50th Anniversary Events
50th Anniversary Opening Convocation Remarks
Introduction of Elie Wiesel
Dr. Donald R. Eastman, III, President of Eckerd College | Watch Video
The writing and thought of Elie Wiesel is animated by a fundamental conflict between "the certainty that God is with us and our anxiety that he has abandoned us." That conflict is also the constant and insistent dispute of the Hebrew Bible, reflected in the anguished voice of the Psalmist, who writes in the 22nd Psalm:
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (words that Jesus the Jew will cry out in the New Testament).
The Psalm continues:
Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not;
and you do not answer, by night.
Yet in the very next verse, the Psalmist says:
But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted,
and thou didst deliver them.
They cried unto thee, and were delivered:
they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
It is the constant question: Is God with us, or has He abandoned us?
At the heart of that fundamental conflict, as the Psalmist says in the 90th Psalm, is the tension between God's infinitude and our own brevity:
A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past
and as a watch in the night.
While we are like the grass:
In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.
God is infinite, the Psalmist says, and we are but a moment.
Two hundred years ago, drawing from this very Psalm, Isaac Watts restated this essential tension between God and man in the hymn you sang a few minutes ago, contrasting God's infinitude with our mere transience:
A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun,
But we, we are simply as temporary as a dream:
Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
In the work of his lifetime, in his more than forty books of literature and philosophy and prophecy, in his innumerable articles and lectures and public appearances, Elie Wiesel has become, if not precisely an Old Testament prophet himself, then surely the world's image of one, wrestling like Jacob with the angels of a God who has given us good and evil, peace and war, singing and silence, life and death. Elie Wiesel's loyalty and service to the God of Israel is total, but it is not unconflicted: "I argue with God," he says, "all the time."
Throughout, however, Professor Wiesel is uncompromising in his service to that God and to the Jewish tradition in which his thought is based and to which he has devoted his life to articulate, extend, and fulfill. He is, for our time, the voice of the Hebraic tradition, the voice of the exiled Judeans of the 137th Psalm, singing 2500 years ago in their Babylonian captivity, "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion." His every note remembers Zion; his every utterance keeps the faith of the harpists of that Psalm, who sang, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning."
Elie Wiesel does not, can not, will not forget, and our culture has learned to rely on his memory, a memory that carries his Jewish tradition and its melodic, devoted, complex virtues and insistent narrative of man's responsibility to build a better world into the heart of what it means to be not only a Jew, but a Christian, or Muslim, or any person of good will.
Please join me in welcoming the author of Night; the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize of 1986; the confidante of kings and queens and presidents and seekers of peace the world over; a distinguished member, for a few months each year, of the distinguished Eckerd College faculty; the husband of Marion, the father of Elisha, the grandfather of Elijah, and the voice of his fathers; my friend, Elie Wiesel.