Posted on May 7, 2014 by Dita Ribner Cooper
It is no great secret that to be present in Israel during the week of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut is one of the most emotional, saddening, joyous, and challenging experiences a Jew can have in the present day. In a span of 48 hours, the Jewish people collectively descend into a state of national solemnity as we commemorate and honor Israel’s fallen and victims of heinous terror. We attend ceremonies, hear from bereaved families and friends, and tear-up as we see name after too-young name appear on the television screen. The world seemingly stops as we stand for two sirens and contemplate the meaning of sacrifice and what a privilege it is to be standing on this land at all. And then suddenly, as the sun sets on this very heavy day, the flag is raised, the stars come out, and we are suddenly thrust into a day of overwhelming celebration. For some, this day is truly a mo’ed, a holiday celebration complete with musical prayer services and warm “chag sameach” greetings. You cannot walk five feet in Jerusalem without hearing music or smelling the smoky scent of a barbeque being devoured by the same families and friends bedecked in blue and white. The transition between Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut epitomizes the historic Jewish experience of moving mi’yagon l’simcha, from sorrow to great joy, leaving darkness behind and embracing the light that is its necessary counterpart.
As I process my own experiences of this challenging, yet incredible week, however, I cannot help but ask myself one simple question: Now what? Throughout the two days of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut I experienced such a wide and deep range of emotions: solemnity, sadness, fatigue, pride, happiness, relief, gratitude, and so many others. In the wake of a week such as this, I wonder where to go from here and how, as individuals and as a nation, we are to transition just as expediently back into our normal lives and routines. Now what?
Perhaps we can glean some direction and wisdom from this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Behar. Parashat Behar directly follows Parashat Emor, a section of the Torah largely dedicated to the laws regarding the observance of holidays. Behar begins with God speaking to Moses quite literally on a peak, on Mount Sinai, and continues to explain additional laws regarding observation and ritual practice. Yet, even though one may think that it would be fitting that God should continue to command Moses in this lofty place regarding the most celebratory days of the year, God’s instruction is decidedly different. God’s first instruction to Moses in Parashat Behar is, “When you come to the land that I am giving to you shall rest the land [as part of] a sabbath of God” (Leviticus 25:2). God’s message upon entering the land of Israel is not one of extraordinary celebration or even conscious solemnity, but is about rest. After the glorious journey to the peak at Mount Sinai, we are to transition from holiday celebration and instead to wholly embrace rest.
I’d like to think that in some hidden way, there is a reason why this Torah portion falls out this year in the way that it does. As the emotional heights of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut fade into the mundane, we are given instruction as to how to cope with this transition. Even at the height of it all, God sends us a message that we can use rest as a conduit to quiet, reflection, transition, and, finally, normalcy. We do not, and should not be so emotionally stimulated constantly, just as the land should not be worked constantly. Rather, when we come to the land, when we partake in the highs and lows that have led to its continued existence, it is equally important to see rest at the end as our transition back into our daily lives. It is with this consciousness that we can truly appreciate the sense of mi’yagon l’simcha as part of our national heritage and embrace our own upcoming shabbat as one of true rest and shalom.