Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders and they will say to you (Devarim 32:7).
Yom Ha’Shoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day
Ask your elders and they will say to you… My grandfather, Yitzchak ben Moshe, Yitzchak Kaftan a’h, wrote in his Holocaust Memoirs, In Seven Camps in Three Years:
“A few days later, we were driven from Pi Park and (they) took a count to determine whether the count corresponded to the earlier one 83 men. Meanwhile, there arrived at the camp Natan Meizels and his brother-in-law, Alter Edelstein, may G-d avenge his blood. When we were recounted and they saw (that there were) two extra, they took out the first two from the row – I was one of them – and they said we would be shot immediately. I saw the black revolver aimed at me and looked Death in the eye. At the last minute, our foreman approached the SS man and risked payment of a sum of money. They let us go.
“After that they drove us to Budzin, where there were already hundreds of Jews from Krashnik and the area. And here the true hell began. As soon as we were delivered to the murderous commandant we had at once a free morning before we went out to work, they told everyone to march single file. He removed from the line whoever did not please him. As we exited the camp, those who had been removed (from the line) were taken to a grave and shot. That day, one hundred and five Jews were killed…“Reb Peretz Feder and I slept on one pallet and talked continually about the murdered that they were sent by G-d and their end is near. We suffer now so that Moshiach will come. Whoever will survive this hell will see a Jewish state…”
R’ Yisrael Meir Lau writes, “Over the years, I occasionally have asked myself what my most vivid, distinct memories of the Holocaust are, and find myself singling out three things: dogs, boots and trains. All three were there on the platform in Piotrkow. The dogs ran amok, the German soldiers’ boots thundered everywhere, and the trains filled with more and more Jews.” (Out of the Depths, Sterling Publishing, p.20)
And despite the inferno; despite the chimneys belching with the bodies and blood of our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters; despite the horrors and the hell that should not be of this world; despite the Hester Panim (concealment of the Divine Presence, so to speak – see Devarim 31:17-18 w/ sources there) of that indescribable time; despite the years of servitude, solitude, oppression and torture; despite the fact that they tried to break our bodies as well as our spirits and souls…And the more they afflicted them, so they multiplied and so they burst forth! (Shemos 1:12).
Whoever will survive this hell, my grandfather dreamed, lying on a cold, hard, painful woodenslat in that blood soaked land, with his fellow Jew, Reb Peretz lying next to him, whoever will survive, they said, will see a Jewish state! And yet, the Sages teach (Brachos 5a) that the gift of the Land of Israel is acquired only through suffering.
Yom Ha’Zikaron – Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism
Yom Hazikaron is the national remembrance day for those who have fallen since 1860, when Jews were first allowed to live in Eretz Yisrael outside of Jerusalem's Old City walls. As of May 2016 that number was at 23,447. Twenty-three thousand, four hundred and forty seven Jews, as of last year… A land that is good and blessed, a land that is holy and elevated, a land of our hopes and prayers, of our tears and our dreams… A land acquired only through suffering.
Thursday, April 6, 2017, J'lem – IDF soldier Sgt. Elchai Teharlev, Hy’d, 20, who was killed in a car-ramming terror attack, was laid to rest on Thursday evening in Yerushalayim at a funeral attended by hundreds of mourners. A resident of Talmon in western Shomron, Elhai graduated from the Mekor Hayim yeshiva high school in Kfar Etzion and Tekoa Hesder Yeshiva before serving in the Golani Brigade.
With tears streaming down his face, his father, Rabbi Ohad Teharlev, delivered a eulogy:
“Elchai, Elchai, I remember your Brit Milah, you wouldn’t (stay still). You had all the strength and you had to be held tight. You were a dear son, with a thirst for Hashem and everything life had to offer. You were everything, Elchai… You had such a big heart. When you were young, you grabbed candies (during a bar-mitzvah) and divided them between the children who didn’t catch them. You were happy with your lot. You burst out light and life. You had a smile that filled hearts. Your magic grace never left anyone without a smile.”
Elchai’s mother, Avital, said: “It is hard to digest the terrible, incomprehensible news that you are not with us. Your glowing look and your presence made the world a better place, a happier place. I thank G-d for the privilege and pleasure of being your mother… Your pure heart touched everyone who knew you. I want to thank you for all the gifts you gave us during your time here, and I pray that we will succeed in continuing to preserve your unique spirit, even when your body is no longer with us. My boy, you have left us with a big challenge,” she concluded.
