When the Knesset, the governing body of Israel designated the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan as a day to commemorate the unfathomable cruelty that was the Holocaust, they chose the date to coincide with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
While most of our images of the Shoah, the Holocaust, are those of victims and their relentless tormentors, the uprising in Warsaw 70 years ago, doomed as it was, points to the strength and bravery of those who had the opportunity to muster resistance, whether with arms or with wits, or with stubborn refusal to succumb. These seeds are part of what has been planted in the modern state of Israel and the vigilant Jewish community that lives by the watchword "Never Again." It was in part for this reason that the full name given to this day is Yom HaZikkaron L'Shoah ul'Gevurah -- The Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and of the Heroism.
Gevurah, while it can mean heroism, is an even deeper word in the Jewish tradition. Gevurah is the name of one of the sefirot the elements of G*d that frame the different aspects of the universe as we experience it and at its most profound inner meanings. In this way gevurah is the opposite of hesed, which means loving kindness and generosity. At its best, gevurah is manifest as justice. However, gevurah also takes on the connotation of harshness, of the travails which defy any explanation.
The Holocaust was years of such gevurah as well -- times brought about by the opposite of hesed, by malice and treatment of human beings with clinical cruelty for the purpose of demeaning, debasing and destroying. How do we face such a legacy?
This weekend that ended with this sacred and devastating day began with a different anniversary, the 45th year since the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While Dr. King fell after spending a lifetime facing down hatred he famously proclaimed "Darkness will never drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hatred will never drive out hatred, only love can do that."
Ever vigilant after the night of total darkness, we can add that the dawn can not begin until gevurah is overcome by hesed -- until the world is ruled by acts of compassion and lovingkindness. So may it be.