Asher is a fascinating creature with two powerful and conflicting forces pulling him in opposite directions. The first is the community in which he is raised. The Ladover community is tight-knit and all encompassing. A person can live his entire life in this community without ever interacting with someone from the outside. Growing up, Asher's life is filled with religious indoctrination in school, at home, and from the people in his community with whom he interacts. He is inculcated with the values of the community and is taught to love God, Torah, and his fellow Jews. Furthermore, as an only child, he is raised to be particularly close to and dependent on his parents, who are, for Asher, at the center of this community.
Another equal, if not stronger, force plays a large role in Lev's life. From the time he is little, he has an intense desire to create art. When he is little, this manifests itself in innocuous doodling which turns into more structured drawing. As a boy, Lev is unable to control this desire and does not really understand it. Sometimes, he simply spaces out and draws. On one occasion, this desire leads him to steal; the strong influences in his life begin to come into conflict.
As an adolescent, Asher begins his study with Jacob Kahn. Kahn teaches him to channel his emotions into art. Asher begins to grow up and to gain some control over his gift. In these years, Asher balances his commitments to his community and to art. However, he never really thinks much about his commitment to religion and no serious conflict ever arises between the two. In many ways, he remains emotionally and intellectually immature.
As his period of time studying with Kahn comes to a close, Asher is at a crossroad. He has developed significantly as an artist, but is still a child. He leaves his home for Europe. There, free from his parents, he is finally able to understand his community better. He reflects on his upbringing and his parents and grows tremendously.
For the first time in his life, Asher faces serious internal conflict. He is tormented by his mother's anguish. His artistic impulse expresses her anguish in a painting that employs the crucifixion. He is faced with a dilemma—is he to display the painting and share his artistic vision with the world? If so, he will hurt his parents and his community. Asher, knowing the consequences will be dire, decides in favor of his artwork. Still, he is not fully resolved to his decision. My Name is Asher Lev concludes with Asher still, in many ways, unresolved. He was not fully comfortable with his decision to display his crucifixions, not comfortable with bringing pain to his parents. The book ends with him banished from a community, though he is not certain that he is ready to leave. He has by no means come to conclude that his artwork ought always to take precedence.
Jacob Kahn grew up a religious Jew, but has long since left the faith. He went through a period of torment in his younger life as he was leaving the comfortable life he had always known in order to become and artist. We see Kahn as an old man, after an accomplished career. He has been a major figure in the history of art, the greatest sculptor of his generation. These accomplishments and previous life events inform the way he deals with Asher. He feels a special bond with Asher; after all, Asher is in the position Kahn once occupied himself—he is a gifted, young artist in a religious Jewish community. Kahn is thus drawn to consider Asher feelings—he wants to mold the young man into an artist, but he does not want him to have to undergo an experience as horrific as Kahn's on his way to becoming an artist.
Rivkeh Lev is a character dealing with her own torments. Her brother's early and tragic death has imbued her with a sense of urgency. She must complete his work and as quickly as possible. She is also a unique woman in the Ladover community, since she is one of the few permitted to attend college. Placed in a subservient role in society because of her sex, she has much to overcome to succeed. She is able to relate well to her son. She understands what it is like to have a strong desire burning inside and for that desire to conflict with the standards of the community. After all, her desire to complete her brother's work can never be fully realized. She will never be given the responsibilities in the Ladover community that he had, because she is a woman.
Rivkeh is also caught in the middle of the two men in her life. She understands, relates to, and loves them both, but they can hardly speak to each other. Balancing her commitments to the two of them is incredibly difficult and drives her to tears on many occasions. Ultimately, she is more committed to her community and to her husband, driving her to move to Europe to work with him. There is a limit to how much deviation she can accept and will understand. This leads her to side against Asher after his display of the crucifixion pictures.