My friends, today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. If you are on social media, you may very well encounter lots of posts reflective of this day. That being said, Holocaust Remembrance Day is not a day designated specifically for Jews. For that we have Yom HaShoah, which is coming up this April.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day was officially designated by the UN General Assembly on January 24, 2005. The reason for the selection of January 27th as the day was because that was the day the Red Army liberated the Concentration Camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945.
Tonight at services we will be talking about why it is important for the world to remember the horrors and atrocities of the Holocaust. But we will also be talking about how we cannot simply define our modern Jewish experience only through the lens of the Holocaust.
In this week’s Torah portion, Va’eira, Moses and Aaron appear before Pharaoh for the first time to appeal on behalf of all of the Israelites. When Pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites go, Egypt is beset by the first six plagues of blood, frogs, lice, pestilence, boils, and hail. Each time there were reasons why Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites leave.
Initially Moses asked that the Israelites simply be allowed to leave for three days to go and worship God. Of course, this demand changed over time as Pharaoh’s position became more hardened. What Moses was really asking for was for the people to be free to leave Egypt to create a new nation with a new vision.
We are the inheritors of this tradition. As Jews it is our obligation to continue to create new visions, new ideals, and new opportunities for ourselves. Yes, we do have a long and tragic past, but our past should not define us. It helps us understand who we are, but not necessarily what we can become.
So on this day as the world should be compelled to remember what happens when one people hates another, we are reminded of the joys and celebrations our tradition affords us.
May your Shabbat be one of peace, reflection, celebration, and be a chance to move beyond memory towards sacred engagement.
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff