Last week a friend gave me a book, written by his father, detailing his harrowing experiences during the Holocaust. His story is truly remarkable. He was a Polish Jew, and was part of the famous prisoner uprising and escape from the Sobibór death camp in Poland in 1943.

I read the book over the course of the week, and the hair raising stories left me with a sense of awe and indebtedness to the Jews of previous generations. They gave so much and went through such unimaginable hardships, yet they didn't give up. It is thanks to their commitment to life and the Jewish people that we are here today.

On Tuesday, one of several days of fasting on the Jewish calendar, we commemorated the date when the Roman legions breached the walls of Jerusalem after a two year siege nearly two thousand years ago. Millions of Jews lost their lives during that war. The Romans considered their war against, and eventual conquest of the Jews in the Land of Israel (then known as Judea) as one of their crowning achievements. They minted coins to commemorate the occasion with the words 'Judea Capta', and erected the Arch of Titus in the Roman forum depicting Roman troops carrying the Menorah away from the Temple in Jerusalem.


Every year since, Jewish people the world over stop and remember these events, as we did on Tuesday. In addition to paying our respects and preserving the memory of those who gave their all so we could be here today, there is another reason why we remember:

In Jewish tradition there is nothing more important or sacred than life. The means through which God endows every individual with life is by giving him or her a soul. The word for soul in Hebrew is 'Neshama', rooted in the Hebrew word 'Neshima', which means breath. 

Why is the idea of life synonymous with breathing? We obviously need to breathe to live, but why is breathing more symbolic of life than, say, the heart beating?

What is life? Life is eternal and life is spiritual. The idea of life on earth is connecting that spiritual life-source with the physical body. That symbiotic relationship between body and soul is the essence of life - and is most visible in breathing.

Every breath consists of breathing in, i.e. drawing the soul into the body, and breathing out, i.e. reconnecting with the soul again in order to draw its life in in the next breath. Breathing out represents the eternal life of the soul, while breathing in represents taking that life and using it to act. Breathing is using the soul's power of life in order to make a difference in our world.

While the soul continues to live on even after one passes on, it exists in a continuous, uninterrupted manner. Unlike when we breath life into our bodies, the soul is in a steady reality of life. Yes the soul lives, but its life is not drawn into action as when it was alive on earth. The soul lives, but it cannot 'breathe'.

When we remember those millions of Jews who gave their all, from Roman times to the Holocaust, we remember them so we can 'breathe in' for them. We remember them so we can draw inspiration from them to continue living proudly as Jews and make the world a better place, one smile at a time, one Mitzvah at a time. We remember them so we can breathe for them.

Life is not just about being alive. It's about what we do. With that attitude it is much easier to focus, appreciate every moment and make the best of it. As Earl Nightingale said, 'Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don't wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how really precious is the time you have to spend, whether it's at work or with your family. Every minute should be enjoyed and savored.'

Rabbi Avrohom