The Fifth Maggid: Elie Wiesel and Hassidic Storytelling

In the aftermath of the passing of literary luminary Elie Wiesel, there has been no shortage of obituaries offered and lamentations lamented. In the 75 years following the Holocaust, the world has embraced Wiesel as the unofficial mouthpiece of a sometimes silent generation, but one region of his work goes largely underappreciated, perhaps even ignored: his Hassidic sketches. This may be surprising given the degree of attention he has received over his lifetime, but less so once we analyze the nature of this attention. For example, President Obama, in his statement mourning Wiesel, called him “one of the great moral voices of our time, and in many ways, the conscience of the world… Elie was not just the world’s most prominent Holocaust survivor, he was a living memorial.”[1] One obituary goes even further, positing that “obituaries refer to him more consistently as a witness than a writer… His moral authority, which he earned and sought, derived from his experience, not any literary virtuosity.”[2] This is not to say that Wiesel’s writings have been ignored by the establishment, but it is my position that there is a particular Wiesel that the world understands and appreciates, and another that receives far less attention. In fact there is an astounding secondary literature analyzing his works,[3] but such works predominately ignore Wiesel’s Hassidic tales and biblical sketches. Although one could very well defend such an emphasis under the presumption that the folkloric legends of rabbis past do not comprise the legacy of memory Wiesel has inscribed upon the world, I hope to show that his canon is a unified and composite whole. These legends are an important component of Wiesel’s persona, and we dare not forget nor ignore any element of his that dared us not to forget, and never to ignore.

Origins

In order to understand these writings, we must first understand the origins of their writer. Wiesel grew up in the Romanian town of Sighet, a locale he returns to many times in his later writings. Although Sighet was home to many Hassidim, Wiesel himself was the child of a rational father and a Hassidic mother.[4]  This dialectic influenced young Elie, but it was his Hassidic grandfather who gained the most attention in Wiesel’s later writings. He would regale Elie with tales of sages past and present. This education was rooted not in facts and dates, but was an experiential entry into a fervent world of lore and legend. He writes that his grandfather “made me enter the universe of the Baal Shem and his disciples, where facts become subservient to imagination and beauty…tales that….appeal to the imagination rather than reason.”[5] Throughout his literary oeuvre, Wiesel references this charismatic storyteller’s favorite sages and stories, and one can envision a world in which Wiesel himself followed the tradition of his grandfather, living the life of a devout Hassid, far from the world of Nobel Prizes and presidential accolades that he would later inhabit. But then came the fateful year 1939, and the Jewish population of Sighet was forced into a ghetto. In 1944, Hungarian authorities deported the Jews of Sighet, and Wiesel entered the ‘kingdom of darkness’ that was Auschwitz and Buchenwald, perhaps never to truly leave. Wiesel’s family was wiped out, and the idyllic spiritual naiveté of his Sighet was no longer.[6]

After the liberation of Auschwitz, in which Wiesel was a prisoner, he moved to Paris, where he attended lectures by Buber and Sartre and studied philosophy, literature, and psychology at the Sorbonne. Geographically and intellectually removed from the shtetl of his youth, here he gained exposure to the French existentialist thought and fiction that would influence much of his later work. The decade after the Shoah was the ‘quiet after the storm’ for Wiesel, and he refused to write about the Holocaust until he was eventually convinced by Nobel laureate Francois Mauriac.[7] The World Remained Silent was his first attempt at grappling with his memories, but it was Night that eventually catapulted Wiesel to worldwide fame. By the end of his life, he had added 55 more titles to this veritable library of works, which include novella, essays, biographical sketches, memoirs, and short stories.

