15 Apr 2021 Yom Ha’atzmaut/5 Iyar 5781
It has been a year of the Covid pandemic. Both in the USA and in Israel, it has been a year of many losses. A year of political unrest. A year of elections, fear, uncertainty, upheaval and pain. A year of courage, triumph, and ingenuity. It has been a year that none of us could have foreseen or imagined. And it is easy, after such a year, to forget that 5 Iyar, the date of the establishment of the State of Israel, is a date for reflection, commemoration, celebration and thanks. After 2,000 years of wandering, our people returned to our land.
In regard to the national rebirth of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, Ha’Rav Avraham Yitzchak ha’Kohen Kook zt’l (1865-1935), the first Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, wrote, “The great vision of our national rebirth is not the product of the deliberations of the human heart or the spirit of mortal man. This vision is the word of G-d. A ray of holy light of the G-d of Israel is revealed in all of our movements, great and small. The national movement dedicated to building the nation in the land of Israel is an openly Divine movement, created by the Holy One of Israel. It is destined to restore honor and dignity to G-d’s people, and renew their enlightening influence on the world and life in general” (Silver from the Land of Israel, p.173).
In his Holocaust memoirs (originally written in Yiddish), entitled “In Seven Camps in Three Years,” my maternal grandfather, Yitzchak ben Moshe a’h (whose first wife, 18 month old daughter Devorah, and extended family were all murdered, HY”D), wrote, “Reb Peretz Feder and I slept on one pallet and talked continually about the murderers that they were sent by G-d and their end is near. We suffer now so that Moshiach will come. Whoever will survive this hell will see a Jewish state.”
My grandfather’s daughter, Devorah HY”D, was one of six million Jews. And yet… We are a people who never gave up hope.
In his first speech to the Knesset, as newly elected Prime Minister (Begin was elected in May 1977), Menachem Begin spoke of the ongoing link between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. “It is the land that our ancestors loved, our only land. We cleaved to it for generations, we prayed for it and yearned for it. We loved it with all our hearts and with all our souls. We did not forget it for a single day as we wandered the Diaspora, and our sacred ancestors kept its name on their lips even as they were being dragged to their deaths by the murderous enemy” (Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel’s Soul, Daniel Gordis, p.141).
So says Hashem the L-d of hosts: עֹד יֵשְׁבוּ זְקֵנִים וּזְקֵנוֹת, בִּרְחֹבוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָם; וְאִישׁ מִשְׁעַנְתּוֹ בְּיָדוֹ, מֵרֹב יָמִים, once again old men and old women will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, every man with his staff in his hand, because of old age; וּרְחֹבוֹת הָעִיר יִמָּלְאוּ, יְלָדִים וִילָדוֹת, מְשַׂחֲקִים, בִּרְחֹבֹתֶיהָ, and the streets of the city will be filled with young boys and girls, playing in her streets (Zechariah 8:4-5
5 Iyar 5781; the seventy-third birthday of Medinat Yisrael. As 5 Iyar falls out on Shabbos, Yom Ha’atzmaut is a “nidcheh” celebration, to avoid mass Shabbos desecration in the State. Hence, Yom Ha’Zikaron is commemorated on Wednesday, April 14, followed by the celebrations of Yom Ha’atzmaut on Thursday, April 15.
It was a mere three years after the Shoah, when, on 5 Iyar/May 14, 1948, on the day in which the British Mandate over Palestine expired, the Jewish People’s Council gathered at the Tel Aviv Museum, and declared the establishment of the State of Israel.
The text of the Declaration of Independence begins and ends with the following words: “Eretz Yisrael was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books. After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom…
“PLACING OUR TRUST IN THE ROCK OF ISRAEL, WE AFFIX OUR SIGNATURES TO THIS PROCLAMATION AT THIS SESSION OF THE PROVISIONAL COUNCIL OF STATE, ON THE SOIL OF THE HOMELAND, IN THE CITY OF TEL-AVIV, ON THIS SABBATH EVE, THE 5TH DAY OF IYAR, 5708 (14TH MAY,1948).”
And yet, Rav Kook wonders, “Why should the fifth day of Iyar be chosen for celebrating this event? Perhaps a different date, such as the date of the cease-fire after the War of Independence, would be a more appropriate choice?
“While the military victory of a fledgling state over the armies of five enemy countries was certainly miraculous, that was not the greatest miracle of the establishment of the State of Israel. The true miracle was the remarkable courage displayed on the 5th of Iyar in making the fateful decision in the face of heavy pressure from the US State Dept. not to declare a state, and belligerent threats of the surrounding Arab countries to attack and destroy the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael, was by no means a trivial matter. The motion to declare a state passed by only a thin majority in Ben-Gurion’s cabinet.
“This courageous decision was the true miracle of Yom Ha’atzmaut. The Talmud in Bava Metzia (106a) states that a shepherd’s rescue of his flock from a lion or a bear may be considered a miracle. Where exactly is the miracle in this act? The Tosafists explained that the miracle is to be found in the shepherd’s ‘spirit of courage and willingness to fight.’ This spirit of valor is a miracle from above, an inspired inner greatness spurring one to rise to the needs of the hour.
“This is the significance of Yechezkel’s prophetic description of the redemption: וְנָתַתִּי רוּחִי בָכֶם וִחְיִיתֶם, וְהִנַּחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם עַל אַדְמַתְכֶם; וִידַעְתֶּם כִּי אֲנִי ה’ דִּבַּרְתִּי וְעָשִׂיתִי נְאֻם ה – And I will place My spirit in you and you shall live, and I will set you upon your land, and you will know that I Hashem, have spoken and done it, says Hashem (Yechezkel 37:14)” (Silver from the Land of Israel, p.192-193).
May we merit to see the ultimate, complete and final redemption, with the ingathering of the exiles, and sovereignty and everlasting peace, for our people and our Land. כִּי מִצִּיּוֹן תֵּצֵא תוֹרָה וּדְבַר ה’ מִירוּשָׁלִָם (Yeshayahu 2:3).
בברכת חג עצמאות שמח ושבת שלום,