. . . of how we hear and understand what God is saying to us
In his slim volume of terrifying power [i], Elie Wiesel remembers the Night that fell upon the Jewish people during the Holocaust.
He begins by describing a clownish, waiflike figure from his childhood known by the local villagers as Moishe the Beadle. Moishe lived in abject poverty among the Jews of Sighet, a village in Transylvania, “rendering himself insignificant, invisible.” But Weisel remembers splashes of spiritual profundity in the strange little man, which haunt him still.
One day the Hungarian police expelled all foreign Jews from Sighet, taking Moishe the Beadle away in the crammed cattle car of a train. The deportees were quickly forgotten, until Moishe returned months later. Wild with terror he told tales of men, women and children being taken off the train and forced to dig a trench—their own grave, above which they were shot “without passion or haste … infants … tossed into the air and used as targets for machine guns.” [ii] Moishe wept and pleaded, “Jews, listen to me!” He shouted in the synagogue, but no one believed him.
In the spring of 1944 rumors from the Russian Front raised hope that Germany would be defeated. “The Red Army is advancing with giant strides . . . Hitler will not be able to harm us, even if he wants to . . .” It was inconceivable that even with Hitler’s resolve to exterminate them, he could annihilate an entire population dispersed through so many countries, millions in the middle of the 20th century. The world would not allow it. Thus the villagers of Sighet convinced themselves.
Elie listened to Moishe trying to understand his grief. But like the rest of the Jews in Sighet, he pitied the little man, never once considering that he brought a message that was meant-to-save their lives. In those days it was still possible to obtain emigration to Palestine, but that would mean selling everything and leaving all they knew behind. Reports of anti-Semitic acts filtered in, creating panic, but never for long before optimism revived. Even when the German army drove into the village of Sighet, their officers housed in Jewish homes, the Fascists in power, and the verdict set—“the Jews of Sighet were still smiling.” [iii]
Blind to the terror confronting them, deaf to the message they refused to believe, the Jews of Sighet did not understand that they were being given the chance to flee.
There is a barrier that defines the difference
between our failure to realize what God wants to do and be for us
and His success in getting us there.
No matter how urgent His message, no matter how much God wants us to hear Him: our realization of what He wants to do and be for us lies on the other side of our believing the truth he brings.
[i] From The New York Times’ description of Night, on the 2006 edition’s cover, A New Translation by Marion Wiesel
[ii] Elie Wiesel, Night, Hill and Wang, New York, 2006, p 6.
[iii] Ibid, p. 10.
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