My Yom Ha'atzmaut shtreimel
My Yom Ha'atzmaut shtreimel

In 1958, the Klauzenberger Rebbe, Reb Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam, arrived in Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, to lay the cornerstone of a hospital he intended to build in Netanya. That hospital later became a major medical center, the Laniado Hospital.

The Rebbe, one of the most well- known figures to have survived the horrors of Auschwitz, had been shot by the Nazis during the war. He miraculously survived the bullet wound without the aid of any medical care, and had vowed that if he were to survive, he would found a hospital in Eretz Yisrael. Israeli politicians had already delayed the founding of the hospital, and had at one point told him that they would provide the funds for the building (a ploy that would only delay things even longer), and they would leave the fixing of the first Mezuzah to him. His reply was:

"Tell you what: I will raise the moneys- and give the politicians the honor of hanging the first Mezuzah. I have made my vow (neder) to Hakadosh Baruch Hu (the Almighty), and I will see it through".

The Rebbe landed in Israel. During his stay (he was to make Aliyah two years later), he was visited by David ben Gurion, the Prime Minister, bare-headed and not religious, who asked:

"I'm curious. The Rebbe has said that he intends to make Aliya and build a full-service community  here- with institutions of learning, business, a hospital. What is it you seek to get out of a Medinah (state) , a Jewish country?"

The Rebbe did not hesitate: "I want to be able to walk down the street with my Shtreimel on my head, and no one will heckle or insult or harm me".

Ben Gurion was stunned: "That's it? That's all you expect from a Medinah? That's the maximum you hope for in living in a Jewish Medinah?"

The Rebbe stroked his beard: "Maximum…. maximum. You want to know the maximum that I hope for in living in a Jewish state? For it to be one in which YOU will be walking down the street with a Shtreimel on your head! ". (Kahn, Channel 11 Israeli TV, on Wednesday, April 11, 2018, Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day).

Another story:

Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook was the son of Rav Kook, Palestine's first chief Rabbi and founder of Yeshivat Merkaz Harav. One of his students, the late Shaar Yashuv Kohen (son of Rav Kook's student Rav Dovid Kohen, the Nazir, and later to become Chief Rabbi of Haifa) fought in the War of Independence, 1948, was wounded and was captured by the Jordanian Army. Soon freed from Jordan, he was operated on, and after recuperating returned to the Army and was later named Chief Rabbi of Israel's brand-new Air Force.  He received a shidduch (marriage proposal) from none other than the Chief Rabbi of the Army, who offered his daughter as a future wife! Rav Kohen met her, agreed to the proposed shidduch, and then received an order from his superior officer, the Army's Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Goren: "The wedding is to be a military ceremony. You are to appear in uniform, and under the Chupah (literally wedding canopy - refers to the ceremony itself) will not only be me, your father-in-law, and the other in-laws- but two generals will be at your side".

The wedding ceremony proceeded exactly that way. Many old Yerushalmim in the crowd were aghast, and one got up the nerve to approach Rav Tzvi Yehudah after the Chupah:

"You well know that the custom in our community is for the Chassan (groom) to be dressed in a Shtreimel on his head, and in his best Yom Tov (holiday) clothes. How did you allow your talmid (student) to get married in military uniform?"

Answered Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook: "There is much to debate about the kedushah (holiness) of a Shtremel, but as far as the kedushah of an Israeli military uniform there is no question. V'adrabah (exactly the opposite): a Chassan is like a king- and המדים בגדי מלכות הם : an Israeli Army uniform is royal robes".( Mashmia Yeshua, by Simcha Raz, pages 292-3).

