Yom HaAtzmaut: Our Bar Mitzvah

A Torah commandment for every generation.

Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen,

Judaism  Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen
Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen
There is confusion among many people today concerning the true significance of Israel's Independence Day. Even within Israel, many opinions exist.

A considerable portion of the Jewish Nation relates to the festival as no different from Gentile holidays that
A considerable portion of the Jewish Nation relates to the festival as no different from Gentile holidays.
commemorate the achievement of national independence. These people celebrate the founding of the Jewish state as if Israel were no more than another flag at the United Nations. They rejoice in the holiday and when it ends, they return to their private lives as if nothing of substance had occurred.

There are others, albeit few, who view the State of Israel as a destructive entity that exists as a negation of Torah observance in order to create a "new Jew" that would be a great nationalist without adhering to G-d's Law. This group views the Jewish state as an historic tragedy and treats Yom HaAtzmaut as a day of mourning. The most fanatic among this camp equate Zionism with the forces of evil in the world and can often be seen marching with Israel's enemies at demonstrations (ostensibly in the name of Torah).

There is another group, however, who take the opposite approach. They understand the modern State of Israel to be the handiwork of HaShem and an early stage in the development of universal Redemption - a process that unfolds through a series of natural events within history. This group ecstatically commemorates Yom HaAtzmaut as a sacred day possessing the same religious significance as other festivals on the Hebrew calendar.

But the great majority of the English-speaking Torah world expresses uncertainty on this issue and finds it safer to ignore the state and festival rather than accept it as good or condemn it as evil. They simply go about their business on Yom HaAtzmaut as if it were no different from any other day.

In order to fully appreciate the true significance of Yom HaAtzmaut, one must clarify what the day is meant to commemorate and what this connotes according to Torah Law.

One of the major reasons for the celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut is to commemorate the establishment of renewed Hebrew sovereignty in the Land of Israel following a long and bitter exile from our soil. Yom HaAtzmaut celebrates the liberation of Eretz Yisrael from British occupation and the implementation of a Jewish political entity to govern it.

In his supplement to the Rambam's Sefer HaMitzvot, the Ramban teaches that it is a Torah commandment for every generation that the Nation of Israel take control of and settle the entire Land of Israel:

"This is what our sages call Milchemet Mitzvah... And do not err and say that this precept is the commandment to vanquish the seven nations.... This is not so.... This land is not to be left in their hands, or in the hands of any nation, in any generation whatsoever.... Behold we are commanded with conquest in every generation.... If so this is a positive commandment, which applies in every time... And the proof that this is a commandment is this: 'They were told to go up in the matter of the Spies: Go up and conquer as HaShem has said to you. Do not fear, and do not be discouraged.' And it further says: 'And when HaShem sent you from Kadesh Barnea saying, Go up and
Yom HaAtzmaut is to commemorate the establishment of renewed Hebrew sovereignty in the Land of Israel.
possess the land which I have given you.' And when they did not go up, the Torah says: 'And you rebelled against the Word of G-d, and you did not listen to this command.'" ("Positive Commandment 4" of the Ramban's supplement to the Rambam's Sefer HaMitzvot)

The Ramban states irrefutably that the conquest and settlement of Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah for Israel in every generation and that we are forbidden from allowing any part of our country to fall into, or remain under, Gentile control. The Shulchan Aruch states conclusively that all of the arbitrators of Torah Law (Rishonim and Achronim) agree with the Ramban concerning this issue: "All of the poskim, both Rishonim and Achronim, decide the Law in this fashion on the basis of the Ramban." (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer section 75, Pitchei Tshuva 6)

The Nation of Israel is eternally commanded by G-d to conquer and implement sovereignty over the Land of Israel. Yom HaAtzmaut commemorates the fifth day of Iyar 5708, when Israel fulfilled this great mitzvah for the first time in nearly two thousand years by establishing Hebrew rule over Eretz Yisrael. Just as a young man celebrates becoming a Bar Mitzvah because it is his first opportunity to fulfill Torah commandments (from obligation rather than volunteerism), we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut as our first opportunity to carry out the Divine directive of Jewish sovereignty over our country. It is our collective Bar Mitzvah, signifying the Jewish people's national renaissance.

