Never Shall I Forget

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed ... Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith for ever … Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live ... Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my G‑d and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as G‑d Himself.

These are the words of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel, who passed away last year, June 2, 2016. True to hisDarkness is relentless word, Elie never forgot the flames and the suffering, but he did find a way to transform his experience. He became the moral conscience of the world. He turned his darkness into a beacon of light.

Elie Wiesel found a purpose and used it to illuminate the world. Although he was a survivor who never stopped suffering, this was not the sum total of his existence. He became a crusader for morality, a fighter for life, an advocate for justice and someone who refused to give up on humanity.

When darkness encroaches, it is difficult to see through to the end of the tunnel. Darkness envelopes. Darkness engulfs. Darkness is relentless. It is difficult to pierce its veil, to peer through it and find light. But it is not impossible.

Rejoice as we Suffer

A little more than a year ago, a man I admire greatly, a rabbi I consider to be a personal hero, a model for all to emulate, experienced a devastating blow: the loss of his 29-year-old daughter, Rivky. This was the fourth child that Rabbi Yisroel Deren and his wife Vivi lost, and as you would imagine, the shiva home was filled with family and friends. Rabbi and Vivi Deren spent the week inspiring others despite their devastating blow and excruciating pain. One of the thoughts Rabbi Deren shared that week touched on a sensitive chord of human nature.

Quoting the verse, “Bring us joy in accordance with the days of our affliction,”1 Rabbi Deren explained: When we experience great loss, the death of a child or the loss of parents, we feel trapped by grief. There is a heart-wrenching sense that we will never be happy again, that we will never smile again, that our sun has set for the last time, and we will never experience the joy of sunrise.

Somehow, joy doesn’t come with the same sense of finality. Rarely, if ever, do we experience a joy that we feel will last forever. We are always aware on some level that, though this is a happy moment, it is one in an endless parade of moments, and that when this moment passes, the next will likely not be as joyful. We encourage ourselves to enjoy the moment while it lasts, because we know it won’t last forever.

This might explain why the Torah describes sunrise as the time when the sun is strongest.2 At first blush, this makes little sense, the sun is still cool at sunrise; it is only at midday that the sun reaches its hottest point.

We experience day and night differently

However, perhaps the message is about the way we experience day and night differently. When night falls, we feel the melancholy of darkness and, as it unfolds, our sense of darkness increases.

When the sun rises, we experience the joy of seeing light, but once we get used to it, we no longer experience the same thrill. We stop dwelling on it. Sunrise is therefore the sun’s strongest moment.

The same is true of metaphoric light and darkness. In our suffering, we feel that the sadness will last forever. But in joy, we tend to experience the beginning as a thrill, and then we adapt and take it for granted.

Why can’t we experience suffering the way we experience joy, and joy the way we experience suffering? Why can’t we believe that joy will last forever and see our suffering as a passing phase? This, taught Rabbi Deren amidst his own pain, was David’s plea to G‑d. “Bring us joy in accordance with the days of our affliction.” Allow us to experience joy with the same intensity and finality that we experience our suffering. May our joyful days be as bright as our suffering days are dark.

Finding Strength

When we think that we have reached the end of our rope, when we think our light has dimmed forever, when we think our misery is unending, we need to give ourselves time. Rabbi Deren and Vivi found strength in their suffering and turned their pain into inspiration for others. Elie Wiesel found a way to turn his darkness into a source of light for others. Our sun will rise again, too.