The privilege of studying in Elie Wiesel’s classroom was so profound; I felt it never stopped when I graduated. Every time I would attend a lecture at BU or the 92nd St. Y I would take notes and sometimes write them up as an essay just for the experience. To save and savor the experience of hearing my teacher and mentor share his feelings and thoughts. I always felt each word was precious and when he spoke particularly in a personal way, it was a holy moment. There are so many lessons learned, it would take a book I hope to write one day… there are others doing it, and I’m sure many more will in the future. I have the urge to protect and catalogue each essay, each lecture, and each lesson.
When will there be another teacher like Prof. Elie Wiesel? Perhaps never. I hope no one else will experience what he and so many others did, but with that experience and with that wisdom, comes an extraordinary teacher. With the hope that “never again” means just that, all I have are his words and his thoughts, and my obligation is to keep studying his words and his teachings, sharing them for future generations.
With that in mind, I found a lecture from the 92nd St Y towards the end of his speaking career entitled, “ Hope and Despair” He began by revealing an important book, The Book of Questions by Edmond Jabes. I had never heard of him, and Wiesel described his writings with such love and admiration, I just ordered a few of them as I revisited my notes.
A book in Hebrew is “sefer”. The same root “s’for” means to count.
Prof. Wiesel advises us to “ be careful of words- every word must count”.
A lesson right there- he always said when he wrote his first book Night, it was four times longer- he kept shrinking the amount of words until every single word counted- not one word was for decoration- every word had meaning.
Shirah- is song in Hebrew. The Song of the Sea, Shirat Hayam is one of our most beloved Torah readings. Elie Wiesel taught, “ G-d told Moses to write a book, but call is Shirah- When words sing, you have poetry.”
Another lesson from my teacher was to “ never humiliate”. “ When the voice is authentic it echoes not only in you- but also from you and outward- then it becomes a prayer to G-d.
Reading this as we prepare for the High Holydays is profound. My teacher reminds us that our holy books and writings, “ sefer” must count for something. “ s’for” Every word must count. Every note we sing as cantors during the High Holydays is attached to a word that must count. When the music and the liturgy are one, we can share in prayer and a transformative experience- the words and music become part of us and our prayers, the poetry, become a prayer to G-d.
May our prayers ascend to heaven where my teacher is surely watching and listening- May our prayers be worthy and may they count, for us and for everyone- so that our song becomes a prayer for peace.