My six-year old son, Jeremy loves maps. He enjoys playing with Google Earth and finding our home and the homes of his friends and family. The other day, I was reading the weekly Torah portion and left my bible on the table. Jeremy picked it up and discovered that it contains maps. “Where do we live on this map?” He asked.
I explained that this map was of Israel and showed him where his aunt and uncle live (near Tel Aviv) and where his cousins live (in Jerusalem). I also pointed out to him an area which contained his middle name (Judah) and a town with his father’s middle name (Shilo). I felt grateful that I could highlight the many connections he has with Israel’s places and people.
This week’s Torah portion also seems concerned with Jeremy’s question: Where do we belong on the map? The people are wandering in the desert but God instructs Moses to tell the people that they are heading to “a land flowing with milk and honey.” God explains the laws of how they should live to “be holy” en route and when they reach that special land.
The double Torah portion for this week is Aharei Mot/Kedoshim (After the Death/Holiness) and is particularly apt for this week’s observance of Yom Ha-Zikaron (Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism) and Yom Ha-Atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day). The first Torah portion recounts God’s words to Moses after the mysterious death of two of Aaron’s sons. When his sons died, the Torah recounts that “Aaron was silent.” Sometimes silence speaks louder than words.
Anyone who has been to Israel on Yom Ha-Zikaron has experienced the poignancy of silence. On both the morning and evening remembrance day, a siren sounds and everything comes to a halt. People stop their cars and stand for a moment of silence. I experienced this myself when studying in Israel during rabbinical school. I happened to be in the library (which is already fairly quiet) when the siren rang, but this silence had a unique power.
Like the linking of the two Torah portions, the juxtaposition of the two holidays makes the clear statement that the celebration of Israel’s independence is only possible because of the sacrifices of those who died. Only because of their suffering and that of their families, are the Jewish people able to live on the Torah’s map.
On Tuesday, Israel celebrated its 62nd birthday. There’s a great deal of worry in the air about Iran developing nuclear weapons, the current strains in U.S.-Israel relations and future prospects with the Palestinians. Nonetheless, the news doesn’t overshadow the fact that people in Israel continue about their daily lives — getting married, having children, running errands, and engaging in normal business.
This week, we celebrate the fact that the Jewish people have a place on the world map and remember those who gave their lives to make it so.
Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches rabbinic literature at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.