Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text's major themes.


Travel plays a central role in the book and appears in very different places. Early on, it is Asher's father who is traveling. He jets around America, working for the Rebbe. Later, he travels around Europe, sometimes accompanied by his wife, to fulfill his holy mission. He is impelled to travel because of his strong belief that in doing so, he is spreading God, Torah, and Truth. Asher, as he grows older, also begins to make travel a central part of the fulfillment of his life's mission. Jacob Kahn takes him traveling around the United States to attend art exhibitions. On these trips, Asher is exposed to a large variety of art he might not otherwise have seen and learns things critical to his development. Continuing in this vein, Asher feels the need to make a trip to Europe, to see large parts of the artistic heritage that were created and remain there.

Unfinished work

When Rivkeh's brother dies at the beginning of the book, she feels a terrible pain. The work that he set out to do for the Rebbe remains unfinished. She feels the need to go to college and study so that she can go out and finish the work he began. She cannot bear the thought of allowing his work not to be finished. Asher picks up on this idea at the end of the book. His first crucifixion is unfinished. He feels like he will be a fraud—a fraud to himself if he does not create another one that more fully expresses the feelings he is trying to convey. Both Asher and his mother are driven, at different times and in very different circumstances, to perform significant actions in order that something important to each of them not remain unfinished.