Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedPR photo

When we remember the six million kedoshim (martyrs), the elderly men and women, fathers and sons, boys and girls murdered in the Holocaust, we fulfill the great mitzvah of “ve’ahavta la-reicha ke’mocha” (love your neighbor as yourself) in the Parasha we read on Shabbat, the first component of which is to identify with each of our Jewish brethren.

How much more so is this true when each and every one of those murdered in the Holocaust was murdered because he was a Jew; had we been there ourselves, we would have been murdered along with them.

Consequently, a sacred duty is incumbent upon us to remember the Holocaust martyrs, and give as glorious expression to their memory and heritage as possible.

Their Heritage in the Building of the Nation and the Land

Out of the memory of the Holocaust martyrs, we should be inspired to contribute our part to the strengthening of the State of Israel, reishit tzimichat geulateinu (the beginning of the flowering of our redemption), which arose from the ashes of the Holocaust crematoria. Just as the commandment to remember Amalek is meant to inspire Israel to stand guard against its enemies, so too, and even more so, the memory of the Holocaust should inspire us to stand guard against all our enemies and haters, while defending our nation and our country.

Out of the utter tragedy our people incurred, we will continue caring for the building of the State of Israel, which will flourish and prosper with renown, joy, praise and honor, so that all Jews and all the world may know that all the wonderful prophecies that God has spoken about his People, are to be fulfilled.

The "Dry Bones" brought back to life

This takes place primarily in the strengthening of the State of Israel, flowering the deserts, the ingathering of the exiles, and increasing the honor of Israel in the eyes of the peoples of the world.

During the Holocaust, when the German Nazis with their helpers and supporters from the peoples of Europe and the Arab world murdered six million of our brothers and sisters, the wicked of the world, who also are always our greatest haters, rejoiced in our destruction. Our admirers eulogized us, and along with us, eulogized faith in truth and good. The great movements that promised tikun (repair) and redemption, were burned along with us in the crematoria. The entire world seemed like an awesome valley full of bones.

Then, suddenly, the voice of Ezekiel’s ancient prophecy was heard:

“The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

“So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.”

“Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.”

“Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel” (Ezekiel 37).

The spirit of this prophecy was captured in the hearts of the pioneers, who even before the Holocaust began to build the country. At times, the pioneers were seen as the least successful of children, but with devotion, God’s word was revealed by them. As the word of the Lord to Joel (Chapter three):

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy … For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine.

They understood that the call of God’s name was to return to the land that God had promised our ancestors, as it is said (ibid. 3:5):

“And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall flee, for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance as the Lord has said, and in the remnant which the Lord calls.”

Holocaust Remembrance Day Today as Motivation for the Expansion of the Jewish People

Inspired by the days of Nisan, in which we were redeemed from Egypt, it would be appropriate to leverage Holocaust Remembrance Day in a direction of restoration and momentum, emphasizing the life that the holy souls commanded us to cherish, thus raising the banner of the commandment of “peru u’revu” (to be fruitful and multiply), in the sense of “When I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you: “Live in spite of your blood. Yea, I said to you: “Live in spite of your blood” (Ezekiel 16: 6).

This was probably the wish of the six million holy souls – that every Jew who remained would continue on the path, do everything possible to get married, have children, and continue the legacy. To fulfill the verse: “But the more [the Egyptians] oppressed them, the more [the Israelites] proliferated and spread” (Exodus 1:12).

This is what we hear from the survivors living among us, that in every grandson and granddaughter born to them, they defeat the accursed Nazis.

The Distressing Numbers

We have not yet recovered. Before the Holocaust, the Jewish people numbered approximately eighteen million, six million were murdered in the Holocaust, and today, about eighty years after the Holocaust, the number of people recognized as Jews is only about fifteen million. During these years, the worlds’ population has tripled, but we, the Jewish people, remain injured in our bodies and minds. Due to the low birth rate and difficult assimilation, the number of Jews in all Jewish communities abroad is declining.

Only here in the Land of Israel, are we multiplying. In relation to Western countries, our growth is miraculous. In all economically and scientifically developed countries in the last generation, the number of children is declining and the number of people is decreasing. Only we, thanks to the deep connection to Israel’s heritage and family values ​​in the Jewish tradition, merit demographic growth. However, that still does not make up for the terrible loss in the Holocaust.

