It’s before dawn on Yom Hashoah (27th of Nisan 5771) and the Yahrzeit candles for: my grandmother, Chaya bat Yitzchak; my grandfather, Zvy ben Yosef; and my uncle, Mordechai ben Zvy; are alight nearby. I dedicate this personal note to their memory.
At the seudah shlishit yesterday, Rabbi Freilich asked: what is more important – Yom Hashoah or Yom Ha’atzmaut? I’m certain that they are both absolutely essential, but I feel in my heart that Yom Ha’atzmaut predominates. I wonder why?
Yom Ha’atzmaut follows Yom Hashoah. The latter promises a better future, while the former commemorates a terrible past event. We hope that such a Shoah will never be repeated, however if we don’t remember the past, we are condemned to repeat it.
On the other hand Yom Ha’atzmaut is older than Yom Hashoah. The exodus from Egypt was the birth of Jewish nationhood. We stood as a people and proclaimed that though we are slaves, we are nobler than our wealthy and powerful taskmasters. Our father Abraham loved his fellow man and showed hospitality to desert wayfarers, while our taskmasters worshipped idols and treated their fellow men as cattle. “Love your neighbour as yourself” is greater than wealth and power.
We undertook our first national project: to reject subservience to wealth and power and return to claim the land of Abraham. We sacrificed lambs, which our taskmasters idolised, and the household of Joseph, 70 souls that went to Egypt and had grown to a “mixed multitude” of probably 2-3 million spiritual descendents of Abraham: all ages and from many backgrounds including “converts” (and including 600,000 able-bodied men), stood as one nation.
3,500 years later, this national project to redeem the land of our spiritual forefathers, is still a work in progress. We are still struggling to defend ourselves, our land and our national legitimacy. As we read at our Seder table: “in every generation they rise up against us, to annihilate us…”
Since we left Egypt, we have faced: Amalek; the despots and dictators of the Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans; the Spanish Inquisition; the Crusaders; the Tzars; and the Nazis. Today we face the false “mullahs” of Iran; the baby dictator Assad in his fine suits; the thugs and murderers of Hamas and Hezbollah; the genocidal dreams of the murderous, so-called “Palestinian resistance”; their useful idiots around the world who either deceptively pretend to be pursuing “social justice” or stupidly believe that they are; and the just plain antisemites whose hatred blinds them from seeing that we are one people, one nation, one spirit. We conclude our Seder with Had Gadya to remind ourselves of this on-going parade of enemies.
Yom Hashoah is emblematic of the inhuman tyranny that stands against us. Yom Ha’atzmaut is our antidote.
The Rabbis who proclaimed 27th of Nisan as Yom Hashoah, sandwiched as it is between Pesach and Yom Ha’atzmaut, did so for this reason. We stood as one, first in Egypt. Then despite tribulations like the Shoah, we continue to aspire to higher aims. But just as we took the remains of Joseph with us from Egypt to Israel, we also carry with us the souls of all the loved ones we have lost, on our way to celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut
We continue our national project: to reclaim the land of our father Abraham as our national homeland. But we do so, not because we aspire to wealth, nor to power. We don’t wish to rule over others, but we will defend ourselves, because only by having our feet rooted firmly in the earth, can we hold our head and hearts above the clouds. Only thus can we ensure that the spirit of Abraham, who loved others as himself, and every soul that is with his, will endure forever and in the world to come, when nation will no longer lift up sword against nation.
Man does not live by bread alone, but he needs bread in order to aspire to higher aims.