Yom Hazikaron & Yom Ha’atzmaut 5775: heartbreak and happiness

My eyes are closed, my body is faced towards the East and my heart is heavy with the pain of loss. My mind attempts to process seemingly insurmountable numbers just as it did one week before on Yom HaShoah. Over 23,000 םגִבּורִיוְ טְהורִים, pure and brave men and women, gave their own lives for their country, both on and off the battlefield. I feel as if I need an eternity of silence to process all that Israel and her people have sacrificed over the years.

Suddenly, joyous Israeli music blares from the speakers. Its noise drowns me and I can no longer hear my own thoughts. All at once, I am jolted from a solemn memorial service to an exuberant holiday celebration. Wait! I want to scream out. I’m not ready for this! How can I declare זֶה-הַיּוֹם, עָשָׂה ה’, נָגִילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה בוֹ, this is the day that G-d has made, let us rejoice in it, when my heart is still breaking?

This scene repeats itself every year. Time after time, I wonder why Yom HaZikaron so abruptly transitions into Yom Ha’atzmaut; how can we be expected to feel so much at once?

This past Sunday I had the privilege of hearing a shiur from Rabbanit Racheli Frenkel titled בְּשִׂמְחָה, וּבְטוּב לֵבָב, with happiness and a whole heart. She shared hand-picked sources from the Talmud, Tanach and Chassidut about what it means to live joyously. Mrs. Frenkel, who lost her beloved son Naftali only ten months ago, wore the most genuine of smiles on her face throughout her entire speech. Although she has every reason to be broken, she actively chooses day after day to live life and to serve G-d בּרינה, with joy.

She shared a thought from Rebbe Nachman which continually brings her comfort: צער, pain, also means narrow. It is within the times of pain, the narrow straits, that G-d makes room for happiness. It’s not about experiencing bad times versus good times; it’s about finding grace within the hardships. She stated: “Where the heart is cracked, it’s a live place…it opens you up.”

Life in Israel is a harmony of tragedy and triumph, of simultaneous pain and persistence. This summer, I visited the bus stop where Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were kidnapped only weeks after they were taken. There were large posters emblazoned with the names of the boys, with the words רָחֵל, מְבַכָּה עַל-בָּנֶיהָ, Rachel is crying for her children. I looked beyond the bus stop to see a hitchhiker standing towards the end of the street, his hand extended outwards, waiting for someone to offer him a ride. Although this may be an ordinary sight in Israel, its occurrence at that very place and time will remain with me forever as the ultimate symbol of resilience.

Yes, Rachel is crying, but her children are actively returning to their borders. And they are invincible.

הַזֹּרְעִים בְּדִמְעָה בְּרִנָּה יִקְצֹרוּ, those who sow with tears will reap with joyous song. On Yom haZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, our tears are bittersweet.  We cry for the fallen with a sense of gratitude; without them, we would not be celebrating 67 years of existence. We dance with flags draped around our backs in their honor and in their memory. . May we merit very soon for our tears to be only of joy; may the intensity of our happiness outshine all of the heartbreak.

יהי רצון מלפניך ה׳ אלוקינו ואלקי אבותינו, שכשם שזכינו לאתחלתא דגאולה, כך

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