"The true power of the prophet derives from his moral conviction. And from his courage and persistence in expressing it. He does not represent any political group, nor is he the representative of any social class. Typically, he is alone. Alone against kings, governments, the well-to-do, the notables, alone even against the entire nation. Anyone at any time may strike at him or humiliate him, and some have done just that. Nevertheless, nothing - neither seduction nor threat - can sway him. He never flatters, never aims to please; he is an enemy of all complacency; he is the bearer of truth and ethical concerns; and nothing and no one can make him say what he doesn't want to say, or silence him. Should he fall silent, his silence itself bears witness."
These words are from the chapter on Isaiah in Elie Wiesel's most recent book, Wise Men and Their Tales; Portraits of Biblical, Talmudic and Hasidic Masters.
"The true power of the prophet derives from his moral conviction."
Perhaps no man alive has achieved the suasive power of moral conviction that Dr. Wiesel has, through his more than forty books - fiction and non-fiction - of searing, emphatic, unswerving witness and by virtue of a thoughtful, urbane life as an unparalleled teacher and counselor to the captains and kings of the world.
Dr. Wiesel is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and University Professor at Boston University. Since 1993, he has been a distinguished visiting professor at Eckerd College in the winter months. Eckerd students who have taken his class unanimously sing his praises as an extraordinary teacher. He and his wife, Marion, are great friends and supporters of Eckerd College, and he attended the Phi Beta Kappa assembly at which the College was first presented for chapter consideration to speak on our behalf. He and Marion bring us great honor each year when they join us to become part of the life of the College.
Dr. Wiesel is himself now the most famous of "Biblical, Talmudic and Hasidic Masters." He teaches us to remember that there was a time when scholarship and faith, study and prayer, scripture and commentary, mind and heart all led to God. Because of Elie Wiesel, that time is now. Professor Wiesel brings together, in his writing, his teaching, and in his life, the Talmudic tradition of scholarship and the Hasidic message of kavanah, the purity of the heart's intent, to a world desperate for a vision of peace.
His model is Rashi, the great Talmudic scholar who influenced not only generations of the Jewish scholarly community, but Christian theologians as well, Catholic and Protestant, from Nicholas de Lyre to Martin Luther. Rashi is the father of the art of commentary, the work of which celebrates, as all scholars must, memory above all.
As Dr. Wiesel remembers his Talmudic masters, his childhood in Central and Eastern Europe, the world of the shtetl and Shabbat, a world that was incinerated in the ovens of Auschwitz and Treblinka, which - not for himself, but for us - he also remembers. As he remembers, speaks, writes, tells stories, examines the problems and politics of the day, his memories become ours, and his vision of peace ours as well. May he never fall silent.
Please welcome Professor Elie Wiesel, one of the great men of our time.
Dr. Donald R. Eastman III
February 27, 2004