5 Elie Wiesel Books You Need to Read

May His Memory Be a Blessing

The world is not the same without Elie Wiesel. He did more than write. He did more than teach. He symbolized survival and hope.

Elie Wiesel

I met him at age 13 when my dad and I drove from Milwaukee to Chicago to see him speak. Afterward we went up to talk, and my dad embarrassed me by telling Wiesel I wanted to become a rabbi.

He said “We need you,” and then he grabbed my hand and offered a blessing. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember the feeling of holiness he created. He felt like a link to the past and a push into the future.

So many eloquent tributes have been written over the last two days. They come from people who knew him far better than I did.

What I hope to convey to Christians and Jews is a touch of his literary genius. His writings influenced millions of people. He not only conveyed the horror of the Holocaust. He also revealed part of the beauty and wisdom of the Jewish tradition.

Here are a few of his greatest books. You will not regret reading any of them.

  1. Night: This seminal book captures the absolute horror—physical, psychological and spiritual—of the Holocaust. It does so in stark unadorned language. Publishers initially hesitated in promoting this book because it is so bleak. It reveals the evil of which we are capable, and it is a witness and a prod for us to do everything we can to never forget.
  1. Five Biblical Portraits: Wiesel grew up in a home infused with Jewish learning. He knew the Bible intimately, and he tells the stories of biblical figures with a language and emotion rooted in the traditional Jewish piety. This book exposes  a side of the Bible rarely captured in sermons or scholarship.
  1. Trial of God: Wiesel maintained a complex theology. He doubted and believed. This book tells of a group of prisoners in the Auschwitz death camp putting God on trail for crimes against humanity. They convict God. Then they proceed to say their evening prayers.
  1. All Rivers Run To the Sea: Wiesel tells the story of his childhood through his experience of the death camps. The title of this memoir is taken from the first chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Few books are more interesting and revealing than autobiographies of extraordinary people who write with eloquence and insight. This book is all of that and more.
  1. The Town Beyond the Wall: This novel tells of a Jewish man who returns to his native Hungary to find out why his neighbors gave him up to the Nazis. The man ends up getting thrown in prison. Wiesel explores how societies both change and remain the same, and what our responsibility is to the future.

Thankfully, each of these books will keep Elie Wiesel’s memory alive. As we say in Jewish tradition, Zecher Tzadik L’vracha, “May the memory of the righteous endure among us as an everlasting blessing.”

Finding Hope After the Horror

A Jewish Holiday to Help us Deal with the Anger and Despair

I sent the following letter to my congregation this afternoon after the shooting in Orlando.

Dear Friends,

The worst case of gun violence in American history struck Orlando this morning. We feel angry and despondent.

orlando shooting

Angry at the targeting of a gay nightclub, making this a hate crime; angry at the commitment to Islamic terrorism motivating the shooter; angry at the ability for such a terrorist to obtain high-powered guns.

And we feel despondent at our seeming  inability to do anything to prevent such violence. Just under a year ago a man walked into an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine people studying the Bible. Have we learned anything?

As Jews, however, we are told to never give up hope. That hope was born at Mount Sinai, where we received the Torah.

Today is the holiday of Shavuot, where we celebrate that giving of the Torah. The Hebrew word Shavuot means “weeks.” But it also means “oaths.”

At Mount Sinai we took an oath to live by certain values. Paramount among those values is a love of life, as we toast “l’chayim, to life.”

Let us rededicate ourselves today to doing everything we can to save lives—the lives of those targeted by guns, the lives of those living under the threat of terrorism, and the lives of those who are hated simply for who they are.

With hope and prayers,

Rabbi Evan Moffic

The Kindergarten Stabbing

A Short Story of Anger, Regret and Forgiveness

Many years ago, the director of my Sunday school once came to me with a problem. A girl in the third grade class felt isolated from all her peers. They ostracized her. She left each day crying.

