This week, in Australia and in Israel, we observe two significant events for honour and remembrance, both on the 25th of April. In Australia, we offer our annual memorial service for the ANZACs – members of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps who fought together valiantly during the First World War. Dawn services and ceremonies throughout the nation provide opportunity for reflection and solemn commemoration.
In Israel, the 25th of April coincides with the 3rd of Iyar, which this year is acknowledged as Yom Ha-Zikaron, (Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day). Usually observed on the 4th of Iyar, remembrance occurs one day earlier this year, so that the celebrations of Yom Ha-Atzmaut (Independence Day) do not fall on a Friday, in advance of Shabbat. Yom Ha-Zikaron is a time for mourning and introspection. Sirens are heard throughout the country at 8:00 pm and again at 11:00 am the following morning; during which Israelis stop everything and stand in silence, showing respect for those who have died. Memorial services and gatherings for remembrance are held throughout the country, with official ceremonies taking place at the Western Wall.
Our Torah readings this week, however, make no mention of memorial. We read two selections, Parashat Tazria and Parashat Metzora, which offer us perspectives on the ancient laws of ritual purity and impurity. We learn of the process through which the priests would identify skin diseases, afflictions and plagues that strike houses, and learn about particular bodily discharges that would render a person “impure” and require them to undergo a process of ritual cleansing in order to reenter the community.
What might be the connection between our parashiot and our days of remembrance? Though the Torah is quite detailed in its presentation of afflictions and discharges, tears are never mentioned. Tears do not render a person ritually impure.
Sometimes the greatest secrets are revealed when we uncover a concept that is absent from our text. Not holding the same scientific knowledge we possess today, our ancestors wanted to distance themselves from bodily discharges or diseases of any kind. But tears – salty, wet, cathartic tears – are not considered among this list of discharges.
Might the words of Torah be encouraging us to cry, allowing us the space with which to acknowledge our emotions? We pause and we reflect on ANZAC Day and on Yom Ha-Zikaron because we need to – as Australians, as Israelis, as human beings. Emotion is human, and emotion cannot be real when it is expressed in a perfunctory way, forced, or contained. We need opportunities to mourn, to feel sadness, to grieve, to memorialize. Jewish tradition is brilliant in teaching that amidst our loss, we do not move towards closure; we do not “get over it.” Rather, every year, we memorialize. At the end of every festival, we say Yizkor, to demonstrate that we integrate our losses, a very real part of our existence, into the larger fabric of our lives.
Sometimes we do best homage to our dead, by honouring their memory with true emotion, with integrity, and with dignity. Torah reminds us that crying is an opportunity for purifying, clarifying, and even strengthening ourselves and our communities.
About the author:
Rabbi Paul Jacobson serves Emanuel Synagogue in Sydney, Australia.
The above formerly appeared as #112 in the Torah from Around the World series.