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Yom Haatzmaut 5769

By: Rav David Milston

There is a popular story told of a man who is informed by God that the world is about to be destroyed by a flood, but that he will be saved. The man makes his way home and waits for God to arrive. In the meantime, the heavens open up and it begins to rain heavily; as the water rises the man is forced into his house to avoid the ensuing storm, but he has no worries, he knows that God will save him. At some stage a team of rescuers can be seen approaching from the window of his house, one of these rescuers calls out to him with a loud speaker informing him that they have come to save him; the man in the house rejects the calling telling his would be saviors that he has no need for them, that God has promised to come and get him.
 
The water continues to rise, and the man is forced to go and stand on the roof of his house; at this stage a helicopter arrives, his would be rescuers call to him, and lower a rope for him to grab on to – but again he calls back telling them that he has no need for the rope or for them, that God has promised to save him.
 
Eventually he is forced to abandon the roof, and is left to float in the rapidly rising water, whilst desperately hanging on to the wooden remnants of his house; he has no food, little water supply, and his energy is quickly fading. At this stage a third rescue team arrives on a salvage boat, but once again he refuses to be helped, after all, God has promised to come and save him.
 
And so, predictably enough, the man drowns, and as he arrives at the gates of heaven, he immediately demands a meeting with the Almighty. He wants to know why he was not saved, why did God fail to keep His promise, but the Almighty King of kings looks back at the annoyed and ‘let down’ man with ‘confusion’ – surely I sent three rescue teams, and on each occasion you refused to be saved!
 
We have been in exile for close to two thousand years, for the most we have suffered; exile after exile, pogrom after pogrom. We have wandered from Babylon to Spain, from Spain to Eastern Europe. Our trials and tribulations have become increasingly threatening to our existence, but we have always known that we have a promise, that the Holy One blessed be He would not leave us to perish, that we would someday return home, and that He would bring us here.
 
And now after all of those years of suffering, when all seemed to be lost, the Almighty has come to knock at our door; He came towards the end of the nineteenth century with a call for Aliya, but no one really listened, we all assumed that the redemption would be one of fire and brimstone; then he sent Mr Balfour with a declaration straight from the British Empire, but once again surely this cannot be what we are praying for, the Mashiach in the form of Englishmen from Whitehall! Then slowly but surely the irreligious and alienated of our brethren began to return to Zion in large numbers, but how could this possibly be a sign? How could the final redemption begin at the initiative of disillusioned, socialist driven, non-believing Jews!?
 
Then the peoples of the world agreed and declared that there should be a State for the Jewish Nation in Palestine; after 2000 years of wandering, three years after the unparalleled murder of a third of our people, the very same world that stood by through Kristallnacht, through the ghettoes, through the shootings, and through the gas chambers, now voted, positively, for the right of the Jewish people to their own homeland.
Surely a sign of redemption! But still no real awakening, for the most, Israel was a home for Jews to visit and celebrate or at worst to escape to, but not a home to live in.
 
When in 1967, the people of Israel miraculously succeeded in uniting Yerushalayim, as our paratroopers stormed Temple Mount, just a week before Shavuot – could there be no greater messenger of the Almighty declaring that redemption has arrived?! The gates of Russia finally opened up; Jews marched for months through the deserts of Africa to return home; was this not the ingathering of exiles that we waited for for so long?
 
It is now 2009, we have had independence for 61 years, and every single moment is a miracle, yet half of the Jewish people still wait in exile for the rescuer; the flood of assimilation and the resurgence of rabid anti-Semitism grows daily, but many of iour people are still waiting, after all God promised!
 
But, my dear students and friends, not only has God promised, he has delivered; he sent us a rescue team, he has opened the doors! What exactly were we expecting redemption to be like? We have dreamed for two thousand years and now it is happening, what exactly are we waiting for?
 
I have to share with you, my greatest nightmare. What will happen if this redemption fails, and then we decide to approach the Almighty asking Him about His promises? Will he not answer, but I sent you redemption, I gave you independence, I gave you Yerushalayim, I brought people back from the four corners of the earth, and you chose to ignore it, you chose to stay in exile rejecting my calls to come home!
 
It has happened before….
 
Rav Yehuda HaLevi (Kuzari-Maamar 2: 22-24) speaks of the endless praises of Eretz Yisrael:
 
 The speaking Rabbi notes the countless tributes of Chazal regarding Eretz Yisrael:
 
“All roads lead to Israel, but none from it”
“It is better to dwell in the Holy Land, even in a town mostly inhabited by heathens, than in chutz la’aretz in a town chiefly peopled by Jewish people” – to name but two.
 
The list of comments is never-ending; they are not only to be found in Mishna, Talmud and Midrash, but these same themes are reflected in the piskei halacha of both Rambam and Shulchan Aruch alike.
 