Angry-toddler-tantrum

I did a little investigating and learned the reason. Back in kindergarten, this girl had poked another girl with a pencil. It was a hard poke. But nothing too serious. She apologized and the class moved on. 

Why Don’t I Get More Letters Like This?

Easter is coming up. Do Not Miss This.

Sometimes a reader understands your book better than you do. That’s the feeling I got after receiving this letter. It reveals exactly what my newest book can teach and do for readers.

Click to Get a discounted copy of the Book

Click to Get a discounted copy of the Book

Dear Rabbi,

“When I was growing up, I had a number of Jewish friends, and I used to visit the synagogue yearly as a part of our Sunday school ecumenical program.

Nevertheless, I can’t say that I knew much about Judaism as a religion. It wasn’t until I was middle aged that I even met a devout Jew.

Thus this book was a revelation for me.

Why are There So Many Jewish Lawyers (and Supreme Court Justices)?

2 Reasons It Makes Me Proud

The entire world Jewish population is 13 million. That is smaller than a tiny statistical error in the Chinese Census. Between 5 and 6 of those 13 million live in America. We constitute to about 1.7% of the American population.

Judge Merrick Garland. His grandparents fled antisemitism.

Yet, if Judge Merrick Garland is confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice (a big if!), four out of the nine justices would be Jews. That’s almost a majority. What explains this extraordinary representation? Two factors: 

Do Jews Believe in Resurrection of the Dead?

The hardest chapter to write for my book on the Jewishness of Jesus was the one on resurrection. I tried to avoid it, but my editor insisted. Resurrection of the dead is not a topic we discuss much in synagogues.

In fact, many Jews and Christians today believe Jews have never believed in the resurrection of the dead. Yet, the Talmud says faith in resurrection is one of the three core ideas of Judaism. Look at chapter 37 of the Book of Ezekiel.

In it the Prophet Ezekiel envisions a valley full of dry bones. He speaks to the bones. He tells them God will breathe life into them. They will have skin and flesh and become a great army.

The bones symbolize the people of Israel, who will rise again and return to their land. The text is not purely a symbolic vision of rebirth. It is physical, with the spirit giving life to the bones of the dead. The text is traditionally read during the week of Passover. 

A Frog Must Jump: Or How We Always End Up Following Our Passion

A good friend of mine is a highly successful entrepreneur. He also happens to be a rabbi.

We met in rabbinical school. At the time he planned to lead a congregation, as I do now. By the time we graduated, however, plans had changed.

Even before graduating, he was leading a new Jewish organization. (The closest Christian analogy would be a church plant). Then he was advising other start-ups.

Soon he began an after-school initiative. While rooted in the Jewish value of education, this is not a religious program.

Once a Rabbi, Always a Rabbi

He is, of course, still a rabbi. But he is, truly, an entrepreneur. And he can’t not create and grow a business.

Or, as my grandpa once said, “a frog must jump.”

See, we have certain skills and inclinations. Whether we were born with them or developed them over time, they shape what we love to do and what we do well. Unless they are dangerous or harmful to others, we are foolish to ignore or try to hide them.

What is Your Passion?

If you are a singer, sing. If you think logically and strategically, be a lawyer or consultant. If you love science, be a doctor or researcher. If you love to teach, teach.

I’m not sure where rabbi fits in. Perhaps it’s a person who loves people, God and community.

And if you are a writer, write. It’s part of what I do. And here’s a little taste of what I’ve written. http://www.rabbimoffic.com/passoverbook and http://www.rabbimoffic.com/JewishJesus

What is your passion? Tell Me by Leaving a Comment Below

10 Prayers for the New Year

We all need a little inspiration as we approach the New Year. Following is a series of short prayers based on Jewish wisdom and tradition.

1. Looking Backward and Forward: The name January comes from the Roman god “Janus.” He had two faces so he could look forward and backward at the same time. Eternal God, help us to know this truth. We can look back, and in so doing, we can help create the way forward. The past need not hold us back. It can lead us ahead.

