Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Excerpt from "The Trial of God"

Berish: You want to leave Him out? Turn Him into a neutral bystander? Would a father stand by quietly, silently, and watch his children being slaughtered?

Sam: By whom? By his other children!

Berish: All right, by his other children! Would he not interfere? Should he not?

Sam: You are using images, let me add mine. When human beings kill one another, where is God to be found? You see Him among the killers. I find Him among the victims.

Berish: He- a victim? A victim is powerless; is He powerless? He is almighty, isn't He? He could use His might to save the victims, but He doesn't! So- on whose side is He? Could the killer kill without His blessing- without His complicity?

Sam: Are you suggesting that the Almighty is on the side of the killer?

Berish: He is not on the side of the victim.

Sam: How do you know? Who told you?

Berish: The killers told me. They told the victims. They always do. They always say loud and clear that they kill in the name of God.

Sam: Did the victims tell you? (Berish hesitates) No? Then how do you know? Since when do you take the killers' word for granted? Since when do you place your faith in them? They are efficient killers but poor witnesses.

Berish: You would like to hear the victims? So would I. But they do not talk. They cannot come to the witness stand. They're dead. You hear me? The witnesses for the prosecution are the dead. All of them. I could call them, summon them a thousand times, and they would not appear here before you. They are not accustomed to taking a walk outside, and surely not on Purim eve. You want to know where they are? At the cemetary. At the bottom of mass graves. I implore the court to consider their absence as the weightiest of proofs, as the heaviest of accusations. They are witnesses, Your Honor, invisible and silent witnesses, but still witnesses! Let their testimony enter your conscience and your memory! Let their premature, unjust deaths turn into an outcry so forceful that it will make the universe tremble with fear and remorse!

Sam: Too easy, Your Honor. What gives the prosecutor the right to speak for the dead?

Berish: I knew them alive. I witnessed their death.

Sam: So what? does he know, is he empowered to know what they felt and thought and believed when they died? He depicts them as accusers- or witnesses for the persecution. What if they felt differently? Suppose they chose, at that supreme hour, to repent! Suppose they were pleased- yes, pleased- to leave this ugly planet behind them and enter a world of eternal peace and truth?

Berish: That's too much! Even for him! (To Sam) You really believe that people want to die, love to die? That they are happy to die? Either you're crazy or cynical! Woe to God if you're His defender!

Sam: I would like the court to remind the prosecution of its obligation not to indulge in personal attacks and insults! Does he wish to see me dismissed?

Berish: But he is insulting the dead!

Sam: Why is that an insult? I would go one step further and say that they departed from this world uttering words of gratitude-

Berish: For what? For being slaughtered?

Sam: - for dying without prolonged suffering or shame. There are a thousand ways in which men die, you know.

Berish: A lie, it's a lie! There are a thousand ways to suffer, but only one way to die- and death is always cruel, unjust, inhuman.

Sam: No, my dear Prosecutor. In these matters I am a greater expert than you. There are moments of death more cruel than others.

Berish: You're telling me? More cruel, yes! Less cruel, no! (To the court) Take Reb Hayim the scribe, who never squashed a fly or an ant, for they too are God's living creatures; I saw him in agony. I want to know: Who willed his agony? Take Shmuel the cobbler, who treated strangers as though they were his own children; I saw his tears, his last tears. I demand an answer. Who was thirsty for his blood? I want to know: Why was Reb Yiddel the cantor murdered?or Reb Monish his brother? Why were Hava the orphan and her little brother Zisha murdered? So that they could say thank you- and I could say thank you?

Sam: Again you speak for them? You act as though they had appointed you their spokesman. Have they? You knew them- so what? Alive, they were yours; dead, they belong to someone else. The dead belong to the dead, and together they form an immense community reposing in God and loving Him the way you have never loved and never will! (To the court) He is asking, Why murder- why death? Pertinent questions. But we have some more: Why evil- why ugliness? If God chooses not to answer, He must have his reasons. God is God, and His will is independent from ours- as is His reasoning.

Mendel: What is there left for us to do?

Sam: Endure. Accept. And say Amen.

Berish: Never! If He wants my life, let Him take it. But He has taken other lives- Don't tell me they were happy to submit to His will- don't tell me they're happy now! If I'm not, and I'm alive, how can they be? True, they are silent. Good for them and good for Him. If they choose to be silent, that's their business! I shall not be!

Sam: That is understandable. They saw His charity and grace; you did not.

Berish: Maria, you are right. He is repulsive (To Sam) How can you speak of grace and charity after a pogrom?

Sam: Is there a more propitious time to speak about them? You are alive- isn't that proof of His kindness?

Berish: The Jews of Shamgorod perished- isn't that proof of His lack of kindness?

Sam: You are obsessed with the dead; I only think of the living.

Berish: And what if I told you that He spared me not out of kindness but out of cruelty?

Sam: He spared you, and you are against Him.

Berish: He annihilated Shamgorod and you want me to be for him? I can't! If He insists upon going on with His methods, let Him- but I won't say Amen. Let Him crush me, I won't say Kaddish. Let him kill me, let Him kill us all, I shall shout and shout that it's His fault. I'll use my last energy to make my protest known. Whether I live or die, I submit to Him no longer.

Sam: He spared you, and you anger Him. He spared you, and you hurt Him, you make Him suffer.

Berish: Don't talk to me of His suffering- leave that to the priest. If I am given the choice of feeling sorry for Him or for human beings, I choose the latter anytime. He is big enough, strong enough to take care of Himself; man is not.

Sam: (With some warmth) What do you know of God that enables you to denounce Him? You turn your back on Him- then you describe Him! Why? Because you witnessed a pogrom? Think of our ancestors, who, throughout the centuries, mourned over the massacre of their beloved ones and the ruin of their homes- and yet they repeated again and again that God's ways are just. Are we worthier than they were? Wiser? Purer? Are we more pious than the rabbis of York, the students of Magenza? More privileged than the dreamers of Saloniki, the Just of Prague and Drohobitz? Do we possess more rights than they did over heaven or truth? After the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, our forefathers wept and proclaimed umipnei khataenou- it's all because of our sins. Their descendants said the same thing during the Crusades. And the Holy Wars. The same thing during the pogroms. And now you want to say something else? Does the massacre of Shamgorod weigh more than the burning of the Sanctuary? Is the ruin of your homes a more heinous crime than the ransacking of God's city? Does the death of your community imply a greater meaning than the disappearance of the communities of Zhitomir, Nemirov, Tlusk and Berditchev? Who are you to make comparisons or draw conclusions? Born in dust, you are nothing but dust.

~The Trial of God by Elie Wiesel, pages 128-134


The brilliance of this is to cast Satan as defender...


dman said...

Am I missing something? Does your post have any relationship to the play broadcast on PBS on Sunday?

BTW, for anyone who missed it, it can be viewed online through Sunday.


Anonymous said...

cool intresting that's more like it have a great night all talk later bn

Ben Rosenfeld

reader said...

Powerful content! Makes one rethink his/her stand re God and His presence(?!) in extremely difficult times.