And Moishe the Beadle, the poorest of the poor of Sighet, spoke to me for hours on end about the Kabbalah’s revelations and its mysteries. Thus began my initiation. Together we would read, over and over, the same page of the Zohar. Not to learn it by heart but to discover within the very essence of divinity.
Moishe first appears as a spiritual mentor to Eliezer, the narrator of the story. The Kabbalah is a strain of mystic Jewish thought, and the Zohar is its main text. Eliezer is going against his father’s advice in studying Kabbalah at such a young age, but Moishe shares and encourages young Eliezer’s enthusiasm for trying to have a direct encounter with God.
“I wanted to return to Sighet to describe to you my death so that you might ready yourselves while there is still time. Life? I no longer care to live. I am alone. But I wanted to come back to warn you. Only no one is listening to me…”
Moishe was deported from Sighet into Poland, where he witnessed Nazi atrocities and escaped from them only by pretending to me dead. Here, he explains why he returned to Sighet: He wants to bear witness and to warn his friends and neighbors to flee. Moishe also tells personal stories of those who have died to keep their memories alive. Despite the truth in his dire warnings, most people now consider Moishe insane.
First edict: Jews were prohibited from leaving their residences for three days, under penalty of death. Moishe the Beadle came running to our house. “I warned you,” he shouted. And left without waiting for a response.
Eliezer recounts the last time Moishe the Beadle is seen after the Nazis begin to clamp down on the Jews of Sighet in earnest. Moishe’s prophetic words tried to warn them, and he more than anyone else knows the fate to which most of them are now doomed. Moishe is a forerunner of the narrator himself, a survivor who lives to serve as an eyewitness to evil.