Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • IDF Memorial Day
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

Iyar 5768
I happened to be in the United States on United States Memorial day. As in almost all countries in the world, Israel included, there is a special day during the calendar year set aside for remembrance of the fallen soldiers who fought in the wars engaged in by that country. The Memorial Day of the United States began after the bloody American Civil War as a day oif rembrance for the fallen soldiers of the Union Army.It has since expanded to include the hundreds of thousands of American soldiers killed in subsuquent and current wars. The concept of a memorial day of remembrance is certainly a poignant and personal one for those family members personally affected by the loss of amember of a family. Yet for those who are not personally affected by a loss do not always respond to the concept of a memorial day. Memorial Day in the United States is a national holiday - a day of picnics, concerts, sports events, store sales, parades and a day off from work. This presented to me a jarring contrast with our day of remembrance which is very serious, special and not a day of levity and leisure at all. I feel that even in the semi-secular tone of the memorial day that it has assumed here in Israel - sirens, military salutes, flower wreaths, predictable platitudes from politicians - there is a religious traditional Jewish motif that governs that day. It is the presence of that spirit of tradition of how to conduct memorials and remembrances that give the Israeli memorial day its unique and different character. Everything here in Israel seems to turn out to be special.

Jewish tradition has developed a system of memory and remembrance for its martyrs and heroes. It is understated and without the requirement of speeches. It encourages inner analysis and improvmernt, thoughgt and understanding. It emphasizes the fragility of life and the uncertainty of seeming security. It highlights the interdependence of Jews one upon another. It does not unduly glorify the art of war but it does not shirk from realizing its omnipresence and effects in Jewish history. Judaism remembers people, admires sacrifice and cherishes life. Our time allows for the first time in millennia the ability to defend itself against vicious enemies. Throughout the long exile of Israel only in rare instances were Jews anything but defenseless martyrs. So therefore Jews had no choice but to have a muted memorial day and service. And this muted reesponse governed Jewish remembrance ceremonies. This dovetailed exactly with the above described concepts of Jewish traditional mourning and memory. So even today when we are blesesd with a courageous and successful army that gives us an ability to defend ourselves from our enemies the day of remembrance for our fallen soldiers is much more serious, somber and perhaps meaningful fashion. I see the gradual disappearance of military parades here in Israel on special national days as also a return to a more trdational way of marking special days of remembrance and commemmoration.

In personal and private life as well, days of remembrance have special meaning and in Jewish tradition even special ritual and ceremony. Yahrzeits and days of zikaron are commemmorated with a memorial candle, the recitation of kaddish, the granting of charity to the needy, words of Torah knowledge and faith and reminscnces of the departed anf faith in the life and afterlife of the soul of the departed. In a strnge way, the day of remembrance is meant to be day of closure and even comfort and not one of scraping open old and painful wounds and memories. There is no hiding from the loss of a beloved one but the Torah demands that we progress and raise ourselves even from personal tragedy and sadness. Memorial days are hard but they are necessary and proper. Memory is meant to encourage positive action and meaningful behavior in life. Remembrance is a serious matter. So are days of memory and tradition. We should treasure such opportunities.
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