Thursday, March 29, 2012

Night of the Kabbalah

It is difficult to approach Elie Wiesel’s night with a critique.  As memoir, it is unassailable.  At best, we can take it as a piece of literature and then base our analysis on that.  Night is, after all, marketed as a novel.   

I think the literary key to the novel is in the very beginning, where the young narrator studies Kabbalah with the mysterious Moshe the Beadle.  Moshe is a simple man, and hides great learning and mystical erudition.  The young narrator, who cries during prayer, gains the attention of Moshe, and at the tender age of 14, begins to study Jewish mysticism (traditionally, one should only begin such studies at 40).

Night becomes, in a sense, a commentary on how close we can get to God, when the world is so inherently (or seemingly) godless.  When Moshe is deported to the camps, only to arrive back after escaping, the Jews of Sighet will not believe his stories of atrocities.  The Jews of this corner of Hungary refuse to believe that their destruction is immanent.  God's knowledge of human fate is revealed only to be concealed.

The Kabbalah, with its promise of closeness to God, and the destruction of a people, are bizarrely wedded in Night.  Are we supposed to view this story as a punishment for trying to gain knowledge of God that no one should gain?    Is the story of Night a Kabbalistic allegory on the fate of human beings when they overstep their reach?  It is hard to reach a firm conclusion.  Weisel just leaves us with nagging questions.

Ultimately no one listens to Moshe the Beadle and pay with death.  But Night makes us all listen, and we are privy to great secrets of life.

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