Reviewing notes from my classes with Prof. Elie Wiesel always reveal something new, something inspiring and something it seems no one else can describe as he did. As I go through my notes of lectures and classes, I hope to keep a record of these lessons and share them as time permits.
From a lecture, “ Hope and Despair” that was given at the 92nd St Y towards the end of his lecturing career; Wiesel describes the Kabalistic notion of “ broken vessels” G-d shattered the world, creating broken vessels, sparks of light. The goal of the universe is to collect these sparks, this light that emanates and spreads into the world. If the world is a broken vessel, we are all a spark; when all the sparks are collected, there will be peace. Wiesel says that G-d’s vessel was language- and he broke the words- scattering them across the universe. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Birdichev said, “ when the Messiah comes, the words and the silence/spaces between them will be reunited” The distance between one word to another is greater than that between planets. Our goal it seems is to bridge the gaps, to bring words and silence together along with the sparks that shattered.
Wiesel’s teacher and friend, the great Rabbi Saul Lieberman, told Elie that “ when you grow up, in life you have a choice- arousing pity or envy. Create hope and reach out to others” We as Jews are against idolatry, we don’t have to be G-d, and it’s enough to be human. Wiesel says, you never know, someone you meet may be the answer to your question.
Elie Wiesel teaches that crimes against humanity are equal to crimes against memory. One must never forget. The enemy will always try to distort the truth. Memory must be kept alive. Everything has a purpose- yet there is no reason for evil and chaos. Rabbi Kushner in his classic book, “ When Bad Things Happen to Good People” has explained it as part of our world, part of reality. Good and Evil will always exist.
Elie Wiesel concluded by saying there is no explanation for the Holocaust. This unique catastrophe remains unexplainable. I believe Elie Wiesel was an authentic witness to the greatest evil and yet committed his life to the greatest good- inspiring hope and joy, laughter, music and poetry. How are we to understand that? I remember clearly after a lecture at the 92nd St Y, becoming overwhelmed with tears- I could not fathom how he lived through the worst evil mankind has inflicted, and emerged so good, so kind, so loving and so inspiring. To this day, it fills me with a spirit of love and hope like no other.
In his lifetime he brought the issue of memory and hope into his writings and teachings. Shalom, peace is from the root, shleimoot- completeness. When we have peace, we will be complete. May we remember not to despair, to inspire hope and be a spark that finds other sparks, creating a humanity worthy of peace.