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He was a simple man: He loved his family, was fiercely loyal to his clan, and prospered in trading. Like new city dwellers living in seventh-century Mecca, he, too, sensed the restlessness, the discontent, brought about by too much change, too fast. With dull hearts, everyone amassed fortunes, grew fat. The centuries-old Bedouin ethos of providing for the marginalized, the destitute no longer seized imaginations.

Known as al-Amin, the Reliable One, he was also given to solitary prayer and retreats. Like those around him, he listened to stories shared by Jews and Christians with whom he traded: how their eyes glowed describing the revelations of Moses, of Jesus. And how he yearned for such a prophet from among his own people to confront their malaise and rejuvenate their spirits. But the shock of becoming such a spokesperson for Allah, the Arabic word for God, almost killed him.

We are talking about the prophet Muhammed (c.570-632 CE.), found within the pages of Karen Armstrong’s biography, Muhammad – A Prophet For Our Time (2006).

Her meticulous research, drawn from the four extant biographies composed after the prophet’s death, reveals a man of hilm: patience, forbearance, compassion and mercy; not a man of the sword. For twenty-three years, under duress, the angel Gabriel/ Spirit seized his spiritual faculties and provoked him to recite revelations streaming from the heart of Allah. Inherent within these recitations, later compiled into the Koran, was a rigorous discipline few had the inclination to practice: it was too costly.

As Karen Armstrong points out, Muhammad’s modernity lies precisely in this discipline. Therein, still lies the way to Life’s fruitfulness.

 

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How formulate words around the life of Elie Wiesel (1928 – 2016) who, in dialog with his God, fully individuated himself within the warp and woof of his global community? Left a legacy of printed words that still fire imaginations and challenge the moral fiber of his readers?

Such is the task I set myself after completing Elie Wiesel’s second memoir,And The Sea is Never Full, 1969 -1999.

His lifelong study of the Torah and the Talmud imbued his witness, his writing, and his teaching in lecture halls and international venues. Like Jeremiah of the Old Testament, he was passionate, fully sensitive to the worlds within and around him. Words, written and later spoken, became his métier. Yet silence obliterated any foray into his death camp experiences: they remained inexpressible: referred to as “it.” Yet, paradoxically, “it” fueled his rich imagination with stories and assuaged his psychic wound. Those privy to his spiritual depths relished his unique vision: living with unanswered questions before the silence of God.

In his memoir, Wiesel also reproduced parts of significant dialogs and lectures that reveal the breath of his wisdom and his attunement to his listeners. Dreams of his deceased family, in italics, also showed his respect for his unconscious, ever guiding him toward wholeness. He was also not without wry humor in his admission of foibles. So beneath this world citizen lived a simple man of passion who loved being husband to Marion and father to Elisha.

Yet Elie Wiesel’s witness to hatred, under the guise of anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, and fanaticism, still flourishes—but not to worry. He has passed the baton on to us, with its imperative to root out such vestiges within our psyches. There is hope.

 

 

 

Memorable writers dig deep for the next precise word to construct their narratives—a spiritual process that engages readers.

Elie Wiesel (1928 – 2016) was such a writer, but unlike others, his eleven months spent in the death camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald eviscerated Yiddish words learned in childhood. For ten years, silence stood guardian over his shocked psyche and sustained his sanity while mastering French in the Normandy home for orphans where he was placed after the liberation. But his heart wound was never staunched—The heinous Evil of the camps defied words. Still, he must try.

And he did. In 1954, he began the task, scrounging for words that shivered before the enormity of his experience. What was to become Night ballooned into 842 pages that underwent several published revisions: in 1956, the Yiddish Un di Velt Hot Geshvign (And the World Remained Silent), reduced to 245 pages; in 1958, the French Nuit, reduced to 178 pages; in 1960, the English Night, reduced to 117 pages; and in 2006, a re-translation of the French Nuit, reduced to 115 pages. Decades of revision finally distilled Wiesel’s wound into its essence.

Although words of thirty other languages approximate this account, what actually occurred in the camps remains obscure. Those who plumb the mystery of Evil get scorched; it remains an unfathomable mystery.

So what to make of this world classic, Night? It still speaks to us, but how?

A clue to this dilemma lies in the Talmud’s designation of God as speaking through the white spaces between printed words. Within such silence emerges Wiesel’s deposition for those with courage to listen.

 

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