Dvar Torah on Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Remembrance day

Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Remembrance day 2004 / 5764 -

23.04.2004 by

The period we are now in is a fraught one for the Jewish people. A few days ago, one week after Passover, we marked Yom Hazikaron LaShoa - Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is, here in Israel - as it is, I am sure, elsewhere - an extremely emotional and challenging time. This coming Monday is Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day for Israel's fallen soldiers, which is followed immediately by Yom Ha'atzma'ut, Israel's Independence Day. These two days are extraordinarily powerful here in Israel, with a real sense of communal mourning on the first, followed, with almost unbearable immediacy, by the celebratory good feeling and warmth of the second. This year, all this is taking place while Jews are, almost daily, killing and being killed, and are, at the same time, contemplating the removal of thousands of Jews from their homes in Gaza, Judea, and Samaria.Many, especially here in Israel, where these commemorative days are all nationally observed, feel that there is almost too much to think about in this mix, too much being remembered, mourned, celebrated, and commemorated. There is, some argue, too great a historical weight being cruelly placed, every April, on the shoulders of the Jewish people. For observant Jews, it is, as usual, even worse. In addition to all of the above, we count the 50 days between Passover and Shavuot, as the Torah commands, and also observe them as days of mourning for the deaths of 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva, and for the victims of the Crusades in the 11th and 12th centuries. But the 33rd day of the 50 - Lag B'Omer - is, for some reason, a holiday, commemorated with bonfires all over Israel and hundreds of thousand of revelers at Meron, near Zfat. It becomes difficult, during this seven week long roller-coaster ride, to keep track of what bits of history we are remembering on which days, and how we are meant to relate to them. I was struck by a connection between all this ritualized remembering and this week's parsha, Tazria-Metzora. The parsha begins with the laws of ritual impurity which apply after a woman gives birth. Essentially, after birth, a mother is ritually impure for thirty-three days after having a boy, and sixty-six days after the birth of a girl. At the end of the period of ritual impurity, she goes to the Temple and offers a proscribed sacrifice. Much has been written about the reasons for this ritual impurity. The normative modern understanding sees the close contact the mother has had with the life/death boundary as being the cause of impurity, just as contact with a dead body is. The power of blood, and the ultimate mysteries of life and death are not lost on Jewish law and ritual; almost all events which include blood and the beginning or end of life have attendant ritual and ceremony. That would seem to be the explanation of this long period of impurity after the truly momentous event of giving birth.This fact stands in sharp contradistinction with modern, western attitudes to these elemental events. The modern world has trouble with ritual, reserving it for symbolic losses and gains (the Super Bowl and the World Series, the rise and fall of celebrities or imaginary, fictional figures), and feels very uncomfortable with it in real life and death situations. These situations, when they do, inescapably, occur, are typically dealt with quickly and unceremoniously; scientifically. For many people, when a child is born, it is a matter of pride for them to be able to keep functioning normally, work right up until the birth, and then get back to the job as soon as possible afterwards. Death, also, is typically hidden, behind closed hospital doors, and is almost always spoken of euphemistically. It would seem that the more traditional approach, that of ritualizing major life (and death) events, is a way of getting us to try and fully appreciate the wonder, the danger, the miracle, of our own experience. Rather than saying, in effect, that our day-to-day life is what is really important, and these special events should not be allowed to keep us for too long from our careers, our jobs, and our everyday concerns, the Torah demands that we really stop and consider what just happened to us when something momentous has just happened. These rituals, such as the long period of ritual impurity for the new mother, lead us to see our lives as being worthy of ritualizing, worthy of religious response. We are not simply bread-winners. We are not cogs in the very practical machine which mankind has so successfully put together. We are, rather, part of a divine drama, a cosmic drama, of life and death, pure and impure, good and evil, and our rituals force us to come to terms with that. Momentous things have happened to the Jewish people, many of them in the last sixty years. I appreciate the time that the holidays and commemorative days that we mark each spring give us to reflect upon them, celebrate them, and cry about them. I was born on February 12. I grew up with a very strong connection to issues of freedom and slavery, war and peace, and justice. I imagine that some of you don't understand the connection. February 12th used to be Lincoln's Birthday, and I grew up with a real affinity to him. Subsequently, it proved to be more efficient to condense his and George Washington's birthdays into a multi-purpose, give-us-a-long-weekend, Presidents' Day. I prefer the way it used to be in America, and the way we (still) do it in Israel. All these commemorative days are really poorly scheduled; they bump into one another, should be more spread out, and some seem to commemorate things that perhaps many have forgotten, or would have us forget. I like the fact that when the day falls, whether it is a Monday, Thursday, or Tuesday, whether it fits in with the theme of last week's holiday or not, it forces us to come to terms with what has happened to us, with the big issues we have had to deal with, the issues that really matter, and doesn't let us simply forget and get on with our lives. That is what ritual does, it keeps us from living normal, efficient, well planned lives, and forces us to think about life.Shabbat Shalom,Shimon Felix

Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Remembrance day Summary

יום השואה

Yom Hashoa - Holocaust Rememberance Day, is observed in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world on the 27th day of the hebrew month of Nissan - just a week after the end of Passover and one week before Memorial Day for Israel's fallen soldiers and Independance Day. The proximity of the days expresses the connection between the European Holocaust and the birth of the modern State of Israel.

In Israel, the day is observed with official ceremonies, at Yad Vashem and elsewhere, and a nation-wide two minutes of silence, which takes place at 10 AM, as sirens are sounded and the country comes to a stand-still. Jewish communities around the world also remember the Six Million on this day, with prayers and ceremonies in synagogues, schools, and community centers. 

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