[Thoughts on Returning from the local school’s Yom HaZikkaron Ceremony.]
Last year, while teaching a course on the Jewish Holiday Cycle, it struck me that most other countries do not observe Memorial Day right before Independence Day. The American Memorial Day is the last Monday in May, and Independence Day is July 4th. In France, they are May 27th and July 14th. Britain has November 11th and March 3rd (Coronation Day). Israel, ever the emotional roller-coaster, bids its citizens to mourn for twenty four hours and then, on a dime, to start celebrating our independence. It’s a very wrenching, very exhausting challenge.
It is also very Jewish.
Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל used to note that every major event in the Jewish calendar is preceded by a period of preparation. Elul leads up to Rosh Hashanah. The Ten Days of Penitence leads up to Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is a preparation for Sukkot. Purim is prefaced by the Fast of Esther. Erev Pesah is also the Fast of the Firstborn. Shavuot is preceded by Sefirat ha-Omer, and Tisha B’Av comes at the end of the Three Weeks.
What all of these have in common, is that Judaism demands that celebration must be preceded by reflection and introspection, by חשבון הנפש. In this sense, it was most appropriate for Ben Gurion to have insisted that both Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikkaron come before Yom ha-Atzma’ut (even if I doubt he was thinking along these lines.)
This Independence Day, especially, demands very careful, very painful, reflection on what exactly we want from this country and what price we are willing to pay for it. As opposed to many of the founders (even those ostensibly secular among them), many Israelis seem to ‘just wanna have fun.’ They want to be normal. They heartily agree with their ancestors that ‘Let us go and make a (cultural) alliance with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us.’ They seek a de-judaized, ‘state of all of its citizens.’ Just today, it was reported that the incoming Minister of Education, Yuli Tamir, wishes to stop the practice of swearing allegiance to the state on the תנ"ך, as that constitutes ‘religious coercion.’ Given her established, post-Zionist credentials, Tamir’s suggestion is not at all surprising. However, what causes me concern is the realization that it expresses not a desire to be considerate of secular sensibilities. It is indicative of the post-Zionist program to become a non-Jewish state. It also dismisses the fundamental right of the Jewish People to an independent state in this, their ancestral homeland.
As borne out in one of the odd cases where Rashi agrees with Jean-Paul Sartre, this goal of assimilated normalcy is doomed to failure. The Torah remarks (Gen. 37, 1), ‘Jacob settled in the land of his father's residence, in the land of Canaan.’ In a prescient comment, Rashi observes that ‘Jacob sought to live in tranquility, but he was beset immediately by the stress of Joseph.’ It is an existential fact of Jewish existence that the only inertia, the only calm we have is that of death (either physical or spiritual).
The events of the past twelve years have taught that by assuming that the founding of the state, amidst hidden and revealed miracles, marked the start of an irreversible redemption was an act of spiritual hubris on our part. We have no more right to assume that the final redemption is mechanistically owed us, than we do to renegotiate our eternal covenant with God. It is excruciatingly painful for many of us to confront this possibility. It does not mean the end. It marks a new beginning.
It marks a beginning because we are standing on the threshold of a new era. It is an era in which the critical mass, and the absolute majority, of the Jewish People live in the Land of Israel, for the first time in twenty-six hundred years.
That comes with grave responsibility. We have a State. We have most of the Jews living here. The Land still responds to our presence and gives forth its fruit. God’s Providence still protects us, because without it there is objectively no way that we would have come to our 58th Yom ha-Atzma’ut.
We have much in which to rejoice.
We have paid, and continue to pay, a terrible price for what we have.
We have much to consider.
We are faced with awesome responsibilities.
Our primary task is to preserve the soul of the nation, which will allow us to preserve its body politic.
Our lesson from today’s Yom Ha-Zikkaron is to ‘highly resolve that these honored dead shall not have died in vain.’
Our job tonight is to celebrate, to give thanks to הקדוש ברוך, הוא for the unparalleled miracle of the State of Israel, and the זכות of living in His Land, under His Providence.
Our mission tomorrow is to renew our commitment to the task before us. We must become worthy of this gift that God has chosen to bestow upon us.
חג עצמאות שמח!