I don't wear a Shtreimel, except on Purim. But whether it's holy or not, I count it among those many items and subjects that are part of the morning Shacharit davening (prayers), ונותנים רשות זה לזה- we Jews, like the angels in Heaven, are to give each other permit and permission to "do our own thing", and serve the Almighty as we see fit. Only thus can a country of millions of Jews-destroyed in the year 70 C.E. by hatred (SInat chinam) that gave the other Jew no permit- survive and flourish. The Rav viewed Medinat Yisrael as יסוד כסא ה' בעולם – the foundation of the Lord's throne in this world. Giving Jews the matrix in which to live in Eretz Yisrael, the Medinah provides for the fulfillment of the Mitzva of Yishuv Ha'aretz (the Divine command to live in the Land of Israel)- thus there is kedushah in the Medinah, its tanks, its planes, its soldiers (= all its citizens, in a citizen's army), and its uniforms- because אשר קדשנו במצוותיו- where there is Mitzvah, there is kedushah. Thus IDF uniforms have the status of מעין תשמישי מצווה ותשמישי קדושה- akin to holy vessels.

There is another part of the morning prayers that is relevant to Yom Ha'atzmaut: את צמח דוד עבדך מהרה תצמיח- we pray in Shmoneh Esrai that the Lord cause the growing shoots of the Kingdom of David to flourish. Rav Chaim Drukman  (in Kim'ah Kim'ah,pages 7-8) notes that there are ramifications to referring to Israel's redemption as a Tzemach, a growing plant:

It is a gradual process. It has taken millennia, and therefore we should not be depressed by Redemption's ups and downs, even by downs as great as Holocausts. Note that the genius of Moses, Moshe Rabbeinu, after the calamity of the Golden Calf, and threatened Divine destruction of Israel, was to point out to the Almighty that we are not a finished product, but a work in progress on a journey to Redemption (Rav Matis Weinberg). 

Rav Drukman notes that the phenomenon of birds being loyal to their nest is well described- but that the nest, Eretz Yisrael, be loyal to her fledglings is unprecedented in the history of Mankind.
Similarly, the days between Pesach and Shavuot, which is the time of year of Yom Ha'atzmaut, marks a path of process from dependence to Cheirut, Freedom.  Therefore, those Jews who are overly critical of this Medinah are simply wrong-minded and wrong-spirited. We are not perfect, but we are moving in the direction )להאיר את הכל באור הקדושה האלוקיתto light up all Creation with the Light of Divine Kedusha- Rav Tau, Emunat Iteinu vol. 13 page 188).

At these preliminary stages of the Medinah, the Tzemach, growth, is barely discernable- but the plant becomes more manifest as time passes. Moreover, as time does go by, hind-sight shows the Hand of the Lord was guiding events toward this Redemption.

Only after the decay of the previous, failed, immature stages, does the final beauty of the plant become manifest.

Vayikra 26, 32- "The land will become desolate of your enemies". The Ramban saysאין ארצנו מקבלת את אויבינו- no foreign, non-Jewish peoples was able to flourish in this land for 1900 of our Exile. We are not only the Chosen people, but this Chosen Land actively prevented any other nation from flourishing in this land. The desolation of Eretz Yisrael under foreign rule is well described throughout history (see, for example Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad- Rav Drukman quotes it- page 18-19). The land responds only to Tzemach Dovid.

The student of the student of the Ramban, Rabbeinu Bechaye, elaborated some 700 years ago: "From the moment of the destruction in the year 70, the Holy Land did not accept, and WILL not accept, foreign peoples, until her young birds return to their nest". He went out on a limb with that prophecy, but history proved him right. Rav Drukman notes that the phenomenon of birds being loyal to their nest is well described- but that the nest, Eretz Yisrael, be loyal to her fledglings is unprecedented in the history of Mankind.

A practical corollary of this: of the Land is jealous to remain only with its people, Israel-how much more so should we protect the Land from foreign rule and invasion. This speaks both to the misguided Oslo "peace" experiment, but also to our recent Eritrean problem. Those who seek jobs, should leave. Those who are really refugees, with their lives in danger in their home country, can be given temporary asylum till a safe haven can be found for them somewhere else: they have no automatic right to the Land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Ravb Drukman finishes (  Raz, p.280): When Rav Zvi Yehudah would see the vast sea of Jews happily  dancing in the streets of Yerushalayim on Yom Ha'atzmaut, he used to say: " I see the Lord Almighty dancing and happy with them". Rav Tau adds, quoting Rav Kook, the father: "And one should always be singing the song of the Ein Sof, the Limiteless One".

Chag Ha'Atzmaut sameach.