If I asked you what holiday was this past week, you would unquestionably answer, “Memorial Day”. Unfortunately, that is incorrect because Memorial Day is not a “holiday”. Memorial Day is a day where family members, friends and the entire USA grieve over those who paid the ultimate price in defending the United States. My father, of blessed memory, was born in the USA and was a WWII veteran, having proudly served in the armed forces for 4 years. He was involved in the Battle of The Bulge and narrowly escaped death many times while fighting the Germans. His brother, my uncle Irving, was an elite combat soldier and was wounded twice in battle – earning himself 2 purple hearts. My mother’s 2 brothers; uncles Ruby and Murray, also fought in WWII and all of these men took Memorial Day very seriously. In my house, we were not allowed to go to the beach or shop for sales on Memorial Day. My father and uncles would spend most of the day visiting military cemeteries and consoling families who lost loved ones. No, Memorial Day is not and will never be a “holiday”. It is sad that very few people think this way but that is how I was raised and I believe it was correct. In Israel, for example, Memorial Day (called “Yom Ha’Zikaron”) is a sad and somber day complete with 2 “moments of silence” (at night and during the day) and trips to military cemeteries. Restaurants and coffee shops are closed as well as most stores. Simply put, it is not a holiday – it is a day for reflection, prayer and hope for the future. I hope that one day, people in the USA will feel this way as well.
So, what is the correct answer to my question? What holiday was celebrated this past week? It was a very special day, just this past Wednesday, when world Jewry celebrated – or should have celebrated – “Yom Yerushalayim” (Jerusalem Day) marking the 47th year since Hashem returned the entire city of Yerushalayim to the Jewish nation. Thanks to Hashem’s mighty warriors – the brave and holy soldiers of the IDF – the Old City, the Kotel and most importantly of all; Har HaBayit – were returned to Jewish control. But wait, there was a lot more than that! This special day marks the modern miracle called “The Six Day War” in which many areas of our holy land were liberated and returned to their rightful owners. Places like Hebron, Shechem, Bet El, Kever Rachel, Shilo, the Jordan Valley and all of the Golan Heights were taken away from the enemies of Hashem and returned to the Tribes of Israel. As a matter of fact, if you write down the name of every place in Israel mentioned in the Bible, an astonishing 93% of them were redeemed during that miraculous war! I hope you absorbed what I just wrote: 93% of the places mentioned in TaNaCH, the places we read about in the weekly parsha and haftora, the places where our greatest prophets and leaders are resting, the places where historic battles took place and where promises were made by Hashem to our people – 93% of these very places were imprisoned and held captive. Yet on this great day, they were liberated and set free!! What a miracle!! What an awesome privilege to live and experience this before our eyes!!
So, how did you celebrate Yom Yerushalayim? WHAT??? You didn’t even realize that this past Wednesday was Yom Yerushalayim? What happened? Didn’t your local Rav mention it last Shabbat in Shul? Isn’t it on your weekly Shul or Yeshiva calendar? Why not? Why is this amazing, incredible miracle not part of our daily lives? What does that say about us… and our leaders? How can we ignore the modern day splitting of the sea? If you think I am exaggerating, please consider the following: This was not a war like Vietnam or even the Gulf War, which America entered for global reasons. This was a war for survival. The Arabs were planning on massacring every man, woman and child in the State of Israel. They were planning on doing to them what Hitler did to the Jews of Europe and nothing less. Had we lost that war, we would have lost over 3,000,000 more Jewish lives. The response would have been to build a new Yad Vashem to the former Jews of Israel and maybe our Rabbonim would have added a new fast day to cry to Hashem for the spilling of more Jewish blood.
There is a major problem with this logic. Why do we only come to Hashem in sickness, tragedy and death? How come we have a major problem thanking and praising Hashem for the good things He gives us? Why must our prayers only be filled with tears and lamentations as opposed to joy and happiness? Think about this: If, G-d forbid, a bomb explodes in a crowded pizza shop on Main St, Cedar Lane, Central Ave, Ben Yehuda or Mamilla, we will all rush to shul to immediately daven and say Tehillim. Yes, that is the correct response and I will rush to shul as well to beg Hashem for mercy and to heal the wounded. But what if – just minutes before the explosion – a miracle occurs and the bomb is detected, safely defused and the terrorist apprehended. Instead of massive carnage and blood there is quiet and serenity. Hashem has saved the day and nobody was injured! Shouldn’t we still run to shul – only this time to thank Hashem for His mercy and kindness?
Let me make this point very clear. Hashem wants to hear from His children! He wants the sweetness of the Tehillim – but in praise and happiness, not in begging and crying. How can I write these words? Do I claim to know the ways of Hashem? No, not at all. I don’t understand Hashem’s secret ways nor do I dare try to understand His infinite wisdom and logic. But I do know this – because I have been taught it since the first day of my life: Hashem is our Father and our King and He is full of compassion, mercy and kindness. He wants to be close to us – as every father wants to be close to his children. He wants to rule us as a King but wishes His subjects will serve Him with love, not only fear. Every Chassidic sefer I have ever read talks about the need to serve Hashem out of love which is a much higher level than serving Him out of fear.
So where is our love? Why do we all get together for the Tisha B’avs but are nowhere to be found on the Yom Ha’Atzmauts and Yom Yerushalayims? Where is our gratitude for the modern day miracles? Dearest friends; open your eyes! What has happened these past few years – since 1948 – are miracles that can be compared to defeating Paro, Achashverosh and the mighty Greeks during the days of the Maccabees. We must acknowledge these miracles and thank Hashem for sending them to us. Don’t let these days pass you by because by doing so, you are neglecting a major foundation of Judaism called “Hakaras Ha’Tov” – acknowledging the good. Imagine not thanking a neighbor who saved your child from an accident – who would do such a thing? Yet, do we thank Hashem for saving our land, our people and our nation and for returning to us Ma’arat Ha’Machpela, the site of the Mishkan in Shilo and the Kadosh Ha’Kedoshim on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem?
We have a lot of work to do but it begins with ourselves and our leaders. Let’s make a promise that from this day forth we will not only ask Hashem to heal the sick and comfort the mourners but we will also thank Him for building our land, fortifying our army and increasing the talmidim in our Yeshivot. We will sing His praises for allowing Jewish farmers to properly keep Sh’mittah (coming this year) and for the tens of thousands of new Jewish homes that will populate the land of Israel in the coming years. And a few more things to ask Hashem for: Ask Him to help you sell your house and find you a good job in Eretz Yisrael. Ask Him to help you make Aliyah – not while running away from gas chambers and pogroms – but while things are quiet and serene. And ask Him to connect you to His Land so that even if you are stuck outside of it for a while, you don’t ever again miss a day like Yom Yerushalayim!