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Why Jews should celebrate Shabbat T’kumah

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(Amos Ben Gershon/GPO photo)

On the Shabbat that falls between Yom ha-Shoah and Yom ha-Atzmaut, an increasing number of Jews are starting to mark Shabbat T’kumah, a relatively new idea to commemorate the resurrection of Israel.

Shabbat T’kumah marks the time between our commemoration of the enormous catastrophe of the Holocaust and our celebration of the enormous achievement of the rebirth of Jewish independence in the Land of Israel.

Parashat Shmini, which we read on April 14, juxtaposes sacrifice and rebirth in a different way. Aharon and his sons are commanded to make sacrifices to God. When two of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, offer sacrifices in a way that is not pleasing to God, it is they, and not their offerings, who are consumed by fire.

After this terrifying experience, Moses warns Aharon and his surviving sons to behave circumspectly, lest they draw the divine wrath upon themselves, as well. He conveys detailed instructions on how to handle the sacrifices, including which portions the priestly line has the right to eat.

Subsequently, the people of Israel are given very detailed instructions on how to conduct themselves. These instructions are the foundation of the laws of kashrut.

One commentary notes that it is never clear what Nadav and Avihu have done to draw divine punishment down upon themselves. We are left to wonder at the mysterious nature of God’s wrath.

Each year, when marking Yom ha-Shoah, I am shocked all over again by the unimaginable scale of the inhumanity and cruelty that befell our people. If the deaths of Nadav and Avihu are difficult to understand, the fate of the millions who died in the Holocaust is completely unfathomable. Yet, like Aharon and his sons, as the survivors, we must find a way forward.

Barely a week after Yom ha-Shoah, we commemorate another sacrifice. On Yom ha-Zikaron, we mark the deaths of all who have fallen in Israel’s wars and as victims of terrorism. In this case, we know exactly why these people died: they sacrificed their lives for the sake of t’kumah, the rebirth and redemption of the land and people of Israel.

The day after Yom ha-Zikaron, we pass from mourning to celebration, as we mark that t’kumah.

Just as we cannot fathom why the calamity of the Holocaust was visited on the Jewish people in our time, it is likewise unclear why this generation merits the privilege of living to see the restoration of Jewish independence. But just as the Jewish people were consoled after the deaths of Nadav and Avihu with detailed guidance on how to conduct themselves, so too are we who live in the shadow of the Shoah offered a different sort of consolation: that we live in Reishit Tzmichat Ge’ulateinu, the dawn of our redemption.

But our response to this rebirth does not come with detailed instructions. For some of us, it is easy to know how to respond to Israel’s rebirth, while others struggle to find a way to engage. We are each left to respond in a way that is meaningful to us. That is our challenge.

Just as the generation that witnessed the deaths of Nadav and Avihu were granted the guidance of kashrut, we must also find out what we must do to nurture, support and improve the Jewish state. The re-establishment of Jewish independence is a gift to each of us, but it also places a heavy burden of responsibility upon us. As we celebrate 70 years of Israeli independence, I pray that in the coming year, each of us will look for a new way in which to contribute to the upbuilding of the land and people of Israel.