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Home » Korach, Tragedy

Korach: Remembering Elie Wiesel

Submitted by on July 3, 2016 – 1:34 amNo Comment | 4,820 views

Never Shall I Forget
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. . . Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith for ever. . . Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. . . Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my G-d and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as G-d Himself.

These were the words of survivor and Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel, who passed away on June 2, 2016. True to his word, Ellie never forgot the flames and the suffering, but he did recover his faith,[1] he did find a way to transform his suffering into a campaign. He became, as the media has been reporting for days, the moral conscience of the world. He turned his darkness, into a beacon of light.

Elie Wiesel found his light and used it to illuminate the world. Although he was a survivor who never stopped suffering, this was not the sum total of his existence. He became a crusader for morality, a fighter for life, an advocate for justice and a promoter of humanity’s innate goodness.

But it is not surprising that he did not see the light at the end of his dark tunnel, when he first wrote his legendary book, Night. When darkness encroaches, it is difficult to see through to the end of the tunnel. Darkness envelopes. Darkness engulfs. Darkness is relentless; it doesn’t allow us to pierce its veil. It doesn’t allow us to peek around its corner and find our light.

Rejoice As We Suffer

Several weeks ago, a man I admire greatly, a rabbi I consider a personal hero, a model for all to emulate, experienced a devastating blow; the loss of his twenty-nine year old daughter, Rivki. This was the fourth child that Rabbi Yisroel Deren and his wife Vivi lost, and as you would imagine, the Shiva home was filled with family and friends. Rabbi and Vivi Deren spent the week inspiring others despite their devastating blow and excruciating pain. One of the thoughts Rabbi Deren shared that week touched on a sensitive chord of human nature.

Quoting the verse, “Bring us joy in accordance with the days of our affliction,” [2] Rabbi Deren explained. When we experience great loss, the death of a child or the loss of parents, we feel trapped by grief. There is a heart wrenching sense that life will never be happy again. That we will never find the strength to smile again. That our sun has set for the last time and we will never experience the joy of sunrise.

Somehow joy doesn’t come with the same sense of finality. Rarely, if ever, do we experience a joy that we feel will last forever. We are always aware on some level that though this is a happy moment, it is one in an endless parade of moments and when this moment passes, the next will not likely be as joyful. We encourage ourselves to enjoy the moment while it lasts because we know it won’t last forever.

This might explain why the Torah describes sunrise as the time that the sun is strongest.[3] At first blush this makes little sense, the sun is still cool at sunrise; it is only in mid afternoon that the sun reaches its hottest point. Why does the Torah refer to sunrise as the sun’s strongest point?

Perhaps the message is that people experience the day differently than night. When night falls, we feel the melancholy of darkness, and as it unfolds, our sense of darkness increases. Daylight is different. When the sun rises, we experience the joy of seeing light, but once we get used to it, we no longer experience the same thrill. We get used to it and stop dwelling on it. Sunrise is thus the sun’s strongest moment.

The same is true of proverbial light and darkness. In suffering, we feel that the sadness will last forever. But in joy, we tend to experience the beginning as a thrill and then we adapt and take it for granted.

Why can’t we experience suffering the way we experience joy, and joy the way we experience suffering? Why can’t we believe that joy will last forever and see our suffering as a passing phase? This, taught Rabbi Deren, amidst his own pain, was David’s plea to G-d. Allow us to experience joy, with the same intensity and finality that we experience our suffering. May our joyful days be as bright as our suffering days are dark.

Finding Strength

Rabbi Deren found strength in these words. Through them he and his wife Vivi, turned their pain into inspiration for others. Elie Wiesel found similar strength. At first he thought his darkness would last forever, but he found a way to turn his darkness into a source of light for others. Who knows, perhaps Moses found similar strength.

When Korach led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, Moses did his best to mollify them. But when they failed to respond, Moses turned to G-d and said, “Do not accept their offering. I have not taken a donkey from a single one of them, and I have not harmed a single one of them.” He went on to warn that these people would die a gruesome death and when it happened, Moses did nothing to stop it.[4]

When Jews suffered in Egypt, Moses went to bat for them. When they worshipped the Golden Calf, Moses stood up for them. When they were hungry and thirsty, Moses prayed for them. When they grumbled and complained, Moses advocated for them. When they believed the spies, Moses begged G-d to forgive them. But this time he finally gave up. They had apparently crossed a line and reached his limit.

Yet we turn the page and read that the very next day, Jews grumbled again and when a new plague struck, Moses stepped in to save them. What changed for Moses, how did he recover his strength?

I don’t know what changed for Moses, but I know what we can learn from this. When we think we have reached the end of our rope, when we think our light has dimmed forever, when we think our misery is unending, we need to give ourselves time. Our sun will rise again. It did for Moses. it did for Ellie Wiesel. And as Rabbi Deren taught at his daughter Rivki’s Shiva, it will for us too.

[1] Elie Wiesel maintained a long correspondence with the Lubavitcher Rebbe OBM, whose Yahrtzeit falls this coming Shabbat, on why G-d allowed the Holocaust. The Rebbe explained that it is not within our capacity, nor is it within our mandate to justify human suffering. Our work is to prevent it and to lament it. But our faith tells us that everything G-d does is for the good. Comprehensible suffering leads to comprehensible good. Incomprehensible suffering leads to incomprehensible results, hence it is no surprise that we cannot conceive of a result that might make such suffering worthwhile.

[2] Psalms 91:15.

[3] Judges, 5: 31. The commentaries explained the verse as from sunrise [until midday] when the sun is strongest.

[4] Numbers chapters 15-17.

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