Yesterday I had the fortunate opportunity to speak with Professor Elie Weisel. He was invited by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach to speak at Michael Steinhardt's home and beforehand I sat next to Professor Weisel in the living room. Needless to say, I was very uncomfortable. Most people were coming up to him and telling them how much they enjoyed Night and he would just smile and say thank you. So I decided to skip the accolades and just ask him what he was working on. Weisel responded that he has just completed his 50th novel (in French) "The Mad Desire to Dance" and that he wasn't slowing down. I asked him if he is reading the younger writers and he told me that of all of them he thinks Nathan Englander is the best. I recommended that he read Todd Hasak-Lowy's The Task of this Translator, which he had not heard of, and I promised to send him a copy. Then we talked a bit about Iran -- he was rightfully upset about Larry King giving a place of honor to Ahmadinejad. We spoke a bit more about my current work and then other people came up to him and heaped on more praise.
When he spoke to the crowd at the party, he told one particularly moving story about the funeral processions of his youth. As the body was taken from the house to the cemetary on the funeral bier, a man would parade before the coffin with a charity box yelling out "Charity saves from Death" Weisel wondered -- How is that so? even those who give charity die!
He asked a friend who said -- charity saves from the sense of being dead while one is alive.
He extrapolated from that teaching that to be truly alive is to see beyond the self. It was a beautiful message for these ten days of repentance.