Gimpel the Fool, Don Quixote and the Haggadah
Bashevis Singer’s Gimpel, unlike Cervantes’ Don Quixote,
is Ashkenazi, not Sephardi. Both were rather weird,
Don Quixote, windmills facing, wears a gentile goatee,
Gimpel, fooled by facts of Jewish history, by it queered.
Don Quixote, unwise hero, at windmills wants to tilt,
Gimpel we laugh at is a fool, like one of the Haggadah’s
sons who asks, “What’s this?” not sharing his bad brother’s guilt,
a man of whom dissenters of his views are not discarders.
Gimpel’s author won for stories that he wrote the Nobel,
two years before Bellow, who translated Gimpel’s Yiddish.
Haggadah’s fourth son, since he asked no questions, just like Job‘ll
deserve it too, the master of the stiff lip–very British.
Too late for him to win this prize, just like the afikomen,
which like the festive sacrifice we don’t eat after midnight.
Those questions we can’t answer we must guard like noble yeomen,
protecting them from answers that are hardly ever right.
The distinguished Bible scholar, Nechama Leibowitz, famously once said, discussing Rashi’s commentaries on the Bible: “Every statement is the answer to a question. The question every statement evokes is: ‘What is the question?’”
In a Tikva podcast on 5/10/22 Ruth Wisse pointed out the strange coincidence that Saul Bellow translated into English Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Yiddish story Gimpel the Fool two years after Singer published it, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature precisely two years after Singer won his. Quoting the first line of Bellow’s Herzog, “If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog,” she commented that this echoes the first line of Gimpel the Fool, “I am Gimpel the Fool. I don’t think myself a fool, on the contrary.”