Yom Hashoah & Shabbat Greetings – 5/5/2016
Rabbi Steinhardt's Shabbat Greetings

Yom Hashoah & Shabbat Greetings – 5/5/2016

You are receiving my letter today instead of tomorrow, and the reason is that it is Yom HaShoah. Tonight we will commemorate with a beautiful program and memorial.
This Shabbat, we read a parshah known by its first few words, Acharei Mot, which literally means “after the death.” The parshah picks up with the narrative of our people’s wanderings after the deaths of Aaron’s two sons. It speaks to the work of Aaron and the priests as responsible for the sacrifices of the people in their pursuit of forgiveness. After the deaths of his sons, Aaron’s response is silence. He can’t respond too soon in the face of a tragedy of this enormity. And then, after his silence, he goes back to work helping the people find forgiveness and move forward.
The Jewish people, and many in the world, think a lot about the Holocaust – and for good reasons. The enormity of the event, and the unspeakable tragedy that was experienced, makes it not only an event of historical proportions, but also an event that leaves many questions. How did it happen? What were the forces in the world that allowed for and enabled the Nazis to operate? And, of course, we ask: Where was the world? Where was Jewish leadership? What is our responsibility after the Shoah? And many more questions…
I will not pretend to begin to answer these questions, but this much I know: After this tragedy, we need to confront death and evil with the forces of life and goodness. As such, we have a few responsibilities.
The first is to the victims themselves. Our response of kaddish and lighting a candle is a response that says, in spite of everything, we believe in the holiness and sanctity of life. We remember not just a historical event, but we remember the lives that were lost. Six million lives – mothers and fathers; children and babies. And each life contains a spark of the Divine. Each life is hallowed. I encourage you to light a candle. Come to shul and recite the kaddish prayer. In spite of the depravity of some, we must always affirm life. Even in the darkness of “the shadow of death” we light a light.
The second response is to affirm Jewish life. We see vibrant Jewish communities and a Jewish nation that affirms life and works for a better future. We are the carriers of a torch that has given the world so much over the millennium. We must do our part to see that Jewish life remains alive and vibrant.
Third is that we know that the Holocaust has unique Jewish dimensions, but that it was also a human tragedy. We know that others have suffered in the past, and that there are many others who continue to suffer. Our suffering must lead us to be amongst those who protest, fight and work against the suffering of every human being. If we fail there, we dishonor the victims of the Shoah. The lives we live, the communities we build, and the State we support must reflect a people who know what powerlessness is like; know what it means to be oppressed; and know hunger and disenfranchisement. So often victims become victimizers, and we must fight against that.
Finally, there is the debt we owe and a responsibility to the survivors amongst us. Today they serve as living reminders; soon they will not be with us. We must let them know that we will continue to remember, to honor memory, and to work for a better Jewish world and a better world at large.
Please join us for our Yom HaShaoh commemoration tonight.
See you in shul.
I wish you all – in advance – Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Steinhardt