Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

After Death, Holiness is Proclaimed: Reflections on being in Israel for Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut

As my plane touches down on the Newark tarmac, I am reflecting upon the events of last week, my first opportunity of being in Israel for Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day) as a member of the Ohr Torah Stone family.

Much has been written about the sights and sounds of these days. I encourage you to watch the inspiring Israel Prize acceptance speech by Miriam Peretz, who has buried two sons, Uriel and Eliraz z”l, killed in battles in Lebanon and Gaza while protecting the State of Israel – as well as her husband Eliezer, who died of heartbreak. There was not a dry eye in the hall where I witnessed her presentation. I also recommend watching Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s opening remarks, as he reminded all present that we are all, after all, one family.

I would also like to share an Ohr Torah Stone family experience. I was invited to the community of Talmon for the dedication of a Torah in loving memory of Sgt. Elhai Teharlev, z”l, a 20 year-old IDF soldier murdered by a terrorist one year ago while protecting the community of Ofra. Elhai is the son of Rabbi Ohad and Avital Teharlev.

Rav Ohad, as he is affectionately known, is the Rosh Midrasha (Director) of Midreshet Lindenbaum’s Israeli programs, which number amongst them the prestigious Claudia Cohen Torah/Army School (Hadas) in Jerusalem as well as the two Midreshet Lindenbaum branches in the central city of Lod and the northern city of Carmiel. These institutions represent our efforts to enable young religious women who wish to serve in the IDF to be strengthened by Torah learning before and during their military service as part of a framework which continually visits and supports them. Rabbi Teharlev has done a marvelous job implementing this vision, building the largest program of its kind in the country. In fact, two of the Midreshet Lindenbaum students were recognized on Yom Haatzmaut for excellence in service at a special ceremony at Beit HaNasi, the official residence of the President of the State of Israel.

I assumed that this Torah dedication ceremony, taking place toward the end of Yom Hazikaron, would be one of sadness and grief. After all, how does a family deal with the loss of a son in the most vibrant years of his life? After I entered their home and we hugged each other, however, I realized that things were quite different. Yes, there were tears, but the occasion felt more like a celebration of Elhai’s life, a continuation of his vibrant spirit through the new Torah that had been scribed.

For me, the most profound moment at their home was when Rabbi Teharlev told me that the Torah scroll was rolled to Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, which was not only the Torah portion for that week in Israel, but also Elhai’s bar mitzvah portion. The significance of the juxtaposition of the Torah portions “Acharei Mot” (“after death”), “Kedoshim” (“holiness”)  and “Emor” (“to proclaim”) has been homiletically understood to mean that after the death of the precious, there is holiness – which must be proclaimed.

This took on an added personal significance, as this coming week our son, Yitzchak, he should live and be well, will be celebrating his bar mitzvah, and will read from the portions of Acharei Mot-Kedoshim (my family currently resides in the United States, and will be making aliya this summer).

It was particularly appropriate that the dedication took place during the twilight period (“bein hash’mashot”) between Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut. Bein hash’mashot shares the identity of two time periods: the day prior, and the emerging day. As I participated in carrying and escorting the Sefer Torah to its new home in the Talmon synagogue, the energy of both days was particularly palpable. The remembering of the 23,645 people who sacrificed their lives for Medinat Yisrael as well as the spiritual energy felt in Talmon; the festive Maariv celebration and the radiating light that emanated from the home of the Teharlevs, a name which means in Hebrew ‘pure heart.’

The inauguration of this Sefer Torah encapsulated the birth pangs, the growth and the ongoing accomplishments of the state of Israel. We pray that speedily in our time we merit for Medinat Yisrael to proclaim Kedusha solely through its citizens’ purposeful lives – of international moral engagement, ingenuity, and creativity; no longer necessary for the sweetest amongst us to be proclaimed Acharei Mot, Kedoshim.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 32 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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