In 2012, Oprah Winfrey asked Elie Wiesel to tell her what the world most needed to hear: If there is one person on the planet who still is suffering from loneliness or from pain or despair, and we don’t know about it or we don’t want to know about it, then something is wrong with the world.
Elie Wiesel, a famous and beloved Holocaust survivor, passed away last Shabbat. As the New York Times wrote, he was a champion of human rights, a symbol of hope, a writer of unmatched eloquence and the very conscience of the world. But above all else, he considered himself a witness who fought humanity's most dangerous enemy, indifference.
Wiesel's love for humankind is equally matched by his experience of horrors. In 1960, he wrote his first novel, Night, an autobiographical account of his experiences at the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never.
Wiesel experienced the worst in humanity, but taught us to be the best of humanity. Wiesel's taught that the most meaningful life is not a life of happiness, or a life of comfort, or a life of success--whatever those words even mean. That most meaningful life is a holy life. And holiness is not easy.
Holiness means that we must bear witness to painful experiences. It demands that we listen to the pained anguish of those who still struggle for freedom of expression. Wiesel fought not just for Jews, but for all whose lives were made painful because of injustice, hated and intolerance.
Last Shabbat I was sad as I began to mourn the passing of Elie Wiesel. This week's pair of fatal shootings of two black men is a painful reminder that whereas the arc of history may bend toward justice and equality, it is not bending nearly enough or fast enough.
Cities around our country held protests as they bore witness to Anton Sterling and Philander Castile. In Dallas, a peaceful protest became a horrifying display of the worst in humanity when a sniper opened fire because he wanted to kill white police officers. He killed 5 and injured others.
I am trying to follow Elie Wiesel's challenge, to feel the pain and injustice of others.
It's true that culture, laws, the arts, and religion repeatedly suggest that all lives should matter. But the problem is that in practice, the world just does not work that way. There is a systemic injustice in this country when a white college student rapes a girl and only is sentenced with several months of probation. There is injustice in the fact that some feel like the Orlando shooting may have been less tragic had others been carrying firearms, but feel indignation that both Anton Sterling and Philando Castile owned legally carried handguns. I think it's important that we proclaim that #BlackLivesMatter ... and I feel pain for the many police officers in our country who do their best to dutifully and ethically serve us with integrity.
Whenever Wiesel spoke, he talked about memory, bearing witness, honoring the past. Speaking to President Obama in previous years, Wiesel said, Memory has become a sacred duty of all people of goodwill.
As Jews, we always remember. - we are commanded to remember. Each of us has the memory of persecution. On Passover we remember that we used to be slaves, but now we are free. In the Torah, God reminds us over and over again, You were strangers in the land of Egypt. We carry this pain with us. Even at happy occasions, it is there. Jews leave a corner of their house unfinished in order to remember. At a wedding, a glass is stepped on ... to remember.
But we must also remember that other communities carry a similar burden of memory along with them. It can be difficult to be black in America, just as it used to be difficult for many Jews. Black parents around the country feel the obligation to have "the talk" with their teenage sons, telling them about the unfortunate realities of being a black man. We must help them bear witness to their memories, just as we bear witness to ours.
And, we must also remember the pain of law enforcement officials. Each and every day, they risk their own safety to ensure our safety. They are forced to make decisions in a matter of seconds, and like everyone else, they can sometimes make mistakes.
Elie Wiesel spoke to everyone when he taught about the powers of justice, friendship, and memory. It's been more than 70 years after the Holocaust, and we still need to hear him.
Some did hear his message - Even during the shootings in Dallas, amidst the terror, black and white people together sheltered a baby stroller to ensure the safety of the newborn within.
May the memory of Elie Wiesel help us to remember the pain and injustice of all people. When that day comes, it will truly be a Shabbat Shalom, a Shabbat of peace.