The Chosen

by: Chaim Potok

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 3

“What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye? … I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. . . .”

Explaining his relentless Zionist activism, David Malter speaks these words to Reuven in Chapter 13. In this complex passage, Potok ties together several thematic elements. David Malter emphasizes the prevalence of suffering, then explains that awareness of the world’s suffering makes a person empathize with others and therefore appreciate all life and every detail of God’s creation. His point is that although we may believe “the blink of an eye is nothing,” we should appreciate the eye’s mere existence, and the blink’s mere existence. It is significant that David Malter uses the eye as an image in making his point. Potok intersperses eye imagery throughout The Chosen to symbolize perception of the world and of one’s own soul. Furthermore, David Malter’s description of observing the eye implies that perception is a reciprocal, two-way process. In David Malter’s opinion, deeper appreciation of life leads to a sense of obligation to fill one’s life with meaning and make the world a better place.

The passage also contrasts with Reb Saunders’s diatribe in Chapter 7, excerpted in the quotation above. The differences between the two passages point to the differences between the two fathers. Unlike Reb Saunders, David Malter speaks in a gentle tone, explaining rather than proclaiming. David Malter’s tone is that of a sympathetic teacher rather than a harsh leader. Whereas Reb Saunders argues for Jews to retreat passively into study and believes that meaning is given to life at birth, David Malter believes life is not given meaning at birth. He argues that a person fills life with meaning along the way. Whereas Reb Saunders suggests that Jews are passively chosen for duty, David Malter believes that Jews have an obligation to actively choose a noble path and to make a difference in the world.