Shabbat Greetings

Remembrance is a sacred privilege and a holy obligation. On this Shabbat, we celebrate Memorial Day weekend, the unoffciial beginning of summer and the realization that the Garden State Parkway will be a parking lot for the weekend for the next three plus months. However, we should reflect on those who have given their very lives to ensure our democratic way of life as we observe Memorial Day on Monday. Our souls are inextricably bound with theirs. General George Patton noted that we should not mourn those who have fallen in battle. “Rather,” he says, “we thank God that such men lived.”  Our country honors the memory of those who have died in service to our country, acknowledging that the best way to honor our brave forebears is to renew our devotion to the values they held dear- honor, courage, freedom.

Memorial Day was first officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868.  Originally known as “Decoration Day”, a time to adorn the graves of our war-dead, Memorial Day is an enduring national tradition, and a source of inspiration from one generation to the next. Would that we could learn to have a perspective on what is of ultimate importance without the need to shed blood in the process! 

We who are blessed to have been raised in freedom must never, ever take that gift for granted.  When she returned from twenty-eight days of living under a military dictatorship, Diana Sowards had a renewed appreciation of her blessing.  She writes as follows, that- “Freedom is. . . not having to report to the police that you have a house guest overnight”; Freedom is. . . studying what you are interested in at the university and not what the Education Board orders you to major in; Freedom is. . . traveling anywhere you want without asking permission from four different governmental agencies; Freedom is. . . not hearing a friend has disappeared and is thought to be held by the police but no one knows for sure.”  The list continues, but how many are the blessings of freedom and how blessed we are to have brave service members who dedicate themselves to selfless service of the United States of America.   

While the ten commandments prohibit murder, they do not prohibit killing.  Our tradition recognizes that sometimes killing in war is a necessary evil.  We pray for peace, we prepare for war.  In Psalm 29:11, the words, “God will bless the people with strength and then with peace.”  We learn that peace must be founded on a position of strength, at least until the messianic age arrives. The passion of the Soldier for his or her cause is the same passion we must bring to the fight for good against evil in ourselves, in our communities and in our world. Bernard Katz, a B-17 bomber co-pilot in Italy during WWII, describes his motivation to risk his life in a moving essay entitled, “Why I Fight; A Serviceman’s Story”.  “I fight”, he challenges us, “because it is an obligation, because free people must fight to remain free, because when the freedom of one nation or one person is taken away, the rights of all nations and all people are threatened; because – through our elected representative – I had the choice; to fight or not to fight . . . I fight in the fervent hope that those who follow me will not have to fight again, but in the knowledge that if they have to, they will not be found wanting in the crisis.” 

This week’s Torah portion, Behar (Leviticus 25:1-26:2), deals primarily with the idea of a sabbatical for the land and a jubilee to insure all land goes back to the original owners. As many of us know, the proclamation,  “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants within,” can be found inscribe on the Liberty Bell. As Jews living in America, we are fortunate to live in a land where we can be safe and free. This is not always the case for Jews elsewhere.

The world is as critical of Israel as it ever was; and we, as American Jews, must again stand up and be counted among her vocal and loyal supporters. You see that is the test of our commitment. We who have just in time, moved from Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) to Israel’s Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron) and then to Israel’s Independence Day(Yom HaAtzamaut) all in the span of three weeks have to ask ourselves what is our commitment to the future of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. How can we insure that our children and our grandchildren continue to have the hope of Israel’s purpose … to live a two-thousand year old dream?   A free people in our own land? We must stand up to ensure freedom for all.

Our democratic way of life carries with it an awesome sense of responsibility.  At this time, when we pay tribute to those who died to defend these United States of America, we pray that our country may continue to be a beacon around the world to all those who yearn for “freedom and justice for all.” We pray that the souls of our heroes find rest and peace, that their loved ones take comfort in the good name they leave behind, and that our own readiness to defend never diminish our commitment to the cause of peace. We pray that government of the people, by the people and for the people never cease from this earth.