One of my favorite reflections in the morning liturgy is one that we sing, embedded in psalm 34: “Mi Ha-Ish”. “Who is the person that is passionate about life, that loves every day and sees what is good? It is the person that guides her/his tongue away from saying anything bad, that keeps anything hurtful from passing through his/her lips; it is the person who consciously turns from any inclination to do what is wrong or hurtful and devotes her/his energy to doing what is good; it is the person who focuses on the goal of Shalom and in his/her actions pursues Shalom.”
Not only is that a good summary of the function of the Mitzvah system and a specific strategy for partnering with God on a daily basis, it is also a reflection of what is happening in the Jewish calendar in the month of May.
May 1st is Yom HaShoah, commemorating the worst catastrophe in Jewish, if not human, history, in which the heart and soul of generations of our people dwelling in Europe were destroyed.
That devastation is compounded by destructive forces, including the head of Iran, uttering false and hurtful words, harnessing the power of language to attempt to erase the truth, let alone the scope, of this crime against humanity, simply be repeating their lies of denial that the Shoah happened. They tap into human nature that is inclined to listen to anything if one hears it often enough. It leaves us with the mandate and obligation to bear witness to the truth of the horror, so soon after, in a world where evil takes root so easily.
So soon after the Shoah, one would have thought the need to keep its memory alive would have been the least of concerns on the agenda, as opposed to putting energy into building a world in which people are conscious and mindful of the sacredness of life in general and human life in particular.
8 days later, May 9 (celebrated in grand style at CBI on May 15) the Jewish calendar turns from confronting the greatest evil in our history to celebrating the greatest good: the reemergence of the sovereign state of Israel, for the 3rd time in human history, as Israel turns 63.
Yet, even this celebration is marred by the reality that much of the world treats Israel in a special way, in denying it the same rights all other nations are granted, i.e. to protect itself from forces that would rejoice in its destruction.
Whatever your attitude may be about how Israel chooses to protect its existence, you owe your freedom to feel at ease and even safe as a Jew wherever you live to its existence. Had there been no rebirth of Israel after the Shoah, Jewish people everywhere would have felt isolated, helpless and hopeless about a condition that allowed the world to “turn from bad” and instead of doing good, ignoring our plight and letting others worry about our problem…with the reality that the only ones in any significant measure who cared were ourselves. And, don’t overlook one of the military truths that a critical reason the Germans lost the war was that they prioritized using trains to bring our people to their death over using them for troop movements that would have allowed them to fight more effectively as the tide turned against them. And had Germany won the war, don’t imagine for a moment the fate of American Jews would have been any different than that of our brethren in Europe.
These are lessons upon which Israel was built and bases upon which Israel makes its decisions in addressing complex situations with enemies yet dedicated to its destruction.
So the theme of turning from bad to good and making Shalom a pursuit is not only a philosophy for Jewish living and honoring our Covenant with U KNOW HU. It is also a reflection of the 20th-21st century condition of Jewish life, where in a span of 8 days we shift focus from having miraculously survived the destruction of the heart and soul of our people in Europe but a few short years ago to celebrating out of the ashes the coming to life of our people rebuilding a nation contributing to the wellness of the world, both with its technological capacities and its boundless commitment to doing good whenever and wherever it can, being among the first to bring aid to countries devastated by earthquakes, tsunamis and any other terrible events that happen.
Turning from bad to good is even part of the theme of Yom Ha-atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, in that the boundless rejoicing is ushered in the day before by a Day of Remembrance of all those who gave their lives that Israel might live, from the original War of Independence, in 1948 and including all the wars and battles waged throughout the 63 years of its existence.
May we learn the lessons of what has gone wrong in this world, and that we rededicate ourselves to doing good and celebrating all that is good: in our lives, in our world and in the ways we turn each day into blessings for all our dear ones.