January 19, 2020

Elie Wiesel: Mentor and teacher of generations

Elie Wiesel was a soul on fire. The spiritual intensity of his Chassidic upbringing permeated and fashioned the core of his being. Like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, Wiesel was one of those rare and exceptional individuals who became living legends during their own lifetime. 

His life-story is a living proof that ultimately, in the final analysis, there is more to celebrate than to denigrate in the human condition. 

As an impassioned Jew, Wiesel spent the bulk of his existence studying and writing about the foundational texts of Judaism. As a humanistic activist and a universal conscience, Wiesel embraced all of humanity, and endeavored to use his privileged global status in order to try and put an end to the monstrosities of ethnic cleaning and genocide. 

On a more personal level, Wiesel was an exceedingly generous man, and I was fortunate enough as to benefit from his generosity of spirit first-hand. 

Back in my twenties, when I was a doctoral student in philosophy in New York City, Wiesel and I prayed in the same synagogue in proximity to each other. Wiesel was accessible and friendly. After having completed my doctorate, Wiesel expressed his interest in my work. He gave me his office address, and asked me to send him my thesis. His request turned out to be much more than mere social politeness. As it turned out, Wiesel was genuinely interested. After having read my work, Wiesel actually took the time to call me, and share with me his thoughts and feedback. As a result of this, Wiesel was instrumental in helping me publish my first book. Needless to say, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude and appreciation.

I was far from being the sole young scholar and writer who benefitted from Wiesel's extraordinary generosity of spirit. He was always eager to embrace and encourage young scholars, writers, and leaders. His benevolence reflected the spirit of his biblical namesake Eliezer, who was the faithful servant of Abraham. Wiesel himself was also a true and dedicated servant, of humanity and of God. 

The encounter with Elie Wiesel left an invaluable imprint on my soul, as well as my intellectual and spiritual development. Like millions of others, I felt a little orphaned by the news of his death. When Prime Minister Menachem Begin abruptly retired from office in 1983, he famously said: “No man is irreplaceable”. He was almost right. No one can replace the vacuum that Wiesel left as the unofficial mouthpiece of an entire generation of survivors. His death signifies the end of an era, but his spiritual and political legacy is perpetual and everlasting. Now it is up to us to continue his work.