Writings

Wiesel was fond of referring to the Holocaust by the term the ‘kingdom of night,’ and its reign is felt throughout most of Wiesel’s written corpus. Although rarely explicated, the specter of the Shoah hovers consistently over his works, evoking the past without trivializing it by application. Wiesel has characterized his writings as “a matzeva, an invisible tombstone set up in memory for those that died without a burial.”  Wiesel’s characterization of his writings as tombstones is especially apt, as – like tombstones – they refuse rational explanation and analysis, even as they beg to be probed and understood.  Indeed, one would not dare to reduce such solemn monuments to mere historical artifacts as a means to understand the cruelty of genocide, even as the unspeakable cruelty of genocide puzzles the mind and demands an explanation that will never come.  So too, Wiesel stresses the essential human inability to understand the horror of the Shoah, which defies rationality and yet demands understanding: we may weep out of sheer confusion and yearn for answers to our questions about humanity’s capacity for cruelty, but we dare not deface the sacred memories and testimonials of the Shoah by analyzing them in support of a theory that would impose order over the madness that was Maijdanek or the unchecked evil that was Auschwitz. This is particularly true for a figure like Wiesel, who stresses the essential inability to understand the Shoah, which defies rationality yet demands understanding. Davis goes so far as to posit that “it is the elusiveness of hidden meanings and the consequential frustration of the intellect, rather than in its importance as a theme, that the Holocaust makes its most important impact on Wiesel’s writing.” Therefore we must be hesitant in attempting an interpretation. When facing the dark forest of the ‘kingdom of night,’ we cannot presume to find explanation, and perhaps acknowledgement of the forest is all we can do.

Most of the secondary literature dealing with Wiesel’s work tends to focus on three major themes:  protest,[8] silence/narrative,[9]and memory.[10] Put (relatively) simply, the first refers to the radical importance Wiesel places on theological and political protest, the second to Wiesel’s embracing of the dialectical relationship between speech and silence, and in which lays the truer communication, and the third to the fleeting and illusory nature of memory. In support of these positions, the authors of such literature often turn to Wiesel’s novels and memoirs, which are rife with philosophical asides and reflective comments. As these themes make up a majority of Wiesel’s writings, they have received the overwhelming majority of analysis; however, the secondary literature generally ignore some ten books of Wiesel’s biographical sketches of Biblical, Talmudic, and Hassidic figures. For a figure whose writings have received tremendous attention during his lifetime, it is astounding that these works are so underrepresented in the secondary literature. This phenomenon can be attributed to widespread uncertainty regarding the place of the biographical sketches in Wiesel’s broader canon; we must interrogate the relationship between his analyses of ancient sages, in relation to a philosophically charged body of work that challenges a silent God. Through such an inquiry, we can understand if there is one true unified literary body of Elie Wiesel, of which these tales play an important role, or if these sketches are mere outliers to the true legacy of this man.

Although his treatment of the first two merit further critical consideration, we will focus on his work on Hassidim, in works such as Sages and Dreamers, Hasidic Celebration, Wise Men and their Tales, and Somewhere a Master. The first important factor to take note of is the contrast between Wiesel’s stories and similar works. Martin Buber, sometimes thought of as the most influential of the Alt-Neu maggidim, or storytellers, of the 20th century,[11] who in his masterful Tales of the Hasidim presents tales unadorned of super commentary, preferred to allow the stories to speak for themselves. He explains in the introduction to Tales that:

“I considered it neither permissible nor desirable to expand the tales or to render them more colorful and diverse…Only in those few cases where the notes at hand were quite fragmentary did I compose a connected whole by fusing what I had with other fragments, and filling the gap with related material.”

Buber’s stories are skeletal and often present a teaching or miraculous story, naked of explanation or elucidation. Whereas Buber is satisfied in writing and recording the remnants of an oral tradition, Wiesel uses the stories as a foundation and an inspiration to draw parallels and understand themes. While Buber’s Tales reads like an anthology, Wiesel’s Souls reads like a monologue or narrative that draws from and is sprinkled with, but not overburdened by Hassidic stories.

Wiesel’s comments are primarily devoted to understanding two distinct, but overlapping, elements of these accounts. Firstly, his works are attempts at understanding the theory and culture of differing Hassidic schools of thought; his words are meditations on the ideology of the many disparate Hassidic approaches. He focuses on particular Rebbah or Hassidiot and tries to find the particular essence of each brand of Hassidut, which in itself is an original flourish of Wiesel. Although there are (albeit few) methodological analyses of the spectrum of the Hassidic world, his works may have been the first to reach an English speaking, American audience.[12] Additionally, for Wiesel the stories are not simply stories, nor do they simply reflect the “expression and documentation of the Tzaddikim and their hassidim.”[13] Readers of Souls on Fire are faced with too many abstractions on the thematic struggles of these thinkers for us to countenance the proposition that these books are strictly historical analyses. For example, commenting upon the dynamic nature of the tales of Rebbi Nachman of Bratzlav, Wiesel notes that:

“Danger and evil are not in the walk toward death, but in the digression. Man…lives on more than one level, loves and despairs in more than one way for more than one reason. Yet he does not even know whether his deeds fall into a main or secondary pattern or if his awareness is blessing or curse. The human condition gains in impact at the very moment it breaks apart. Every fragment contains the whole, every fissure bears witness that man is at once the most fragile and the most tenacious of creatures.”

