From Disgrace to Praise: Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut
BY RABBI YOSEF ZVI RIMON
Yom HaZikaron, the Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of the Wars of Israel and Victims of Actions of Terrorism, was established on the 4th of Iyar, the day Kfar Etzion fell (May 13, 1948). In this battle, the last battle of Gush Etzion, the Arabs massacred the Jewish soldiers, killing 127 of them (only four soldiers survived the battle). In 1951, the Israeli government established this as a day of remembrance for those who fell in war defending the State of Israel.
But even before the fall of Kfar Etzion, the 4th of Iyar served as a day of remembrance. My father, Rav David Rimon z”l, was one of the central figures involved in Kofer HaYishuv, the fund responsible for raising money to finance the Haganah before the establishment of the State. In 1940, the leadership of the Kofer HaYishuv proclaimed the 4th of Iyar as a “Heroes Memorial Day” following the Arab attacks of 1936 in which hundreds of Jews were murdered.
The establishment of these memorial days on the 4th of Iyar attaches them to Yom HaAtzmaut, which is celebrated the next day. This format, in which sadness and mourning precedes joy, exists in many situations, most notably the Pesach Seder – the evening of redemption which is founded on the principle of מַתְחִיל בִּגְנוּת וּמְסַיֵּם בְּשֶׁבַח, “Begin with disgrace and end in praise.”
Why is it important to reflect on redemption through a framework of disgrace that is followed by praise? When we begin with disgrace, we feel and understand the praise that follows far more deeply than we would if we began with praise. When we understand the price that we have paid to reach this joy, we cherish the joy immeasurably more and appreciate the suffering required to bring us to this place.
The words of the midrash are well known: “A parable of a father and son who were on a journey. The son became weary, and he said to his father: How far do we have to go? He replied: Remember this sign: When you see a cemetery, you are almost there. And that is what the Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Yisrael: When you see many troubles piling up, that is the moment you will be redeemed. “G-d will respond to you in a day of need” (Tehillim 20:2)” (Midrash Shocher Tov 20).
The proximity of the days of remembrance for the Holocaust and the soldiers of Israel to Yom HaAtzmaut emphasize the point that the establishment of the State of Israel was not a simple matter and that, to this day, its existence cannot be taken for granted. The State of Israel was established in the merit of those murdered in the Holocaust and in the merit of those who fell in battles and terror attacks.
In addition, remembering those who were murdered in the Holocaust and those who died in battle teaches us how great the miracle of our existence, survival and independence truly is – a miracle that accompanies us every day and at every moment. We are not always sufficiently aware of how the existence of the State of Israel is a unique expression of G-d’s Divine providence over us: “Hashem has done great things with these people” (Tehillim 126:2). The reminder of Yom HaZikaron before Yom HaAtzmaut emphasizes G-d’s providence and the dedication and sacrifice of those who fell. May their memory be a blessing to all of Am Yisrael.
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon is Head of Mizrachi’s Educational Advisory Board and Rabbinic Council. He serves as the Rabbi of Gush Etzion, Rosh Yeshiva of the Jerusalem College of Technology and is the Founder and Chairman of Sulamot and La’Ofek.