In Elie Wiesel’s narrative titled Night, Moishe the Beadle plays a significant part in the life of the town of Sighet in general and in the life of young Elie in particular. Among the roles he plays are the following:
- He is one of the few poor people in the village who is actually well-liked, mainly because he makes himself inconspicuous.
- He appeals to Elie because of his “wide, dreamy eyes, gazing off into the distance” – phrasing that already associates him with a kind of transcendental wisdom.
- Moishe becomes a theological mentor and teacher for young Elie.
- Moishe raises questions that Elie has never considered before, asking him (for instance) why he cries when he prays and why he even prays at all.
- He tells Elie that
Man comes closer to God through the questions he asks him. . . . Therein lies true dialogue. Man asks and God replies, but we don’t understand his replies.
- He encourages Elie to be more thoughtful and probing than he had previously been. In general, he emphasizes the importance of asking questions and of seeking to know which questions to ask.
- He introduces Elie to the Kabbalah.
- Elie hopes that Moishe will eventually show him how to enter eternity.
- Moishe is the first of the Jews to be expelled from Sighet – thus foreshadowing the fate of the rest of the Jewish community there.
- Moishe eventually returns to Sighet with news about the brutality of the Germans toward Jews – news that no one is willing to believe, not even Elie.
- For both Elie and the community then, Moishe will prove to be a symbol of their own entry into a kind of hell on earth.