Opinion |

Amos Oz, the Ultimate Allegory of the Nation-state

Yair Assulin
Yair Assulin
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Amos Oz at his home in Tel Aviv, six years ago.
Amos Oz at his home in Tel Aviv, six years ago.Credit: AP Photo/Dan Balilty
Yair Assulin
Yair Assulin

Any story that is too big, too pure, too polished, will at some point reveal fractures and the humanity in it; the finite nature, the animalism will come out. All glorification shatters in the end. That’s the basic lesson from the responses to the book that Galia Oz wrote about herself and her father.

Those who looked at Amos Oz during his lifetime and instead of a human being saw a “moral beacon,” or “the secular equivalent of an admor,” or a “prophet,” must begin their self-examination from that point. People will be people. Never more. As simple as that is, it is just as simply forgotten as the desire grows to hold onto something that will say what is important to do or to feel.

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That is the root of the Jewish revulsion for turning human things – a statue, a picture, a person, a social order – into superhuman things. That is the essence of the sin of idol worship, the fear of false messiahs. Not for nothing is the burial place of the founding father of the Jewish people, Moses, unknown and the king from which the messiah will come according to the Jewish story, David, is also a man of many sins.

This is very important to remember: People must not abandon their liberty, their freedom of thought, for any other person. And those who do, who give themselves over to a pure and sterile image, those who seek messiahs and hollow, magical solutions just to assuage their helplessness, will fall flat on their faces.

“It is my political right to be a subject which I must protect,” wrote the French philosopher Roland Barthes. The obligation to protect our status as “subjects,” our ability to be critical, the necessity to examine every person all the time, by their actions and not by their image – that is a basic moral obligation. Even if it is difficult. And that is also the only way to survive. Certainly in times like ours.

And to a great extent, this story about the human being Amos Oz, the revelation of his imperfect humanity, the crack in his sterile image, is the ultimate allegory even for those for which the image “Amos Oz, the national author” was created for and sponsored by: the nation-state. That which sought for itself a pure and perfect image of the “rule of the people,” of the ultimate social order, of God. The image of the state as a great father is crumbling these days in almost every facet of life.

As with Oz, those who paid close attention as they read his books, felt, along with the wisdom and discernment, the darkness as well; so too the state. It has always been this way. The sensitive and the sincere knew that it is not really “God”; that this apparatus, which purports to be transparent and work only for the good of its citizens, is much more complex and human and damaged and dark than as presented, and that the big words used to describe it – among other things to justify the victims sacrificed on the altar of the state – are far from reality.

The technological revolution and the coronavirus pandemic only expose what more and more people have always known in their heart of hearts. But the moment at which the glorification shatters, the moment when the purity cracks, when dirty complexity peeks out from the flawless wrapping, is not the really important moment. The important moment is the decision that is reached immediately thereafter: Do we dare look squarely at reality? Do we draw the complex conclusions or do we turn our gaze inward, turn up the music, mumble something and move on?

That is the big question and that is also the crossroads at which Israeli society and the Western world as a whole now stand. Should we repress the obvious about the country and deteriorate into totalitarianism, or be courageous enough to fight for liberty? And, if you will, this is also precisely the sharp message of Purim: “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father’s house will perish” (Esther 4:14).

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