On living and choosing life after losing two of her sons in battle, Uriel (1976-1998), HY”D, to Hezbollah in the North and Eliraz (1978-2010), HY”D, to Hamas in Gaza, Miriam Peretz reflects:
“In my own eyes, I’m no hero at all. But if a hero is someone who chooses life – then yes, I’ve chosen. If a hero is someone who continues to love the Land of Israel and the Jewish people – then yes, I love them. And if a hero is someone who wants to give and do good – then yes, I’m a hero. This double death has strengthened me. My two graves have taught me to pursue values of giving and lovingkindness, love for the Land of Israel and Torah; they’ve made me sensitive to every individual. Sometimes I place my hand on my heart and I wonder how that organ continues to function. Every knock on the door shrunk my heart. Every death notice shattered me to smithereens. But in the five years since Eliraz was killed, my heart has grown larger and wider. I shouldn’t have kept on living – from my point of view, it’s a miracle I’m still here. It’s Divine Providence, it shouldn’t be taken for granted. Every day I thank G-d in Heaven for continuing to believe in me, for continuing to bless me with life.” (Miriam’s Song, Gefen Publishing, p.355-356)
Yom Ha’Atzmaut – Israel Independence Day
In the aftermath of destruction, in the shadows of the death camps, with numbers still fresh on their arms and memories of their families lost seared in the memories, the Land was rebuilt. Prior to 1948, a ban had been put into effect by the British, forbidding the Jews to blow shofar at the Kotel. And every Yom Kippur, a group of brave and pious Jews would pray at the Wall on the holiest day of the year, and as they concluded their Yom Kippur prayers, they would blow Shofar, defying the British ban. And every year, there would be consequences to their courageous actions – most notably, beatings at the wall by British soldiers.
Menachem Begin, leader of the Irgun, decided the Jews had to respond, and in 1944,the Irgun published pamphlets ten days before Yom Kippur, warning the British that any officer who disrupted the services at the Wall would be punished accordingly. The holy day arrived. The congregation of Jews praying at the wall reached the Ne’ilah service in the deepening twilight, facing the gigantic shadowy blocks of ancient stones, the ba’al Tefilah chanted ‘Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokainu, Hashem Echad’ – and the congregation affirmed this declaration. And then, three times ‘Baruch Shem Kevod malchuso l’olam v’ed’ – and with passionate confirmation the people responded. And finally, with trembling fervor, the cantor intoned ‘Hashem Hu haElokim’ seven times and the people responded.
The British policemen looked on, edgy and tense. And as the cantor concluded the tefilos with the final words of Kaddish – the shofar sounded. The boy – the ba’al tokay’ah that year – blew a sustained, robust, soaring, exalted, single blast, reaching to the heights of pure perfection – and not a policeman stirred…. L’shana haba’ah b’Yerushalayim habenuyah – the people cried and danced.
The following day, on the 11th of Tishrei, 1944, Menachem Begin wrote in his underground paper: “Our ancient stones are not silent. They speak of the House that once stood here, of kings who once knelt here in prayer, of prophets and seers who declaimed their message here, of heroes who fell here, dying; and of how the great flame, at once destructive and illuminating, was kindled here. This House and this Land, with its prophets and kings and fighters, were ours long before the British were ever a nation.” (The Prime Ministers, Y. Avner, p. 10-12)
Miriam Peretz relates that, “When Uriel was killed in 1998, his fellow soldiers brought me a stone from the spot where it happened. This stone was charred totally black from the fire that followed the explosion. Over the years, whenever I felt the memory of Uriel slipping away from me, I would put that stone on my heart.
“In 2006, Eliraz was also in Lebanon, and he went back to the spot where Uriel was killed. He took a stone and brought it back to me. This stone was white and clean, and Eliraz told me, ‘Ima, put away the black stone. You see, the rain has fallen and washed away the blood, and the sun has shined and made that site blossom again.’ I understood that this is the story of our family – we are always between the engulfing flames and between the rejuvenation. This, too, is the story of the Jewish people.
“Yesterday, the soldiers who served with Eliraz came to visit, and I asked them to bring me a stone from the spot where he was killed. And when, G-d willing, the Holy Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, I will bring these stones to help form the foundation.”
May we merit it speedily and in our days, amen.
Have a Good Month of Iyar