In order to intensify the blessed process that already exists in Eretz Yisrael, we must engage more vigorously in the values ​​of family and the mitzvah of “peru u’revu“.

The Clash between Secular Culture and Family Values

According to the prevailing view in secular culture, freedom, designed to allow the individual to express his or her unique personality, is the most important value, while family, on the other hand, is a binding, limiting and stifling framework. While there is a natural aspiration to start a family, in practice, it is in conflict with the concept of secular culture. The values ​​of personal freedom also conflict with national values, since identification with the people, in their heritage and challenges, is restrictive and oppressive for those whose personal freedom is at the center of their world.

As a result, the education system, which is influenced by the secular values ​​of freedom promoted by academia, in the majority deals with individual rights, tolerance and democracy. These are important values, but as they are presented in the secular perspective, they conflict with the values ​​of family and the nation. Thus, it turns out that almost no attention is given, in an orderly and systematic way, with the values ​​of the family.

Therefore, it is important to study and strengthen the values ​​of the family, which gives expression to the value of love and giving, to the center of a person’s life. In contrast to the secular perspective, which believes less in true love that involves endless commitment, one should educate and explain that the whole person is one who breaks his private boundaries, loves and gives, is committed to his family and nation, and hence, to the tikun of the entire world.

Freedom and comfort are not the purpose of life. They are important because they give a person the opportunity to choose the special path that suits him, but the choice should be in good values, which are reflected in starting a family with love and loyalty, and adding life and blessing to the world.

Educational Institutions

The vast majority of educational institutions do not deal with the values ​​of family, love, loyalty and the mitzvah of peru u’revu properly. The challenge of starting a family with children is ignored, as is the ways to overcome the difficulties along the path.

The secular cultural environment creates an atmosphere where many people do not like to talk about families, and consequently, teachers do not educate their students enough towards the huge challenge of starting a family.

In addition to the very sacred value of starting a family, reality also proves that usually, the mental and physical condition of married people is better off; they suffer less from depression, and illness. It would be appropriate to include this information in the study material in high schools yeshivas and ulpanot.

Young people should be told that almost all adults who have not had the privilege of starting a large family, in moments of sincerity, regret that they did not make an effort to have another child or two. Because when one looks at life in an all-inclusive, intelligent and comprehensive way, one realizes that family is usually the most important purpose in life.

Inspired by Holocaust Remembrance Day, it would be appropriate to invite to the various educational institutions, grandmothers and grandfathers who were privileged to establish large families for the ilui neshamot (uplifting of the souls) of the kedoshim murdered in the Holocaust, who, on the one hand, can tell about the difficulties of raising families, and on the other, about the immense satisfaction in doing so.

Definition of the Mitzvah “Peru u’Revu

Our Sages have determined that the mitzvah to marry is until the age of twenty, and at the very latest, until the age of twenty-four, and this is the instruction, le-chatchila (ideally), today (Peninei Halakha: Simchat Ha-Bayit U’Birchato 5: 7-12).

There are three steps in fulfilling the mitzvah:

1. It is a Torah obligation to give birth to a son and a daughter, and even when the conditions are difficult, great efforts must be made to fulfill the mitzvah, including the use of conventional medical means such as in vitro fertilization.

2. There is an obligatory mitzvah from our Sages to strive to give birth to four children.

3. There is a hidur mitzvah (enhancement of the mitzvah) to continue to give birth to additional children, according to the ability of the parents. In other words, parents who know they can raise more children and educate them in Torah and mitzvot and derech eretz (common decency), it is a mitzvah for them have more children to the best of their ability.

However, if they know that with additional children, the burden on them will be too heavy, and anger and nervousness will accompany their lives, it is better for them not to enhance the mitzvah, because even though with every additional child they fulfill a mitzvah, on the other hand, because of their poor mental state, they will be angry, irritated, and sin. Not only this, but also those who wish to direct their energies to other valuable avenues, in a way that will not leave them power to raise more children, are permitted to do so (Peninei Halakha: Simchat Ha-Bayit U’Birchato 5: 4-6).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew).