Yom Hashoa/Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Hazikaron/ Day of Remembrance for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism, Yom Haatzmaut/Israel Independence Day, and Yom Yerushalayim/Jerusalem Day, all of which we are currently commemorating and/or celebrating, are collectively referred to by Religious Zionists as Ymei HaGeula/ The Days of Redemption. One can appreciate this application to Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim but it is very difficult to understand how Yom Hashoa and Yom Hazikaron could be referred to as redeeming, when they are days which are marred by the ashes of destruction and engrossed with haunting memories of the deceased. This is a problem we grapple with every year and many answers have been proposed. This year I experienced something which I believe will enhance the appropriate response, which we may have grown accustomed to but always bears further consideration.
According to an opinion in the Talmud, we celebrate the holiday of Succoth because the Jewish people dwelled in temporary makeshift huts, called Succoth, after they were redeemed by God from Egyptian persecution; which begs the question; why does that warrant celebration? What was so exceptional about the fact that the Jewish nation dwelled in Succoth? Some commentaries suggest that after all of their sufferings, naturally the Jews should never have agreed to live in such exposed crude dwellings in the desert. We would have expected them to insist on more permanent structures where they could feel more secure; yet they agreed to live under such precarious and unstable conditions demonstrating their sincere faith in God and in His commitment to protect them. This act of faith is cause for celebration and the same can be said regarding survivors of the Holocaust.
The Jewish people should have lost all hope following the decimation of the Jewish communities throughout Europe by the Nazi regime, and yet, beaten and barely broken, they were determined and perhaps faithful enough to perpetuate their future. Survivors of the concentration camps arrived on the shores of Palestine willing to start a new life in what they believed would be their homeland. They were greeted and handed guns, and they were instructed to fight for the establishment of the state of Israel. Any other people would have raised their hands in defeat insisting that they are too weak and too frail to contemplate such action, and yet they seized the guns and fought for their nation and land. In the Sgula cemetery in Petach Tikva there are a number of graves marked anonymous; these are believed to be the graves of Holocaust survivors who had no time to submit their own names and left no survivors by which to immortalize their families and while this fact is gravely disheartening, it is precisely the reason why Yom Hashoa and Yom Hazikaron are included in Yemei HaGeula.
Redemption is defined as the act of making something better or more acceptable; while there is no question the wounds of the Holocaust nor the wounds of the Jewish families who lost loved ones defending the borders of Israel, could ever be healed, bold and brazen survivors and settlers alike claimed that they could make things better. Their resilience and faithfulness to the furtherance of the Jewish people would signify that all of their losses were not for naught; I have been privileged to see their spirit survive and their message resonate. Part of redemption as defined above, is not only about making something better but making something more acceptable; recently I was privileged to see this part of redemption come to fruition.
A number of weeks ago, I went to speak at the Givati combat base. After addressing a Givati unit I was told to make my way to a base in Har Keren to address a group of soldiers from the Tomer Brigade which I had never heard of. I arrived in Har Keren and I was amazed to find aluminum walls surrounding a particular area in the middle of the base. The Tomer brigade, which was established a year ago consists of young men from completely Haredi homes, almost all of whom sport long sidelocks and beards, who have decided that they want to serve in the Israeli army under two conditions. The first condition is that they wish to preserve their Haredi lifestyle as much as possible even while serving in the army, hence, the fenced off area. Tomer brigade goes through all the maneuvers and training exercises as any other Givati soldier, but they do so privately within their own division and behind closed quarters. There are no women allowed in their area, they maintain their own kitchen and standards of Kashrut supervision and their commanding officers are observant without exception. Most impressive however, is their second condition and that is that they refuse to be pencil pushers, if they serve in the army they insist on being regular combat soldiers and serving in combat units. After my speech I conversed with many of the soldiers and I was astounded to find many of them were ostracized or on the verge of being excommunicated by their Haredi communities, some by their own families, for serving in the army, yet they maintained that they were doing the right thing and they were prepared to suffer the consequences at their private home for the sake of protecting the national home.
Last week on the evening of Yom Hashoah I was called to Yad La-Shiryon in Latrun to speak to the second group of new recruits from the Tomer division. When I walked in to address the soldiers , all of them without exception, stood up for me when I entered the room and then proceeded to take out their notebooks to write notes regarding the lecture and Torah class I was about to deliver. Here I was, a clean shaven religious Zionist rabbi, shown the utmost respect by Haredi young men who were reared in communities that never recognized the existence of the state of Israel, and this is what I told them.
The Jewish people were delivered from Egypt by God, but when they got to the Reed Sea, the sea did not part until a man called Nachshon Ben Aminadav jumped in and as more and more people took the plunge the sea continued to split in their merit. The message resounds loud and clear; God wanted the Jewish people to understand that He would not accommodate miracles on His own but He expected the Jewish people to initiate miracles together with Him. He expected that regardless of the obstructions we would encounter to our existence throughout our history, we would not fear following Him into the sea or onto the plains of the desert, we would not desist from taking arms for the future of Israel regardless of how downtrodden we are or how much personal aggravation it may cause. These are the truths and faiths that define redemption, they inspired Holocaust survivors to make something better and they encourage Haredi young men to make things more acceptable.
Perhaps redemption is not too far off after all.