Yom HaShoah: The Past Obligates, the Future Liberates

Morah Yehudis Fishman
Morah Yehudis Fishman

We come here today collectively as one organic whole, and yet each of us is individually irreplaceable.

This is the paradox to which we need to cling for dear life; this is the impossibility that has kept our people simultaneously mourning our dead and celebrating our lives; this is the enigma that lifts us above all contradictions and connects us to, whatever we call him, her, or it — the ultimate Source of all being.

If your brain and body hold a memory that has become lost to your mind and heart, do you say the memory has vanished? If your children and children’s children continue to carry the inhalations of those who expired by horrific annihilation, are those lives really obliterated? Can the horror of those who did not survive wipe out the miraculous existence of those who endured beyond all odds?

Some look back and ask — Maduah, why; some look ahead and ask — L’mah, for what. To be here now is to look both ways as we stride the uncertain bridge from the past to the future. The bridge may be unknown or terrifying, but movement is essential. The past obligates, the future liberates. We cannot afford to forget, but we can also not forget to surge forward.  As, I think, the Bielski brothers put it, “Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage.”

If memory is the thing with feathers, where shall those wings transport us? Our yesterdays and our tomorrows are the pixels in the paintings of today. Let us tenderly brush stroke the blank canvas before us with a landscape of such depth and richness of color and shape, that the shoulders that bear us, and the fledglings that are born upon us, shall not be disappointed.

Rather they shall find meaning and hope in the faintest glimmer of a new dawn, a morning where though the nightmares and torments of yesterday threaten to flood us, a fountain of new possibility shall arise from the ashes, ashes of what was to mix with a wondrous, healing elixir lying dormant in the soil of possibility.

Thomas Cahill pointed out that Jews gave the world a sense of purpose, of a future that is more magnificent than anyone can even imagine. Or like the repeated quote in Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright, it’s not the end.”

We here today, in the words of Reb Simcha Bunim, are indeed the people of two pockets — but we not only have in one pocket a paper that says, “I am but dust and ashes,” we carry in our pockets and genes the actual dust and ashes of our predecessors. However, we also have words that are burning holes in the other pocket, the words of “for my sake the world was created.”

And perhaps we could also say, “For the sake of the world — a kinder, more peaceful and united world — I was created.”

With those words we can build that brighter future, with both tears and joy — with all our yesterdays and tomorrows. As we sing at each Shabbat meal, in gratitude for all that we do have in the present, and all that which was, has given us, and all the promise of the not yet here: “Those who sow with tears, will reap with joy.”

About Morah Yehudis Fishman

I have been teaching Torah and Chassidic writings for over forty years to students of all ages and backgrounds, both on the East Coast and the Midwest. I have been a director of several Jewish organizations in Santa Fe and Colorado. My articles and poetry on a wide variety of Jewish topics have been printed in many publications, and also are available online.

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One comment

  1. i was so uplifted by this poetic and accurate description of our people and our at times tragic history; and yet ending on our eternal upward path towards peace and happiness.