Sivan  Rahav-Meir
Sivan Rahav-MeirCourtesy

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin (

We are accustomed to transitioning from the sadness of Memorial Day to the joy of Independence Day, but how do we transition in the opposite direction, from independence to mourning?

I read this week's Torah portion after hearing about the three victims murdered in a horrible terrorist attack in Elad, and two main subjects stood out:

The parasha begins with instructions to the Kohanim not to defile themselves by escorting or having any contact with the dead. A Kohen is a teacher, a religious man, a spiritual guide, and thus symbolizes the complete opposite of death. He hallows life and cannot allow himself to sanctify death.

But now, thousands of years later, we are witness to leaders who, in the name of religion, sanctify death, and call upon their followers to take axes and knives to murder the innocent. They truly believe that whoever murders and is killed in the process is a holy martyr (shaheed). Before committing murder, they shout "Allahu akhbar" (God is great). Never was there such a distorted and perverse way of thinking.

The second major subject of the parasha is our holidays. There are detailed descriptions of Pesach, Sukkot, Shavuot, Yom Kippur, and Shabbat - a succession of joyful occasions that are full of inspiring content. Because the significance of a holiday is expressed in song and prayer, at family gatherings and festive meals, in a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for a holy celebration.

But again, thousands of years after God's elevation of the holiday concept, our enemies come to desecrate it just as they desecrate the concept of life itself. This is incomprehensible to us, but on their holidays, we need to be especailly vigilant regarding terror on the part of "believers" with a lust for blood. Thousands of our security personnel are dispatched to the streets of our cities during this month because "they're celebrating their holiday now."

May we merit to elevate the souls of the murdered, to clearly distinguish between light and darkness, to strengthen our connection with spiritual leaders and with Shabbat and with our holidays - all of which supplement life.

A close look at those who lit torches at Mount Herzl on Independence Day shows what we are made of:

Kalman Samuels wept when he spoke about his disabled son, Yossi, because of whom he established "Shalva", the Israel Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. Yael Sherer also wept. She eventually became head of the lobby against domestic violence, after her father abused her in childhood.

I saw lots of tears when I broadcasted the torch lighting ceremony, an annual event that honors twelve individuals for their contributions to Israeli society. The speech of each torch lighter ends with the words: "To the glory of the State of israel." Tears flowed among both the torch lighters and the audience, but they were tears of triumph.

The common denominator among nearly all the torch lighters this year was a huge emptiness with which they have had to contend. Asael Shabo, a leg amputee, dedicated his torch to his mother and his three siblings whom he lost in a terrorist attack. Elizabeta Sherstyuk, from Ukraine, described the horrible reality facing our Jewish brothers and sisters who find themselves on the front lines in that country.

The question is: What do people do who are wounded or damaged, who suffer a tragic, calamitous blow? Yesterday I saw people that not only admirably coped with disaster, not only got back on their feet, but actually flourished in the wake of grievous circumstances.

The light of the torches lit yesterday was small compared to the light radiated each day by those who lit them. The limitations of Yossi motivated his parents to ultimately establish the Shalva National Center, the largest facility of its kind in the world. The childhood of Angela Alon in a transit camp motivated her to set up a warm foster home that has housed 217 children over the years. And on and on, as one torch lighter after another told a tale of darkness that was transformed into light.

And perhaps, in fact, this is the algorithm that activates the Jewish people: *"But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew in strength."* Indeed, only three years after the Holocaust, we re-established the Jewish Commonwealth in the Land of Israel and have flourished here ever since.

Therefore, this was not a one time event in which extra effort was exerted to find twelve tzadikim. We must remember throughout the year that their story is the story of us all, that their faces are our faces and, to coin a phrase, we are all programmed from the same software.

To the glory of the State of Israel.