2. Unwrap the Gift: Eternal God, You gave us the greatest gift: the gift of life. In the coming year, help us use it wisely. May we grow in generosity, kindness and forgiveness, hope, faith and love. Amen.

3. Beginnings are blessings: Eternal God, bless this new beginning with an extra spirit of your strength, so that we may turn our days into blessings of your name. Amen.

4. Possibilities: To begin again is not a dream. It is an everlasting possibility. God, help us to grab hold of it and make it real in the coming year. Amen

5. The Book of Life: A new year is a new page in the book of our lives. May we write with color, wisdom and humility. And may your grace fall upon it consistently and unceasingly. Amen. (The ultimate prayer for many Christians is the Lord’s prayer. I offer a new understanding of it in this excerpt from my upcoming book.)

6. Waiting for Us: The good we missed last year waits for us still. Eternal God, give us the eyes to see it, the ears to hear and the heart to find it. Amen

7. Strength: God, we do not ask for a life of ease and comfort. We simply ask to be uncomplaining and unafraid. May you give us that strength for the New Year.

8. The Possibility for Change: The Hebrew word for “year” also means “change.” Change is a possibility for each us. May we embrace that possibility for change within ourselves, change within our families, change within our communities, and change within our world.

9. Change is inevitable: Growth is not. It depends on our will, our hopes, our dreams. And it rests on Your Grace. Give us an extra portion of it, so that we may fill the New Year with your Presence. Amen

10. Presence: The greatest gift we can give to others and You can give to us, Oh God, is Presence. May we be present for others during the coming year, and may You bless us with Your presence at every moment. Amen.

What is Your Prayer for the New Year? (The ultimate prayer for many Christians is the Lord’s prayer. I offer a new understanding of it, unpacking its Jewish context, in this excerpt from my upcoming book.)

Can Chanukah Teach Us Anything Today?

Those of us born in America often take our freedoms for granted. We forget the centuries of struggle that went into creating them.

As an American Jew, I strive to be doubly mindful. The Constitution guaranteed a freedom of religion for which we had yearned for thousands of years. America is a home where Jews have thrived.

Chanukah at the White House

This truth was on my mind last week as I represented my congregation and community and celebrated Chanukah at the White House. Along with a few hundred others, I got the chance to sing the Chanukah blessings along with the President, First Lady, Vice-President. I heard the Marine Corps band play traditional Jewish folk songs. And I ate kosher potato pancakes prepared in the White House kitchen.

My immigrant great-great grandparents could never have imagined this scene. To them it would have seemed like pure fantasy.

In America, however, anything is possible. ​

We are nation rooted in the biblical principle that every human being is created in the image of God, and therefore every human being has a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The Holiday’s Greatest Lesson.

Thou Shalt Not Take This For Granted

The holiday of Chanukah reminds us that these rights wither when we take them granted. Freedom does not sustain itself. The heroes of Hanukah—known as the Maccabees—stood up when they lost their rights to worship and practice their faith. They had to fight King Antiochus. They had to say no when he ordered them to place statues of Greek gods in the Temple in Jerusalem.

When we forget our responsibility to guard our freedoms—when we take them for granted—we eventually lose them. That is been the fate of every great civilization that came before us.

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it, “The oldest and most tragic phenomenon in history is that empires which flourish eventually decline. Freedom becomes license, license becomes chaos, chaos becomes the search for order, and the search for order be- comes a new tyranny imposing its will by the use of force.” When we forget to defend what we stand for, we lose it.

An Unfinished Experiment

Can this happen in America? Absolutely. Judaism had already been around 2000 years when the Macabees had to defend it. America has only been around for 240 years. In comparison to China and the nations of Europe, we are a young country.

Indeed, Sigmund Freud once wrote that America is an unfinished experiment. We are the participants in that experiment. Chanukah at the White House made me ever more committed to ensuring its success.