Parshiyot Acharei – Kedoshim 5767, Memorial Day and Yom Ha’atzmaut
Part One: Memorial Day (postponed this year from Sunday to Monday in order not to desecrate the Shabbat with the preparations)
Words and numbers are the intellectual essence of man; the richer one’s vocabulary the more profound and extensive are his thoughts, and numbers permit us to discover similarities between entities or to distinguish between them. Without words and numbers, we could not think rationally and would be part of the animal world, craving the fulfillment of ravenous momentary lusts.
The Creator has programmed us in this way, and He communicates with lowly Man through words and numbers.
Numbers create for us parameters of time, place and person.
In the Torah, HaShem’s will is made known not only by the revealed word or number but also through the exegesis of the text, as brought in the Oral Torah.
Our parsha begins with a seemingly redundant number – two:
וידבר ה’ אל משה אחרי מות שני בני אהרן
“And God said to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon when they approached God and died”
Does the Torah suspect that we can’t count that the sons who died – Nadav and Avihu – equal the number two–? Why not write: “… After the death of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon” or “…After the death of the sons of Aharon–“?
However, there is meaning in the Torah’s numerical information that two sons died.
Go to a jewelry store and price a one carat diamond ring; if it would be around 10,000 dollars, the price of two one carat rings would be 20,000 dollars. Now price a diamond ring of two carats. Don’t be surprised if you hear the number 50,000 dollars!
There are things whose cumulative value exceed by far the sum total of its parts.
The loss of one child is grief. The loss of two is not more grief – it is devastation.
The Torah writes: “And God said to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon…,” to inform us of the devastating emotional state which the death of two sons produced. Nevertheless, Aharon was able to overcome the depths of his feelings and continued to function faithfully in the service of Hashem.
My friends in the galut. Go to your beit knesset or yeshiva and ask, beginning with the head functionary, what the number 22,305 means to him. You will most likely get answers such as: the cost of your new car, the annual cost of your child’s day school tuition or perhaps the profit you made on your last stock market deal.
No one there can know what almost every Jew in Eretz Yisrael knows: 22,305 is the number of soldiers of Tzahal who were killed from 1948 until today defending the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael.
Counting 1, 2, 3 graves cannot express the reality of the sorrow, because 22,305 is not the sum total of its parts; it is the utter devastation of the cumulative loss of 22,305 brave, dedicated, and holy souls.
The halacha relates to numbers of kedusha. Three people who dine together require saying birkat haziemun and ten requires the addition of God’s name. Ten is also the minimum number for kaddish, kedusha, barchu etc.
The number 22,000 has a special status in the Creator-Am Yisrael relationship. The gemara (Bava Kama 83a) states that the Shechina (the holy spirit) descends upon Am Yisrael when there are at least 22,000 Jews together.
The community of these beloved 22,305 sons and daughters who died Al kiddush Hashem now merit entrance into the inner chamber of the holy palace, where there they will plead before our Father, the King to save and protect His holy Jewish nation.
Last Sunday night, Jerusalem’s Convention Hall was filled to capacity in order to pay homage to the memory of the 22,305 soldiers, and the thousands of citizens who were murdered by Arab and Islamic terrorism.
The assembled were a cross section of Israeli society, with the exception of a certain segment. And although that segment’s rabbis were absent, one could make out in the area reserved for rabbanim the presence of Yehoshua bin Nun, the first military leader of Tzahal in Eretz Yisrael. Next to him sat Barak, Devorah, Gidon, Shimshon, Yiftach, King Shaul, King David, Matityahu of Modi’in, Rabbi Akiva, Rav Arieh Levin, rabbi of the underground prisoners, Harav Gustman* (see below – end of Part I.)
The absence of the others was noticed and recorded in heaven.
The “event” lasted over three hours and was replete with very moving moments. David Chatuel spoke of the murder of his wife, Tali and their four daughters in Gush Katif, and Dr. Nimrod Adi, assistant head of emergency medicine at Icholav hospital in Tel Avia, described the battles in the last war in Lebanon.
There were many opportunities to cry. But despite my personal losses of an aunt and two cousins who were murdered in 1938 on the way to Tzfat, my only brother, Harav Meir, who was murdered in 1990, and his son and daughter in law who were murdered in 2000 – I did not cry.
I was sitting near our youngest son, a very senior infantry officer, who took part in almost every major confrontation in the last sixteen years. At the most dramatic heart rending moments of the evening, when surely his thoughts were on the too many young soldiers and officers whose funerals he attended, I could not discern a tear nor any emotion. His face was stolid and his body language composed, but he was deep in thought.
I looked around the cavernous hall and noticed that, although there were some who cried, most were like me and our son – pensive and controlled.
I have known for a long time, being here 45 years, the reason for this, so called, lack of emotion. Soldiers never cry in the thick of battle. The release of emotions comes when the cannons are finally silent and the price becomes known.
