A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Pesach and Yom Ha-Shoah

Since Eliav’s first chirping cry announcing his arrival, the cosmos of my experience have undergone a Copernican shift. Before, the sun, planets and stars of self, family, work and friends spun in a happily balanced orbit. Now the son is at the center - Channah and I circle around in frantic rotation, changing diapers, searching for misplaced binkies, swaddling, taking late night carseat drives in search of sleep, and all the rest.

This reorientation has affected my thinking about serious issues. I write this a few weeks before Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha-Zikaron. For all of the Jewish talk about memory, I have never appreciated its seriousness until now. When Eliav is my age, the liberation of the camps will be more than 100 years in the past – as distant as we are now from the production of the first Model-T Ford. What meaning will the Shoah have for our children and grandchildren when their own elders were born a generation after it, and likely never met a survivor?

The devastation of the Shoah, on a scale unknown before or since, calls all life into question: what meaning can life have if such suffering is possible? In a shattering passage in Night, Elie Wiesel recalls that the sight of a young boy hanging on the camp gallows led someone to call out, “Where is God now?” Another answers “Here he is – he is hanging here on the gallows.”

In reflecting upon the meaning of Pesach, the Chasidic master Levi Yitzchak of Birditchev wrote of the Talmudic disagreement concerning the world’s creation: was it in the month of Tishrei, at Rosh HaShanah, or in Nisan, the month of the Exodus? He answers: the world was created in Tishrei – but it had no meaning for humanity until Nisan, when the whole world could see suffering redeemed and human life elevated. Pesach reminds us of this possibility. Yet the seder is diminished if it merely leads us to look back. The message of that past must become alive in the present.

So, too, with the Shoah. Our distance from it is a danger only if we limit its meaning to the past. We make meaning out of the unimaginable suffering – and honor those among us who lived through it – when memory changes us, and so changes the world. The Shoah must change how we view ourselves and our responsibilities in 2008, and make us into the kind of people for whom “Never Again” is not a timid wish but a determined assertion of moral courage that guides our treatment of all peoples.

Elie Wiesel’s book is framed by a father-son relationship upended by the Shoah. In our day, one generation expresses its obligation to the past and to the next generation by remembering not only with words but with deeds, and in so doing ensures the endurance of memory. Wiesel’s book is called Night, a word that summons up images of darkness. But for the Jewish people, each new day begins at night, reminding us that every period of darkness might give birth to new light, each curse might lead to blessing. We accept our obligation to let our memories be that blessing.


  1. Beautifully stated. Being a father does seem to sharpen and intensify life itself.

    Time is a curious thing. In our tradition, we are constantly remembering and re-embracing the huge span of history. We relive the exodus each year. Each year we receive the torah anew. And similarly, each year we remember the horrors of history. Just as the victims of the Shoah will forever be with us, so will the ancient martyrs. Time erases nothing.

    I like to think of time in the manner of Talmud ... a continuous conversation with all times and peoples present at once. It is only in this context of nonlinear time that I can see something other than injustice in the world. All, good and bad, are everlasting.

  2. Comment about Moepackman’s comment about Rabbi Josh’s article “Pesach and Yom Ha-Shoah”
    Moepackman said that in the context of non-linear time he sees something other than the injustice of the world. The injustice remains in this part of the Universe where time goes relatively fast, but Moepackman seems to see into the upper reaches of Heaven (outer part of this Universe) where time goes much slower and where life is filled with kindness, justice and brotherhood as we approach the Holiness of the Lord.
    Moepackman is right about all good and bad being everlasting, but that is only in the memory of the Lord God Almighty of Israel. To His Creation that becomes immortal, these people and creatures will experience only good and there will be no more evil in the reality of the present that immortals will then experience.
    I thank the Lord God Almighty of Israel for enlightening a lowly creature like me and allowing me to express it