Aside from renewing the mitzvah of sovereignty, there is another essential reason to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut - the mitzvah to thank G-d for the miracles He performs. This was the basis for sanctifying Chanukah and Purim. After the British were driven from our borders and the State of Israel was declared, seven Arab states immediately waged war in an attempt to annihilate the Jewish people. Armed and trained by British officers, the Arabs attacked with tremendous force. Israel, on the other hand, had a small and unskilled army with virtually no ammunition or supplies. The entire world expected Israel's destruction and no nation attempted to intervene in our defense. The Hebrew Nation was in great peril, but refused to surrender. As Israel demonstrated tenacious heroism in the face of impossible odds, HaShem marched out to war with us and triumphed over seven Arab armies.

Throughout the exile, scattered Jewish communities have had the authority to establish what is called a Purim Katan - a sacred day of thanksgiving meant to express gratitude to G-d for saving a community from danger. Since Yom HaAtzmaut is a day on which a miracle occurred for the entire Jewish Nation, it is a Torah precept to ordain a public festival for commemoration of HaShem's kindness towards His chosen people. Israel's Chief Rabbinate ruled that it is an obligation to say Hallel on this day in order to remember the miracles that G-d performed for Israel during our War of Independence.

But if the Law is so obvious, why would so many great Torah scholars appear to be so unsure about - or vehemently opposed to - the State of Israel and the celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut? The Gaon of Vilna answers this question in Kol HaTor (his teachings on the Redemption process):

"The sin of the spies... hovers over the Nation of Israel in every generation.... How strong is the power of the Sitra Achra that it succeeds in hiding from the eyes of our holy fathers the dangers of the klipot; from the eyes of Avraham our father, the klipah of exile... and in the time of the Mashiach, the Sitra Achra attacks the guardians of Torah with blinders.... Many of the sinners in this great sin of, 'They despised the cherished Land,' and also many of the guardians of Torah, will not know or understand that they are caught in the sin of the spies, that they have been sucked into the sin of the spies in many false ideas and empty claims, and they cover their ideas with the
If the Law is so obvious, why would so many great Torah scholars appear to be so unsure?
already proven fallacy that the mitzvah of the settlement of Israel no longer applies in our day, an opinion which has already been disproved by the giants of the world, the Rishonim and Achronim." (Kol HaTor, chapter 5)

The most amazing miracle of Yom HaAtzmaut is perhaps the foundation for all of the others. After so many centuries of persecution in the exile, HaShem placed a new spirit of valor within Israel. For the first time since the defeat of Bar Kochva's revolt against Rome, a courageous generation of heroes arose to raise high the banner of freedom and expel the British oppressor. More astonishing is that G-d strengthened the hearts of Israel's political leaders so that they were able to declare the establishment of a sovereign state in the face of so much Gentile aggression.

And today, while Israel is reasonably aware of our military potential, we should pray that G-d again strengthen Israel's leadership so that the Redemption may continue in a swift and painless fashion.

Yom HaAtzmaut is the most important event to take place for mankind in nearly two thousand years. It was on this day that G-d returned the Israeli Nation to sovereignty over our country; and it is this sovereignty that will lead the world to unparalleled goodness and universal harmony. It is the goal of Creation that G-d's great Name be sanctified through Israel before all of existence. The Maharal of Prague teaches, in Netzach Yisrael, that in order for Am Yisrael to bring history's goal to fruition, we must first be united and independent on our soil. Only then, as a major world power that lives a life of national holiness, can Israel reveal the majesty of HaShem in every sphere of life. Only by establishing the Kingdom of Israel - G-d's throne in this world - in the whole of our borders, can we bring mankind towards universal blessing through illuminating the world with the light of Torah.

While the current State of Israel has not yet reached the greatness for which it is destined, it must be recognized that the physical vessel is once again in our world and will grow to contain the exalted spirit of Torah. After so many centuries as a ghost walking through history, Israel once more exists within a national framework. The Redemption has begun and the Jewish people have taken an enormous step forward by establishing Hebrew rule in portions of our land. While the mere existence of a secular Jewish state was never the final goal of the Redemption process, it is certainly a powerful vehicle which must be driven towards achieving the Hebrew Nation's greater aspirations.

The Zionist revolution will continue as all the Jewish people return to the entire Land of Israel with G-d's Temple on the Mount shining Divine blessing to all existence.