In Israel, the day prior to Independence Day (Yom HaAtzma’ut) is Remembrance Day (Yom HaZicharon). As with all holidays in Israel, both these days are reckoned by the Jewish calendar. This year we commemorated these two important days on April 15th and 16th. Sixteen years ago I attended my first Yom HaZicharon ceremony in Israel. Our neighbors had invited my wife and I to attend the local ceremony in our town. Together we walked the short distance to Kiryat Chaim’s Memorial Plaza and found a spot to stand close to the cenotaph. Dignitaries made welcoming speeches, the Rabbi sung a prayer and at 8:00PM the siren wailed mournfully for one minute. Shortly thereafter the official ceremony began. A screen next to the cenotaph flashed up a grainy image of a young man from over 60 years ago and the emcee somberly read out the fallen soldier’s name. Thus began the long list of names read out and the corresponding images of young soldiers on the screen scrolling on through the evening. With every passing name every passing year was noted; 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952 … Kiryat Chaim is a town of approximately 50,000 people, not large by any standards but the list of names kept rolling; 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967 … the names covered almost every year from 1948 on.
Around the country in small communities and large cities the names will be read and the years will be counted. Every community has lost sons and daughters, every generation from statehood to the present has been represented. In Israel’s short seventy-three year history she has fought seven wars, but the truth is, war in Israel began before 1948 and has continued on almost unabated ever since. It is a sad dimension of this country that war weighs heavy on our collective memory and culture. We are either in a war, in the aftermath of a war or anticipating a war. It is an undercurrent that pervades the nation and unconsciously influences every Israeli. Grandparents that fought in wars and then worried about their children now worry about grandchildren. For most people around the world “peace in the Middle East” has become a far off dream – very few are optimistic that we will see the longstanding conflicts resolved in our lifetime.
A Prayer From Someone Who Knows
One Shabbat I enjoyed lunch with a group of friends that included a dear 82 year old lady, herself a soldier in the War of Independence. Just as the traditional blessings over the bread and wine were concluded, this veteran who had seen so much war in her lifetime quickly added “and may God grant us peace and peace for our neighbors and for the whole world.” Those who know about war first hand are the ones who desperately hope that wars will cease. Indeed, peace is the dream of all Israel. We say “hello” and “goodbye” with shalom, our priestly benediction, the prayer Adonai promises will put His name upon Israel concludes, “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:26).
Yet war has always been our reality. The scriptures tell us, “The Lord has sworn: the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:16). Again and again, Amalek has risen up to threaten the Jewish people and war on one level or another has ensued. No-one should think this is some sort of cosmic grudge. There will be war with Amalek because until he is dealt with once and for all, Amalek (and the spiritual forces he represents) will always violently oppose the Jewish people. Israel serves as a geopolitical, historical reminder to the whole world that Creator God is the God of Israel. In a very real sense, Israel’s wars reflect the spiritual conflict being fought in the heavenly realms. This is not to say that there is perfect correspondence between God’s will in heaven and Israel’s behavior on earth – far from it. But the establishment and maintenance of the state is a testimony to the faithfulness of the God of Israel to keep His covenant promises. The inexorable hatred against Israel finds its root in the shaking fist of those who rage against the Lord and His Messiah, “Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us” (Psalm 2:3). The spiritual forces that oppose the Lord and His Messiah oppose Israel because the nation of Israel is a testimony to the God of Israel’s political Lordship over the planet.
Yeshua told us not to be misled, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). War is a feature of spiritual life. From the beginning there has been an enemy whose intent has been to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). We need to be on our guard because even if we are not looking for a fight, the fight will come to us. Just as Israel remains in a constant state of war, so too the spiritual battle requires constant vigilance. Our battle is not against “flesh and blood” but it is a real battle.
A Profound irony
We cannot escape conflict; we have no choice but to participate in a war. But the Lord does not leave us defenseless, in fact, “He teaches my hands to war” (Psalm 18:34). He has equipped us with spiritual weapons for warfare that are “mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” (II Corinthians 10:4,5). Our warfare carries on until the day when Yeshua returns. He will do so as one who “makes war” and heaven’s armies will follow Him (Revelation 19:11,14).
There is a profound irony here. Yeshua is the Prince of Peace yet He returns as one who makes war. As sons and daughters of God we too place an extremely high value on peace and peacemaking. The spiritual conflict in the heavenly realms is an indication of the deep imbalance and suffering that sin has inflicted on all of humanity. To vanquish the forces that inflict this suffering, Yeshua will return again to make war against them. But the prophetic hope is not one of final conquest but of peace. We all look forward to the day when “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4). We fight but we groan, longing for that day when the whole creation is “delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). In other words, we groan with longing until the day there finally is peace. This hope is bound up with the destiny of the Jewish people. Whatever our people know or do not know about Yeshua’s redemption, they do understand that the final redemption of the world means peace for all. The Jews throughout the centuries have been praying that this will be so. On Yom HaZicharon we are faced with the stark reminder that that day has not yet come.
A Time to Mourn and a Time to Dance
Before we celebrate our Independence Day with rejoicing, we mourn all those who have fallen on Yom HaZicharon. Mourning always carries the hope and sure destiny of the peace to come. On Yom HaZicharon Jews all over the world will gather in synagogues to chant the Kaddish for those who have fallen. The Mourners’ Kaddish is not a woeful lament such as David sang over Jonathan and Saul. It is not a dirge extolling the virtues of the “mighty who have fallen.” The Mourners’ Kaddish is an affirmation of life and a sure hope in the One who will make peace. On Yom HaZicharon may we all join in that prayer and sing:
He who makes peace in His High heavens,
May He make peace for us
And for all Israel
And say ye, Amen!