A Yom HaZikaron Lesson from Gettysburg
There are pivotal and consequential moments in the history of any nation that have the capacity unalterably to shape its destiny. Much has already been said – President Herzog has done so about as poignantly as any – about this moment for the people of Israel. But perhaps it is Yom HaZikaron that provides the clarifying environment necessary to correct the current course.
It is a day of no distinctions. The full array of Am Yisroel are found surrounding the tenderly landscaped graves of loved one – they who gave their lives for all of Klal Yisrael. Looking at the heart of this nation – citizens alongside Knesset Ministers; secular and religious; Left and Right; Ashkenazi, Sefardi, American, Ethiopian, Russian and more — one understands how, and by whom, this nation was founded and secured. The carnage that was necessary to preserve its freedom suddenly assumes a whole new meaning when gazing into the faces of the loved ones left behind.
The sight of both thousands of religious and those perhaps less religious mourners, joined together to recite Kaddish or otherwise memorialize loved ones, underscores all that unites us and diminishes the differences. Indeed, the tears flowing from the eyes of those gathered to mark the day make no difference for whom they are being shed. The day demonstrates just how every segment of the population has sacrificed for the welfare of the state.
Like those fallen, those who are today engaged in a far more avoidable conflict, comprise the entire fabric of the state. And in the present debate, neither side has a monopoly of rectitude.
Those marching to chants of “de-mo-cra-tia” (democracy) refuse to recognize that it was a fair and free election that birthed a governing coalition of 64 Knesset members who are now exercising legitimate government powers. Democratic elections have consequences, and democracy provides the means to reverse them – by winning the next election.
But democratic elections also come with responsibilities, including a responsibility to lead, not to dictate. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, has observed: “A leader must have the courage to lead, the wisdom to consult and the patience to know when the time is right for each.” Those who today claim the mantle of religious Zionism should pause and consider if theirs is the way of the great Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, zt”l, who did not just preach, but practiced, Ahavat Chinam.
Of course, this simplifies the issues (for a column such as this is no place for the requisite analysis). But the issues are all bridgeable. And that is the point.
Little more than 75 years after the founding of his own nation, an American president stood to dedicate one of its own military cemeteries and draw lessons from a civil war that had already torn his country asunder. In his now historic Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln publicly speculated whether his nation, “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” could “long endure.” His challenge:
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Sadly, we are a nation that twice nearly perished from the earth. If we cannot learn from those catastrophes, do we deserve this nation? If we are unable to draw the necessary fortitude on a day such as this, for what have we fought? We owe it to those who will hopefully follow us to do far better.