“Study them with love, for they will be your links to life”
The death last Shabbat of Elie Wiesel was a severe blow to all. He died after a long illness in his 88th year. His life came, sadly, to its natural end. His quiet passing was a poignant, tender contrast to the brutal murders of millions and millions of people whose lives were cut short by the perpetrators of the Shoah and then by the many oppressors and persecutors of human beings afterward.
Wiesel knew he could never make sense of what happened to the Jews of Europe. He did not try to. Rather, he struggled constantly to make sense of his own life. And he was an unrelenting torment to modern day oppressors even as he reminded the world of the evil committed by the Nazis.
Despite everything he experienced and saw during the dark years of the Shoah, he never let go of his deep sense of belonging to the Jewish people. Indeed, he was one of the world’s great explicators of Jewish life, Jewish history and the Jewish people.
In the first volume of his autobiography, Memoirs: All Rivers Run to the Sea, (Alfred A. Knopf, Canada, 1995), Wiesel recounts the surge of excitement he felt at the introduction to his formal Jewish education.
“With time, study became a true adventure for me. My first teacher, the Batizer Rebbe, a sweet old man with a snow-white beard that devoured his face, pointed to the 22 holy letters of the Hebrew alphabet and said, “Here, children, are the beginning and the end of all things. Thousands upon thousands of works have been written and will be written with these letters. Look at them and study them with love, for they will be your links to life. And to eternity.
“It was with the 22 letters of the aleph-bet that God created the world,” said the teacher. “Take care of them and they will take care of you. They will go with you everywhere. They will make you laugh and cry. Or rather, they will cry when you cry and laugh when you laugh, and if you are worthy of it, they will allow you into hidden sanctuaries where all becomes…” All becomes what? Dust? Truth? Life? It was a sentence he never finished.”
Wiesel, of course, refers to the Hebrew letters metaphorically as well as literally. They represent the vast, illimitable richness and depth of Jewish learning. “Study them (Jewish learning) with love,” Wiesel has his teacher saying. “For they (Jewish learning) will be your links to life and to eternity.”
It is painful to contemplate how many among our younger generations have read any of Wiesel’s many works. How many among our younger generations know who he was?
We share Wiesel’s observations about the power and the possibilities inherent in Jewish learning. And that is why we are determined to make it affordable to all.
GAJE hopes to enlist the help of as many rabbis as possible to speak from their pulpits during the upcoming High Holidays about the need to make Jewish education affordable. We ask our GAJE members to join in our recruitment effort. Please speak to your rabbi. Ask him or her to join the cause. It is not too soon.