Asher Lev

I Comes Before “U” in the Alphabet and in Happiness

Throughout life, one faces many responsibilities that could be

taken upon; furthermore, sometimes one responsibility

conflicts with another, causing a person to struggle to find

which responsibility is more important in his life. In addition,

for one to live his life in a manner that would make others

content would be foolish, because this person would feel

unsatisfied with his accomplishments and no one else would

be completely pleased; It is impossible to make others

completely happy, due to the fact that everyone would want

and expect different things from this person. For instance, in

My Name Is Asher Lev , Asher is unsure whether or not the

responsibility of pleasing the important people of his life and

community is more important than making himself happy. In

order for Asher to make others happy, he must sacrifice his

one desire of being an artist. After attempting to do so, he

concludes that being an artist is a greater priority in his life,

because can not meet the needs of all the people that are

important in to him in his life. Asher’s mother has no

objections of his desire to draw, and is often encouraging

him, which late in the novel leads him to become an artist.

One example of his mother influencing him, she takes Asher,

at a young age, on walks to several places, like the park. At

these places Asher is able to draw different images, helping

him find a hobby that he loves and that will later become his

life. Another place his mother takes him to is the art

museum. There they speak and learn about art, which Asher

is later influenced by the paintings that are on display in that

museum, and he often copies famous paintings. Another

example, his mother is constantly asking Asher questions

about his art, showing signs of interest. For instance, when

she is ill and does not speak to her as often as she once did,

she asks, “Asher?... Asher, are you drawing pretty things?

Are you drawing sweet, pretty things? ...You should make

the world pretty, Asher. Make it sweet and pretty. It’s nice

to live in a pretty world” (Potok, p.17-18). By speaking to

Asher about art when she is so sick and has other things on

her mind shows him that she enjoys his art and that it is

important. Although his mother takes pleasure from

happiness Asher gets by being an artist, his father is very

against it. Asher’s father and mother having conflicting

expectations of Asher, it is already impossible to make them

both completely satisfied at the same time. Throughout the

novel My Name Is Asher Lev, Asher’s father wants him to

stop drawing completely by constantly calling art “foolish”

and “from the sitra achra”. In a discussion about art between

Asher and his father, his father says, “Asher, you have a gift.

I don’t know if it is from the Ribbono Shel Olom or from the

Other side. If it is from the Other side, then it is foolishness,

dangerous foolishness, for it will take you away from Torah

and from your people and lead you to think only of

yourself”(109). In addition to talking to him, his father talks

to the Rebbe and Asher’s teachers to also influence him

towards Torah and away from art. Therefore Asher is

getting mixed feeling from the two closest people to him,

leaving him no other choice but to pursue after his dreams.

On his path of becoming an artists, Asher learns valuable

lessons from Jacob Kahn, which leads him contradict both

his parents. In order for Asher to become the best artist he

can, he must forget about everyone else and draw from his

heart. Jacob Kahn makes him realizes this when he says,

“As an artist you are responsible to Jews?... Listen to me,

Asher Lev. As an artist you are responsible to no one and to

nothing, except the truth as you see it. Do you understand?

An artist is responsible to his art” (218). Asher then on

begins to live life for himself and not for other by focusing

only on art. His father is upset with his decision and causes

them to have turmoil in their relationship. In addition to

angering his father, Asher paints images that also his mother

and the Jewish community are unhappy with. These pictures

started with nudes and later lead to drawing his mother on a

crucifix. When his parents see this in the exhibit, they

immediately leave disappointed. Along with his parents,

several art critics and his community do like