This evening begins Israel’s Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of the Wars of Israel and Victims of Actions of Terrorism. Our nation is unique. Alongside the grieving for the fallen and the victims, we must bear in mind that the State of Israel and the people of Israel are in a unique position. We are the only nation whose fate lies in its hands. While it is true that we are surrounded by enemies who wish nothing but our destruction, it is also true, if hard to accept, that we can turn our enemies into friends if we do what we must do, on which I will elaborate below. Therefore, on the one hand, we must mourn the fallen; on the other hand, we must assume responsibility for our lives in order to prevent others from falling and achieve the long sought after peace with our neighbors.
The composition of the people of Israel is unique. We did not emerge from a specific tribe or a specific place. Our ancestors were originally strangers who joined into a group that followed Abraham because they believed in his message of mercy and love of others. Under Abraham’s guidance, those strangers, who were often enemies, bonded so strongly that they formed a new nation. That nation was unique, founded on the constant pursuit of love of others, and on rising above the hatred that flared between them on occasion. Every time the ancient enmities resurfaced, our ancestors would reinforce their bond a little more in order to overcome the new burst of hatred. As a result, they became a nation whose members truly united “as one man with one heart.”
The unique achievement of our ancestors, accompanied by their biological connection to their original nations, made them the perfect candidates for spreading the method of achieving peace among all nations. The Book of Zohar describes in a few terse, yet powerful sentences the whole sequence from hatred, through bonding, to spreading the message. In the portion Acharei Mot, The Book of Zohar writes, “‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to also sit together.’ These are the friends as they sit together, unseparated from each other. At first, they seem like people at war, wishing to kill one another. Then they return to being in brotherly love. …And you, the friends who are here, as you were in fondness and love before, henceforth you will also not part … and by your merit there will be peace in the world.”
Because of the unique quality of the people of Israel and its unique makeup, whenever internal or international tensions rise, people point their fingers at the Jews. Although most people are unaware of the ancient connection between the Jewish people and the rest of the world, that hidden tie still lives within there and directs the world toward us when it seeks a way to overcome trouble.
The ancient Jews did not preach the nations about unity. They taught by example. In the 3rd century BC, for example, there was relative calm in the land of Israel. As a result, people from the nations of the world would come to Jerusalem during the pilgrimages of Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot to witness the unity of the Jews. During each pilgrimage, the sight was spectacular. The pilgrimages were intended primarily for uniting the hearts of the members of the nation. In his book The Antiquities of the Jews (Book IV, chap. 8), Flavius Josephus writes that the pilgrims would make “acquaintance … maintained by conversing together and by seeing and talking with one another, and so renewing the recollections of this union.”
Once inside the city, the pilgrims were greeted with open arms. The townsfolk let them into their homes and treated them as family. The Mishnah (Bikurim, 3) relishes in this rare camaraderie: “All the craftsmen in Jerusalem would stand before them and ask about their well-being: ‘Our brothers, men of so and so place, have you come in peace?’ and the flute would play before them until they arrived at Temple Mount.” The book Avot de Rabbi Natan (Chap. 35) adds in this regard: “All the material needs of every person who came to Jerusalem were met in full. One did not say to one’s friend, ‘I could not find an oven on which to roast offerings in Jerusalem’ … or ‘I could not find a bed to sleep in, in Jerusalem.’”
And most important, those festivals of bonding made Israel into “a light unto nations.” The book Sifrey Devarim (Item 354) details how non-Jews would “go up to Jerusalem and see Israel … and say, ‘It is becoming to cling only to this nation.’”
We therefore see that Israel is indeed in a unique position to determine its own fate. We really can prevent further casualties. If we reignite the bond between us and become the role model that the world is looking for, it will turn the world’s heart in our favor. If there is a lesson we can take from our painful history for this memorial day, it is the lesson of unity that paves our way to peace.
[Scouts hold a torch during a ceremony to mark Israel’s Memorial Day, commemorating fallen soldiers of Israel’s wars and Israeli victims of hostile attacks, next to a monument at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, April 13, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun]