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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2009-08-11
  • Publisher: Schocken
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From the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize comes a magical book that introduces readers to the wisdom of Rashi, the great biblical and Talmudic commentator of the Middle Ages.

Author Biography

ELIE WIESEL is the author of more than fifty books, both fiction and nonfiction. In 1986 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Since 1976 he has been the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University.


Chapter 1


I stroll around the new and old streets of the city of Troyes, in Champagne. It still vibrates with medieval history. I am shown the Hôtel-Dieu at the corner of the rue de la Cité and the quai des Comptes: this is where the Porte de la Juiverie, the old gateway to the Jewish neighborhood, was located. And what about the fairs where the Jews from the nearby cities met to discuss business and the rules of ritual? As always, these are to be found in books.

Cited by Irving Agus and again by Gérard Nahon, the Hebraic name of Troyes (or Troyias) first appears in a document written by Yosef bar Shmuel Tov-elem of Limoges in the eleventh century: “Concerning our brothers in Rheims who used to go to the fair in Troyes and whom an enemy lord captured (or persecuted).”

Who were these Jews? What enemy is he referring to? We know there used to be a synagogue here (there is even a street named after it), and there used to be a street of the Jews, a rue des Juifs (now gone as well). There were rabbis, hence students. There were leaders, Jewish families loyal to the Law of Moses, who fought against the outside enemy and the poverty in their midst, helped the poor, and did everything they could to pay the ransom and free their co- religionists when they were taken as hostages. In spite of distances, there were deep contacts between the communities: their right to intervene in one another’s affairs was recognized by the competent rabbinical authorities. After all, didn’t they share a common destiny?

As for me, today, I am looking for the traces of a man whose learning still influences my life, as it does the lives of all those who have a thirst for study.

Houses, large and small, stores, gardens. The man I am looking for must have walked here, dreamed here, shed tears here over the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, comforted broken hearts, counseled those who had gone astray, taught them to overcome fear and hope for the arrival of the Messiah.

I remember: as a child, his cursive script frightened me; more than that of the Bible, it suggested a world that was doubtless complex and probably mysterious, where only adults had the right and competence to enter.

Later, with the years, in the heder or yeshiva, before the candles on the table, every time someone asked, “What does Rashi say?” I rushed to look at his countless commentaries. Whenever I couldn’t grasp the meaning of a word, it was he, the Teacher of my Teachers, who rescued me. An intimate relationship, from child to elderly man, person to person. He said to me, as if confidentially: look, my child; fear nothing, everything must be grasped and conveyed with simplicity. Strange words stand in the way like obstacles? Start all

over again with me. It happened to me too. I started all over again. You just have to break through the shell of a word, a sentence, an expression. Everything is inside them. Everything is waiting for you.

Thanks to his life, his erudition, his work, his generosity, he remains the spring from which we all drink. Without him, my thirst would never have been quenched. Without him, I would have gone astray more than once in the gigantic labyrinth that is the Babylonian Talmud.

Yet he doesn’t try to impress us with his learning, his vast religious and secular culture, his originality, or even his inventive mind. He confines himself to quoting the ancients or his precursors, sometimes his peers, and even his own disciples.

Rashi or the celebration of commentary? Better yet: Rashi or the celebration of memory, and of fraternity too. The danger lies in oblivion. Were I to forget where I come from, my life would become barren and sterile. Were I to forget whom I am the descendant of, I would be doomed to despair.

I loved him. I couldn’t make headway without him. Of course, I explored ot

Excerpted from Rashi by Elie Wiesel
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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