Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Menschlichkeit

Elie Wiesel, 1928 - 2016


It's late to say, but Elie Wiesel passed away over the weekend.

There's little I can add to what's already been said about him, even during his lifetime. My introduction to him was reading Souls On Fire ("When I am asked about my Jewish affiliation, I define myself as a Hasid, " Wiesel once wrote. "Hasid I was, Hasid I remain"), which contains one of my favorite thoughts about the power of writing and belief. 

The great rabbi Baal Shem-Tov loved his people, Wiesel wrote. Whenever he sensed they were in danger, he would go to a secret place in the woods, light a special fire, and say a special prayer. Then, without fail, his people would be saved from danger. Baal Shem-Tov passed on and his disciple, Magid of Mezritch, came to lead the people. Whenever he sensed his people were in danger, he would go to the secret place in the woods. "Dear God," he would say, "I don't know how to light the special fire, but I know the special prayer. Please let that be good enough." It was, and the people would once again be saved from danger. 

When Magid passed on, he was succeeded by another rabbi, the Rabbi Moshe-leib of Sasov, and whenever he heard that his people were in danger, he would go to the secret place in the woods. "Dear God," he would say, "I don't know how to make the special fire, I don't know how to say the special prayer, but I know this secret place in the woods. Please let that be good enough." It was, and the people would once again be saved from danger. 

When Rabbi Moshe passed, he was succeeded by Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn, and whenever somebody told him that his people were in danger, he didn't even get out of his armchair. He could only bow his head and shrug his shoulders. "Dear God," he would pray, "I don't know how to make the special fire. I don't know how to say the special prayer. I don't even know the secret place in the woods. All I know is the story, and I'm hoping that's good enough."

It was, and his people would be saved.

Then (Wiesel adds), the moral of this is, God made man because He loves stories

Now he knows what we do not. Another Mensch leaves us; and as I do not tire of saying, we live in a world with a very limited supply of Mensches.

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Please feel free to thrill all humankind with the brilliance and importance of You. And forgo all civility (especially the passive-aggressive sort, aggression masquerading as mildness) . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

But, consider: Dogs have short attention spans, don't tolerate bullies, and we're notoriously thin-skinned -- so make sense, be brief, and play nice, or I'll bite you and pee on your leg. Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark.