This week we celebrated Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha`atzma’ut. In Israel unlike in America, Memorial day is intrinsically connected to Independence day, one following immediately upon the heels of the other, the mourning and remembrance ceremonies of Yom Hazikaron flowing directly into the celebrations of Yom Ha`Atzma’ut.
In a drasha from this past week, Rabbi Ephraim Mervis, the Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, notes the fact that atzma’ut, the Hebrew word for independence comes from the word etzem, meaning bone. Among other allusions, the Chief Rabbi points out the famous prophesy of the Valley of Dry Bones, in which the prophet Yechezkel sees a valley full of dry bones rise up, transform into living, breathing people and begin marching towards the land of Israel. This prophecy would seem to describe the experience of world Jewry in the 1940’s when, in the space of a few short years we emerged from the graves of Europe to achieve the dream of centuries—a sovereign, independent Jewish state. This is a journey from atzamot, to atzmaut, from death and destruction to independence and sovereignty.
R’ Mervis’ read of Yechezkel would seem to argue in favor of the close proximity of Yom HaSho’ah to Yom Ha’atzma’ut. But what of the even closer proximity of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha`azma’ut? This too is about the connection between atzamot and atzma’ut. The independence, the ability to stand on our own to feet, which we celebrate on Yom Ha`atzma’ut, was not won bloodlessly. People fought and died in order that our people might live free in our homeland for the first time in two millennia. Just as no human being can stand up without bones, without a skeleton, no nation can stand, without the sacrifices of those who have been willing to fight for and defend it. This is a painful fact of history, which for too many families is not just an abstract idea but a tragic reality they live with every day, not just on Yom Hazikaron.
Though we live here in the diaspora, we must be grateful for those who continue to put their lives on the line to defend Israel; they are the skeleton without which our nation could not stand. Though most of us are not planning to make Aliyah any time soon, or are too old to serve in the army if we did, I invite us, to ask ourselves, what would I sacrifice for Israel? What would I sacrifice for the Jewish people? Maybe I’m not in a position to lay down my life, and maybe I’m not that kind of hero, but perhaps there are other kinds of sacrifices, other kinds of risks (emotional, spiritual risks) that I could take sake of my Jewish brothers and sisters, for my people here, in Israel and around the world. Are there unmet needs in my local community that I could help meet if only I was willing to make the sacrifices? Our willingness to give of ourselves is the foundation (the skeleton, if you will) that holds up the Jewish community—our ability to survive and thrive physically and spiritually as a people depends on the sacrifices and contributions made by every Jew. Sacrifice is not fashionable; it’s not part of the standard outreach curriculum, but it is an essential part of what it means to be Jewish.
May each of us have the courage to make sacrifices in the service of Hashem and the Jewish people that surprise us, that go beyond what we thought we were capable of, and may our sacrifices find favor before Hashem.
Rabbi Garth Silberstein
P.S.–to read the Rabbi Mervis’ drasha in full, visit http://chiefrabbi.org/article/dvar-torah-parshat-tazriah-metzorah-yom-haatzmaut/