Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Reflections on "Night" by Elie Wiesel

Moishe the Beadle to the young Elie Weisel: True dialogue, he says, is this:
[Humankind] asks and God replies. We cannot understand them. But they dwell in
the depth of our souls and remain there until we die. The real answers . . . you
will find only within yourself.

Reflection questions:
Why would God’s replies be hard/impossible to understand?
Wouldn’t humandkind be ‘better off’ with clear and direct answers?
Explain the ‘need’ for/existence of mystery in our communication with God, as you understand it.
How does this concept of ‘the answer is within’ differ from/ correspond with Gnoticism?
In what ways might it be either dangerous or discouraging to a soul?
Name some ways this might be an encouragement to a soul?
Might this simply another way of naming the inner working of the Holy Spirit, or is something else being described/experienced here? Why do or do you not think so?

From the foreward written by Francois Mauriac:

On the last day of the Jewish year, the child (Elie Wiesel) is present at the
solemn ceremony of Rosh Hashanah. He hears thousands of slaves cry out in
unison, “Blessed be the Almighty!” Not so long ago, he too would have knelt and
with such worship, such awe, such love! But this day, he does not kneel, he
stands. The human creature, humiliated and offended in ways that are
inconceivable to the mind or the heart, defies the blind and deaf divinity.

He then quotes from Wiesel’s manuscript:

I no longer pleaded for anything. I was no longer able to lament. On the
contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes
had opened and I was alone in a world without God, without man. Without love
or mercy. I was nothing but ashes now, but I felt myself to be stronger than
this Almighty to whom my life had been bound for so long. In the midst of these
men assembled for prayer, I felt like an observer, a stranger.(xx-xxi, 68)

Reflection Questions:
Describe your reaction to Elie’s response, or more accurately, inability to respond to the call to bless the Almighty.
How do you explain what he describes as the ‘strength’ he feels?
In what ways are his charge against God justified?

How have you come to understand God’s role in suffering? How might your ‘theology of
suffering’ be challenged or affirmed were you a Jew during WWII or a Tutsi in Rwanda in our day?

Mauriac’s foreward closes with his response to Elie Wiesel’s charge against God:

And I, who believe that God is love, what answer was there to give my young
interlocutor whose dark eyes still held the face of a hanged child? What did I
say to him? Did I speak to him of the other Jew, this crucified brother who
perhaps resembled him and whose cross conquered the world? Did I explain to him
that what had been a stumbling block for his faith had become a cornerstone for
mine? And that the connection between cross and human suffering remains, in my
view, the key to the unfathomable mystery in which the faith of his childhood
was lost? And yet, Zion had risen up again out of the crematoria and the
slaughterhouses? The Jewish nation has been resurrected from among its thousands of dead. It is the worth of a single drop of blood, one single tear. All is
grace. If the Almighty is the Almighty, the last word for each of us belongs to
Him. That is what I should have said to the Jewish child. But all I could do was
embrace him and weep. (xxi)

Reflection Questions:
Mauriac wrestles with what he knows to be the ‘right’ response for a Christian to give someone who is suffering. As he faces Wiesel across the desk, what do you think makes the right answer oh so wrong to him? From your perspective did he ‘fail’ as a Christian when he chose
to hug and weep with Elie rather than ‘preaching the Gospel?’

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life
into one long night seven times sealed.

Never shall I forget that smoke.

Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.

Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.

Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned
my dreams to ashes.

Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.
Never. (xix, 34)


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