Friday, April 24, 2015

We Remember, We Bleed, and We are not Silent!

By Rabbi Yisrael Rozen
Dean of the Zomet Institute

"After the two sons of Aharon died..." [Vayikra 16:1]. "I will be sanctified through my holy ones, and I will be honored in front of the entire nation. And Aharon was silent." [10:3].

"The Secret of Redemption Lies in Remembering"

The past two weeks have been filled with sadness and grief. Last week included the Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and for the Victims of Terrorism, and the week before that we marked Holocaust Remembrance Day and its dreadful times. Yom Haatzmaut (the Day of Independence) which we celebrated in the last few days is a direct consequence of the previous sad days, and it gains its great strength from the memories. My feeling is that these memorial days are the high point of our national patriotic feelings. They express our stiff-necked national attitude with strength and pride, together with our eternal cry, "The nation of Yisrael lives!" This in a way is more vital than the celebrations of Yom Haatzmaut with its ceremonial character and its flags and barbeques.

I am writing this article soon after Holocaust Remembrance Day, before Memorial Day and the Day of Independence, and I can still hear in my ears the talk of Holocaust survivors who live amongst us. Their horrifying personal memories bring out amazement, appreciation, and wonder: "How could you return to normal lives, at least in external appearance, after the frightening experiences that you had?" The answer that they all gave was: the eternity of Yisrael - the G-d of Yisrael, and the nation of Yisrael. The individual weaved his or her life from the point of view of the community as a whole, and this was their source of strength and life.

We Remember Together

From this we can move smoothly to the memory of the fallen soldiers, with added emphasis on the victims of terror attacks. Murderous terrorism strikes against us without pause.

For the last few years a very impressive event has taken place in Jerusalem on the eve of Memorial Day, called "We Remember, we Sing, and we Tell." The entire evening is a way of giving an embrace to bereaved families. This event is organized by the organization "Zochrim" (We Remember), headed by Dov Kalmanowitz (the first victim of the First Intifada, now a member of the Jerusalem city council), who recovered from very serious burns and dedicated himself to initiating a national project that enhances the pride of bereaved families and of us all. Thousands of people gather at the Sultan's Pool, outside the walls of Jerusalem, and listen breathless and with tears in their eyes to words, music, and poetry all saluting those who were injured in the battlefields, both those wearing uniforms and in civilian clothing. The unique element of the evening is the tremendous cooperation between IDF injured and victims of terrorism, between nonreligious, religious, and Chareidim (!), between Jews and non-Jews (Druze, Christians), between the fallen and incurable injured ones and those who have made remarkable recoveries.

As I write this article I still have strong memories of last year's event. This edition of Shabbat-B'Shabbato will be published after this year's gathering, which will have taken place in the intervening week, and which I also hope to attend. To our great sorrow, every year new families are added to the legions of the bereaved, with their own stories of national and personal heroism. This year we salute the warriors who participated in Operation Protective Edge, those who sacrificed themselves and were either killed or injured while performing their duties. We also remember the three young men who were kidnapped in Gush Etzion and their amazing families, together with many people who were stabbed in the cities and roads throughout the land, in addition those who were purposely run over, killed or maimed at bus stops, train stations, and hitchhiking stations.

"He who avenges the blood will remember them" [Tehillim 9:13] – This refers to the Holy One, Blessed be He, and we follow in His footsteps. From the depths of our hearts we cry out about the car attack which cut short the life of a young man in his prime, Shalom Yochai Cherki, son of our colleague Rabbi Oury Cherki, also injuring his close friend – and we wish her a speedy recovery. There can be no more eloquent words than the cry of a father at the funeral of his son, a martyr because he was a Jew, whom no other creature can stand up to. (See Bava Batra 10b.)


After Aharon's sons died, we are told, "And Aharon was silent" – as quoted above. This "silence" means that the one who experienced the suffering was quiet, but that those around him are commanded to console him, by trying to calm him down and by crying out to G-d: "Enough!" As our sages taught us, "'And Aharon was silent' – To be quiet means to offer consolation." [Avot D'Rebbe Natan, Chapter 5].

A big sin is perpetrated for the people themselves and for the families by those who have adopted the "modern" practice of a foreign culture of mourning, best described by the verse, "He sits alone and is silent" [Eicha 3:28]. This is not the way of Judaism, which has been blessed with a number of mitzvot related to consolation, including the instructions to the mourners not to lock the door for people who come to offer consolation. And even beyond this, sitting alone in mourning is a missed opportunity. The practice of "shiva" provides an opportunity to remember the good traits of the deceased and to praise him or her as an educational or ethical example, so that "the living can take the matter to heart" [Kohellet 7:2].

The mitzva of consolation goes hand in hand with the mitzva of attending a funeral. Since I have raised the subject of mourning, I will take note of an event which has upset me very much since a funeral which took place on the first day of Chol Hamoed Pesach: The command is to "accompany" the deceased and not to push and crush other people. What was the Holy One, Blessed be He, trying to hint at in the terrible tragedy of the deaths of "two sons of Aharon" who were trampled to death "in their close approach" to the coffin of one of the Torah giants of this generation, Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Vazner? Only G-d has the answers! It is silly to blame the police or the organizers of the funeral. Only G-d has answers, and we at a loss about what to do...

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