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Remembering My Mentor Elie Wiesel On His First Yahrzeit

Today is the first yartzeit (anniversary of the Hebrew date of one’s death) of a beloved teacher, mentor, writer, reluctant modern prophet and a unique voice for humanity that can’t be replaced. It’s the first yartzeit of Professor Elie Wiesel of blessed memory. Our hearts are aching today.

Last night I was privileged to participate in a study session with devoted students of Wiesel. There were about a dozen on the phone call and probably a dozen sitting around a table in Brookline, Massachusetts. Professor Alan Rosen, Rabbi Joseph Polak, Rabbi Nehemia Polen and Rabbi Ariel Burger all shared a teaching, a lesson in honor of the memory of our teacher and friend, Elie Wiesel. His son Elisha Wiesel was on the call as well as his children. It was an intimate group who understood that the best way to remember our teacher was to study Jewish texts, as he loved to do.

Hearing these outstanding rabbis and teachers brought me right back to Wiesel’s classroom and made me long for more of those days. I loved learning something new, something I can use and teach others. Last night, I learned something so simple and yet so profound.

I am a big fan of Gematria, the study of numerical values of Hebrew words which create deeper meanings with words and their numerical values. The Hebrew word for life, chai, has two letters — chet (ח) and yud (י) equaling 18, our lucky number in Judaism.

The letters of the Hebrew word for love, ahava (אהבה), add up to 13 — a nice lesson for B’nei Mitzvah students. Last night I learned something wonderful from Rabbi Nehemia Polen — the Hebrew word for heart, lev (לב), adds up to 32, lamed (ל) (30) and vet (ב) (2). The 32nd word in the Torah is tov, good. G-d saw the light and said it was “tov,” good! The core of the Torah is lev tov — a good heart. It’s all about how you look at the world. Having a good heart will affect all you see and be a blessing. Our teacher Wiesel indeed had a lev tov, a good heart — with a vision to see beyond the horrors of the Holocaust and offer a voice to humanity of hope, faith, light and love. Through his lev tov, he inspired us to think and feel deeply. He taught us so many things — to speak truth to power, to remember the victims, to make our lives meaningful, not to waste a minute, to take on the lost soul of one and live a doubly devout life — his lessons and songs remain in my heart and soul. As we remember the unique voice and teachings of Elie Wiesel, let us study and do acts of kindness in his name, today and everyday. May his name and memory always be a blessing and an inspiration.


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