by Rabbi Yoav Ende
The period from Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, to Yom HaZikaron, the Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers, and Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day, is often referred to as “The Israeli High Holidays,” and some communities have chosen to call the Shabbat between these days, “Shabbat Tekumah,” the Sabbath of National Revival.
Every year, when I see a photo of a Holocaust survivor with his granddaughter, an Israeli soldier, I am brought to tears. No words can convey the horror of the Holocaust; the fact that grandchildren of survivors are defending a sovereign Jewish and democratic state is the most meaningful victory possible. It is often said that this is the most tangible expression of the phrase, “from Holocaust to redemption.”
In my view, however, there is no causal or religious connection between the two. It is not “because of” or “by virtue of” or “despite” the Holocaust that we have a Jewish state. It is indeed truly amazing that the Jewish people suffered the Holocaust and succeeded in building a flourishing state, in a relatively short period of time. We are indeed privileged. But it is still necessary to defend our state and our society has paid a heavy price; some of us have paid the highest price imaginable.
Therefore, I believe that the “Israeli High Holidays” should serve as a period of self-reflection, without a prayer book, without selichot or prayers for forgiveness, without any text telling us what to do or what to observe. We must simply ask ourselves — are we worthy of this privilege? Have we succeeded in creating a state and society that those who died in its defense would be proud of? Are we worthy of this memory that we carry?
As a society that still exists in a state of conflict, whose sons and daughters are still required to fight to maintain its borders and whose citizens must pay a heavy price, the moral justification for this demands that we do all that is within our power to end this state of perpetual conflict, to create a situation of full security and a future of true peace.
Obviously, there are factors which are beyond our control, and the situation is extremely complicated. But I believe that the deep commitment to bring peace and security has been eroded. We must not rest, we must not despair, and we must not fall prey to ideologies which justify inaction, which hold little hope for our future, and which reject the possibility of living peacefully with others. We must not rely upon phrases like “the eternal nation is not afraid,” while preparing for war alone, and not for peace.
The Torah portion of this past week is Kedoshim, which opens with the phrase: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). This verse is both a commandment and a statement of purpose and destiny. There are those among us who assume that they have been born superior to others, be it by virtue of color, language, culture, religion or gender. Some will claim a religious justification, by establishing batei midrash or schools for Torah study, in which such reprehensible views are promulgated. There can be no greater desecration of God’s name than to claim that you are inherently more holy or superior to others.
At the end of the Torah portion we read this verse: “You shall faithfully observe all My laws and all My regulations, lest the land to which I bring you to settle in spew you out” (Leviticus 20:22). This verse reminds us that the land was given to us conditionally, and if we don’t live up to this challenge it will be taken away from us. In other words, we will not survive here, unless we live in a state and society which reflect the high standards required of us.
What does this demand of us? We must not fall into the trap of believing that there is some guarantee based upon our right to the land or some Divine promise. We must work diligently to ensure that we are worthy of the supreme sacrifice made by those who are no longer with us, those who came before us and those yet to be born. The worth of a society is not measured simply by words like “peace” or “war,” but by the way that society functions and the way we behave. We all need to reflect deeply upon how we can create a more humane society, in which there is concern for all, because our strength and power are just the means; the ends are who we are called upon to become.