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The Meaning and Message of Yom HaZikaron

Yom HaZikaron, the Day of Remembrance, which we marked this week, marks a sad and difficult day in our homeland, מדינת ישראל, the land of Israel, the land of the ברית, the eternal covenant between Hashem and our forefathers and their descendants, the Jewish people the world over.

Yom HaZikaron in Israel is equivalent to our Memorial Day in the United States. It is the day we remember, through words, prayers, and positive actions, our fallen IDF soldiers. Those brave and heroic men and women, parents and grandparents, sons and daughters, brothers and sister, friends, who gave their lives to defend the people of Israel and their land. 

Yom HaZikaron is also set aside to remember the countless innocent victims of terror whether the attacks occurred in Israeli cities and communities or were carried out elsewhere throughout the world against Jewish targets. Our own student, Daniel Cantor Wultz of blessed memory, was one such tragic victim of a terrorist bombing at a Tel Aviv restaurant in 2006. May Hashem continue to comfort his family and all who knew him and mourn for him here at Posnack School and throughout the South Florida Jewish community.

Contrary to the purposeful mischaracterization of the nation of Israel, you must understand something from the historical record and from our Torah. Every war fought by Israel since its inception as the modern State of Israel in 1948, every military response, including any military action going on now, has the legal status of a מלחמת מצוה, “a war of mitzvah.” That is, they were and are all defensive measures, fought for self-preservation, for the security and protection of innocent Israeli citizens (Jew and non-Jew alike), and for the continued existence of the sovereign State of Israel,מדינת שראל. They were not in the past nor are they now undertaken for conquest or domination of others. In such wars and military actions, the halacha, Jewish law is very clear יוצאין אפלו חתן מחדרו וכלה מחופתה הכל “everyone must go out to fight, even a bride and groom from their wedding chamber.” ( Rambam Laws of Kings 7:4) There are no exemptions!

Not only do these soldiers put themselves in harm’s way, sacrifice themselves and sometimes pay the ultimate price, dying in defense of Israel, but they defend Jewish people wherever we live throughout the world. If we stand a little taller today as Jews here in Davie, Florida; if we can take a school trip to our homeland; if we can go rafting down the Jordan River or skiing in the Chermon; if we have access to our holy sites and can celebrate our bar or bat mitzvah at the Kotel, the Western Wall; if we speak with a little more pride about the accomplishments of Israelis in business, medicine, technology, science, sports, the arts, and music; if the Prime Minister or President of Israel can be invited to address the Congress of the United States; if the American Embassy is now located in Jerusalem; they are all due in no small part to the courageous sacrifice and valiant spirit of all the IDF soldiers, many of them are our friends, teachers, and staff right here with us on campus.

Every day, but especially today on Yom HaZikaron we should be מכיר טוב, recognize and express our thankfulness to them. How? First, by simply saying thank you to them for their service and sacrifice on our behalf. Second, through our tefilot to Hashem that those who fell should repose in the bond of eternal life. Third, by giving charity,צדקה and doing acts of חסד, acts of kindness in their memory.

Finally, and most importantly, we can show our gratitude to them by the way we live. A tremendous responsibility was placed on the Jewish people when God gave the land of Israel to Abraham and his descendants. It is an eternal charge to create a place in the world that reflects the perfection in human behavior that every person can attain. Where does this way of life come from? Our Torah. And where did our Torah come from? Hashem, בורא שמים וארץ, creator of heaven and earth, the One who gave us the land of Israel.

Their sacrifice will not be in vain if we live in a way that reflects positively on God, Israel, and Judaism, treating every human being with the dignity that comes from being created ‘בצלם ה, in the image of God. Then their sacrifice will be a קידוש שם שמים, a “sanctification of the name of Hashem in the world.”

May Hashem grant eternal rest under the shelter of His protecting wing to all those who sacrificed their lives defending Israel, its people, and to all the victims of terror. May their souls be bound up in the bond of everlasting life. תהא נשמותיהם צרורם בצרור החיים

May Hashem continue His protecting care over Israel, Jews, and peace-loving people the world over.

 עם ישראל חי, the Nation of Israel lives!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Robert Kaplan