence, that a mind without a heart is nothing. So, you think that I’ve been cruel? Maybe. Maybe, but…but I don’t think so…because my beloved Daniel has learned. O, let him go, let him become a…psychologist. You see, I know-I know about that. I should know. The books and the universities…the letters. Become a psychologist, already. But you see, now I am not afraid. I have no fear because my Daniel is a tzadik. He’s a righteous man. And the world needs a righteous man.

Behind the veneer of “carrying on” or “getting on with life,” most people are carrying pain at one level or another. Perhaps due to betrayal by a friend or spouse, a wayward child, a sickness, stress from work or ill-treatment by co-workers, grinding poverty, socio-political oppression, sexual degradation and abuse, and ten-thousand other things. People carry this pain, and our Lord Jesus Christ entered this pain-filled world, and took upon Himself the most excruciating pain possible: the wrath of God directed toward sinners. As Reb Saunders says, the world needs to see and know the love of Christ, administered primarily through his people, and in order for that to happen, God’s people need to walk with others in their pain. And how can we do this if we are aloof, prideful and indifferent, not knowing anything of their pain ourselves? So God must teach us, and most often, he must do it through other people. It is a great grace, though it seems not so at the time. For as the author of Hebrews says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Yet later on, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:11).



Written by Michael Duenes

July 29, 2013 at 10:39 am

One Response

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  1. Don’t think I’ve ever seen it. I recently read Night by Elie Wiesel and The Penitent by Isaac Bashevis Singer. So I’ve been feeling Jewish already. Then I heard Life Covenant is planting a church led by a pastor with a Jewish background, then I was out with the kids and saw a group of Jews (hassidic? not sure, decked out in atypical garb shall we say), and now this! It’s enough to make one head for the kibbutz.

    Andy M

    July 29, 2013 at 11:30 am

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