At 14, Elie Wiesel had a child’s devotion to God and a teenager’s disrespect for father. That is not to say that he was openly disrespectful of his father, but because he did not understand his father’s reasoning, he stubbornly chose his own path to worship and study the ways of God. A year later as he began to see his father handle the crisis of sending his community off to the concentration camps, Wiesel came to see his father as his only hope, as God had once been. Though his survival instincts were often at odds with his devotion to his father, Wiesel came to rely on his father as the eternal hope he had once had in God. In the end, the two had virtually traded places in Wiesel’s life. God was exile as distant or even not present and his father was the hope for another day.
“My father was a cultured, rather unsentimental man. There was never any display of emotion, even at home,” (Wiesel 2). The author explains early on how he viewed his father before they left for the concentration camps and how that would change the night they left for the small ghetto. “My father wept. It was the first time I had ever seen him weep. I had never imagined that he could.” (16) Within that short span, the author is able to convey how quickly his life changed and his attitudes toward God and his father would change forever. It is clear, in the beginning that he views his father without devotion, perhaps even taking him for granted. He is instead deeply devoted to God.
In almost emotionless, precise writing, Wiesel talks of his devotion to God and his desire to study the cabbala to “extract the divine essence from it.” (3) The only emotion that he allows to shine through in the memoir is his dedication to the scriptures and God. He studied the Talmud during the day and the cabbala at night and he discusses the passage of time and the war around him as only a young boy can, through the events that touched him: his studies with Moshe the Beadle, Moshe’s deportment and Moshe’s return. Even then, he continues to exhibit his extreme devotion to God until well after leaving Sighet. “I was up at dawn. I wanted time to pray before we were expelled,” (16) he writes discussing the day they were cast from their homes into the small ghetto. Within a few days, his devotion to God would be ended and his dedication solely to remaining near his father. “I wanted to see first where they were sending my father, If he went to the right, I would go after him,” (29) Wiesel proclaims at the gates of Auschwitz, not knowing whether he or his father might be sentenced to the gas chamber. And, moments later when it appears that the gas chamber is their first destination, Wiesel understands and decides within himself that God is now the distant, emotionless being he once thought his father was. “For the first time, I felt the revolt rise up in me. Why should I bless His name? The Eternal, Lord of the universe, the All-Powerful and Terrible, was silent. What had I to thank him for?” (31)
As his time in the concentration camps continues, Wiesel is alternately a good son and a bad one, wishing on more than one occasion to be free of the burden of caring for his father. On the other hand, he uses his father’s presence as an excuse to keep going himself and nurses his father through many events, culminating with his devotion to his father while the man is dying of dysentery. At the same time, he is both a good Jew in his devotion to God and a rebellious one. On Yom Kippur, he eats his rations in stark defiance to God, yet he holds deep respect for the rabbis and other men of God and goes out of his way to spare them the devastating pain that comes with the loss of everyone they love.
Wiesel makes it clear that he will never forget never again follow God with the blind devotion that he had previous to his imprisonment. Instead, he gives that fervor of devotion to his father, even when he knows that he should not. As his father is dying, Wiesel attends to the illness, sharing some of his meager rations with his father (105). He knows that the others in the barracks have been stealing the man’s food, knows that he is dying, but his devotion to his father is such that he cannot keep from caring for him Wiesel does not paint himself as an angel. He confesses that he too has considered taking his father’s food and when his father calls out to him as he is dying, Wiesel ignores his pleas.
The symbolism of “Night” is as powerful as the book itself. Wiesel’s loss of devotion to his Heavenly Father and replacement devotion to his earthly father helps to bring him through the year of imprisonment. Seeing his father as a mortal man, knowing that his father does not want to see him die, helps Wiesel find the strength to survive when giving up would have been easier. He transfers his devotion from God to his father. Likewise, his indifference toward his father, and the blame that accompanied his father’s denial of his desires, are transferred to God when his faith is tested in the most heinous way. The book makes it clear the Wiesel as a teenager found it necessary to devote his life to something and it was only after the loss of his father that he was without this devotion. At that time, he writes, “After my father’s death, nothing could touch me anymore.” (107).