Elie Wiesel: Jewish, Literary, and Moral Perspectives

By Steven T. Katz; Alan Rosen | Go to book overview

18
WIESEL’S TESTAMENT

OREN BARUCH STIER

I WOULD LIKE TO BEGIN on a personal note: when I was graduating from college everyone had the opportunity to insert a quotation or two into a space next to our yearbook photographs. One of the quotations I chose was from the epigraph to Elie Wiesel’s novel, The Gates of the Forest, which, as already cited by several contributors to this volume, recounts the tale of a Jewish mystical technique utilized by a succession of hasidic leaders for averting a divine decree of harsh judgment against the Jewish community, despite the progressively fading memory of the actual technique: in the end, the story alone is enough. The parable concludes, we will recall, “God made man because He loves stories.”1 That last sentence is the passage I chose for my yearbook statement; I selected it because I was enamored of the redemptive vision of the tale, and for the implication of a lonely and bereft divine universe had humans either never existed or, perhaps worse, existed without the ability to tell tales. Now, in revisiting that epigraph, I am struck both by the threat of divine judgment hovering in the background and by the testimonial aspect of the story—and the story within the story—told not just to entertain God, but to defend Jews—always, as it were, in a cosmic courtroom.

The title of this chapter, “Wiesel’s Testament,” is meant to play off the etymological connection between the words “testimony” and “testament.” I would like to highlight this connection in three intersecting ways:

1. In a specifically legal sense, paying particular attention to the formal meaning of
the word “testimony.”

2. In the sense of a “last will and testament,” especially in the context of Wiesel’s
book The Testament.

3. In a religious sense, which also could allude to a biblical (and even “new”) testa-
ment, that is, looking at not only a literary corpus and/or canon as a whole, but also,
and perhaps especially, the echoes and associations in that body of output that most
engage the broader, Christian, world.

One might suggest that we live in an age of testimony. This is not only due to the mass of personal accounts available as never before through contemporary tech-

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