In a few days, we will commemorate Yom Hazikaron – Israel’s memorial day, dedicated to recognizing the ultimate sacrifice of nearly 27,000 men, women and children who have fallen in battle or been murdered in acts of terror.
It’s no coincidence that this week’s Torah reading, Shemini, contains the story of the dramatic, sudden deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the eldest sons of Aharon the High Priest, during the consecration of the Mishkan.
Moshe attempts to console his brother:
וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל אַהֲרֹן הוּא אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה’ לֵאמֹר בִּקְרֹבַי אֶקָּדֵשׁ וְעַל פְּנֵי כָל הָעָם אֶכָּבֵד (ויקרא י:ג)
Then Moshe said to Aharon: “This is what Hashem meant when He said ‘Through those near to Me I shall be sanctified, and will be honored before all the people.’” (Vayikra 10:3)
Many of our commentators, including Rashi and Ibn Ezra, view their action favorably, crediting them as righteous individuals who died performing a holy act.
Their comments are based on the words of the Sages in the Midrash:
“Moshe said to Aharon: My brother, I knew that this House was to be sanctified by those who are beloved of God, and I thought it would be either through me or through you; but now I see that it has been sanctified through Nadav and Avihu – they are greater than you and I.” (Sifra, Shemini, Mechilta d’Miluim 2:23)
Aharon’s response to Moshe’s words is telling:
וַיִּדֹּם אַהֲרֹן (ויקרא י:ג)
This is generally translated as, “And Aharon was silent.” (Vayikra 10:3)
But the word דום does not merely connote silence – for if that’s what the Torah wished to communicate, the verse would state: וישתוק אהרון.
Rather, דום represents the peace that comes over Aharon with the acceptance and realization that his family has contributed and has paid for the concretizing God’s presence in this world.
In many ways, Moshe’s words, quoting God, “בקרובי אקדש” – “I shall be sanctified through those near to Me”, is the message of Yom Hazikaron.
All those who have sacrificed a promising future, giving their lives – in sanctification of Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel, which Rav Kook called
יסוד כסא ה’ בעולם (אורות, עמ’ קס)
the foundation for the throne of God in this world. (Orot, pg 160)
In every community, synagogue, school and workplace throughout Israel, there is an Aharon.
Mothers, fathers, spouses, brothers, sisters and children who stand דום for their fallen loved ones like Aharon, in silent recognition of the price they have paid for the safety and future of our people in Israel and throughout the world.
Like Aharon, their silence conveys inconsolable sadness alongside a fierce pride that their loved ones have helped guarantee the spiritual and physical redemption of our people.
Irrespective of the degree of their observance of the mitzvot, they and their fallen loved ones are the holiest.
Perhaps this is all best summed up by Rav Soloveitchik, whose yahrzeit was observed last week.
In the mid-1960s, the Rav discussed whether or not there was halakhic holiness to the flag of the State of Israel.
Although he maintained that Judaism negates imbuing holiness into physical objects, he nonetheless pointed to a law in the Shulchan Aruch indicating that one who has been murdered by a non-Jew must be buried in his clothes, so that his blood may be seen and avenged – a law based on the verse in the Book of Yoel that says, “I will hold (the gentile) innocent, but not in regard to the blood which they have shed.” (Yoel 4:21)
This indicated to the Rav that physical clothing acquires sanctity when spattered with the blood of martyrdom.
The Rav continued:
“How much more is this so of the blue and white flag, which has been immersed in the blood of thousands of young Jews who fell in the War of Independence, defending the country and the population (religious and non-religious, because the enemy knows no difference).
It has a spark of sanctity that flows from devotion and self-sacrifice.
We are all enjoined to honor the flag and treat it with respect.” (Five Addresses, page 139)
May the memories of our kedoshim, our holy soldiers who have given their lives while protecting ours, and the victims of terror, be a blessing to their families and to all of Am Yisrael.
We miss them. We love them. And we will never forget them.