We are at a special point in the Jewish calendar between two holidays – Pesach and Shavuot. On Pesach we commemorate the birth of our nation and on Shavuot the receiving of the Torah, which revealed the content of that nation. Between these two holidays, and parallel to them, are 2 modern days of celebration – Yom Ha'atzmaut- the rebirth of our national independence after 2,000 years of exile, and Yom Yerushalayim – the liberation of the Holy City which represents the inner content of that independence, as Yishayahu stated: “The word of G-d will go forth from Yerushalayim.”
In the Hallel recited on Yom Ha'atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim we say: "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us exult and rejoice on it” (Tehillim 118:24). The words “on it” in the original Hebrew is expressed by the word “Bo.” The Rabbis (Zohar III:105) tell us that “Bo” is referring to the day and to Hashem. The joy in the day stems from the joy in Hashem who has made this day.
There are many questions regarding the celebration of these days. What is the reason for this joy? What are we happy about? The establishment of a secular state? And even if we are happy for our returned sovereignty in our land, is there a halakhic basis for establishing new holidays?
Each question truly deserves and requires an extensive answer. Books have been written on the topic. For our purposes we will just mention a few points. Let us begin with the latter question.
On the verse in Bamidbar (10:10) "And on your joyous occasions - your fixed festivals and new moon days - you shall sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being," the classic commentator Ibn Ezra states that this a command to establish days of joy when the Jews are saved from an enemy.
The Talmud (Megilla 14a) discusses the basis for establishing the holiday of Purim. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korḥa said that the reasoning is as follows: “If, when recalling the Exodus from Egypt, in which the Jews were delivered from slavery to freedom, we recite songs of praise, then on Purim, when God delivered us from death to life, is it not all the more so that we must sing God’s praise?”
The Chatam Sofer (Responsa Orach Chaim 208; Yoreh Deah 233) learns from this that determining a day of joy like Hanukkah and Purim is a Torah obligation since it is learned from the Torah principle of a fortiori. How to express that joy, such as by reading the Megilla, mishloach manot and giving to the poor on Purim, is a Rabbinic injunction.
The Gaon Rav Meshulam Rath in his Responsa Kol Mevaser (#21) elaborates on the halakhic validity of Yom Ha'atzmaut and concludes that "it is certainly our obligation to establish a Yom Tov" on Yom Ha'atzmaut since "the nation was saved from slavery to freedom upon declaring our national independence, and we were also saved from death to life from the hands of our enemies that came to destroy us."
And what about saying Hallel on these days of joy? The Talmud in Tractate Pesachim (117a) says that the prophets enacted that we say Hallel whenever saved from any trouble. Therefore, saying Hallel on Yom Ha'atzmaut is not a "new" custom but rather the application and fulfillment of the pre-enacted law from the Prophets.
All of this applies even though Yom Ha'atzmaut was not the complete Redemption. The Redemption comes "little by little," stage by stage (Talmud Yerushalmi Brachot 1:1). There are still many deficiencies with Medinat Yisrael, to say the least, but as the Chafetz Chaim said: “It (the Redemption) has begun!” The Rambam writes that we celebrate Hanukah because "Jewish sovereignty returned to the Jews for more than 200 years," which included 103 years of the Herodian kingdom, far from a religious regime!
Thanking Hashem for granting us national independence is not contingent upon our complete Redemption. Interestingly, the holiday of Hanukah itself and the recital of Hallel was established a year after the Temple's inauguration, when the Greeks were still in parts of Yerushalayim and battles continued to rage, and the salvation was hardly complete.
Prior to the declaration of the State, the Arab nations threatened to annihilate all the Jews in Israel within a week and "throw us into the sea," Heaven forbid. This was no idle threat. We were surrounded on all sides except the west – thus the sea was the only escape route.
The slaughtering of Jews in Kfar Etzion the day we declared the State was evidence of what the Arabs expected to do to the entire population.
No "rational" estimation would have foreseen the outcome of the War of Independence. After 2,000 years of exile, statelessness, with neither military experience nor a trained army, and greatly outnumbered by the millions of Arabs that surrounded us, this miraculous victory was truly a gift from Hashem and a fulfillment of the prophecies promising the returning of His people to His land. Just as we thank Hashem for giving "the many in the hands of the few" on Hanukkah over 2,000 years ago, we should acknowledge the miracle that took place in our times as well!
Our soldiers fought with amazing courage and self-sacrifice. But where did they get this new spirit – especially when only yesterday we were a living manifestation of the curse: "I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies, and the sound of a rustling leaf shall chase them and they shall flee…" (Vayikra 26:36)?
God tells the prophet Yechezkiel that when He brings the Jews back to Israel from the graveyard (the exile): "I will put My spirit in you and you shall live" (Yechezkiel 37:1-14). The Rambam (Guide for the Perplexed II:45) defines the first level of prophecy as the spirit of courage infused by Hashem which is called in the Tanach "the spirit of G-d." Tosafot define this a "minor miracle" as when one is infused with "the spirit of courage and knowledge of warfare" (Tosafot, Bava Metzia 106a). As the Torah states: “It is God who gives you the power to succeed” (Devarim 8:18).
Is it not fitting to express our gratitude to Hashem over this miraculous gift?! The righteous king Chizkiah was denied becoming the Mashiach because he did not sing praise when the Jews experienced a great victory over their enemy. May we learn to recognize G-d's gifts of salvation and not be lacking in our thanks to Him.
As mentioned above, this brief recap is just a small selection of the sources for this important topic. Let us close with some Torah "hints" about Yom Ha'atzmaut. Rav Yosef Karo in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 428:3) writes that all the holidays are connected to the days of Pesach in the form of acronyms called “Atbash” – a type of "encoding" where the first letter of the alphabet is switched with or linked to the last letter, Alef to Taf, and the second letter to the second-to-last letter, Bet to Shin, and so on. The Shulchan Aruch states that Alef, the first day of Pesach, will fall on the same day of the week as Taf, which corresponds to Tisha b'Av. The second day, Bet of Pesach, will fall on the same day as Shin which corresponds to Shavuot. Third day Gimmel goes with Reish, Rosh HaShanah. He brings a holiday for every day of Pesach except for the seventh day of Pesach. There was no parallel holiday (with the letter Ayin) which came out on the same day as the seventh of Pesach – until now! Yom Ha'atzmaut. The word “Atzmaut” begins with the letter Ayin. It comes out on the same day as the seventh day of Pesach!
The Vilan Gaon writes that the time of Redemption is hinted in the words of our Sages (Sanhedrin 38b) which relates the stages of Adam HaRishon's development on the sixth day of Creation – hour by hour. It says that Adam stood on his feet – independence! - in the 5th hour. Each day of Creation is parallel to 1000 years, so the 6th day is parallel to the 6th millennium and the day begins after 12 hours of night (=the year 5500), such that the 5th hour of the day (each hour of the 24 hour day = 1000years/24=41.66 years) is another 208 years, which means we reach independence in the year 5708, which in the non-Jewish calendar was 1948!
There is another tradition in the name of the Vilna Gaon that Adam is an acronym for: Adam, David, Mashiach. The number of years between Adam and the birth of David is 2854, the same as the years between David and Mashiach, 2854 – such that a messianic event occurs in the year 5708!
Happy Yom Ha'atzmaut!