Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Boarder

I.B. Singer (photograph by Yousuf Karsh)
The I.B. Singer story, “The Boarder,”which appeared in the May 7th edition of The New Yorker (after being discovered amidst the writer's unpublished works) is a Socratic dialogue between a believer and cynic who on the basis of his experience of the camps, holds to the notion that there’s no good in the world. At one point Reb Berich Zhichliner, who himself has lost everything, tells Morris Melnik, the boarder who rents a room from him in Williamsburg, “Sin is like froth. When you pour beer into a glass, you imagine that it’s full, but two-thirds of it is froth. When the froth dissolves, only a third of the glass is left. The same thing is true of transgressions. They burst like bubbles.” Naturally there’s no winning such arguments, but what’s interesting is the nature of the discussion which has been going on ever since man invented the notion of God. In fact it might be said that God didn’t create man but man created God if only as a way to get a one up in such debates—men or women who take the Zhichliner’s position that is. Melnik’s view is that of the materialist who offers constant anecdotal evidence which demonstrates that man is simply an animal whose position on the food chain determines his destiny. Melnik of course is not devoid of belief in a higher being. The only difference is that his resembles the Antichrist depicted in Dostoevsky’s famed “Grand Inquisitor” poem from The Brothers Karamazov.“To whom are you praying?” Melnik asks his landlord. “To the God who made Hitler and gave him the strength to kill six million Jews? Or perhaps to the God who created Stalin and let him liquidate another ten million victims? Really Reb Berish, you’re not going to bribe the Lord of the Universe with a pair of phylacteries. He’s a first-class son of a bitch and a terrible 

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