What are the similarities and differences between The Way of Man by Martin Buber and Night by Elie Wiesel on the subject of religion?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the most striking similarities between Buber's work and Wiesel's work is that they both have a distinct statement about being in the world and one's relationship with the divine.  Buber does not shy away from speaking about the Hasidic teachings in The Way of Man help to provide meaning because they explore the reality of the human being in light of the divine.  Wiesel's narrative focuses on the role of the divine in Eliezer's consciousness.  This never leaves while the narrative becomes increasingly complex.  For both, the forging of an articulation of a conception of how the individual relates to the divine in the most challenging of conditions forms the basis of their writings.

The articulation of this construction is where their most stark differences lie.  Buber is a believer in the "I- Thou" construction, most evident in The Way of Man.  Buber believes that the individual must appropriate the divine within themselves and see reality as a construction or manifestation of this divine element.  The "answer" per se is not external, is not "out there."  It resides in the individual and in their acknowledgement of the presence of the divine, something that Buber himself articulates from personal experience:

God’s all-inclusiveness manifests itself in the infinite multiplicity of the ways that lead to him, each of which is open to one man.

There is an affirmation in Buber's thought that comes from a clear cohesive unity between the self and the divine.  There can be little debate about how this plays out in Buber's understanding of what consciousness is.

I am not sure that there is anything like this in Wiesel's work.  Eliezer begins in a way that Buber would probably appreciate in terms of his study of the Hasidic Judaism through the Kaballah and being a disciple of Moshe the Beadle.  The idea of prayer as one in which people cry, as Moshe did, and one in which one has the strength "to ask questions" to God as opposed to deriving answers would resemble Buber's idea of absorbing "the infinite multiplicity" of the divine.  Yet, the renunciation of God and the divine is something that is a distinct trait of Eliezer throughout the narrative.  Eliezer seems to move into what Buber would call not "I - Thou" but rather "I- It," where there is an estrangement between the individual and the world.  The estrangement from the individual and their divine is a part of this process and something that Eliezer explores in different ways throughout the narrative.  I think that this alienation and eventual renunciation is a part of where there are some significant differences in the exploration of the subject of religion between Wiesel and Buber.

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