Preface - Rashi - Elie Wiesel

Rashi - Elie Wiesel (2009)


Why Rashi?

And why me?

For centuries, others—many others—in lots of different countries, have written about his life and work in their native or sacred tongues. Why should I add my own analysis and my own commentary to these?

I could almost invoke our personal, not to say private, ties. But so could others, indeed some do, and they do so well. Did they hear from their parents that they had their place in a genealogy that could be traced back to the illustrious Rabbi Shlomo, son of Yitzhak? Mine referred to this often. I was not supposed to forget that I was the descendant of Rabbi Yeshayahu ben Abraham Horovitz ha-Levi, the author of Shnei Luchot ha-Brit and the Shi a ha-Kadosh whose brilliant depth haunted my adolescence, and of his contemporary, Rabbi Yom Tov Lipmann ha-Levi, the author of Tosafot Yom Tov, whose dramatic life and erudite work on the Talmud and its commentaries are indispensable to anyone who devotes himself to the study of ancient texts.

According to tradition, the two great Teachers were descendants of Rashi.

Is that the real reason for my doing this? To state publicly what my understandably proud parents told me in private as a way of impressing my obligations? I don’t think so. If, at my age, I decided to say yes to Jonathan Rosen and interrupt my work in progress to sketch this portrait of Rashi, it is because I feel the need to tell him everything I owe to him.

I think of Rashi and I feel overwhelmed by a strange nostalgia: my reaction appears to be both intellectual and emotional. And why not say it? I discover I am sentimental.

Ever since childhood, he has accompanied me with his insights and charm. Ever since my first Bible lessons in the heder, I have turned to Rashi in order to grasp the meaning of a verse or word that seemed obscure.

He is my first destination. My first aid. The first friend whose assistance is invaluable to us, not to say indispensable, if we’ve set our heart on pursuing a thought through unfamiliar subterranean passageways, to its distant origins. A veiled reference from him, like a smile, and everything lights up and becomes clearer.

Of course, it is the Jewish child in me who thanks him. But Rashi’s appeal is addressed to everyone. What I mean is this: his passion for delving into a text in order to find a hidden meaning passed on by generations can move, interest, and enrich all those whose life is governed by learning.

His voice comes to us from afar, from a great distance in time and space, but it allows us to never turn our back on the goal and never go astray along the way.