The Three Weeks and the Nine Days have come and gone. We can finally relax and, for a few well deserved, fun-filled weeks, we can forget all the things we are usually expected to remember. Goodbye work; goodbye worries. It’s vacation time and we intend to enjoy it until Chodesh Elul makes its appearance, right?
Well, not quite. If there’s anything Jews are not supposed to do, it’s to forget. Remembering is a national pastime. Briyat HaOlam, Yetziyat Mitzrayim, Har Sinai, Amalek, the Golden Calf, the miracle of Miriam’s Well and, of course, Shabbos. Day after day, we keep our memories alive in our collective conscious. We remember the Beit HaMikdash and the Holocaust and the Inquisition and the pogroms. Megabytes aren’t big enough to hold all of our memories. Jewish memory is measured in terabytes. There is no such thing as forgetting our past. Even Hakadosh Baruch Hu “remembers” –
Rosh Hashanah is His Day of Remembrance. We mortals are also concerned about the future, not only the past. But at least we know that… az yemalei s’chok pinu… at the time of the Redemption, our mouths will be full of laughter and our unhappy memories transformed and bathed in light.
I thought of these things this week as two of my grandsons prepared to enter Tzahal – the Israeli army. Both will be in combat units. Both are young, wholesome, idealistic, very sincere, spiritual and pious. As part of a family send-off one evening, each of their uncles, older cousins and grandfathers were asked to share a few military memories and words of wisdom from their own army experience. They told funny stories (and a few not-so-funny ones), gave advice, tips and blessings. They cushioned the new draftees with love and bitachon and were living examples that even in the worst of situations, people can accomplish what they never thought possible. And not only survive the ordeal, they can grow. They provided the reassurance that helped turn a formidable challenge into an exhilarating, spiritual one – even though the everyday experience would not always “exhilarate.” They provided an example of Am Yisrael at its best. I didn’t know whether to kvell with Yiddishe nachas or cry and pull out my Sefer Tehillim.
Exhilaration aside, this is not an ideal time to be entering the army. We are used to living with threats, tension and enemies, but these past few months have been especially worrisome. Does the deal with Iran mean impending nuclear war? If even a few of the op-eds and analytical articles in the media are accurate, we’re in for a pretty volatile time. Not only in Israel, although as usual, we’re at the top of the list.
Does the current wave of supposedly individual terrorist attacks (most of which are, thank G-d, prevented) spell the beginning of a new intifada? And then there’s the sweeping, historical decision by the United States Supreme Court – that paragon of justice and wisdom and morality. Have they brought us to the gates of Sodom once again? The warning words, “Plishtim alecha Shimshon – the Philistines are upon you!” ring in my ears. What is this poor world of ours coming to? G-d promised not to bring another universal flood, but He didn’t say anything about another world war or nuclear destruction.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it difficult to deal with all of this. What am I supposed to do when there’s really nothing I can do? Well, if I can’t save the world at large, the least I can do is to try to save or improve my own small world. To Remember… to fill my day with mitzvot and chesed. To live joyfully and to be grateful for all the blessings I have. To attempt to fulfill my obligations to G-d and man as best I can.
We live with the realization that our wars are probably not over, and considering the confused, violent state of the world at large, peaceful bliss doesn’t seem to be hovering on anyone’s horizon. And, I admit, ours does not seem like the greatest of neighborhoods to reside in. But then I Remember. Avraham Avinu was commanded to leave the pinnacle of ancient power and civilization in Mesopotamia and make his way to Canaan, a patch-quilt country, steeped in idolatry and immorality, divided up amongst countless small kingdoms constantly warring with each other and caught between the claws of two giants – Mesopotamia in the north and Egypt in the south. This was the Promised Land?? Perhaps you and I would have chosen – as the joke says – Canada instead of Canaan, but obviously that was not what G-d had in mind. This is the place where His eye is focused and His Presence palpable.
So here we are, a chosen people in a chosen land with a chosen universal challenge – to bring G-dliness and holiness to the world. Like the little girl in the nursery rhyme (When she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad she was horrid!), everything here appears in extremes. Good versus evil; beauty contrasts with the unsightly; kedusha battles tum’ah; the celestial uplifts and the corporeal degradations.
I don’t know which direction the rest of the world is taking, but we’re walking uphill on the road to Redemption. It’s not easy fighting gravity and the forces of nature, but we keep plodding ahead. Perhaps that’s why we don’t descend into depression when confronted with frightening nuclear deals and immoral Supreme Court decisions. The Road to Redemption is long and winding as it passes through our damaged, somewhat deranged world, but it leads to Jerusalem. As long as we have our own Supreme Court Justice and we keep to His map, we’re on the right path – an important thing to Remember.
So here’s to my grandsons and their friends and all our other kids who are marching on G-d’s highway. May they do G-d’s work and protect His people and His Land. And may He bring them all home safe and sound, happy and well. And when they remove their army uniforms, may they continue His work in civilian clothing.
But first, may we remember each and every one daily in all our prayers.