All Rivers Run to the Sea Essay - Critical Essays

Elie Wiesel

All Rivers Run to the Sea

Born in Eastern Europe in 1928, a shy, religious Jewish boy survived the Holocaust and went on to become an acclaimed author, a charismatic speaker, and a dedicated humanitarian. In 1986, he received the Nobel Peace Prize, one of the world’s highest honors. This book, the first of two projected volumes, is distinctive not only because Wiesel recalls extraordinary encounters and remembers striking names and faces, but especially because it shows how his remarkable moral and spiritual outlook emerged from the twentieth century’s greatest darkness.

Wiesel’s memoirs are not triumphal vindications. They are drenched in sadness and melancholy. Yet sadness and melancholy, and the despair to which they might yield, are not their last words. Out of them Wiesel forges something much more affirmative. Optimism, faith, hope—those words are too facile to contain his outlook. Defiance, resistance, protest—those terms come closer, but even they have to be supplemented by an emphasis on friendship, dialogue, reaching out to others, helping people in need, working to make people free, and striving to mend the world.

This book’s greatest contribution is ethical and spiritual. It shows how Wiesel found ways to transform his suffering into sharing, his pain into caring. These transformations do not mean that Wiesel forgives any more than he forgets. The Holocaust was too immense, too devastating, to be redeemed by forgiveness that God or anyone else can give. Yet because the world has been shattered so severely, Wiesel believes that the moral imperative is to do all that one can to repair it. Otherwise, hatred and death win victories they never deserve.

Suggested Readings

Berenbaum, Michael. Elie Wiesel: God, the Holocaust, and the Children of Israel. West Orange, N.J.: Behrman House, 1994. This reprint of The Vision of the Void, Berenbaum’s thoughtful 1979 study of Elie Wiesel, emphasizes Wiesel’s insights about Jewish tradition.

Berenbaum, Michael. The Vision of the Void: Theological Reflections on the Works of Elie Wiesel. Middletown,...

(The entire section is 869 words.)