Today marks the Memorial Day for the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces who have fallen in the line of duty. We shall now publish the following remarks (with some additional explanations) which were made by Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l approximately thirty years ago at a Memorial Day gathering. These ideas are quite appropriate for today as well.
The Gemara (Baba Batra 10b) states: “No creation can stand on the level of the ‘Martyrs of Lod.’” The “Martyrs of Lod” refers to a story when once, the king’s daughter was murdered and the gentiles suspected the Jews of murdering her and thus decreed that the entire Jewish nation be annihilated. Two brothers, Papus and Lulianus, came forward and saved the entire nation from certain death by claiming that they had killed the king’s daughter. Thus, only they were killed, but the rest of the Jewish people were left in peace. Our Sages teach us that because of the boundless reward they enjoy in the World to Come, no creation can stand on their lofty level.
This idea surely applies to the fallen soldiers of the IDF who are buried in Israel, may their souls be bound up in the circle of life, for they have given up their very lives in order to ensure the security, safety, and protection of the Jewish nation.
Indeed, Hagaon Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l once commented to one of his close confidants that those who travel long distances to visit the graves of righteous sages should know that there is a mountain close by (he was referring to Mount Herzl near the Jerusalem neighborhood of Bayit Ve’Gan which serves as a military cemetery) which houses many graves of holy souls.
We must shed copious tears for the blood of our brethren which has been spilled like water. Since the destruction of the Holy Temple, so much Jewish blood has been spilled and various nations of the world never cease attempting to destroy us. Indeed, a Heavenly voice rings out three times daily and weeps bitterly: “Woe unto me, for I have destroyed my house, burnt my hall, and exiled my children among the nations of the world.” Throughout history, we have always served as a target for the hatred of the nations of the world; an eternal hatred for the Eternal Nation. How many hundreds of communities were brutally butchered during the periods of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition and more recently and worst of all, during the inferno called the Holocaust which claimed the lives of some six-million Jews including so many luminaries and righteous individuals? Even in our times, we still suffer from the Intifadas of our Palestinian neighbors have claimed the lives of so many of our soldiers. Indeed, our Sages tell us in Masechet Rosh Hashanah (23a): “Woe unto the nations of the world, for they have no remedy.”
Our Sages teach us (Yalkut Shimoni, Parashat Matot) regarding all those who have been killed by the wicked nations of the world that Hashem dips the garment He wears in their blood until it becomes fully red and saturated with blood. When the Day of Reckoning arrives, Hashem shall don this garment and will glance at all of the corpses of the people who were killed by these wicked nations and He shall then avenge their blood from these wicked nations, as the verse states, “He shall judge the nations regarding the multitude of corpses.”
This Memorial Day should not only serve as a day to mourn our fallen soldiers whose death is as painful to us as the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, but it should also serve as a day of self-introspection. We must strive to uphold to the traditions of our ancestors by returning to the Torah and good deeds and educating our children in the true Torah way, as the verse states, “Return to Me and I shall return to you.” So many of our fallen brethren have made the ultimate sacrifice in order to ensure the continuation of our nation through proper Torah living. Additionally, so many have given up their lives simply to sanctify Hashem’s name by refusing to forsake their religion. Certainly then, their death obligates us to live a life of Torah and Mitzvah observance, as Rabbeinu Sa’adia Gaon states, “The Jewish nation is not a nation without its Torah.”
May the great sacrifice of the fallen soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces zt”l, defenders of our Holy Land, serve as an everlasting merit to protect their families and may they beseech Hashem’s mercy on our behalf before His Throne of Glory so that we no longer have to endure further tragedies, as the verse states, “Your sun shall no longer set and your moon shall not be gathered, for Hashem shall be your eternal light and the days of your mourning shall be complete.” Furthermore, may we merit seeing the fulfillment of the verse, “I shall prepare a place for my nation, Israel, and I shall plant them and they shall dwell there and the sons of injustice shall no longer continue to oppress them as they once had.” May we merit the ultimate joy of the rebuilding of the everlasting Third Bet Hamikdash, as the verse states, “For a day of vengeance is in My heart and the year of my redemption draws near. Oh, if only He would provide from Zion the salvation of Israel by Hashem returning His nation’s captives; Yaakov shall rejoice, Israel shall be glad.” May Hashem remove the spirit of impurity from the land and may the Redeemer come to Zion, speedily in our days, Amen.