Night by Elie Wiesel

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Book and Article Reviews, World Religions
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1) What does the text actually say about the matters it addresses?

            The question that continuously arises for Wiesel is: where is God in the midst of such suffering?  How can God be said to be righteous, merciful, and just when our world often reflects another reality?  The text says quite explicitly and implicitly at points that faith can sustain people through tremendous pain, suffering, and trial.  A belief that there is a greater Good that is in store gives people hope in seemingly hopeless situations.

Furthermore, the text, in the acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, underlines the possibility to maintain one’s faith despite such tragic and horrendous circumstances.  Not only that, but faith is quite capable of surviving and thriving through and after tremendous suffering is endured.  Wiesel maintains his belief that God is good, which speaks volumes about Wiesel’s journey and struggle of faith.

2) What does the text reveal to me about this religious tradition?

The Jewish faith is one that understands and perseveres through trials.  It is an enduring faith because life’s greatest questions may be voiced, even angrily, at a God that holds sovereignty over life.  The traditions of the Jewish faith ground its faithful in a liturgy that continues to form them as God’s people.  And, it is from these traditions that they fall back upon and find strength within.  Faith is normative in their lives even in the midst of great chaos and turmoil.  Even when faith does not seem prudent or rational, it is still observed and practiced.  This patient endurance allows suffering to be transformed into something more than just tragedy.  It is not a faith that is easily broken, but is very resilient despite oppressive circumstances.  I also saw how diligently they studied the Talmud and the scripture.  They took it very seriously.  It is a faith that seeks to pass on its faith and traditions to the next generation.  Discipleship is extremely important to the Jewish community.

3) How does this text and the tradition it represents relate to Christianity (similarities, differences, etc.)?

Spirituality and truth, according to Moishe the Beadle, begins within the questions that humanity has.  Humanity supplies the questions and God supplies the answers.  However, the answers are not knowable now.  According to this tradition, the answers reside in our souls until we die.  Praying is a way to ask the right questions from the “God within ourselves.”  This seems to be contradictory to the sentiment within Christianity that God calls and we are only then able to respond.  Likewise, God is knowable.  God makes Himself known to us now.  Furthermore, God resides outside of us, as well as, within us.  However, just because God resides in us does not render us God ourselves.

The Kabbalah tradition is treated as a type of mysticism.  It is an unveiling of “hidden knowledge” than can only be revealed through careful seeking in the right places.  It hints of Gnosticism.  At one point in the story, a man believes he has discerned a hidden message from the Bible that has been translated into numbers.  However, it is found to be wrong.  This really sounds similar to some of the interpretations of Revelation that are constantly floating around in the evangelical world.  It is a belief that God hides knowledge so that only a few may find it.  This is an incoherent view of God from a orthodox Christian standpoint.

Also, there seems to be an underlying assumption that God causes all things to happen.  Thus, God is to fully blame when bad things happen.  This sounds similar to a Calvinist leaning.  God is omnipotent and the Great Cause.  As such, God causes all things to happen.  Although this is consistent with Deuteronomistic thinking, it is not the only perspective on the cause of suffering and pain.  This assumption is not one that would likely be fully embraced from a Wesleyan perspective.

One aspect that jumps out at me is the routines of faithful living that are not broken.  The holy days are still observed, if not always appreciated.  Even when believing is difficult or impossible, the traditions carry the people through.  In the evangelical world, we often lack the same tenacity and commitment to traditions and our faith as did the Jews in our story.  Our Christian “faith” is often much more non-committal and temporal.  We are faithful when it suits us and is convenient.  Many of the Jews were faithful despite it being inconvenient.

4) How does reading this text contribute to (change/confirm/challenge, etc.) the way I view this religious tradition, and the subject of religion in general?

Reading Night did not challenge or change my views of the Jewish faith.  If anything, it only served to confirm and strengthen my view of the Jewish faith.  However, I did learn some new things concerning Kabbalah.  I was unaware that it was a type of Jewish mysticism.  Reading about the underlying premise of Kabbalah, it seemed rather flaky and rickety.  The idea of finding the divine within oneself seems even less appropriate considering the utter darkness of man.  The concentration camps only serve to underline this reality.  Overall, I thought this text contributes to my respect that I have for Jews.  Yet, at the same time, I hesitate to feel similarly about Kabbalah.  It seems incoherent and illogical from its description in the text.

However, I do believe that how we think about God inherently and profoundly impacts the way our faith interacts with our world.  Naïve beliefs only become faith when they have endured testing.  Those beliefs that are found to be lacking because they do not measure up in a situation will either be tweaked or tossed in the trash.  Religion can aid people in enduring great tribulation.  Trials have a way of winnowing out the chaff of our beliefs.  Faith, however, is enduring.  One thought that has provoked me lies in the knowledge that many religions have faded through the epochs of history.  What makes such religions as Judaism such an enduring bastion for people?  And, is this a feature that is shared by all other major religions?  I think religion is an important element in our lives.  It provides a foundation and boundaries.  It can give us strength to endure and persevere.  It can provide hope in hopeless circumstances.  And, it seeks answers to life’s biggest questions.  Religion can help us on this journey.  At the same time, religion can also contribute to our inability to listen to God.  It can lull us into a spiritual sleep that does not allow us to be challenged or force us to face reality.  I believe both realities are presented in this book.




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