Elie Wiesel: Some Favorite Quotations

I had never heard of Elie Wiesel until I read Night, and I have never forgot him. Night takes the listening reader to the depths of despair — to the place where no words dare enter — but goes beyond that place, deeply wounded and ripped apart but trudging onwards so that place will never again become a reality.

Wiesel died today at 87 of a prolonged illness. His is an irreplaceable gift about memory.

All Rivers Run to the Sea, the first volume of his memoir and seconded with And the Sea is Never Full, was my second. His From the Kingdom of Memory is a solid collection of his shorter pieces, from which I take these lines:

Why do I write? Perhaps in order not to go mad. Or, on the contrary, to touch the bottom of madness. 

I never intended to be a novelist. The only role I sought was that of witness. 

A Talmudic legend: Moses, impressed by Rabbi Akiba’s erudition, wanted to know what would happen to him. God showed him the tragic end of the great master who, in a market square in occupied Judea, suffered the torture the Romans reserved for rebels. Moses cried out: “O Lord, is this Thy justice? Is this the reward for having studied Thy Law?” And God replied: “Be silent, you cannot understand/ Moses was silent. But my teachers asked: “What was good enough for Moses is not good enough for you?” I was obliged to respond that, in effect, it was sufficient for those who believed in Moses. “For a believer,” said a Hasidic rabbi, “there are no questions; for an unbeliever there are no answers.” 

Solomon “knew that there would be a time when more books would be published than written.”

But then, you do not really leave a library; if you do what it wants you to do, then you are taking it with you. 

Judaism teaches us that man must be authentic, and that he can find his authenticity only within his own culture and tradition. We don’t want to make Jews out of Christians; we want to make Jews out of Jews, and to help Christians to be better Christians. … and yet it is up to us to be true to ourselves, to live our own lives and share them to bear our truth and our fervor and share them—and then one day we may all gather around one who not come as yet—but who will come. And on that day, when he does come—finally—he will not be a stranger—and none of us will ever be strangers again. For he will be—the Messiah. 

What is a friend? Someone who for the first time makes you aware of your loneliness and his, and helps you to escape so you in turn can help him. Thanks to him you may remain silent without shame and speak freely without risk.

As in a dusty mirror, I look at my childhood and I wonder if it is mine. I don’t recognize myself in the child who studies there with fervor, who says his prayers. It’s because he is surrounded by other children; he walks like them, with them, head bowed and lips firm. He advances into the night as if attracted by its shadows. I watch them as they enter an abyss of flames, I see them transformed into ashes, I hear their cries turn into silence, and I no longer know anything, I no longer understand anything: they have taken away my certainties, and no one will give them back to me. 

… it’s not because I don’t speak that you won’t understand me- it’s because you won’t understand me that I don’t speak. 

It was easier for [the survivor] to imagine himself free in Auschwitz than it would be for a free man to imagine himself a prisoner in Auschwitz.

If only we could celebrate peace as our various ancestors celebrated war.

I remember: it happened yesterday or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the Kingdom of Night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed. … No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the Kingdom of Night.

The tragedy of the believer is much greater than the tragedy of the nonbeliever. 

 

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.