Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Behar-Bechukotai

In his D’var Torah this week, the Chief Rabbi explains how we remember the unknown victims of the Shoah.

More than one million names of Shoah victims are not known to us. I find this to be so heart-breaking. Entire families were wiped out and as a result, for so many victims of the Shoah, no one has ever said a Kaddish and no Yizkor has been recited for them.

I derive some Nechama, some consolation for this, from a statement in the Tochecha in Parashat Bechukotei, which we read this week. God gives us some hope. He tells us that the entire Jewish people will never be wiped out and he adds, Vezacharti Et Briti Yaakov Vezacharti, ‘And I will remember my covenant with Yaakov’, V’af Et Briti Yitzchak, ‘And also my covenant with Yitzchak’, V’af Et Briti Avraham Ezkor Veha’aretz Ezkor, ‘And I will also remember my covenant with Avraham and I will remember the Land’.

‘Entire families were wiped out and as a result, for so many victims of the Shoah, no one has ever said a Kaddish and no Yizkor has been recited for them’

Notice, that with regard to Yaakov, ‘Zechirah’, ‘remembrance’, is mentioned – Vezacharti Et Briti Yaakov, ‘I will remember my covenant with Yaakov’. With regard to Yitzchak, the term ‘Zechirah’ is not stated – V’af Et Briti Yitzchak, ‘And also my covenant with Yitzchak’. V’af Et Briti Avraham, but with regard to Avraham, like with Yaakov, ‘Ezkor’, ‘remembrance’, is stated.

So why is there no remembrance with regard to Yitzchak?

Rashi introduces us to the concept of Afaro Shel Yitzchak, ‘The ashes of Yitzchak’, Yitzchak nearly became a martyr on the Akedah and as a result, God always holds Yitzchak close to him. Yitzchak is always in My presence, says the Almighty, no remembrance is necessary for him.

And if that is the case for Yitzchak, who nearly became a martyr, then how much more so is it the case for those who tragically did become martyrs and who were transformed into ashes?

Of course we recite a collective Kaddish for all victims of the Shoah and yes, we recite prayers at Yizkor time for all those who perished. However, no Kaddish, no Yizkor is said for the specific names – those individuals, their souls exist with the Almighty always. He tells us that He doesn’t require that – they are in the highest celestial spheres of heaven. They are certainly amongst the holiest and the pure of our people.

‘We emerged from the greatest darkness that we have ever been plunged into, the Shoah, and within just 3 years we were blessed to celebrate the establishment of the State of Israel’

I derive further consolation from the last two words of this Passuk – Veha’aretz Ezkor, God tells us ‘I will remember the Land’ and isn’t that exactly what happened in the 1940’s? We emerged from the greatest darkness that we have ever been plunged into, the Shoah, and within just 3 years we were blessed to celebrate the establishment of the State of Israel and during this coming week, we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary, the Jubilee of the reunification of the city of Jerusalem during the 6-day war.

Through the merit of the 6 million victims of the Shoah, may God answer our prayer, Ufros Aleinu Sukkat Shelomecha, ‘To spread the tabernacle of His peace’ over the city of Jerusalem and all Israel, Mei’atah V’ad Olam, ‘Now and forever more’.

Shabbat Shalom