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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays IDF Memorial Day

The Pain and the Pride

Israel is a roller-coaster, a thrill ride; We are currently in the "sandwich," in the segment between the twin triumphs of our glorious redemption from Egypt, and "Exodus 1948," when we re-established ourselves as a sovereign country.
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Israel is a roller-coaster, a thrill ride; it provides a rush of excitement to some, while others just get nauseous. Our current election merry-go-round is a perfect example: we’re so dizzy at this point that we can’t remember, "Is this the third, the fourth, or the fifth go? Who won the first two rounds? Didn’t Naftali Bennett fall out of the mix completely at some point, and now may very well become our next Prime Minister? And what about Gantz – wasn’t he supposed to take over as PM in rotation; when does that happen?!"

Another coaster experience is the rush of wildly different emotions that bombard our senses every year at this point in the calendar. We are currently in the "sandwich," in the segment between the twin triumphs of our glorious redemption from Egypt, and "Exodus 1948," when we re-established ourselves as a sovereign country. Now, we are immersed in the twin tragedies that darken our national history; the brutal torture and murder of more than a third of our population at the hands of the Nazis and their accomplices, and the death of almost 24,000 Israeli soldiers killed in battle since the State began.

There is pain, and there is pride, in both Yom HaShoa and Yom Hazikaron. Though our loss of six million beautiful souls – each of whom had a history, a home and hopes of a future – cannot ever be consoled or compensated for, we must never forget that this was a war, a war in which we emerged victorious. The Nazis sought our liquidation, but they were defeated, while we survived. The world betrayed and forsook us, but we persevered and rejuvenated ourselves. They broke us apart, but we rebuilt; their massive force of arms could not overcome our fortitude and our faith.

In every gathering on Holocaust Day, we rightfully recall not only the martyrs, but also the heroes who survived, who lived to both tell their story, as well as write a new chapter in our eternal, epic travelogue.

On Yom Hazikaron, too, there is great pain, but there is also great pride. To lose a spouse, a sibling or certainly a child is to lose a limb and be forced to limp through life. Some of the joie de vivre is taken out of our step; that invisible, missing face in the family pictures can never be replaced or forgotten.

Yet there is great pride in knowing that, in giving their lives for their country, our valiant fallen soldiers reached the pinnacle of life’s achievements. They were the wall which protected every other citizen – young and old, secular and Haredi, leftist or rightist. Their courage and commitment allowed us to win fifteen wars since our young country declared independence. Fifteen wars! - and countless terrorist attacks - and yet our holy soldiers stood firm and allowed us, with God’s help, to miraculously return to and re-establish our ancient homeland, a feat unparalleled in the history of nations.

In most years – this current one included – the Torah portion read in the week of Yom Hazikaron is that of Shemini. This portion recounts the death of Nadav and Avihu, Aaron the High Priest’s two sons, who died a mysterious death while bringing an offering in the Mishkan. This is the only case recorded in the entire Torah of a righteous person dying in his prime. We know that Nadav and Avihu were righteous, because, according to the Medrash, no less an authority than Moses tells his brother, "they were more righteous than you and I."

Aaron’s reaction to the loss of his eldest sons was immobility, a kind of emotional paralysis. "Vayidom Aharon," says the verse, Aaron was speechless and motionless in the face of this event. Now, most commentators assume that it was excessive grief which rendered Aaron dumb; indeed, Jewish law advises visitors to a house of morning to hold their tongue until the mourner himself is able to speak, which often takes days.

But there is another opinion that I think is more accurate. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the great Halachic decisor of the 20th century, explains that Aaron was torn between two very different revelations. The first, of course, was that he had lost his precious children, sons who he had groomed to succeed him in administering the Mishkan and the Temple services. Yet at the same time, Aaron – who, like Moses, had the gift of prophecy - was shown a unique and vivid vision: in Heaven, the angels were greeting Nadav and Avihu with majestic pomp and praise; they were escorting him to an elevated place reserved for only the most honorable and sacred of individuals.

Caught between these two opposite poles, not knowing whether to bitterly cry over his sons’ departure from this world, or proudly cheer their grand entrance to the World to Come, Aaron did the only thing he could possibly do – he stood in silence.

And that is precisely the way that we – and the too-many bereaved families of Israel – feel on this and every Yom Hazikaron. We miss our son terribly, our souls are wrenched at the knowledge that Ari will never marry, have children, grace our home and community or realize any of the innumerable dreams he had. Yet along with that hole in our hearts, we stand tall in thanks, admiration and pride as we remember his achievements and honor his memory.

Despair and hope, sadness and joy, pain and pride – these are the clothes we wear from siren to siren.

(Staff Sgt. Ari Yehoshua Weiss fell in battle against Hamas terrorists in Shechem on Sep. 30, 2002)
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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