For the profound thinker and post Holocaust theologian that was Wiesel, these stories present a theological treasury, a moral ocean that was the source for many of the sentiments that pervade his other writings. His writings are meditations on themes originating in the shtetlach of Romania and Ukraine, but immanently relevant to 20th century witnesses of the very worst of the human condition.[14] Much of this material was the stuff of late night tisches in the Sighet of Wiesel’s youth, a formative era, but one that he later repudiates for the likes of Kant, Hegel, and Kierkegaard, and only returned his grandfather’s teachings (and the Kabbalah) later for the answers and questions that so plagued him. His comments on these stories are thus important for study, as they may have inspired, or at the very least reflected, much of the major leitmotifs redolent throughout his corpus, such as the significance of silence and protest.

The debate regarding the proper methodology of presentation of Hassidic story tales may find its roots in an earlier debate between Gershon Scholem and Martin Buber, in what is one of the most contentious quarrels in the ranks of academic Jewish scholarship.[15] This debate is particularly fitting for analysis in this forum, as it surrounds what may be the single most important story for understanding Wiesel’s Hassidic stories: the tale of the four maggids. Wiesel recounts this story both in The Gates of the Forest and in Souls on Fire, and it is often referenced in the secondary literature surrounding Wiesel. Wiesel recounts that:

“When the great Israel Baal Shem Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews, it was his costume to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted. Later, when his disciple, the Maggid of Mezeritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer.” And again the miracle would be accomplished. Still later, Moshe Leib of Sassov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say “I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished. Then it fell to Israel of Rizhin to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire, and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is tell the story.” And it was sufficient.”

Gershon Scholem quotes this story in his seminal Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, and comments that “this profound little anecdote symbolizes the decay of a great movement…nothing at all has remained theory, everything has become a story.”[16] In short, this tale is a horror story in institutional decline, of the Yeridat ha-Dorot of a once-thriving thought system to a storybook community. Scholem argues that the best method to understand ‘true’ Hassidism is through the early theoretical writings, such as Toldot Yaakov Yosef, Tanya, and Noam Elimelech; the story is testimony only to the loss of what once was. Laurence Silberstein contends that Buber and Scholem were propounding differing rhetorical enterprises;[17] Buber was attempting a spiritual, or existential journey, and he utilized Hassidic legend and lore in the furthering of this goal. In his words:”I was concerned from first to last with restoring immediacy to the relation between man and God, with helping to end ‘the eclipse of God.’”[18] Scholem, in contrast, was embarking on an academic expedition, with the goal of understanding the Hassidic texts and Hassidim “in their original context.”[19] Therefore a major component of his biting critique focuses on Buber’s subjective interpretations that “derive of his own philosophy…with no roots in the texts themselves.”[20] To support his approach, Scholem points out that the corpus of theoretical writings is earlier and larger than that of Hassidic stories, many of which are faulty in light of historico-empirical factors. Buber disagrees, contending that “the legend is no chronicle, but it is truer than the chronicle for those who know how to read it.”[21] For Scholem, stories have historical importance, as well as issues, but fades in comparison to the more important theoretical works, whereas Buber finds the unique truth offered by Hassidim in the stories they leave.[22] As Buber contended, “Because Hassidism in the first instance is not a category of teaching, but one of life, our chief source of knowledge of Hassidism is its legends, and only after them comes its theoretical literature. The latter is the commentary, the former the text…”

Where does Wiesel fit into this? His obvious engagement with the story as inspiration definitely leads one to posit that he veers closer to Buber,[23] but his simultaneous discomfort with allowing the story to remain as simply a story may suggest divergence from Buber. Wiesel’s derivation of theoretical and philosophical messages from the texts may reveal that he was attempting to fuse the thought of Scholem and Buber, attempting to combine the approaches of these two figures by highlighting the story’s importance as a theological and theoretical message in its own right. Wiesel was responding to Scholem’s critique by revealing the sometimes latent depth to these stories, a theological profundity that Scholem may have been unwilling to perceive.[24] Wiesel’s goals lie far closer to Buber’s than to Scholem’s; if Buber’s works reflect “a desire to convey to our own time the force of a former life of faith to help our age renew its ruptured bond with the absolute,” then Wiesel is much more the inheritor of Buber’s tradition. Alternatively, Colin Davis argues that there is a tension in Wiesel’s work, dialectically alternating between a positive embracing of the storytelling narrative and of a repudiation of the success of storytelling as a means of communication.[25] In any case, in the tradition of Alt-Neu storytellers Wiesel stands at the crossroads between Buber and Scholem, between story and theory, and blazes his own path in the forest, a path where the story and the theory need not be at odds, to master and novice alike.

