How does Eliezer's faith in God change throughout Night?

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At the beginning of the novel, Elie has a strong faith and spends the majority of his days as an adolescent praying in the local synagogue and studying the Talmud. Elie is a fervent Jew, who petitions Moishe the Beadle to teach him the mysteries of the Kabbalah. Elie would...

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At the beginning of the novel, Elie has a strong faith and spends the majority of his days as an adolescent praying in the local synagogue and studying the Talmud. Elie is a fervent Jew, who petitions Moishe the Beadle to teach him the mysteries of the Kabbalah. Elie would spend countless hours praying, mourning the destruction of the Temple, and studying religious texts like the Zohar to become closer to God. Tragically, Elie's hometown is invaded by Nazi soldiers, and he is transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he witnesses and experiences unimaginable horrors.

Elie and his father witness mass murders, experience endless violence, suffer from malnutrition, and survive in a hysterical, dangerous environment, where hundreds of Jewish prisoners are murdered each day. Elie begins to question God's absolute authority and ends up losing his faith after witnessing the tragic death of a young pipel who was publicly hanged and suffered for thirty minutes before finally dying. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, Elie refuses to participate in the ritual prayer and reveals his loss of faith by saying,

I was no longer able to lament. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy. I was nothing but ashes now, but I felt myself to be stronger than this Almighty to whom my life had been bound for so long. In the midst of these men assembled for prayer, I felt like an observer, a stranger. (Wiesel, 93)

The horrors of the Holocaust and unimaginable violence have caused Elie to reject God and question the Almighty. He does not believe that an omniscient and omnipotent being would allow such horrific events to transpire.

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This is a very interesting question because this powerful novel shows us the change in faith of the main character, Eliezer, who begins the story as a fervent Jew, but through his experiences, loses his faith in a God that could allow such immense and unjust suffering. One key experience you will no doubt want to focus on is the hanging of a young boy for his involvement in the resistance. Note how he is described:

This one had a delicate and a beautiful face - an incredible sight in the camp.

Just before the boy and his two compatriots are hung, someone behind Eliezer is heard to say "Merciful God, where is He?" As Eliezer and all the other prisoners are forced to walk past the victims, note how the three hung men are described:

The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing...

The child, because of his lack of weight, suffered a far crueller death, as he is left to choke to death slowly and excruciatingly. Eliezer reports that it took him more than half an hour to die, whilst all the time Eliezer and the other prisoners were forced to watch him die. As the same voice again repeats his question, Eliezer hears within himself an answer to where God is:

"Where is he? This is where - hanging here from this gallows..."

This, then, has to be the defining point in the novel when Eliezer irrevocably lost his faith in God, and saw him as dead, strung up like the angelic boy he was forced to watch die.

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As Eli Weisel tells his haunting story in Night, we find that faith—at the start of the novel—is very important to Eli as a young man. He is hungry for knowledge and so Eli turns to Moshe the Beadle. Moshe is a very poor man, but through the kindness of the people in town—who are actually quite fond on him, he survives. He is very smart man, and quite knowledgeable about the cabbala (which Eli's father believes his son is too young to study). Eli and Moshe spend a great deal of time together discussing the Jewish tenets. Eli is certain he will find the answers he seeks here.

When the Germans expel foreign Jews from Sighet, Moshe the Beadle is forced to leave. However, months later, he returns to tell the terrifying story of the slaughter of the Jews he traveled with, at Malka. Moshe was wounded and left for dead, and as he traveled back to Sighet to tell his tale, he spread the word to others. When he returns, he is a changed man, and this foreshadows Eli's own personal struggle with his faith at the hands of the Germans.

Moshe had changed. There was no longer any joy in his eyes. He no longer sang. He no longer talked to me of God or of the cabbala, but only of what he had seen.

What is worse is that no one believes him. Moshe can only weep. He believes that he has been spared so he can return home to save those who are dear to him. And no one will listen.

Time moves on, Eli studies the Talmud and the cabbala. When the Germans arrive, still Eli and the people cry out to God, their faith undiminished. However, after the "train ride," things change drastically. Arriving at Auschwitz—the death camp—the smell of burning flesh is everywhere; Eli sees babies and children burned. While his father prays in tears next to him, Eli does not:

For the first time I felt revolt rise up in me. Why should I bless His name? The Eternal, Lord of the Universe, the All-Powerful and Terrible, was silent. What had I to thank Him for?

As he and his father approach the crematorium, Eli begins, from habit, to chant his prayers, certain he is about to die. At the last minute, the column of men is turned away from the furnaces toward the barracks. Weisel writes:

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever...Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul...Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.

Months later, when the Germans hang three prisoners for having guns, once again Eli reflects on his faith. The youngest is a boy to whom no blame could be attached, but he was hanged—and he did not die quickly; someone behind Eli asks where God was at that moment. Weisel writes:

And I heard a voice within me answer him:

"Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows..."

As time goes on, even though those around him call on God and worship Him, Eli can do nothing but accuse God. He feels...

...terribly alone in a world without God and without man...I had ceased to be anything but ashes.

When the Rabbi's son rids himself of his father, Eli prays to his "forgotten" God, that he will never do the same—he does not.

Throughout the novel, Eli doubts and challenges God. When things are at their worst, somehow he holds on to some part of his beliefs. He becomes angry, "doubts God's justice," but never betrays his faith.

 

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