Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Yom haZikaron: The Value of Memory without Action

They shouldn’t have died. They shouldn’t have been murdered.
Infants, children, mothers, young men and women, elderly, handicapped…
They should be here with us today, enjoying the sunshine on their faces.
So whom can we blame?

-Ourselves, for wanting to live in the land of our ancestors, the land of the Torah and the land of mitzvos, the land taken from us by force, the land promised to us by Gd? We are seeking that which we have always sought, that which we need for our survival, both physical and spiritual.

-Jews around the world, for becoming a latter-day Babylonian Jewry, sitting at home comfortably under their grapevines and fig trees, occasionally popping in for a visit or writing a check or engaging in “political action” while their surrogates bleed? Yom haZikaron is the worst day of the year for me, questioning for the nth time what I am doing outside of Israel.

-Gd, for arranging a no-win situation in which we would be expected to return to our land, but without clear Divine “air support” for that return?

-The Arab world, for acting greedily as human beings always act upon losing something they believe is theirs, for not believing the Torah’s account of our right to Israel, for their bloodthirsty embrace of death?

-The world’s nations, those United Nations, for their realpolitik self-interest, the way they kowtow to Arab oil and petrodollars, the way they always seem to find ways to beat down the scapegoat Jews even as they insist there is no Anti-Semitism?

We can always find reasons to blame, particularly when there is blood everywhere. Our fingers are flexible; we can point in every direction, and we do. But it brings no satisfaction.

At the end of the day, all the blame in the universe doesn’t bring a single soldier, a single bombing or stabbing or shooting or stoning or lynching victim, back to life. All of the petitions and protests, all of the anger and angst and Never Again, may have some impact on the future, but no human hand can reverse the past.

Which, I suppose, is why it’s important to have a Yom haZikaron, a day not to blame, but to remember.

A day not to politicize and criticize and pontificate and castigate, but to look at photographs of faces, to say tehillim and recall the long, long list of names, to cry for men and women, young and old, to remember them not so much for how they died but who they were, how they lived, whom they loved, what potential they never had a chance to express.

It’s hard to remember without following up with retaliatory or compensatory action; it seems so depressingly pointless. This lack of bombast does not satisfy any need for revenge, does not serve any eschatological drive for redemption. But I think there is a point: To ensure that what is past does not become distant past, that in our drive to move forward we do not lose the souls of those who cannot be with us. To recall the merit of those whose lives were cut short.

Memory, we are taught, is the sum of our identity. It sums up what we have experienced and how we have acted, where we have been, what we have thought and believed. It is, in a sense, the most powerful, certainly the most encompassing, force in our lives.

And in devoting this most encompassing force to those who have been taken from us, we guarantee that their souls are צרורות בצרור החיים, bound up in the bond of life, in the most literal meaning of Avigayil words.

יהי זכרם ברוך, their memory is blessed, and is a blessing.

1 comment:

  1. Yishar koyach, Rabbi. Thanks for the insight.