Protest

In order to support the thesis that Wiesel’s Hassidic stories are in fact an essential part of and influence on his weltanschauung, it is important to look for the presence in these works of his major themes. One such subject, of which much of the secondary literature surrounding Wiesel is devoted to, is that of the act of theological protest, the rebellion against God.[26] Alan Berger characterizes Wiesel’s work as a “theology of protest,” a call of arms against a silent God.[27] He points to Wiesel’s three-act play The Trial of God, a work inspired by an incident in Auschwitz, in which “great masters in Talmud, in Halakha, in Jewish jurisprudence” put God on trial. He further points to a prayer offered by Wiesel, which is a post-Holocaust twist on the traditional Shema Yisrael; instead of Israel being called to listen, God himself is now called upon to listen. This perspective is far from the atheism adopted by so many after Auschwitz, but rather Wiesel has deigned to have “risen against His injustice, protested His silence and sometimes His absence, but my anger rises up within faith and not outside it.” We do not respond to the Silence of the Holocaust with apathy, but rather with a passionate protest.

Although this rebellion may be radical to many, the mesorah of a redemptive revolt, or ‘holy chutzpah’ as some refer to it, has longstanding roots in the Hassidic tradition, roots that Wiesel stresses throughout his Hassidic works. Of Rav Israel of Rizhin, Wiesel recounts that he addressed God by saying “I am not a slave come to ask favors of the king. I come as a counselor to discuss matters of state.”[28] Also, the daring Rebba of Rizhin once declared “Be our Father and we shall be Your servants; we shall be Your servants only if You are our Father.”[29] Moreover, he once cried out “Master of the Universe, how many years do we know each other? How many decades? So please permit me to wonder: Is this any way to rule Your world? The time has come for You to have mercy on Your people! And if You refuse to listen to me, then tell me: what am I doing here on this earth of Yours?”[30] Wiesel raises similarly astounding stories regarding Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev[31] and the Shpole Zeidi; the latter himself was said to have brought God to trial centuries before Auschwitz, on a similar claim of parental negligence.

With all of the revolutionary anger that filled Wiesel’s works, it was always the anger of a believer. “The revolt of the believer is not that of the renegade, the two do not speak in the name of the same anguish.”[32] These stories do not exist in a vacuum in the broad corpus of Wiesel’s works, but rather this amalgamation of stories and teachings created the Wiesel of Night, Dawn, and Twilight.

Conclusion

With what words can the intrepid traveler depart from a mere taste of this great man? Perhaps we can take leave as he would have, with a teaching from a Hassidic master. One can understand Wiesel’s struggles with God through the lens of a thought by R. Simcha Bunam of Pshischa. The Rebbe points out a problematic word in the verse “maamrim hayitem im Hashem,” or “you have been rebels with God.”[33] Surely the proper words shouldn’t be ‘im Hashem,’ as this connotes that a rebel is ‘with God’; a rebel is against God, not with God! The master of Pshischa explains that for some, their very acts of rebellion against God are in reality with God. The protester shouts, but in his vexing anger he declares the unity of the God he so opposes. The Maggid of Sighet was one such man; the fifth maggid, he taught to a world that didn’t remember its own stories. His words speak best for us, as the silence of his departure sings through the air:

Did I say that the teller of tales would soon leave his old masters? In truth, he will not. For even if he wanted to, he could not; they surely would not willingly recede into the shadows of his burning memory. More than ever, we, today, need their faith, their fervor; more than ever, we, today, need to image them helping, caring, living.

 

[1] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/07/02/statement-president-death-elie-wiesel

[2] See Bernard Avishai, “”Postscript: Elie Wiesel 1928-2016”, The New Yorker.

[3] On a recent trip to Yeshiva University’s Pollack Library this writer found two full bookshelves devoted to analysis of Wiesel’s works.

