A Serious Man is a modern day story of the biblical figure, Noah. For Noah, storm clouds are on the horizon. A funnel cloud threatens to return creation to chaos. Apparently this is a fitting punishment for a society bathed in violence and bloodshed. We all know that Noah hearkens to God’s commands; he builds an ark and helps animals enter two by two. But who is Noah before the flood? What is the young Noah like?
In his book, Sages and Dreamers, Elie Wiesel, recipient, paints a picture of Noah as a character who leaves much to be desired. He never acts, he only reacts. He never aspires to grandeur; he is mired in routine. To paraphrase Jean Paul Sartre, he took great events and reduced them to small circumstances.
However, when the storm hits, Noah is all action. Ignoring the calamity around him, he builds an ark. Noah is responsible for his family; he cares for the animals and is committed to life. This is Noah at his best. He is selfless, devoted, and tireless.
A Serious Man reminds us that though we may kick and scream, though we may protest or try to hide, there are times when despite our best effort, we cannot stop or change the future. In those instances, rather than holding back the flood, we must use our energy to find a new sense of purpose – to respond to problems when seemingly no solution exists.
This is the lesson that the main character in A Serious Man must learn. Although life may be disorienting, cruel, and indifferent, we must still be responsible, self-reliant and resilient. Life is not necessarily finding answers to our problems. It’s about living with them. In the words of poet Ranier Maria Rilke: Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves … Perhaps then, some day far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way to the answer.
Moving from theory to practice, the 1946 book, Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl chronicles his experiences as a inmate and describes his psychotherapeutic method of finding a reason to live. According to Frankl, We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
We can learn a lot about purpose and meaning from Wiesel and Frankl: compassion, sympathy, and care. We can also learn about purpose and meaning from the film, A Serious