But the Kuzari is perplexed:
 
If what you say is true, he asks, surely the Jewish people have fallen short of their duty by not endeavoring to reach that place? Your founding fathers chose it as an abode in preference to their birth places, and lived there as strangers rather than as citizens in their own country. This they did at a time even before the Shechinah was visible, when the country was full of unchastity, impurity, and idolatry; nor did they leave it in times of dearth and famine except through God’s explicit permission, they even directed their bones to be buried there. Yet when Ezra and Nehemiah called the people to return home during the time of the Second Temple they simply weren’t interested in leaving the exile, how could that be?
 
The Rabbi concedes:
 
Indeed your reproach is a severe one; it is in fact this lack of reaction that ultimately kept the Divine promise with regard to the Second Temple from being fulfilled. Divine Providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first, if all of our people had willingly consented to return, but only a part was ready to do so, whilst the majority and the aristocracy remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and slavery, and unwilling to leave their houses and their affairs.
 
Shlomo HaMelech in Shir HaShirim (Chapter 5) talks of the Jews in exile who are asleep. The Almighty is knocking on the door, but the exiled have already undressed, they are too sleepy to get out of bed and open up that door, even though it is their salvation that is knocking.
 
Divine Providence only gives man as much as he is prepared to receive; if his receptive capacity is small, he will only receive little. If we were prepared to meet the God of our forefathers with a pure mind, then we would receive redemption equal to that of Yetziat Mitzrayim.
 
These words of Kuzari need to be understood and internalized, we cannot let history repeat itself - Divine Providence only gives man as much as he is prepared to receive.
 
Let us take to heart the final words of the Kuzari in his sefer:
 
The verse tells us that we plead of the Almighty:
תהלים פרק קב (יד-טו):
אתה תקום תרחם ציון כי עת לחננה כי בא מועד:
כי רצו עבדיך את אבניה ואת עפרה יחננו:
 
“You shall arise and have mercy upon Zion, for the time to favor her, yea, the set time has come. For your servants take pleasure in her stones and embrace the dust thereof.” (Tehillim 102:14-15)
 
This means that Yerushalayim can only be rebuilt when Israel yearns for it to such an extent that they embrace her stones and dust!
 
Our fate is in our hands, we put ourselves into exile, through pointless discord and disunity, it is up to us to rectify the situation, if we truly wish it, then it is no dream – it can be our reality! If we really believe the prayers that we say so many times every day in so many different ways, then the time has come to do!
 
If I have already alluded to one of my favorite verses in Tehillim, then let me conclude with the important words of two songs that are known to you all, one contemporary the other from Yeshayahu:
אלפיים שנה אני נודד
מחפש את הארץ אותה אני אוהב
כל יום מחדש הלב נשבר
כל יום מחדש אולי מחר
מתי הגאולה

אני מאמין באמונה שלמה
בביאת המשיח
בארץ ישראל של אהבה
בכל יום שיגיע
הנה הנה זה בא
אהבת ישראל בנשמה

כל בוקר ציון אליך אני מתפלל
לא ינום לא יישן שומר ישראל
כל יום מחדש אני אוהב
כל יום מחדש עם כל הלב
שלום על ישראל

אני מאמין באמונה שלמה
בביאת המשיח
בארץ ישראל של אהבה
בכל יום שיגיע
הנה הנה זה בא
אהבת ישראל בנשמה
 
For two thousand years I have wandered
In search of the land that I love so much
Every day my heart is broken
Every day I ask perhaps tomorrow
When will redemption come?
 
I believe with a perfect faith in the coming of Mashiach
To the Land of Israel of love and hope
He could come any day now
Here, here he comes now
The love of Israel is in our souls
 
Every morning I pray towards Zion,
I pray that the One who sleeps not, will guard over Israel
Every morning there is more love
Every morning with all our hearts
Peace upon Israel
 
 
 
ישעיהו פרק כה (ח-ט)
ומחה ה' דמעה מעל כל פנים וחרפת עמו יסיר מעל כל הארץ
ואמר ביום ההוא הנה אלהינו זה  ...... זה ה' קוינו לו נגילה ונשמחה בישועתו:
 
"And the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all of the faces, and the shame of His people shall He remove from off all of the earth. And it shall be said on that day, Lo this is our God; we have waited for Him that He should save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for Him, we shall be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”
 
The endless tears and pain of the years of suffering, 2000 years of slavery and death; the days commemorated during the last week of Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron; all of those tears will be wiped away.
 
And on this wonderful day – on Chag Haatzmaut, we waited so long for this day, and now that it has arrived we will surely rejoice in His salvation! How can anyone not rejoice? As we rub our eyes in disbelief that the return to Zion is happening in our days, that we have merited to see that which our forefathers yearned for every day; that we live in the Old City of Yerushalayim, in the Land of Israel, a land that Moshe Rabbeinu never even merited to enter – surely we are obliged in everyway to open our eyes and rejoice in His salvation!
 
We end with the prayer rooted in the book of Iyov (25:2) and recited so many times daily:
 
 עושה שלום במרומיו ,הוא יעשה שלום ,עלינו ועל כל ישראל ,ואמרו אמן!
May He who makes peace upon high, make peace for us and for Israel – Amen!
 
Chag Atzmaut Sameach!
 
Rav David Milston
 

 

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