[4] Lothar Kahn, in “Elie Wiesel: Neo-Hasidism”, in Responses to Elie Wiesel, ed. by Harry J. Cargas (New York: Persea Books, 1978).

[5] Elie Wiesel, Souls on Fire, (New York: Random House, 1972), trans. by Marion Wiesel,

[6] The clash between what Wiesel once was and would become is profoundly felt in his own poignant description in The Eternal Light:

“I did return to Sighet once…I went back to the home that used to be the home of my parents, my home….I became afraid, afraid that the door might open and a little yeshivah boy with side curls resembling me would come out and ask me innocently, “tell me stranger, what are you doing here? What are you doing in my dreams and in my childhood?” I was so afraid of being judged by that child, I was so afraid of shattering the dream and killing the child once again that I did not dare go in. I retreated and began running, running away from the street, from the town, from all the places that once were ours…. I ran so much that I reentered my own tale, and this is the tale of the tale itself.” Qtd. In Against Silence, (New York: Holocaust Library, 1985) Vol. 3, 65.

[7] Mauriac later described seeing in Wiesel “the death of God in the soul of a child.”  See Fine, Ellen S. Legacy of Night: The Literary Universe of Elie Wiesel (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1982).

[8] See The Storyteller and his Quarrel with God” by Alan L. Berger, as well as “Wrestling with Oblivion: Wiesel’s Autobiographical Storytelling as Midrash” by Devorah Lee Ames, both in Elie Wiesel and the Art of Storytelling (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2006).  See also Abrahamson’s Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel (New York: Holocaust Library, 1985).

[9] See for example Simon Sibelman’s Silence in the Novels of Elie Wiesel (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995). See also several essays collected in Carol Rittner’s Elie Wiesel: Between Memory and Hope (New York: New York University Press, 1990), such as “Silence and Dialogue: Reflections on the Work of Elie Wiesel”, by Eugene J. Fisher, and ”Silence-Survival-Solidarity: Reflections on Reading Elie Wiesel” by Dow Marmur, as well as Irving Abrahamson’s And God was Silent, ibid.

[10] His acceptance speech for his Nobel Prize was titled Hope, Despair and Memory. See also Rittner’s Elie Wiesel: Between Memory and Hope (New York: New York University Press, 1990).

[11] My usage of Alt-Neu, opposed to the more prevalent ‘neo-hassidic’ is in part due to an attempt at avoiding a baggage-laden buzzword, and in part to draw attention to the particular character of Wiesel’s storytelling. For example, Zalman Schachter Shalomi, or ‘Reb Zalman’, an important early figure in the American Neo-Hassidic community, draws from Hassidic tales an antinomian theology that embraces a New World spirituality, with ideological space for “eco-Halacha” and the Gaia Principle. For Reb Zalman, the emphasis is firmly on the neo-hassidic, in his adoption of certain hassidic doctrines, while ignoring the communal constraints and origins of these theological standpoints. In contrast, a major factor in Wiesel’s works coincide with an acknowledgement and appreciation for the setting and societal qualifications of hassidic doctrine, and thus he embraces both the ‘alt’ and the ‘neu’ of Hassidic story tales. For more on the importance of societal context and authorial intent in the interpretation of hassidic thought, see Dovid Bashevkin, “A Radical Theology and a Traditional Community: On the Contemporary Application of Izbica-Lublin Hasidut in the Jewish Community”, published on Torahmusings.com.

[12] Aryeh Kaplan’s writings, such as Chassidic Masters, are good examples of this genre, but were published twenty years after Souls on Fire. There has yet to be a definitive academic work analyzing such works, but a preliminary survey suggests that Wiesel may have been the first to have such works published in English, and early even as far as Hebrew scholarship goes. Later writers include Zalman Shachter-Shalomi (affectionately known as ‘Reb Zalman’) in A Heart Afire: Stories and Teachings of the Early Hasidic Masters (Jewish Publication Society, 2009), and the assorted writings of Dr. Arthur Green.

[13] Buber, Introduction to Tales of the Hasidim. (New York: Shocken Books, 1947).

[14] He formulates this idea clearly in Souls on Fire, (New York: Random House, 1972) in saying that “all the characters of our history are linked to each other. And we are the link. Tales are reformulated and rediscovered in every generation.” Also, in Sages and Dreamers (New York: Summit Books, 1991) he says that “a hassidic story is about hassidim more than about their masters, it is about those who retell it as much as about those who experienced it long ago, in a time of both physical and spiritual hunger and solitude.”

