You shall be holy, for I, HaShem, your G-d, am holy"
Iyar 4, 5778/April 19, 2018
This year, once again, the double Torah readings of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim, which will be read this Shabbat, coincide with this week's observance of Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzma'ut, Israel's Memorial Day and Independence Day, respectively. This "coincidence" is always particularly poignant, as the name of the first of the two Torah readings, Acharei Mot, literally means, "After the death of" . (The verse in full reads, "And HaShem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon's two sons, when they drew near before HaShem, and they died." Leviticus 16:1) The name of the second of the two Torah readings, Kedoshim, means holy ones. When read together, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim literally means, "after the death of the holy ones," and when read in proximity of Israel Memorial Day, as it is this year, our thoughts go naturally to the 23,646 soldiers who have fallen in Israel's wars of independence and freedom, as well as the thousands of victims of terror in our land. The fallen are indeed holy, for they gave of themselves so that we, the living, may live free in our land, the land G-d promised our forefathers, the land of Israel. G-d promises, and our holy ones fall in battle to make that promise a reality. This is not spoken ironically. It is an expression of the eternal covenant between G-d and His people Israel. We work together to make promises happen, to make dreams come true.
In Israel, Yom HaZikaron is a solemn day of deep reflection for those who have lost loved ones, marked by ceremonies and graveside visits throughout the land, and no less so for those who don't bear the loss so closely to their flesh and their souls. The air that we breath and the land upon which we stand is the gift of the fallen to all of us. Regardless of closeness of kinship, we are all one family with one common destiny.
The twenty four hours of solemn reflection are then shattered with fireworks and more ceremonies, this time bursting with a nearly overpowering energy of profound joy and gratitude, which rises up out of the pain and loss itself, and sweeps over the entire people like an eye-opening wave of prophetic realization: the realization that we are indeed living in prophetic times. The ingathering of the dispersed of Israel and the establishment of the sovereign state of Israel in our era are the fulfillment of prophecies first uttered thousands of years ago. The intensely felt joy of Yom Atzma'ut, Israel's Independence Day is the joy of a thousand generations who lived and died with Zion in their hearts and Jerusalem on their lips. Yom HaZikaron not followed by Yom Atzma'ut would be nothing more than a desperately painful day. Yom Atzma'ut not preceded by Yom HaZikaron would be nothing more than a vacuous day of celebration. Together, the two days, the expressions of pain and joy and gratitude that they evoke, turn our hearts heavenward as we express the only thought that our hearts can possibly express, joy and thanks and gratitude to the G-d of Israel, Who has brought us to this day.
The first of this week's double Torah reading, Acharei Mot, deals at length with the Yom Kippur service in the Tabernacle/Holy Temple. The second of the two readings, Kedoshim, begins with these words: "And HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying, Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy, for I, HaShem, your G-d, am holy." (ibid 19:1-2) If Acharei Mot is a four thousand year old prescient tribute to today's fallen soldiers, then Kedoshim is likewise, no less than a four thousand year old reminder of why we fight and fall, and fight and return, and never turn our back on our land or our destiny: "You shall be holy, for I, HaShem, your G-d, am holy."
Today the nation of Israel has many enemies and many friends, and is daily shouted at, lectured to and pleaded with. Sometimes out of hatred, sometimes out of love, sometimes out of true concern, sometimes out of false friendship, Israel is constantly being told and cajoled: Do this and don't do that, give in, give up, roll over, do it our way, do it by our rules. Do these many voices think that they are new? Squarely in the middle of this week's double Torah reading, G-d has this ageless advice for Israel:
"And HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: I am HaShem, your G-d. Like the practice of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelled, you shall not do, and like the practice of the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you, you shall not do, and you shall not follow their statutes. You shall fulfill My ordinances and observe My statutes, to follow them. I am HaShem, your G-d. You shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, which a man shall do and live by them. I am HaShem." (ibid 18:1-5)
Am Yisrael Chai - the nation of Israel lives! Seventy years going on four thousand. Yom Atzma'ut Sameach - Happy Israel Independence Day!