On Yom HaZikaron, the Israeli Veterans’ Memorial day, I feel like on the eve of Yom Kippur: there’s a sense of kdusha (holiness), purity, and a unity of hearts in the air: “A day of spreading friendship and love, a day of leaving jealousy and competition”. On this day we set aside all that divides and separates us, and lovingly lay bare our hearts, brother to brother, friend to friend, through an awareness of our shared destiny. On this day I respect and honor those soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our sake, and marvel at the solidarity of warriors, who have often sacrificed their lives to save their friends – out of a sense of brotherhood which, I believe, is implicit in the term ‘achi’ – my brother – which Golani (and other) soldiers use to address each other… On this day I listen for hours on end to fighters’ stories, and cry with them in sorrow and love.
This experience of closeness has been expressed in many songs and poems, such as Haim Gouri’s ‘Friendship’ poem:
For a friendship such as ours will never
Allow our hearts to forget.
Love, sanctified by blood,
You will bloom again between us.
Thus also in Dan Almagor’s ‘A Ballad for the Medic’:
I’ll never forget you – then swore the wounded soldier
Just not to fall – the medic mumbled
Yours until the day you die – then swore the wounded soldier
Today I die – the medic answered him.
At times, we are amazed at this mesirut nefesh, this sacrifice undertaken with such simplicity and innocence, so that the soldier doesn’t realize the sublimity of his action, and we recall the words of the Tanya (Ch. 19), that mesirut nefesh stems from a love concealed in the heart, a love which is ‘beyond reason and knowledge’ – in other words, a love motivated not by rational and conscious considerations, but by the hidden yearnings of the soul.
Now it seems that Yom HaAtzmaut – Independence Day – continues this same tendency of drawing together and uniting the souls of the Jewish people. It should therefore be seen as an integral part of the redemption and end of exile. The Maharal of Prague, in his work ‘Netsach Israel’ (Ch. 25), explains that the dispersal and separation of the Jewish people is a central and essential feature of our exile – beyond the mere fact of our not residing on our own land. We could add that this is why we pray: “And bring near those of us dispersed among the nations, and assemble together those of us lost at the ends of the earth.” We pray for a mending of the rent fabric of our nation, not only for the actual return to our homeland.
Immediately following, the Maharal cites a conversation he had with a non-Jewish sage. This wise man asked him: “How could there be jealousy and competition among you, while your Torah says ‘Thou shalt love your neighbor’?” The Maharal responded: “Yes, you’re right, this is indeed our flaw. But know this: the separation between our hearts is precisely the curse of exile, and this