Posted by: Subway Conductor | April 9, 2021

A Derasha for Parshat Shemini

Jewish holidays tend to group together. In the Fall, we have the trio of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. In the Spring, Purim, Passover, and Shavuot.  This week and next, we find on the calendar three modern holy-days – Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day), and Yom HaAtzma’ut (Israeli Independence Day). The events commemorated by these special days are the most important in Jewish history since Biblical times.

Persecution has been a factor throughout Jewish history. Massacres, expulsions, restriction on where Jews could live, and other legal and economic disabilities have formed a major part of the Jewish experience throughout the centuries. But, the scale and impact of the destruction in the Holocaust is unparalleled. Close to half the Jews in the world being murdered and the annihilation of communities that had been the great centers of Jewish life for centuries is an unimaginable loss. The only comparison we could possibly look to would be the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E. The loss of the Temple which was the religious center of Judaism and the ruin of the political capital of the Jewish People begs the question; how did we survive these catastrophes? We have spoken about this question numerous times. The destruction wrought during the Holocaust forces us to ponder the same question. How has Judaism and the Jewish People survived despite the enormity of the loss?

The answer to this enigma can be found in the celebration of Israeli Independence Day. The rebirth of the Jewish State and the rejuvenation of Jewish culture which are the fruits of the Zionist Movement have given the Jewish People a new lease on life.

First a note about Yom HaZikaron – Israeli Memorial Day. In Israel, the celebration of Independence Day immediately follows on a day of remembering the sacrifice that has been made to both bring into existence the Jewish State and to defend and preserve it. Independence has not come easily. Military service is a central feature of Israeli life and many have given their lives in the defense of the State of Israel. Putting Memorial Day right before Independence Day ensures that people throughout the generations will realize the connection between Israeli independence with all of its benefits and the sacrifices made to achieve and maintain it.

There is a concept in the Talmud that “G-d sends the cure before the disease.” We can see how this idea has played out in Jewish history. Before the destruction of the Jewish State during the Roman period, there already existed a Jewish community in Babylonia. This community was rising in influence and importance at the time that the Jewish center in the Land of Israel was declining. After the destruction brought about by the Romans, the Babylonian Jewish community became the center of Jewish life and produced the single most important work for the continuation of Judaism – the Babylonian Talmud.

This same concept has played out again. Zionism emerged as an organized effort to create a Jewish homeland in the nineteenth century. Herzl created the movement because he recognized the threat posed to Jewish survival in Europe. Unfortunately, the State of Israel was not established in time to save European Jewry from annihilation, but its emergence immediately after the Holocaust has provided the Jewish People with a source of hope and pride that has nurtured us back from the brink of total destruction. Besides providing a refuge for the physical survival of Jewish communities that have come to Israel from all over the world, the Zionist Movement encompassed a cultural revival that has been unbelievably successful. Perhaps the best example of this revival is the resuscitation of the Hebrew Language. Today, in Israel, a modern sophisticated country carries on all of its affairs – economic, scientific, literary, etc. – in the language of the Bible. This is a truly remarkable achievement. The revival of Hebrew and its establishment as a modern language began alongside the Zionist awakening in Europe. Writers, philosophers, and poets used the traditional sources of Judaism to create a Modern Hebrew literature that was already flourishing before the establishment of the State of Israel. The rebirth of Hebrew and the creative energy it has produced has deepened and expanded as the people of the State of Israel has been successful in creating a modern vibrant society.  Again, only a biblical parallel could possibly be looked to for this rebirth of both Jewish political and cultural life. The return of the exiles from the Babylonian captivity during the time of Ezra is the only comparison available.

Jewish life today is as vibrant and creative as it has ever been. Jewish literature, Jewish scholarship, Jewish religious life is flourishing in Israel and in America to an extent greater than it has for many centuries. To imagine that this has taken place in the shadow of the Holocaust is incredible. It is only if we see how Jewish history is shaped by divine providence and how the “cure is sent before the disease” that we can hope to have any understanding of how Judaism and the Jewish People have survived and flourished after being at the brink of total extinction.

Good Shabbos!!


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