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Yom Haatzmaut 5762

By: Rav David Milston

One of our students posted a question on our message board, asking: How can we celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, in our present predicament? This is my answer:

Tehillim 118:

Praise the L-rd, for He is good,

"His steadfast love is eternal."

Let Israel declare,

"His steadfast love is eternal."

Let the House of Aharon declare,

"His steadfast love is eternal."

Let those who fear the L-rd declare,

"His steadfast love is eternal."

In distress I called on the L-rd;

The L-rd answered me and brought me relief.

The L-rd is on my side,

I have no fear;

What can man do to me?

With the L-rd on my side as my helper,

I will see the downfall of my foes.

We know this beautiful psalm from 'Hallel'. The Talmud in Pesachim (117a) inquires as to when Hallel was recited. A number of interesting answers are suggested:

"Rabbi Eliezer says: Moshe and Bnei Yisrael said Hallel, before the splitting of the sea.

Rabbi Yehuda says: Yehoshua and Bnei Yisrael said Hallel before fighting the Canaanite Kings.

Rabbi Elazar HaModaii says: Devorah and Barak said Hallel before fighting Sisera.

Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah says: Chizkiyahu and his followers said Hallel when being attacked by Sancherib.

Rabbi Akiva says: Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya said Hallel when Nevuchadnezzer challenged them.

Rabbi Yossi Hagelili says: Mordechai and Esther said Hallel when Haman made his decree against the Jewish people.

Our Rabbis say: That we should say Hallel whenever we are in trouble, and when we are redeemed."

This most remarkable piece of Talmudic literature is clearly reflecting the message of the first seven verses of Psalm 118.

In the past we have always been under the impression that Hallel is said upon redemption. Yet the plain interpretation of the above Gemara states quite the opposite. It would appear, that even though one says Hallel 'upon redemption'; Hallel was generally said before that redemption was fully realized.

From our first seven verses we can see that the entire people of Israel praise Hashem, the normal citizens, the Kohanim, and the Spiritual leaders. Yet the first instance of praise described is: 'In distress I called on the L-rd'.

What is the relevance of Hallel in 'times of distress'? I would like to suggest, that there could be no more relevant time to praise Hashem, than when things are not going exactly the way we would like them to go. One does not have to be the greatest of believers to sing Shirat Hayam after the splitting of the sea, having seen true revelation; in fact one would have to be blind not to sing to Hashem. However, the true believer will say Hallel at the edge of the sea, before the miracle, because they truly believe in Hashem, because they know that He will save them.

We have experienced miracle after miracle over the last fifty-four years. When things have gone exactly the way we have wanted them to go, we have never had a problem in saying Hallel. For many of us, the events of the last century have been the most incredible events since the destruction of the Second Temple. Yet, as soon as things don't go according to plan, there are those who don't want to say Hallel!! On the contrary, this is exactly the time to say Hallel. This is the time to show our belief in Hakadosh Baruch Hu. We are dealing with a very difficult situation, not dissimilar to Bnei Yisrael at Yam Tzuf. We seem to have nowhere to turn, there seems to be no real solution. Once again, we hear people saying: 'It has never been this bad'.

How quickly we forget. Has it really never been this bad? For two thousand years, we wandered around the exile. There were years of quiet, always followed by years of persecution. However safe we felt, we always ended up running. When looking globably at our situation today can we honestly say that it is so terrible? We have our own government, we have an army, and we have independence. Of course, we are still at the edge of Yam Tzuf, we are still in a position that appears to be going nowhere, but we have been here before, and we are still around to tell the tale. The Gemara shows us that not only were Moshe and his generation in this predicament; Yehoshua entered Israel to be faced by thirty-one Kings. All of the examples given in the above Gemara were 'no hope' situations, yet we succeeded each and every time, because we had faith in Hashem.

This is exactly the time to say Hallel. If we turn to Hashem truly, then there is no question that our redemption will be completed.

Our Psalm continues:

It is better to take refuge in the L-rd than to trust in mortals;

It is better to take refuge in the L-rd than to trust in the great.

All nations have beset me;

by the name of the L-rd I will surely cut them down. They beset me, they surround me;

by the name of the L-rd I will surely cut them down. They have beset me like bees;

they shall be extinguished like burning thorns;

by the name of the L-rd I will surely cut them down.

When reading this psalm during Pesach, I felt as if I was reading the newspaper. Having begun the psalm specifically telling us to praise G-d even when in distress, we are now told not to fear the apparent reality. As a people our final redemption can only come when we realize that the ultimate solution is in the hands of G-d and not in the hands of man.

We exist as a State today, because we have that independence, because we do what we must do irrespective of the nations. We cannot rely on America. Each country of the world will ultimately do what is in her best interests, and thus we can only rely on ourselves with much faith in Hashem. We have to ensure that what we are doing is right, and if it is right, then we must stick to our principles, knowing that the truth will always outlive the lies. Truth must be our foreign policy.

We are indeed besieged by our enemies. The enemies around us preach morality night and day, a morality that was somehow forgotten between the years of 1948 and 1967, when they occupied the 'West Bank'. During that period refugee camps existed, no independence was given to the 'Palestinian people'. On the contrary, the events of 'Black September', paint a very different picture.

