Independence Day Prayers: Joy Mixed With Pleas
As Independence Day (Yom HaAtzma'ut) approaches, there is an annual debate waged within and between the religious sectors: “Should the Hallel prayer (Psalms 113-118), the recitation of which generally signifies a religious holiday, be recited on this day, or not?”
Most of the hareidi-religious world does not recite the prayer, refusing to grant religious significance to the day. Those few who will admit that the day has significance will mark it by omitting the daily, “sad” Tachanun prayer.
Within the religious-Zionist public, Hallel is almost universally said, though the question is raised whether to recite it with a blessing beforehand or without. This is a halakhic matter that doesn't add or reduce the importance of the prayer.The original Chief Rabbinate decision was to recite it without a blessing, but after the miracles of the Six Day War and the country’s increasing religious and economic stature, the decision was changed.
Tthe issue has never been totally resolved; while Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, who headed Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav Kook until his death in 1982, recited the blessing, his successor, the late Rabbi Avraham Shapira ruled that the principle “Blessings are not recited in cases of doubt” applies in this case. It in no way affected their attitude of joy on the holiday.
Rabbi Avraham Wasserman, a former student at Merkaz HaRav and now a rabbi in the city of Givatayim and in the Hesder Yeshiva in Ramat Gan, addressed the issue of reciting Hallel altogether. Speaking on Arutz-Sheva's Hebrew service, he said:
“Of late, some among us have had difficulties rejoicing at the level we used to on this day. The members of the religious-Zionist public specifically are well aware of all the difficulties and pain [having directly to do with the institutions of the State of Israel]. But if we look deeply at the Hallel prayer, we see that it is not only a joyful prayer, but has its share of ‘tearful pleas’ as well. There is Hodu (‘Give thanks to G-d, for He is good,’ 118,1), and “This is the day… we will rejoice in it’ (118,24) - but there is also Min hameitzar (When in straits I called to G-d, 118,5). In Psalm 116, we have ‘How can I repay G-d for all His goodness? – just two verses after ‘I am greatly afflicted.’ In short, Hallel has lots of joy, but also much pain, prayer, and pleas, such as "Ana Hashem" (Save us O G-d, 118,25,).”
“It could be that this is the very solution,” Rabbi Wasserman continued. “Even on great holidays, we must know that there is much left to improve. This is even more true on Independence Day. We have a country that is still developing, that is full of challenges, failures, victories, and defeats. Hallel is very appropriate for this. It describes the situation as it is: We sometimes feel that we are in straits, and sometimes we are joyful. This is the complex reality in which we live. At various times we will identify with one aspect, and at times with another…”
“But despite all, we must take at least this one day a year to realize the great goodness that G-d has bestowed upon us. We must be happy and we must thank G-d for the country He has given us - because if we don’t, then first of all, we would not be doing the right thing; we would simply be overlooking the truth.
Secondly, we would be hurting ourselves. Because if a person doesn’t find a source of strength and doesn’t have things that he feels he must be thankful for, he won’t be able to deal with the challenges he faces. And the same is true for the entire communty. Independence Day is thus a day of great joy on which we also note that there are things that are still incomplete and we pray for their improvement; this is Yom HaAtzma’ut.”