The significance of the opening paragraph of Elie Wiesel's Night only becomes apparent later in the chapter. By beginning his narrative with a brief description of a nondescript figure, Wiesel is preparing the reader for the full measure of Moshe the Beadle's importance as the story develops.
The paragraph in question describes a seemingly innocuous figure in the small town in which Elie's family lives. Poor and idiosyncratic, Moshe is also among the more religiously observant in this town, and he would be an object of ridicule were he not so clearly harmless, pious and committed to his temple, or house of worship. While the paragraph that opens Chapter One, and that is the subject of the student's question, introduces the reader to Moshe the Beadle, it is the following paragraph that truly serves to emphasize this character's benign and optimistic nature:
"Physically, he was as awkward as a clown. His waiflike shyness made people smile. As for me, I liked his wide, dreamy eyes, gazing off into the distance. He spoke little. He sang, or rather he chanted, and the few snatches I caught here and there spoke of divine suffering, of the Shekhinah in Exile, where, according to Kabbalah, it awaits its redemption linked to that of man."
Wiesel introduces the character of Moshe the Beadle right at the outset because it is Moshe the Beadle who will be among the first from Elie's village to bear witness to the horrors that will befall all of the town's Jews. More importantly, it is Moshe who will represent God's failure to protect His people. Moshe speaks of God reverently and as an omniscient presence. When the Jewish population are forcibly evicted from their homes and placed in concentration camps, condemned to die of starvation, disease, or execution at the hands of German soldiers, Moshe's early commitment to God rings, to the young Elie, hollow. Very quickly, within the book's opening passages, Moshe's significance changes, and, with it, Elie's perceptions of God. Early on, Elie emphasizes Moshe's importance to his own spiritual journey: "I became convinced that Moshe the Beadle would help me enter eternity, into that time when question and answer would become ONE." After Moshe and other Jews are deported, with Moshe surviving the mass execution of the others, the change in this character is palpable:
"Moshe was not the same. The joy in his eyes was gone. He no longer sang. He no longer mentioned either God or Kabbalah. He spoke only of what he had seen."
Moshe the Beadle represents not only Elie's profound disappointment in God—a disillusionment that will only grow as his own situation worsens—but the failure of Europe's Jews to accurately perceive the extent of the danger to their existence. Contrast the "Moshe the Beadle" of that opening paragraph with the one described in this latter quote. The fate of Moshe the Beadle represents the fate of Elie's own spiritual journey.