I have little doubt that I have, indeed, been a foolish man many times in my lifetime. Of course, like most people, I preferred to be known as a wise man. In fact, if anything, most of my life, like far too many of my ex-students, I prided myself a little too much on just how bright a student I was, as if somehow life and school were the same.
Once I read Isaac Singer’s remarkable "Gimpel the Fool," though, I never worried about being called a fool again. If only I could be as foolish as Gimpel.
Briefly, Gimpel spent his early life as the town fool, the butt of everyone’s jokes. Then he was pressured into marrying a woman of questionable virtue. When their child is born “prematurely” he, like most of us would, confronts his wife who berates him and tells him that it is certainly his child. Though unconvinced, his love for the child, perhaps the first true love he has ever known, takes over. He says, “I began to forget my sorrow. I loved the child madly, and he loved me too. As soon as he saw me he’d wave his little hands and want me to pick him up, and when he was colicky I was the only one who could pacify him.” Unfortunately, judging from the popular media, too few people are able to get past a wife’s sins to the child’s love. Hate, not love, controls their life.
Later Gimpel leaves his wife because of her adultery, but he is inevitably drawn back to her. “A longing took me, for her and for the child. I wanted to be angry, but that’s my misfortune exactly, I don’t have it in me to be really angry. In the first place-this was how my thoughts went-there’s bound to be a slip sometimes. You can’t live without errors.” Oh, duh. It’s just a lot easier to see other people’s errors.
Early in the story when Gimpel goes to the rabbi for advice the rabbi says, “It is written, better to be a fool all your days than for one hour to be evil. You are not a fool. They are the fools. For he who causes his neighbor to feel shame loses Paradise himself.” This sounds like perfect advice until the Rabbi’s daughter tries to trick him in the way out of the temple.
It’s little wonder that love loses out so often in a world where people are taught that there are right and wrong answers to life, where you are down-graded for being wrong, and where you are considered gullible if you trust others too much.
We should all be fools for love, especially if it is love for our fellow man. If we can’t manage to love everyone, at least it’s easy to be foolishly and passionately in love with the children of our world.