Book: The Chosen (1967)
Author: Chaim Potok (1929-2002)
Connection with ABC-TV’s LOST: The official LOST website is not currently maintaining their LOST Book Club entries. An excellent fan site, Lostpedia, has been keeping up with most of the books on the show. The Chosen is not listed on their Literary Works page, but is mentioned on the “Dr. Linus” episode page. There is also an interesting discussion in the Lostpedia Forum. An article on VirtualJerusalem.com also provides some interesting speculation.
The book is seen in the Season 6, episode 7, “Dr. Linus.” It is found in Sawyer’s old tent on the beach, along with a porno magazine and a book titled “Benjamin Disraeli: Justice and Truth in Action.” The magazine and the Disraeli biography both seem to be mockups of works that do not actually exist. “Justice and Truth in Action” was a slogan commonly used by the former Isreali Prime Minister. The magazine cover stresses the letter “B.” Could this all be pointing to Benjamin Linus as “The Chosen”?
The Chosen is a novel about two Jewish boys living in Brooklyn at the end of World War 2, and covers the time when Israel was reborn as a nation. Reuven is a modern orthodox Jew whose father wants him to be a Mathematics professor, but Reuven wants to be a Rabbi. Danny is the son of a Hasidic tzaddik who is expected to take his father’s place as leader of the sect when his father dies. Danny wants to study psychology.
Reuven and his father have a close relationship and talk about everything. In an attempt to teach Danny compassion, Danny’s father only converses with him about the Talmud, hoping Danny will find his soul in the silence. The relationships between the boys and their fathers reflect the relationship of Ben to Jacob, who never spoke to him, and Ben in the “flash sideways” sequences, who has a close relationship with his ill father. (Reuven’s father suffers two heart attacks in the book.) Like Reuven, flash-sideways Ben has a natural compassion, while island Ben has to learn it.
Review of the Book
What is it like growing up in an ultra-conservative home? Can people with strongly differing viewpoints get along? Is there more than one “right” way to raise your children? These are a few of the questions explored in The Chosen.
Most of us have never seen a Hasidic Jew. I have to admit that my knowledge of them was limited to what I had seen on Seinfeld and some dramatic television shows. They seemed to be to the Jewish world what the Amish are to the Christian world. It would be easy for us to dismiss Hasidic Jews and the Amish as lunatic fringe groups, but are they really so different than you and I?
The book starts out with a baseball game. Frankly, although I am a baseball fan, as I began reading I felt a bit bogged down by the detail of the game. But Potok was also painting a picture of the animosity and prejudices between modern Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, and I was soon drawn into the story.
Reuven is a great pitcher with a wicked curve ball. Danny is the star hitter for the Hasidic team. The animosity between the two is a catalyst which actually (with the help of their fathers behind the scene) helps create their intense friendship.
Danny’s father, Reb Saunders, is the leader of a Hasidic sect, and is a mysterious blend of compassion and austerity. Reuven comes to think of him as a tyrant, but Danny, despite a growingly strained relationship, never loses his love for and faith in his father. He consistently describes him as a great man, and asserts that he must have good reasons for what he does. Reuven’s father, although opposed to many elements of Hasidism, teaches Reuven to overcome his prejudices and listen to what Reb Saunders is trying to tell him.
The concern of both fathers is that their boys would learn compassion. Both boys are highly intelligent (Danny is a genius with a photographic memory.), but need to learn that the soul is more important than the mind. Reb Saunders is not so concerned that his son does not want to take his place as he is concerned for his soul. He uses silence to try to get Danny to look into his soul and find compassion, and also uses Reuven as a go-between.
Often it seems like God is silent. How frustrating this can be! But, like Danny, we must learn that “he must have a good reason” for his silence. It may take years to begin to discover what God is trying to teach us, but we can still trust him. And we may be surprised at who God uses as a go-between to speak to us. Let us not allow our prejudices to keep us from hearing what God has to say.