Yom Hazikaron. Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and terror victims. We cry all day because this day is – and is made to be – so, so sad. The music. The ceremonies. The pictures. The stories. Then, within moments, it’s Yom Ha’atzmaut. Israel Independence Day. And we cry all day because this day is – and is made to be – so, so happy….
Throughout the years, there have been many complaints – why is the calendar arranged in such a way that these days are right next to each other; how is it possible to bear the immense pain along with the unbelievable joy….
My friends, frozen in black frames, a memorial candle flickering, casting lights and shadows, have grown younger and younger with each passing year. Yes. I know people say that they have stayed the same, remaining “forever young”, but to me, they are actually much younger than when I knew them. I’m shocked at their childish faces. Back then, I thought they were tall and muscular, capable of being soldiers, fighters, commanders of special forces. Now I think they were kids, their shy smile lingering, their eyes hopeful, not yet knowing it all.
And Yom Haatzmaut. As a child, it was the day in the calendar when we could hang out all night, dancing in the street, sitting around a campfire somewhere – along the beach or up in the mountains, singing, talking, playing a complex treasure hunt that followed the footsteps of heroic, historical events, hiking to see the sunrise. It was fun and adventurous and exciting and festive and joyous. And secular. There were no restrictions whatsoever – not religiously and not anything. We were the promise of the future; the sabras; and our day was blue and white and free.
But every year since, it grows on me in so many ways. By now, it’s just about the holiest day of the year.
The Torah portion of Tazria-Metzora deals with the – wrongly translated – leper, better left in the Hebrew, metzora – the one who is afflicted with “tzara’at”, a strange and ancient disease (dis-ease) that stands for our distance from Hashem, expressed in the misuse of our power of speech, the power that makes us human.
As part of the “purifying” process (again, translation here leaves a lot to be desired), “the priest shall order two live clean birds, cedar wood, crimson stuff, and hyssop to be brought for him who is to be cleansed” (Leviticus 14:4). One of the Chasidic commentators suggests that taking a cedar, one of the tallest trees, along with hyssop, a lowly plant, implies we should “work” (worship, but work is good too-) Hashem in two ways: be strong and firm, and also, be modest and humble. It’s easy to go for one of them, but — insufficient. To “specialize” in humility, is just as bad as being haughty. And even: to think that only Torah study is enough (yes, even that!), is wrong. The path is right down the middle. And finding it… well, that is the challenge.