The Religious Holiday of Independence Day: Where to From Here?

"OK, we have a State, thank G-d. Now what?" Three religious-Zionist rabbis answer.

Hillel Fendel,

Flag at the Kotel
Flag at the Kotel

"OK, we have a State, thank G-d. Now what?" Three religious-Zionist rabbis answer.

Independence Day is commemorated in various ways in Israel. The secular public relates to it as a secular nationalist holiday, much as the Fourth of July in the United States, while the hareidi-religious sector largely ignores it - given the overly non-religious nature of the way it was founded and operates.

The national-religious camp, however, relates to Independence Day as a religious holiday, one on which thanks must be given to G-d for extricating the Jewish People from many of the curses of Exile and fulfilling His oft-repeated promise to return them to the Promised Land.

In accordance with this position, Israel's Chief Rabbinate ruled that special prayers, especially the Hallel prayer of praise and thanksgiving, must be recited on this day. Many also celebrate by eating a festive meal, singing and dancing, wearing special Sabbath clothes, and discussing the various aspects of the Divine Providence evident in the creation of the State of Israel.

Often the question is asked, however, in various ways and forms, how the current overtly-secular State of Israel jibes with the Biblical prophecies of a return to the land together with a revival of Torah and spirituality. For many, the questions have taken on particular acuteness in light of the destruction of 25 flourishing Jewish communities in Gush Katif and northern Shomron by Israel's own government.

The Independence Day evening prayer service concludes with these words: "May it be Thy will that just as we have merited the beginning of the Redemption, we shall also merit to hear the Shofar of our righteous Messiah..." These words place the unyielding question in bold relief: "Can we ever get this wagon out of the mud? How do we continue to the final destination?"

In response, Rabbi Uri Cohen, head of the Merkaz Tzvatim (Meretz) Beit Medrash and Teachers Seminar in Mevaseret Zion, says that the current State must not be under-estimated nor over-estimated:

We must not make light of the country that we have; it has value even as it is. In other countries, the nation is a collection of individuals banded together for common interests; the state is a tool by which to attain them. But for the People of Israel, the situation is totally different. As Rabbi Yehuda HaLevy writes in The Kuzari, the People of Israel are "one soul in separate bodies" - only when we are a "community" are we in our true and original composition.

Accordingly, our State is not merely a "tool," but rather the "foundation of G-d's throne in the world" (Rav A. I. Kook), a sanctification of G-d's Name the likes of which has not been since the day we were exiled from our Land (see Ezekiel 36,22). Maimonides ruled that one of the reasons for the Chanukah holiday is that rule over the Land returned to Jewish hands for some 200 years.

Just like individuals, however, the State can sin and not fulfill its functions, such as settling the Land or building the Temple. But just as with individuals, this does not detract at all from the very value of the State or of the Commandments.

Let us not ask: Is this really the State for which we suffered so greatly throughout the Exile? For the Redemption comes in stages, and not all at once. Just as in Egypt - first came the end of the bondage, then came the Exodus, and only much later did the Kingdom of David arise and the construction of the Holy Temple. This took more than 400 years!

In our Amidah prayer, too, first we ask for our freedom, then for the Ingathering of the Exiles, and only at the end do we mention the Holy Temple and the return of the Divine Presence.

We must therefore be excited anew all the time at the great kindness G-d has wrought for us by enabling the establishment of this State - and at one and the same time, continue to anticipate with our thoughts, beliefs and actions for the completion of this process...
Rabbi Daniel Shilo, the rabbi of Kedumim, says it is imperative for us to understand our objectives:

"Many people think that the justification for the existence of the State is only to serve as a safe haven and refuge for the Jews, following centuries of persecution. According to this, the State of Israel is nothing more than the largest and most efficient refugee camp in the world. If this is its only goal, even that won't be attained...

We know that G-d said, through His prophets, that He will 'bring them to My Holy Mountain' - and not just to an earthly place of refuge. It is incumbent upon us, as Maimonides teaches in his Laws of Repentance, to repent not only from our evil acts, but also from our mistakenly small-minded conceptions of exalted concepts.

Rather, we must understand that the State is the way in which we fulfill the commandment of Settling the Land of Israel - that which is considered equal to all the other commandments put together... In the end, as our Sages have taught, "G-d will bring about [a situation in which] Israel will repent and be returned to the right path" - namely, to the right conception of our place in this Land. As the Prophet Ezekiel said, 'The destroyed cities will be full of flocks of people and they will know that I am G-d' - first they will be full of people, and only afterwards will they know G-d.

The words of the Prophets are not just the heralding of good news, but also a demand upon us to work to have them fulfilled. Fortunate is one who works with G-d to do this.

Rabbi Yehuda Kroizer, the rabbi of Mitzpeh Yericho, says we have forgotten some of the basics, and reminds us to keep our eyes on the ball, no matter how far off it is:
"The birth of the Nation of Israel was accompanied by the obligatory triple bonds of Nation-Torah-Land... As our Sages (Sifrei Ekev 42) taught, "The entire fulfillment of the Torah is only in the Land of Israel; we fulfill it outside the Land only so that it not be forgotten while we are in Exile."

The secular Zionist movement strengthened the link between the Nation and its Land, but harmed the bond between these two and the Torah. Over the years of the State's existence, we, the religious public, have downplayed our demand to link the State and Jewish Law, and 'this is why this trouble has come upon us.'  The time has therefore come to demand and act to establish a Jewish Torah state in the Land of Israel. It must be based on these principles:
  • The boundaries must be those promised to Abraham at the Covenant of the Pieces...
  • Non-Jews living here will be given two choices - to either leave, with the help of a special emigration office that will be established, or to accept upon themselves the Seven Noahide Laws before a Jewish Legal Court, thus acquiring for themselves rights of residency and work, but not political rights.
  • A King will head the State, and the Sanhedrin will head the legal framework. The State's laws will be those of the Torah, and the police will be enjoined to enforce them. The State must build the Holy Temple, thus reviving full Divine service and restoring Israel to its proper place as a light unto the nations (see Isaiah 2,3).
The Redemption will not fall from the sky [Rabbi Kroizer concludes], and it is dependent upon us. We must believe that it is within our power to bring about and implement the revolutionary change. We must remember that the path is likely to be long and difficult; it is not incumbent upon us to complete it, but neither may we neglect it for a moment. Even if some aspects are not possible to carry out at present, it is important that the goals be clear. May G-d grant blessing to our actions and enable us to see quickly the complete Redemption of Israel.




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