Contributing editor Ruth R. Wisse offers the first installment of her three-part series on three wise Jewish men who had enormous influences on her outlook. Up first: Her friend Saul Bellow, with whom the points of contention were as instructive as the points of agreement.

I think that Saul held with his eponymous Mr. Sammler that a good man meets the terms of his contract, “terms which, in his inmost heart, each man knows. As I know mine. As we all know. For that is the truth of it—that we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know, we know.” I happen to love that homespun kaddish at the conclusion of one of my favorite novels, but its sentiment is not mine. My view is rather that in their hearts most people don’t know, and because we don’t know, the Torah was given, reportedly, through Moses at Sinai, so that we may learn good from evil from a legal tradition scrupulously studied and painstakingly transmitted.

The Novelist