During the coming week, our mood will swing dramatically from the sadness of Yom Hazikaron to the happiness of Yom Ha’atzmaut; from weeping on our Day of Remembrance to unbridled joy on our Day of Independence.
Whilst Yom Ha’atzmaut is, of course, the anniversary of the historic declaration of Israel’s independence on 5 Iyar 5708 (15 May 1948), Yom Hazikaron, on which we recall Israel’s heroic fallen soldiers, was chosen to take place on the eve of Yom Ha’atzmaut. What was the rationale behind this decision?
The historic connection between sorrow and joy is highlighted in a fascinating Midrash from the anthology Yalkut Shimoni. In commenting on the opening words of Psalm 20, “May Hashem answer you in time of trouble,” the Midrash tells a tale:
A father and son were travelling on a journey to a distant city. The boy continuously asked, “Father, where is the city?” (Are we there yet?) The father eventually turned to his child and said, “My son, let me give you a sign. When you see the cemetery, the city will be nearby”. This is a logical answer, as cemeteries are traditionally situated on the outskirts of places of Jewish habitation.
Remarkably, the term used by this Midrash for ‘city’ is medina, the word we use for the State of Israel. A simple story authored 1,800 years ago thus becomes a powerful prophetic statement.
With the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE, the Jewish nation embarked on a tortuous journey. We continuously turned towards our Heavenly Father and asked, “When will we return to Zion and have a medina?” These prayers were answered. Following the destruction of Temple, only seventy years passed until we returned to rebuild a national home.
With hindsight, we now realise that the joy of our modern statehood was to be preceded by and accompanied with immense sorrow. Even after the horrific Shoah, Jewish lives would continue to be lost in the process of building and securing Medinat Yisrael. Military funerals, heartbroken relatives and shattered lives would sadly be an inevitable part of the life of the Jewish State.
Since 1948, the pendulum of our collective fate has swung swiftly and decisively from joy to sorrow and back to joy again. Speaking about such an era, the prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) declared, “It is a time of distress for Ya’akov [Jacob] and from the midst of it he shall be saved.” (30:7)
Through marking Yom Hazikaron on the eve of Yom Ha’atzmaut, we remind ourselves of the valiant fighting of thousands of Israeli soldiers and the many civilians who paid the ultimate sacrifice to enable us to build and maintain our own State. Without their heroism Israel would not exist.
Bearing in mind the current challenges facing us in Israel and throughout the world, may Israel’s 65th year pave the way for the transformation of our fortune to the peace and tranquillity for which we yearn and pray, and for the speedy realisation of our ultimate redemption.