Community Torah Corner, April 29, 2022

Rabbi Simeon Cohen
Temple Beth Shalom
Livingston, NJ
Parashat Achrei Mot

One of my favorite works of architecture is the “new” Yad Vashem building, which houses the famous Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. Designed by renowned Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, the Yad Vashem building is simply a long corridor of reinforced concrete. As you enter the corridor, you are shrouded in darkness, representing the darkness that engulfed the Jewish people at the outset of the Shoah. But as you walk down the hallway and progress through the timeline of the Holocaust, the museum gets brighter and brighter until you finally emerge to take in a breathtaking panoramic view of the Jerusalem Forest. 

The Yad Vashem building is a beautiful physical expression of not only the trajectory of the Holocaust, but the entire thrust of Jewish history. We are always moving from choshech to or, from darkness to light. And no week on the Jewish calendar captures that idea more powerfully than this week. Yesterday, we observed Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, and this coming Wednesday and Thursday, we will observe Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day. These days are Israel’s civil “high holidays;” each year, during the days between Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’atzmaut, we relive what it means to go from victims to victors, from destruction to rebirth, from sorrow to celebration. 

When we recite havdalah at the end of Shabbat, we bless God for distinguishing between light and darkness, HaMavdil Bein Or l’Choesh. But when we recite the special havdalah liturgy that separates Yom HaZikaron from Yom Ha’atzmaut, we flip that blessing on its head. We bless God not for separating light from darkness, but rather for separating darkness from light, HaMavdil Bein’ Chosech l’Or. As we finally emerge from the darkness of the pandemic, let us pray that God will continue to lead us from choshech to or, from darkness to light, from sorrow to celebration. Amen.