Cholent has long been one of my favorite foods: the texture, the flavors, the savory aroma, the nostalgic hints of childhood Shabboses, and the more meat and barley the better . Due to its mode of preparation allowing it to be served fresh on Shabbat, it has earned its respected place in Judaic culture as the oldest known Jewish food, with variations having existed in Diaspora Jewish communities in around the world, dating back to World War II. Judean era temple. It remains a staple among Jews from all walks of life, especially as a weekend snack, and this past Thursday night served as the weapon of choice for a survivor of the latest deadly terror attack in the recent wave of Palestinian violence. in Israel.
I have come to accept, whether through current or historical events, that there are concepts that I will never be able to understand. It’s not how two young men, about my age, could ask to be driven by Lod, a father of five, who had frequently driven them in his taxi to the construction site they claimed to be working on near a synagogue, only to murder him senselessly upon arriving at his final destination. Not the cruelty with which they shot and slaughtered two other fathers, one of whom held the hand of his six-year-old son. Not the heartbreak of a six-year-old boy running to security personnel to tell them his father had been killed. Not the eternal agony of sixteen Israeli children orphaned overnight. Not the absurdity of bloodied yeshiva students in their broken parked cars who turn to their pot of cholent as their only recourse.
Every victim hurts. Jerusalem. Sheva beer. Hadera. Bnei Brak, which we have just recalled in the Hagada, where Rabi Elazar, Rabi Yehoshua, Rabi Elazar Ben Azaria, Rabi Akiva and Rabi Tarfon discussed the Passover story all night until daybreak. Tel Aviv. Ariel. Elad. The spur attacks, guns, knives, screwdrivers and axes, have deeply marked our hearts. But they fail to break us, for in their death the victims reinforce our commitment to live.
This time of year, along with seasonal changes in Israel, marks an ancient period of transition on the Jewish calendar. Fittingly, it opens with the story of our national emergence from Egypt on Passover, a complex occasion that integrates the joy of exodus and rebirth with solemn remembrances of our suffering. The Hagada read at the Seder is a quintessential embodiment of the classic Jewish emotional balance between lamentation, joy, gratitude, guilt and ecstasy. Immediately after the week of Passover, we enter a period of mourning, during which observant Jews traditionally do not hold weddings, listen to music (or at least live music), do not shave beard, cut their hair, or engage in a myriad of other activities. .
We mourn for a whole generation of Rabi Akiva followers who died almost two millennia ago because of the division between them, for the defeat of the Bar Kochva revolt, for the enormous loss of life, of Torah and of our national autonomy in Judea; for Jewish villages subjected to mass massacres by Crusaders just under a millennium ago, and for Jews massacred by Cossacks just four centuries ago. For ourselves and the bitter divisions that still cross us, for the Jewish blood shed in our lifetime, for the incompleteness of our modern sovereignty. For the living and the dead who testify “in every generation they rise against us to destroy us”. At Lag ba’Omer, we celebrate the ever-renewed hopes, our faith in our endurance, that “the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hands”. We continue to count upwards to the culmination of our departure from Egypt and the epitome of our cultural history and character: our reception of the Torah on Shavuot.
Through this, we recognize that the definitive stages of liberation were expressed in our unity at Har Sinai, our acceptance of God’s will, our devotion to the truth that dictates our moral compass, and our sanctification of life upheld against all expectation, best modeled in our Torah and accompanying midrashic sources by Yocheved’s defiance of silent rebellion against Pharaoh, Miriam’s appeals to his influential father in Egypt, and Moshe’s direct appeals to God on our behalf in the Sinai. In this one family we recognize the unfathomable power of individual action.
Last Tuesday evening, my friend and I stood silently in our uniforms as we heard the siren sound across Jerusalem. We listened to the overwhelming groan pierce the air as the entire city came to a halt, before hearing the haunting cries of a hossid of Shema’s prayers in honor of soldiers killed in action and civilians murdered as we we were heading to the Western Wall to watch from a distance the remains of an official ceremony, at which bereaved family members and military representatives were present for a moving recitation of prayers for the dead. Every Wednesday I read stories of victims of terrorism, including over a hundred years ago, and fallen soldiers in honor of Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Remembrance Day which directly precedes our ‘Independence.
This even more abrupt transition from tragedy to triumph is symbolic of the price of the freedom we enjoy, of the confusion between all the contradictory emotions we carry. It is a reminder of our obligations to those who fought for us, who died for us to live, or whose life was taken to be one of us, to ensure that no life or Jewish death is never in vain. On Yom HaShoah, I had spent the day reading about the hellish atrocities inflicted on my people, the grotesque mass murders, torture and slavery that displayed the most indescribably shocking levels of willful and despicable evil seen on the face of the Earth, the nightmare in which my family was trapped. As a Jew, I am not privileged with the naïveté or cosmopolitan moral relativism that is prevalent among so many of my Western peers. I know where this can lead. “By your blood you shall live” echoes again and again.
Yet, through pain and frustration, there are glimmers of resistance to draw strength from, even in the darkest disasters. Fallen heroes who were worshiped in life and never left us in death. From Shimshon who fought the Philistines holding him captive until his last breath, to the fighters of Bar Kochva who took a last stand against the Romans, to Simcha HaCohen of Worms who, after witnessing the destruction of his centuries-old community , retaliated against Crusader assets and accomplices, Jewish underground fighters in Nazi-occupied Europe, Ariel’s guard who died protecting his fiancée, and Elad’s father who struggled with terrorists long enough to save the lives of countless children who managed to escape from the scene. And if you pay attention, we most often fight back and live. From King David to the Jews of the Persian Empire under the leadership of Esther and Mordechai, from the Maccabean victory over the Seleucid Empire to Jewish paramilitary movements in British-occupied Eretz Yisrael.
There are also small moments of heroism today. Just recently, a Belgian chossid who surprised his anti-Semitic attacker with a knockout punch circulated on the internet. Since January, nearly two dozen terrorist attacks that could not have been prevented have been thwarted by diligent security forces, brave civilians and major hospitals, the latest of which involved a Tekoa father who shot on an armed terrorist who had breached the security barrier and walked through his door. backyard. And of course, there was the ingenious use of hot cholent last week. So maybe it’s time to end the often self-fulfilling stereotype that Jews don’t fight back.
The reality remains continuous: the same Jews, following the same timetable, challenging ruthless enemies while the rest of the world is largely indifferent, reliving the same stories, praying with the same words to the same God for the same redemption but not relying never on a miracle. Read the Hagada at Passover, snack on cholent the rest of the year, count the days until Shavuos, raise their children in the paths of their ancestors, mourn their brothers and sisters with the same pain and the same will to live. Closing each Kaddish with our hopes for peace for all of Israel.