We in Eretz Yisrael have been in the thick of battle for 100 years, so the time for tears has not yet come.
When the Mashiach appears, Jews the world over will congregate in their shteiblich and in the sanctuaries of the great synagogues to break out the cases of 18 year old scotch to drink a lechaim. There will be dancing and rejoicing in the streets of Williamsburg and Lakewood, in Golders Green in London, and in the diamond centers of Belgium.
But here in Eretz Yisrael weeping will be heard; for the battle to re-establish our presence in our holy land will have been won, so now the soldiers can cry.
Who are the soldiers? They are every man, woman and child in this country. We are all soldiers, for here there is no battle front and home front – it is all a battle field.
And in the midst of the tumult of song and dance in the great Torah centers of the galut, the Massiach will quietly slip away and come up to David Chatuel and to Libby Kahana and the others, and in a bashful whisper will say, “May I sit and cry with you?”
*Who was Harav Gustman z”l?
During the first Lebanese war, I was walking on Jaffa Road when my very close friend, Dr. Simcha Feingold z”l, urgently grabbed my arm. There were tears in his eyes as he begged me to listen to him.
Simcha told me that a young soldier, a student at the hesder yeshiva in Shalabim, had been killed in action. Simcha drove Harav Gustman z”l, probably the last of the Torah giants of Eastern Europe before the war, to the funeral. At the close of the ceremony, Harav Gustman requested to be taken immediately to the home of the bereaved parents. A most unusual request, as it is not customary to visit mourners so soon after a funeral. They arrived a few moments after the parents themselves had entered their home. At this point I was mesmerized by Dr. Feingold, who continued to relate his story while wiping away his tears.
Harav Gustman stood in front of the surprised parents and said to them, “I had a little son, Meir. He was a beautiful, clever little boy. The Germans grabbed him from my arms and murdered him in front of my eyes. At this very moment, my Meir is standing at the entrance of gan eden and welcoming your son, Shlomo, and is saying, ‘How much more fortunate you are than I, to have had the zechut to give your life for am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael’.
Shlomo’s father is Professor Yisrael Aumann, winner of last year’s Nobel prize for economics!
Part Two: Yom Ha’atz’maut
The prophet Yechezkel (16,6) says
“ואמר לך בדמייך חיי ואומר לך בדמייך חיי”
Midrash Raba Shmot 17 explains the repetition of the phrase “And you shall live by your blood, and you shall live by your blood”, that the Jewish nation will survive and thrive in the merit of two “bloods” – the blood of brit mila and the blood of the Pessach sacrifice.
We can understand the merit of brit mila, which is performed to this day, but the last Pessach sacrifice was 2000 years ago, how can its merit influence our lives?
On Yom Ha’atz’ma’ut we recite the complete Hallel with a bracha. (the half Hallel we say on Rosh Chodesh and on Chol Hamoed Pesach is not halacha but a minhag.) Chapter 117 of Tehilim, included in Hallel, contains two verses:
הללו את ה’ כל גוים שבחוהו כל האמים: כי גבר עלינו חסדו ואמת ה’ לעולם הללויה
“Give praise to God all peoples, exalt Him all nations. For His mercy abounds with us (the Children Of Israel) and God’s truth (to watch over us) is everlasting, Halleluya“.
These two sentences provide material for wide ranging opinions in the attempt to explain why the nations of the world, who are not lovers of Zion, give praise to God for gracing the Jewish nation with His mercy (Pesachim 118a).
The obvious meaning (peshat) of the Pesukim in Tanach will come to light as simple reality as humanity progresses in its trek to a future determined by Hashem at the time of creation.
Pesukim and “agadata” can be understood within the framework of every generation, for that is one of the greatnesses of Torah, that is speaks to every person at all times.
And the pesukim and words of Chazal will come to life in a manner that even one who is far removed from Torah will raise his hands to the Shamayim in praise.
To cite one example. The Gemara in Ayrachim 11b relates that the Babylonians, who destroyed the first Temple, and the Romans, who destroyed the second Temple, broke into the Bet Hamikdash on Shabbat afternoon, when the Kohanim were performing the Nee’such Ha’ya’yin ceremony (wine libation on the altar).
At both times the Levi’im, whose function was to sing the daily song (shir shel yom) at this ceremony, sang the song of Wednesday, even though it was Shabbat! Several reasons have been suggested for this, but no one really knows why the Levi’im sang the song of Wednesday on Shabbat.
No one, that is, until 1967 and the Six Day War. The war broke out on Monday morning. On the third day of fighting, which was Wednesday, our soldiers entered the Temple Mount; thereby restoring Yerushalayim to our nation for the first time in two thousand years.
The Levi’im in both Temples, at the lowest moments in our history, were given ru’ach ha’kodesh to see that the return of Yerushalayim to the Jewish nation for all times would occur on the day when it in fact did occur, so they sang the song of Wednesday.
