When we made Aliyah nine and a half years ago, we were correctly warned that it would not be all bliss and joy, but moments of extreme happiness followed by great difficulties, with tears coming at all the wonder and all the hurdles as well—a roller-coaster of emotion. On this last day of the month of Nissan, also considered the beginning of Iyar, I note that this is the time of year where we, the people of Israel, get on this same ride and can’t get off.
For me it starts with Rosh Chodesh Nissan, where if I can arrange it, I ask a friend to give a shiur in memory of my niece, who was niftar (passed away) seven years ago. I can’t believe how long it has been, and how fast at the same time. This year the upheaval began a day earlier than that though, when we lost someone who was so special to the community; a young father and a wonderful person, who always made my day more interesting and thoughtful whenever I saw him. And what can your heart do but break as his son in fourth grade says kaddesh. Refael ben Moshe and Breina, you will not be forgotten.
My friend Hindy Ginsburg was kind enough to give a shiur in memory of my sweet, pure niece, may Chava Yehudit bat Baruch Efraim and Elisheva have an aliyat neshama. The topic Hindy spoke about was Hallel, due to the convergence of Rosh Chodesh and the upcoming (then) holiday of Pesach, where we say full Hallel the first day and partial Hallel for the rest. It was an enlightening shiur, showing how there was some disagreement as to when the first Hallel took place, but circling back to the idea that it wasn’t an argument about when it started (think of the Song by the Sea) but in the end, to show that we have said Hallel at many times, both joyous and difficult. When we look closer at the text, we see that, unlike our major prayer which is organized into praise, request and thanks, Hallel is almost mixed up, first praise, then thanks, request, more thanks, more praise. This prayer reflects our daily life, but most especially at this time of year.
Starting with the joy of Nissan, the holiday through which we became a nation, freed from within another nation, we sing our thanks and our praises, and yet at the same time, as we were rushing to leave, we came up against the most frightening prospect—caught at the shore of the sea, with the whole Egyptian army breathing down our necks, we had only one place to turn to—asking God to save us. He did this with yet more miracles like parting the sea, letting us walk through, and then drowning His other children to save us. So we were thankful, but ever after, we don’t say a complete Hallel for all the days of Pesach to remember that the loss of life, no matter how needed to save us, was still its own tragedy. This is one of the many reasons I love being Jewish: our strong reverence for life, for caring for others’ happiness, and our ability to mix both sorrow and pain as even at our wedding ceremonies, we have a sad moment to remember that we are not complete, and that our joy is not complete without our homeland and Holy Temple.
This brings me to the next part of the month. Less than a week after the end of our holiday of nationhood, we mourn, as a nation, the loss of so many during the Shoah, the Holocaust. Yet this very same tragedy seems to be an underlying part of who we are and what we are today as a nation. We are stronger, better, living in our own land with our own army, and we will (I fiercely hope) never again lay down and take a beating and say it is okay to treat us terribly.
Today, just a few days after Yom Hashoah, we have arrived at the next Rosh Chodesh—Iyar, a time when one of our major requests is for health. As I have been sick for the last three weeks, and also involved in a tehillim group for those far sicker than me, I find it a good day on which to pray for this. However, today is also coincidentally the Hallmark Holiday of Mother’s Day in America. This is my first Mother’s Day without my own mother to say it to, so I was not really in the mood for more Hallel, and found it difficult to sing praises. This prayer, in any event, (we learned from Hindy) is more of a national one. When some good thing happens for us personally, or we are saved from a terrible illness or occurrence, we say Bircat Hagomel, the blessing for Hashem’s goodness to us. This is said in public so that it will be a public acknowledgement, but it is something we say alone. In contrast, Hallel was established so that we could share in praise, song, thanksgiving and yet also continued request for salvation and success together, as one nation. We will be saying it yet again later this week when we thank God for causing the State of Israel to be created (do not talk to me about those who don’t say it on that day). When we don’t have the words to express our very difficult feelings at this time, they are given to us.
But before we head to our Independence Day Celebrations, we most appropriately first stand as a nation (as we did just last week) for the sirens which herald a second day of sadness, honoring those by whose blood we got to this place, and who continue to give their lives to keep this state, the flowering of our redemption; our wonderful IDF and all the non-enlisted members of Clal Yisrael who have been taken as kedoshim. It is only fitting that between last week’s Yom Hashoah and this week’s Yom Hazikaron, we read Parshat Kedoshim, which tells us how to be a Holy Nation. It is also fitting the way we first honor those who gave all, and then move on to celebrate what we have.
As we go up and down on this roller coaster that is life, I will remember the fallen with the sirens, and then celebrate with my nation. At this time of year when both weather and feelings go up and down, there is no place I’d rather be than here, with my people. Am Yisrael Chai.