During the Enlightenment
“True, suffering exists. Like everything else, it too comes from God. Why does it exist? I’ll tell you: man is too weak to accept or absorb divine charity, which is absolute. For that reason, and that reason alone, does God cover it with the veil that is pain.”
Once, before they became well known, they were traveling and stopped at a village inn where a noisy wedding party was in progress. Some wise guys decided to have fun with the two uninvited guests, who were huddled in a corner trying to be inconspicuous. Instinctively they grabbed Zusia. They spun him till he was dizzy, and punched him. After a while they let him go, but an hour later they began again – and an hour after that, and an hour after that, throughout the night.
“Why does it always have to be you?” asked Elimelekh.
“Such is the will of God,” Zusia groaned weakly.
“I have an idea. Let’s change places. They’re too drunk to notice. Next time, they’ll take me.”
But when the time came, one of the attackers cried out, “There are two of them – why do we always take the same one? Let’s try the other for a change.”
And Zusia told his brother, “You see, it’s not up to us. Everything is written.”
Years later, when Zusia was dying, he said: “When I face the celestial tribunal, I will not be asked why I was not Abraham, Jacob, or Moses. I will be asked why I was not Zusia.”
Elimelekh envisioned the scene this way: “They will ask me if I was just; I will say no. They will ask me if I was charitable; I will say no. Did I devote my life to study, to prayer? No. And then the Supreme Judge will smile and say, ‘Elimelekh, you speak the truth – and for this alone you may enter paradise.’”
Adapted from Elie Wiesel, SOULS ON FIRE: PORTRAITS AND LEGENDS OF HASIDIC MASTERS, Summit Books, 1972.