The following is from Elie Wiesel's Night:
They called him Moshe the Beadle, as though he had never had a surname in his life. He was a man of all work at a Hasidic synagogue. The Jews of Sighet--that little town in Transylvania where I spent my childhood were very fond of him. He was very poor and lived humbly. Generally my fellow towns people, though they would help the poor, were not particularly fond of them. Moshe the Beadle was the exception. Nobody ever felt embarrassed by him. Nobody ever felt encumbered by his presence. He was a past master in the art of making himself insignificant, of seeming invisible.Of course, Moshe the Beadle is a Cassandra figure.
Physically he was as awkward as a clown. He made people smile, with his waif like timidity. I loved his great, dreaming eyes, their gaze lost in the distance. He spoke little. He used to sing, or, rather, to chant. Such snatches as you could hem told of the suffering of the divinity, of the Exile of Providence, who, according to the kabbalah, awaits his deliverance in that of man. I got to know him toward the end of 1941. I was twelve. I believed profoundly. During the day I studied the Talmud, and at night I ran to the synagogue to weep over the destruction of the Temple.
One day I asked my father to find me a master to guide me in my studies of the kabbalah.
"You're too young for that. Maimonides said it was only at thirty that one had the right to venture into the perilous world of mysticism. You must first study the basic subjects within your own understanding."
My father was a cultured, rather unsentimental man. There was never any display of emotion, even at home. He was more concerned with others than with his own family. The Jewish community in Sighet held him in the greatest esteem. They often used to consult him about public matters and even about private ones. There were four of us children: Hilda, the eldest; then Bea. I was the third, and the only son; the baby of the family was Tzipora.
My parents ran a shop. Hilda and Bea helped them with the work. As for me, they said my place was at school.
"There aren't any kabbalists at Sighet," my father would repeat.
He wanted to drive the notion out of my head. But it was in vain. I found a master for myself, Moshe the Beadle.
He had noticed me one day at dusk, when I was praying.
"Why do you weep when you pray?" he asked me, as though he had known me a long time.
"I don't know why," I answered, greatly disturbed.
The question had never entered my head. I wept because - because of something inside me that felt the need for tears. That was all I knew.
"Why do you pray?" he asked me, after a moment.
Why did I pray? A strange question. Why did I live? Why did I breathe?
"I don't know why," I said, even more disturbed and ill at ease. "I don't know why."
After that day I saw him often. He explained to me with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer. "Man raises himself toward God by the questions he asks Him," he was fond of repeating. "That is the true dialogue. Man questions God and God answers. But we don't understand His answers. We can't understand them. Because they come from the depths of the soul, and they stay there until death. You will find the true answers, Eliezer, only within yourself!"
"And why do you pray, Moshe?" I asked him.
"I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions."
We talked like this nearly every evening. We used to stay in the synagogue after all the faithful had left, sitting in the gloom, where a few half-burned candles still gave a flickering light.
One evening I told him how unhappy I was because I could not find a master in Sighet to instruct me in the Zohar, the kabbalistic book, the secrets of Jewish mysticism. He smiled indulgently. After a long silence, he said: "There are a thousand and one gates leading into the orchard of mystical truth. Every human being has his own gate. We must never make the mistake of wanting to enter the orchard by any gate but our own. To do this is dangerous for the one who enters and also for those who are already there."
And Moshe the Beadle, the poor barefoot of Sighet, talked to me for long hours of the revelations and mysteries of the kabbalah. It was with him that my initiation began. We would read together, ten times over, the same page of the Zohar. Not to learn it by heart, but to extract the divine essence from it.
And throughout those evenings a conviction grew in me that Moshe the Beadle would draw me with him into eternity, into that time where question and answer would become one.
Then one day they expelled all the foreign Jews from Sighet. And Moshe the Beadle was a foreigner.
Crammed into cattle trains by Hungarian police, they wept bitterly. We stood on the platform and wept too. The train disappeared on the horizon; it left nothing behind but its thick, dirty smoke.
I heard a Jew behind me heave a sigh.
"What can we expect?" he said. "It's war...."
The deportees were soon forgotten. A few days after they had gone, people were spying that they had arrived in Galicia were working there, and were even satisfied with their lot.
Several days passed. Several weeks. Several months. Life had returned to normal. A wind of calmness and reassurance blew through our houses. The traders were doing good business.
The students lived buried in their books, and the children played in the streets. One day, as I was just going into the synagogue, I saw sitting on a bench near the door, Moshe the Beadle.
He told his story and that of his companions. The train full of deportees had crossed the Hungarian frontier and on the Polish territory had been taken in charge by the Gestapo. There it had stopped. The Jews had to get out and climb into lorries. The lorries drove toward a forest. The Jews were made to get out. They were made to dig huge graves. And when they had finished their work, the Gestapo began theirs. Without passion, without haste, they
slaughtered their prisoners. Each one had to go up to the hole and present his neck. Babies were thrown into the air and the machine gunners used them as targets. This was in the forest of Galicia, near Kolomaye. How had Moshe the Beadle escaped? Miraculously. He was wounded in the leg and taken for dead.
Through long days and nights, he went from one Jewish house to another telling the story of Malka, the young girl who had taken three days to die, and of Tobias, the tailor who had begged to be killed before his sons.
Moshe had changed. There was no longer any joy in his eyes. He no longer sang. He no longer talked to me of God or of the kabbalah but only of what he had seen. People refused not only to believe his stories, but even to listen to them.
"He's just trying to make us pity him. What an imagination he has!" they said. Or even: "Poor fellow. He's gone mad."
And as for Moshe, he wept.
But can I make a singular point without, I hope, in any way detracting from the Jewish plight and the horrors of the Holocaust, nor in any sense equating the evil Nazis with God? That is, inasmuch as Moshe the Beadle was a Cassandra for his town, so too were many of the prophets and apostles, and so too are many Christians today.
After all, who wants to listen to Christians warning people to turn away from sin and turn back to God by flying for refuge in Jesus Christ? Who believes our report (Isa 53:1), who flees from the wrath to come (Luke 3:7), who flees from God's coming judgment against sinners living in sin?
So unless we turn back to God, begging for mercy and forgiveness for our sin, we will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3).
And as for Jesus, he wept (Luke 13:34-35).