1) Who was Gedaliah ben Achikam?
2) What five events do we commemorate on the 17th of Tammuz?
3) On what date did the Bet HaMikdash actually burn?
4) Do you personally know someone who was killed/injured in a war in Israel or someone killed or injured by a terror attack?
Chances are that almost everyone reading this article (especially anyone living in Israel) will answer “yes” to the last question. And that is the difference between Yom HaZikaron and all other days of “remembrance” in our lives. While questions 1-3 above relate to events that directly or indirectly have to do with the loss of the Bet HaMikdash, those events, of course, occurred nearly 2000 years ago. One of the challenges of all of the various fast days in our lives is to make them pertinent and to make them relate-able. While we mourn the events leading up to the loss of both Temples, and yearn for the day that it will be rebuilt, it still remains a challenge to FEEL that loss and to YEARN for the re-building.
Not so, Yom HaZikaron. Sadly, one would be very hard-pressed to find people who live in Israel who do not know PERSONALLY someone injured/killed in a war or terror attack. In every community: secular, National Religious, Haredi, and so on, the loss touches every one, in some fashion or other. The difference between all of the national fast days and this day of remembrance is that for this day, the pain is palpable. No one needs to be told to TRY to feel a sense of loss. No one needs to be told to TRY and empathize with anothers’ pain. No, this pain is indeed palpable and not one requiring IMAGINING anything.
This feeling was brought home to me last night at the Maale Adumim tekkes for Yom HaZikaron, in a highly emotional moment. In the middle of the program a young woman almost literally ran from her spot and crossed through a fence demarcating an area in which families who had lost a member in battle were sitting. She knelt down at the feet of one of those sitting there, buried her head in this other woman’s lap and began sobbing. (I do not know the relationship between the two, but that is immaterial) Yes, it was clear to all who witnessed this moment, along with thousands of other similar moments over the course of the next day, that THIS day, this Day of Remembrance was a unique one in Jewish life.
Only a couple of weeks ago, we sat at a Seder and declared that חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים, that everyone is required to see himself as if he left Egypt. The reason for that is that WE as a NATION shared a common bond that imprinted our entire future together as a nation. In this instance, in modern times, we too have this sorrowful bond that unites us as a nation. But in this case, it is not כאלו, it is not “as if”…and it is that fact that makes Yom HaZikaron unique in the Jewish calendar.
May the memories of all those killed in battle or murdered in terror attacks be for a blessing and may the words of the prophet soon come to fruition:
בלע המות לנצח ומחה ה’ אלוקים דמעה מעל כל פנים
“He will swallow up death forever; and Hashem will wipe away the tears from all faces”