The countries surrounding us, absolutely devoid of democracy choose to preach to us? To those enemies we stand upright. We face them with our belief, and that is how we survive. Miraculously, the reality that we live daily, when totally surrounded by enemy states is almost unbelievable, the question is not as to whether to say Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut, it is as to whether to say Hallel twice daily. The State of Israel is an ongoing miracle. 'All the nations have beset me', yet, bezrat Hashem, we thrive, we build, we march onwards.

The nations of Europe besiege me, the 'moral' countries of Germany, France, and Britain. Countries with such negative moral pasts have the gall to preach to Israel. Even America, a country that has spent the last six months indiscriminately bombing Afghanistan, not risking the lives of her soldiers for the well-being of the innocent bystanders, now speaks to Israel, a country that never indiscriminately 'carpet-bombs', and preaches morality.

'They have beset me like bees', but we stand firm. We stand in our faith. We know the truth; we have belief in what we are doing. We turn to Hashem.

The enemy pressed me hard,

I nearly fell;

But the L-rd helped me.

The L-rd is my strength and might;

He has become my deliverance.

The tents of the righteous resound with joyous shouts of deliverance,

The right hand of the L-rd is triumphant!

The right hand of the L-rd is exalted!

The right hand of the L-rd is triumphant!

We are at war, but we stand strong. Am Yisrael must turn to Hashem, it is not a question of if but when. For two thousand years our enemies have pressed against us, but where are they now? Where is Pharoah? Where is Sancherib? Where is Haman? Where is Hitler?

They come and they go, they have pressed before, but the L-rd is my strength and might. We know that Hashem will deliver us. After two thousand years, we are nearer than we have ever been before. As Rav Kook wrote so beautifully; we can already see the water at the bottom of the newly dug well. It is true, the first water is not as sweet as it should be, but it is water. After two thousand years of drought we have water. We have water!! We must realize the greatness of our situation. Kol dodi dofek, my beloved is knocking at the door. How long did we wait for this day? We are so near, we need faith - the right hand of the L-rd is triumphant.

I shall not die but live

and proclaim the works of the L-rd.

The L-rd punished me severely,

but did not hand me over to death.

We are here in Eretz Yisrael, we will not die, we will live. We will continue to live here; we will continue to fulfill the dream of Shivat Tzion. In doing so we proclaim the works of the L-rd. It is not always easy, but we know that we will live; we know that our dream will come true. The price is high, the difficulties many, but the victory is assured.

Open the gates of righteousness for me that I may enter them and praise the L-rd.

This is the gateway to the L-rd

The righteous will enter through it.

The door has been opened, the complete redemption imminent. Eretz Yisrael is the gateway to Hashem. Here the redemption will happen, here the righteous will enter. The exile is a station, not a destination. Eretz Yisrael is our destination.

I praise you, for you have answered me,

and have become my deliverance.

The stone that the builders rejected

has become the chief cornerstone

This is the L-rds doing;

it is marvelous in our sight.

This is the day that the L-rd has made

Let us exult and rejoice in it.

I do not have enough words to express my thanks to Hashem that he has merited me with living at this time. To be living during one of the most important periods in Jewish, if not world, history. To be living in Eretz Yisrael, fulfilling a reality that so many of our forefathers were unable to do is a reality that is unparalleled in its greatness. To watch the building of a nation, after the catastrophe of the Holocaust, to see with your own eyes the rejected stone become the chief cornerstone. To see miracle upon miracle, to live a miracle daily is so marvelous that I cannot find words to express it. Indeed Yom Haatzmaut is a day that only Hashem could have created. It is a reality almost impossible to perceive. How can we do anything but praise G-d on this day. How can any Jew, with the knowledge of our history, not exult and rejoice in Hashem on this day? A nation that has suffered all that we have suffered, has returned home after so many years.

This is a day that the L-rd has made - let us exult and rejoice in it.

O L-rd, deliver us!

O L-rd let us prosper!

We know that our redemption is incomplete; we know how much there is to do. We have come so far. We pray to Hashem on this day, that we merit seeing the absolute redemption. We pray that we merit seeing a united Jewish nation, living in her Homeland. We pray to see the success of our people, and the world.

May he who enters be blessed in the name of the L-rd;

We bless you from the House of the L-rd.

The L-rd is G-d;

He has given us light;

Bind the festal offering to the horns of the altar with cords.

You are my G-d and I will praise You;

You are my G-d and I will extol You;

Praise the L-rd for He is good,

His steadfast love is eternal.

The day will come, when Jerusalem will be the center of the world. All will become clear. On this day we thank Hashem for the honor of being part of this wonderful reality, for taking an active part in this wonderful process.

How can we say Hallel? How can we not say Hallel? How can we not realize what we are living through? Throughout the years of the midbar, the Ark was in the middle of the camp. As the Jewish people entered Eretz Yisrael, the Ark went in front of them.

To live in Eretz Yisrael, requires faith. The Aron is our guide. We live in Eretz Yisrael with the belief that we are on the road to complete redemption - may it be the will of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, that our redemption is completed as speedily as possible.

Chag Atzmaut Sameach


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