Likewise, the real explanation of the pesukim in Hallel, where the Gentiles will praise Hashem for his benevolence towards His people, Am Yisrael, can only be really understood in our time.
For fifty years, from the end of the Second World War, the free world lived under the threat of the Soviet Union and its communist satellite nations, who entered into a nuclear arms race with the United States.
The US felt it was in an inferior position and demanded parity. For the Soviet Union had the capacity of 350 “over kills” – the capability to kill every human being and all else on the globe 350 times over; whereas the US had the capacity of only 250 times.
Nations were overrun by communism, and many others were in the throws of this pending nightmare. The free world fought the communists in Korea, in Vietnam, and were very close to nuclear war with the trigger finger in Cuba.
Today the Soviet Union can be found only in history books. With all its potential wealth, Russia is close to being a third rate nation. Its life expectancy is twenty years below that of the US. HIV, drunkedness, lawlessness are overtaking this once powerful threat to humanity. What brought about this sudden change in the 1990s?
It occurred when the Soviets realized that their military was at an unbridgeable disadvantage with the US and could no longer compete in the arms race.
Who was it that showed the world the true value of Soviet weaponry? Who proved that the military doctrines of the Soviets were fallible?
In 1967 and again in 1973, Israel fought against Soviet weaponry and Soviet advisors. In 1967, it took Israel four hours on Monday morning to prove the true value of Soviet aircraft. The lessons were repeated with greater emphasis in the Lebanese War. In 1984 we downed 90 (ninety) Syrian-Russian planes in one day, including the destruction of all missile sites.
In 1971, while I was serving in the Sinai desert thirty kilometers from the Suez Canal, I heard on our radio Russian advisors speaking on the Egyptian side of the canal. A few days before I arrived at the base, our pilots downed four Russian Migs in the space of a few seconds. We were told by the base commander the details of the trap we set for them, and how their pilots reacted when discovered who was flying towards them. They began cursing not the Israelis, but the Jews!
Two planes and their pilots were destroyed in the air and the other two were destroyed but their pilots parachuted to safety.
It took a while for the full extent of the lessons we taught the Soviets to sink in. In the 1990s the Soviet Union dissipated and you could hear a pin drop.
When this occurred the entire world breathed a sigh of relief. Of course, the Gentiles are unable to bring themselves to express their thanks to the Jewish nation for removing this serpent from around their necks. Because they can “forgive” the Jews for everything, even for what they see in the Mel Gibson film, except for the one thing which they cannot forgive us – for having our young sons fly F16s better then anyone in the world.
We again saved the sanity of the world by destroying the Iraqi nuclear threat (one of the pilots was the late astronaut Ilan Ramon, who volunteered to fly in the last position of the attack planes, which was the most dangerous). If not for Israel’s courageous decision and implementation, who knows where the world would be today. But Israel received only condemnation from the “enlightened” nations of Europe, who cannot to this day come to grips with the fact that Hashem watches over His Am Ha’niv’char.
To return to the question on the midrash: If the last Pessach sacrifice was 2000 years ago, how can its merit relate to us today?
The Pessach sacrifice in Egypt was the renunciation of idolatry. The Jews in Egypt demonstrated that the animals which were worshipped by the Egyptians were indeed no more than animals.
The midrash is telling us that the redemption of Am Yisrael will occur when we destroy the “avoda zara” in future times, as we did at that time in Egypt.
Today the nations of the world worship military power. Nations which have no money with which to purchase food for their people maintain armies and air forces.
The hundreds of billions of dollars spent annually on arms could be better spent in the development of mankind. But the avoda zara of strength persists.
Medinat Yisrael has proven that the God of Israel is mightier than the avoda zara of the nations. And for this it is stated in Tehilim,
“Give praise to God all peoples, exalt Him all nations. For His mercy abounds with us (the Children Of Israel) and God’s truth (to watch over us) is everlasting, Halleluyah“.
that one day, the nations of the world will realize that God is with His people as we continue to abolish the avoda zara of our time.
Permit me a moment of “prophecy”.
The free world today faces the greatest threat ever in the form of Islamic fundamentalism. With over ten million Muslims is Western Europe and seven or eight million in the United States, and growing very quickly, the free world is being threatened as never before by terrorism in its “backyard”.
It is estimated that there are 1,200,000,000 (one billion two hundred million) Muslims in the world, and they are rapidly becoming radicalized, in the belief that it is their religious duty to make the entire world Muslim, and not by proselytizing.
The ones who will again save the world will be the Jews in Medinat Yisrael.
It sounds incredible, but is Jewish history credible? How it will happen no one knows. But when it does all the nations of the world will, as the pasuk in Hallel says, praise Hashem for bringing miracles and chesed on His people Am Yisrael for saving all humanity.
Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.