[15] The critique originally appeared in a 1961 article titled Buber’s Interpretation of Hasidism, later published in The Messianic Idea in Judaism (New York: Shocken, 1971). In order to fully appreciate this debate, one must recall Buber remains one of the leading interpreters of the Hassidic tradition, and Scholem of broader Jewish mysticism. Moreover, Buber was a major influence on Scholem’s interest in mysticism, and thus this article was an attack of student against the foundation of the scholarly exposition of the master, at the very end of the master’s life; Buber died but four years later.

[16] Major Trends, 350.

[17] Lauren Silberstein, in “Modes of Discourse in Modern Judaism: The Buber-Scholem Debate Reconsidered”, published in Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal (Penn State University Press: 1988) Vol. 7, No. 4, 657-681.

[18] “Interpreting Hasidism”, Commentary, September 1963.

[19]  Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism, 247.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Qtd. by Scholem in The Messianic Idea in Judaism (New York: Shocken, 1971), 234. Scholem there also comments that “it must be emphasized that, whereas the origins of this Hassidic life were deeply influenced and shaped by ideas laid down in the theoretical literature, its beginnings were certainly not influenced by legend.”

[22] Martin Buber, The Origin and Meaning of Hasidism (New York: Horizon Books, 1960).

[23] This becomes clear by observing Buber’s own rationale for his methodological style: “The other, and essentially different, way of restoring a great buried heritage of faith to the light is to recapture a sense of the power that once gave it the capacity to take hold of and vitalize the life of diverse classes of people. Such an approach derives from the desire to convey to our own time the force of a former life of faith to help our age renew its ruptured bond with the absolute. The scholar bent upon unearthing a forgotten or misunderstood body of teaching cannot accomplish this renewal even if he succeeds in establishing a new interpretation.” (Italics mine.) See Buber “Interpreting Hasidism,” Commentary, September 1963.

[24] This isn’t necessarily to suggest that Scholem was unable to understand the significance of these tales; After all, one does not simply accuse the founding father of academic Jewish mysticism of gross misunderstanding lightly. Perhaps we can understand Scholem’s understanding, or misunderstanding, of this topic through a vignette related by Wiesel in Sages and Dreamers: “One day he [The Apter] watched his followers push to approach his table. “Don’t”, he said quietly. “Its no use. Those who know how to listen will hear from a distance, those who don’t know how won’t hear even from close by.” (Italics mine).

[25] Colin Davis in Elie Wiesel’s Secretive Texts, (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1994), 47.

[26] Another such theme, although beyond the scope of this paper, in which one can find many parallels in Wiesel’s hassidic writings regards the simultaneous sanctity and sacreligeosity of silence.

[27] Alan L. Berger, “The Storyteller and His Quarrel with God”, published in Elie Wiesel and the Art of Storytelling (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2006). See also Bernard Schweitzer, “Agnostic Misotheism 3: Divine Apathy, the Holocaust, and Elie Wiesel’s Wrestling with God”, both in Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism (Oxford University Press, 2010). See also David Blumenthal, Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993). The latter is an important work, and was favorably accepted by Wiesel.

[28] Souls on Fire, (New York: Random House, 1972), 158.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] In Souls on Fire, he quotes Levi Yitzchak as having once cried out: “When a Jew sees tefillin on the ground, he runs to pick them up and kisses them. Isn’t it written that we are Your tefillin? Are You not going to lift us toward You?” He once went so far as to propose a challenge: “Know that if Your reign does not bring grace and mercy, lo teshev al kissakha beemet, Your throne will not be a throne of Truth.” Page 110.

[32] Souls on Fire, 111. John Roth highlights this tension within the thought of Wiesel: “To deny God outright would go too far. But to affirm God’s total goodness, to apologize for God, to excuse or exonerate God…these steps go too far as well.” Roth as well argues that one can be “for God by being against God.” See John K. Roth, “A Theodicy of Protest”, in Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy ed. Stephen T.  Davis and John B. Cobb (Atlanta, GA: J. Knox Press, 1981) Contrast this perspective with that of other post-Holocaust theologians, such as Eliezer Berkovitz, Emil Fackenheim, Richard Rubinstein, Primo Levi, and Irving (Yitz) Greenberg.

[33] Deuteronomy 9:7 and 9:24.