‘Seventy-five years ago today, Britain erupted in euphoria as Victory in Europe was declared. Now the country is back on a war footing, battling the shared enemy of coronavirus. Earlier this year, in an increasingly distant pre-Covid age, plans were announced to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day. There was to be a parade of veterans past Buckingham Palace organised by the Royal British Legion, packed pubs allowed to extend their opening hours long into the night, street parties under streams of fluttering bunting and Winston Churchill’s victorious speech declaring triumph in Europe broadcast in towns and cities across the country. But all that was before a new enemy entered our midst. Instead, this Friday, as with every day for the past six weeks of lockdown, those same streets which 75 years ago thronged with revellers will be deserted. Trafalgar Square and Whitehall, where the Queen and Princess Margaret sneaked out to celebrate with the joyous throng, will be left to the ghosts of a distant past as Britain once more finds itself on a war footing, with no clear end in sight. (Daily Telegraph 8/5/20)
Today was meant to be a momentous day for other reasons. This morning, twenty or so of our educators from Israel, as part of the Weekend of Inspiration, would have been speaking at breakfasts all across the community before the almost thirty educators would have visited close to fifty communities over Shabbat engaging thousands of people.
Today I should have been racing around visiting communities for breakfast and then had a lunch with all the educators in Hendon and then made sure all speakers got off to their communities whether in London, Leeds or Manchester. All of this before getting ready for the Day of Inspiration on Sunday at Kinloss and Stenecourt.
Instead – the speakers have recorded short messages to send out to the communities they were supposed to be going to.
Today is also Pesach Sheni, a day in which those who were unable to bring the Korban Pesach at the scheduled time due to being impure, would be allowed to bring it one month later. What is fascinating about this halacha is that it was not commanded by Hashem initially. It was only when the people complained that they were missing out that Hashem told the halacha to Moshe.
‘There were men who were ritually unclean [because of contact with] a dead person, and therefore could not make the Korban Pesach on that day. So they approached Moses and Aaron on that day. Those men said to him, “We are ritually unclean [because of contact] with a dead person; [but] why should we be excluded so as not to bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed time, with all the children of Israel? Moses said to them, “Wait, and I will hear what the Lord instructs concerning you.” The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the children of Israel saying, Any person who becomes unclean from [contact with] the dead, or is on a distant journey, whether among you or in future generations, he shall make a Passover sacrifice for the Lord. In the second month, on the fourteenth day, in the afternoon, they shall make it’ (Bamidbar 9:6-11)
What is the link between all of these things – VE Day, Corona, The Weekend of Inspiration and Pesach Sheni?
One thing – desire.
When we look back at the heroes and heroines of World War 2, those who fought either on the front lines or supported the war effort back home – there was a tremendous sense of a desire to win the war and defeat the Nazi menace. People realised with every breath of their being what a Nazi victory would mean to the British way of life and to the freedoms we hold so dear. This was a war they could not afford to lose, the joy at VE day was the realisation that all that effort, all that commitment had been worth it – the desire had given way to victory and euphoria.
Today, with the pandemic, we also need that sense of desire, but in a very different way. We need the desire to beat the virus by remaining vigilant. Once again we have those on the front line in our hospitals, our brave nurses and doctors and we have the rest of us contributing to the war effort by making sure we don’t take unnecessary risks even as we have to gradually begin a return to ‘normality.’
Pesach Sheni was created by a desire for connection to Hashem and the mitzvah and a sense of injustice – ‘why should we miss out from this mitzvah if we were unable to participate’. You can sense the pain in the people, they want to fulfil the mitzvah and Hashem rewards their desire with the mitzvah of Korban Pesach. It is as if He was waiting to hear that people would feel that they had missed out, before He would announce Pesach Sheni.
And finally onto the Weekend of Inspiration. We always hold the weekend in between Yom Ha Atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim- two of the greatest days in the modern Jewish calendar.
If we trace Yerushalayim’s history, we will understand that it too can only be acquired with a desire. As the Torah says ‘But only to the place which the Lord your God shall choose from all your tribes, to set His Name there; you shall seek out after His dwelling and come there. (Devarim 12:5)
The Jewish people have had that ‘Drisha’ that sense of loss and longing for Yerushalayim and the rebirth in the last almost 53 years has been monumental. The thrust of the weekend is to bring Yerusalayim and Tzion to the UK for one weekend – Ki Mitzion Teitzei Torah – u dvar Hashem M’Yerushalayim. From Zion shall come forth Torah and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem – and I hope this weekend that there is a sense of loss and upset that we cannot hear and spend time with these inspirational people. However, I also hope that the desire is still there, to connect, to be inspired, to be committed.
For the Jewish people VE day meant something else. It was the beginning of the realisation of the true horror that had befallen our people. 75 years on, despite our current lockdown we can still on VE day give thanks to Hashem for where we as a nation have journeyed since those dark days – we had the desire, we had the passion and we had the commitment.
And three years and 6 days later after VE day we, the Jewish people celebrated RH day with euphoria after a struggle that had lasted thousands of years.