by: Elie Wiesel

Sections Six and Seven

The test of the father-son relationship recalls the biblical story of the Binding of Isaac, known in Hebrew as the Akedah. Critics have suggested that Night is a reversal of the Akedah story. The story, related in Genesis, tells of God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as an offering. Utterly faithful, Abraham complies with God’s wish. Just as Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac, God intervenes and saves Isaac, rewarding Abraham for his faithfulness. Night reverses the Akedah story—the father is sacrificed so that his son might live. But in Night, God fails to appear to save the sacrificial victim at the last moment. In the world of the Holocaust, Wiesel argues, God is powerless, or silent.

Eliezer never sinks to the level of beating his father, or outwardly mistreating him, but his resentment toward his father grows, even as it is suggested—for instance, when Eliezer’s father prevents Eliezer from killing himself by falling asleep in the snow—that the father is sacrificing himself for his son, not vice versa. Whether or not this resentment comes to dominate Eliezer’s relationship with his father (indeed, a strong argument can be made for Eliezer’s altruism), it seems clear that Eliezer himself feels great guilt at his father’s death. As has been suggested, this guilt perhaps drives Eliezer to feel that he must record the events of the Holocaust, honor his father’s memory, and repay his sacrifice.

Eliezer’s discussion of the German townspeople who cruelly throw bread to the starving Jews to watch them fight to the death over the crusts of bread is another instance of Eliezer flashing forward into the future to illustrate how the Holocaust has forever altered his understanding of humankind. His digression is rare because it relates an event in which he was not a direct participant; he was a casual witness, and the event was tangential to his life. The parallel between the Parisian woman’s “charity” and the actions of the German townspeople is clear, however, and Wiesel tells the story to show that behavior that is casually cruel is not limited to the Holocaust—humanity has an unimaginably wicked streak in it.

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