Israel's Independence Day begins Wednesday night and continues on Thursday. With the holiness of the holiday under attack from right and left - the hareidi-religious public, the secular public, and even parts of the Disengagement-stricken religious-Zionist public - celebrants of the day wish to emphasize its basic principles.
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed - the rabbi of the Shomron town of Har Brachah, the Dean of the hesder yeshiva there and a prolific author on matters of Jewish Law who is quickly gaining a reputation as a leading authority in the religious-Zionist public - has published a short work explaining the historic and religious significance of the day.
The work, published as a supplement to the B'Sheva weekly, covers the following points:
• The establishment of the State of Israel facilitates, for both individuals and the nation as a whole, the fulfillment of the Torah commandment to settle the Land of Israel.
• The establishment of the State removed the shame of Exile and the accompanying desecration of G-d's Name, as in Ezekiel 36, verses 4, 20, and others.
• The establishment of the State, in the wake of centuries of pogroms that culminated with the Holocaust, saved many Jewish lives, and helped buttress the Jewish People's spiritual condition.
• It is a positive commandment to thank G-d for His miracles and favors, and to enact holidays to this end.
Excerpts from the work:
The Commandment to Settle the Land
On the 5th day of Iyar in 5708 [May 14,1948], when the establishment of the State of Israel was declared, the Nation of Israel merited to fulfill the Torah's command to settle the Land of Israel. True, individual Jews who lived in the Land prior to this also fulfilled a commandment, but the commandment mainly applies to the entire nation, which is bidden to bring the Land under Jewish sovereignty. [See Numbers 33,53 and Deut. 11,31, and Nachmanides' commentary]
Jewish Law, in fact, rules that the obligation to mourn destroyed cities in the Land of Israel is dependent on Jewish sovereignty: Ruins of cities that are ruled by non-Jews must be mourned, even if they are populated mostly by Jews; and if they are ruled by Jews, the ruins need not be mourned, even if they are populated mostly by non-Jews.
The Beginning of Redemption, and Sanctification of G-d's Name
The establishment of the State of Israel removed the disgrace of Exile. For generation after generation, we wandered in the Diaspora, we suffered terrible humiliation and pogroms, we were a subject of mockery among the nations, and we were subject to mass slaughter. Observers saw us and said there was no hope for us. This was a situation of terrible 'desecration of G-d's Name' - for "you [Israel] are called by G-d's Name" [Deut. 28].
G-d's word, as prophesied in so many places in the Bible, was that He would return us to the Land. But with the passing of so many centuries in which this was not fulfilled, the desecration of G-d's Name increased, and Israel's enemies concluded that Israel would never return. And then the miracle happened [in 1948], and G-d's word was fulfilled. This was a great sanctification of G-d's Name, and it became even stronger during the Six Day War when we liberated Jerusalem and the holy cities in Judea and Samaria.
This process of the Ingathering of the Exiles and the flowering of the desert is the beginning of the promised Redemption. As the Talmud states, "There is no clearer sign of the Redemption than this, as is written in the Book of Ezekiel (36,8), 'You mountains of Israel will give forth branches and will bear fruit for My people Israel who are on their way.'"
Yes, there is still much to improve and put right; unfortunately, we have not all merited to do teshuvah [return, repentance] and move to the Land of Israel. But our Sages have taught that there are two types of Redemption: full repentance leading to miraculous Redemption, and the type that takes place through natural processes, accompanied by great difficulties and hardships. These will cause the Jewish People to return home - and thus we will progress, step by step, until the Complete Redemption.
On Independence Day 1948, the Jewish Nation was saved. It went from a state of subservience to the nations, to one of political freedom. We also went from a situation of potential death, in that we were unable to defend ourselves from our mortal enemies, to one of life, because since that time we have fought our enemies and, with G-d's help, emerged victorious.
Some 21,000 Jews have been killed in the 60 years since the State was established - but just a few years before that, during the Holocaust, six million holy Jews were murdered over the course of just five years - a rate of nearly 3,500 times more.
This day was a salvation even for Jews living in the Diaspora, in that they now had a country that would always be able to take them in, and even works on their behalf in the international arena. Even the Communist regimes were forced to allow Jews to leave - something that would have been inconceivable before the State of Israel was established.
Spiritually, as well, the Jewish People were saved by the State of Israel. For various reasons, a great spiritual crisis overtook the Jewish People over the past 200 years, and as countries modernized, the Jews became more assimilated. In the US, for instance, most young Jews marry non-Jews, and those who marry Jews have relatively few children. The Jewish communities abroad are thus getting smaller and smaller. Only in the State of Israel is the Jewish population growing, and assimilation is relatively sparse.
Furthermore, the percentage of Jews in Israel who are connected to Torah and an observant lifestyle is larger than in any other Jewish concentration in the world. This spiritual salvation was the result of the establishment of the State of Israel, which enabled the Ingathering of the Exiles and obviated the lures of world-wide assimilation.
Thus, Israel Independence Day is thus decorated with three layers of holiness: the holiness of the commandment of settling the land; the holiness of the Sanctification of G-d's Name and the beginning of the Redemption; and the holiness of the physical and spiritual salvation of the Jewish People.