“What are you, my Godâ€¦compared to this afflicted crowd, proclaiming to You their faith, their anger, their revolt? What does your greatness mean, Lord of the Universe, in the face of all this weakness, this decomposition, and decay? (73-74)” You would often hear these questions in concentration camps for Jews during the Holocaust; while fellow Jews were mercilessly killed.
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Elie Wiesel’s memoir, Night, is his personal encounter with the Holocaust as a Jew. He had an average life in a little town in Transylvania. At the age of fifteen, his life becomes full of suffering and oppressions. Wiesel and his family were moved into concentration camps, which resulted in losing his mom and sister and altering his views of religious ways and life. The most important altercation is Wiesel’s connection with religion because that’s what gives him the courage and strength to continue to live. Initially Elie shows strong devotion, then becomes disillusioned with God’s power, and ultimately redefines the position God holds in his life.
In the beginning, Elie Wiesel’s relationship with God in Night shows strong devotion. Wiesel made spirituality inherent to all activities and initiated the study of the Zohar, and advanced Jewish text, by himself with the help of Moche the Beadle. Wiesel wished to spend his life focused around Judaism and devoted all his free time and energy on religious studies. With Moche’s guidance, they would read the same pages of the Zohar over and over to “extract the divine essence from it” (15). Wiesel believed that religion was a basic survival need, showing that he followed his religion instinctively; just as he would any other body function. When Moche asked him why he prayed, Wiesel couldn’t think of a proper answer and thought, “â€¦strange question, why did I live, why did I breathe?” (14). Wiesel maintained confidence in religion as the situation deteriorated. Wiesel and his people gave thanks to God for survival, keeping hope that God was putting them through a test of hardships what would keep them alive if they kept their faith. When they had arrived at Auschwitz, they thanked God and were able to regain their confidence because, “Here was a sudden release from the terrors of the previous nights” (36). Wiesel thanked God for the little things that helped him because he wanted a sense of protection and clung to the belief that God watched over them and helped them survive the challenges he faced. When Wiesel’s new shoes get covered in mud and are not discovered by the SS Guards, he “thanked God, in an improvised prayer, for having created mud in His infinite and wonderful wisdom” (47).
In the next stage of Elie’s relationship with God in Night he becomes disillusioned with God’s power. One way Elie accomplishes this is by doubting God’s preeminence. Within the concentration camps, the Jews went through torture that caused them to question the foundation of their religion. In one conversation among them, Elie ponders his misgivings about God’s justice and sees God in a new light that brings him to fell “â€¦I had ceased to pray. How I sympathized with Job! I did not deny God’s existence, but I doubted His absolute justice” (53). As examined in the previous paragraph, Elie’s religion was central to his life, however this stage is marked by him turning away from God and trying to sort out all the turbulent feelings of abandonment and injustice. As Elie was confronted with the horrors of the crematorium for the first time his faith and all of the things he thought he knew were severely altered, and “(f)or the first time, I felt revolt rise up in me. Why should I bless His name? The Eternal, Lord of the Universe, the All-Powerful and Terrible, was silent. What had I to thank him for?”(42). Another way that Elie expresses his disappointment in God is by rebelling against the religious teachings he has followed all his life. One point that Elie put a great amount of stress on in Night, is the fact that while in this camp he felt like God was nonexistent. As the first nightmarish night in the concentration camp unfolded, Elie as a person was changed. His beliefs became different and he was no longer able to see the world in the same light, as expressed in “(n)ever shall I forget these moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust”(43). As all of this ran through his mind, Elie began to resent God and the religious habits he had been following. As his life was taken apart bit by bit, God meant less and less to him. This was due to the fact that he couldn’t get past the thought that God should stop this. This led him to revolt against God, and he found himself asking “Why, but why should I bless him? In every fiber I rebelled”(74).
Ultimately, Elie redefines the position God holds in his life. Elie sees that the Holocaust highlights the evil and cruelty from everybody. Not only by the Nazis, but from the other prisoners, his fellow Jews, even himself. He feels that if the world is so awful and cruel than God either must be awful and cruel or not exist altogether. “(On Yom Kippor) I no longer accepted God’s silence. As I swallowed my bowl of soup, I saw in the gesture an act of Rebellion and protest against him” (pg. 76). From this, Elie feels that he is better off alone in a world without God and man. “I was no longer capable of lamentation. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes were open and I was alone – terribly alone in a world without God and without man” (pg. 75). Because Elie realizes his belief of God was always present, his habit of religion will never leave. “â€¦In spite of myself, the words formed themselves and issued in a whisper from my lips:â€¦May His name be blessed and magnifiedâ€¦ My heart was bursting” (pg. 43). Elie prays to God subconsciously, reflecting the incompleteness of his loss of faith. Elie claims he no longer believes in God, but he, in turn, looks to God when he is doubtful of his ability to control himself. “And in spite of myself, a prayer rose in my heart, to that God whom I no longer believed” (pg. 97).
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In Night, Wiesel’s relationship with God experiences ups and downs, which ultimately changes his views about God. At the very beginning of the book, Wiesel shows his strong devotion to God but as he personally experiences the Holocaust, Wiesel becomes cynical of his religious beliefs. While Wiesel grows and transforms into a man, he simultaneously redefines God’s position in his life. Wiesel, being a forthright author, surfeits many examples of the mental and physical effects of people in the Holocaust and more specifically, a young boy. For this reason, Night provides a deeper understanding of the Holocaust so that with a better understanding of such a horrific event, history does not repeat itself.
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