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A Song of Elevation

By: Rav David Milston

() ֗ ֥֫ ֣ ' ֣ ֑ ֝֗ :

() ֤ ֢ ֡ ֘ ֪ ֥֫ ֭ ֣ ֑ ֥ ' ֥ :

() ֣ ' ֥ ֗ ֥ :

() ֣  ' ֑ ֥ :

() ֥ ֗ ֥ :

() ֤֮ ֨ ֘ ֪ ֥֫ ֥֬ ֑ ֝֗ :


A Song of elevation.

When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like men in a dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.

Then they said among the nations, The Lord has done great things for them.

The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.

Bring back our captivity, Oh Lord, like the steams in the Negev.

They who sow in tears shall reap in joy.

He who goes weeping on his way, bearing a bag of seed,

shall come back with a joyful shout, carrying his sheaves.

Tonight we celebrate 67 years of independence, 67 years of Malchut Yisrael, over a hundred years of Shivat Tzion. These years of glorious independence have not been easy, but nothing of real worth is easy. Indeed we are still fighting for our borders, for our security, for our right to live in peace in our homeland as a Jewish Nation. This past summer we lost so many soldiers, not forgetting our three boys, a summer of war and tragedy, followed by an autumn of relentless terror; but we shall not be moved, we have the resilience, we have the belief, we have the courage, we are determined to see redemption through to the end, bezrat Hashem!  As long as we stay together, united as a nation, there can be no turning back.

The juxtaposition of Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom Haatzmaut, in the middle of Chag HaCherut – Pesach, Sefirat HaOmer and Shavuot - is significant to say the least; Holocaust in the week of Gevurah, Independence in the week of Tifferet, with Yom Yerushalayim still to come in the week of Malchut. Tonight we sing, we celebrate because we can hear our beloved Ribono Shel Olam knocking at the door. But on this occasion, we will not remain in our night dress, we will not be apathetic when the Almighty comes knocking at our door – this time we will arise quickly and run to our calling. I have made so many choices in life but the most important decision was 25 years ago, when I decided to come here and be a part of Shivat Tzion, and never for one moment have I ever regretted the day that I returned home. This is my life - Israel is my life, and I am eternally thankful to the Almighty that I was born into this reality, that I have been able to live a life of Am Yisrael, Torat Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael.

֗ ֥֫ ֣ ' ֣ ֑ ֝֗ :

"When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like men in a dream."

We have been praying for two millennia. I suppose that we have got so used to the reality of exile, that when the return to Zion first began we could not believe our eyes – surely we were dreaming, and apparently some of us still are! A people that pray regularly for next year in Jerusalem have been given Jerusalem, not next year, not next month, now – Har habayit beyadeinu! We shake our heads in disbelief, are we imagining? Is this a mirage in the desert of exile? After being expelled from so many countries, after an eternity of pogroms, after the absolute devastation of the Holocaust, is it finally happening? Are we dreaming? Can it be true that we live in the Old City of Yerushalayim? That we are witnessing with our own eyes Am Yisrael returning home from Europe, from the North America, from South America, from Africa!? Are we hallucinating?

The answer is - no we are not. Rabbi Akiva, all those years ago, had a vision. He believed in that dream to the degree that he could stand and look at the destroyed ruins of the Mikdash and laugh for the future. His dream is our reality – should we not laugh? Can we not sing? Surely this night is different from all other nights, because it marks the beginning of the final redemption! We shall sing and dance and thank the Almighty, from darkness to light, from exile to return, from the Holocaust of Europe to our Homeland Israel.

We have been studying the prophets for so long as an eventual utopia that when the predictions therein are actually realizing themselves right in front of our eyes we cannot see them for what they are! Rabbi Akiva spoke of the day when the prophecy of Zecharia would come true, when we would see small children running around the streets of the Old City. Do you think that they believed this could happen in Birkenau, in Belzec just over seventy years ago? But we see it every minute of the day - his aspiration is our life.

The time has come to wake up. This is no dream, this is Shivat Tzion. We are living a prophecy. Yes – we are a prophecy! For us as a nation there is nothing more important, more crucial than Israel. This is top of the agenda of Am Yisrael – the alarm bell has sounded, whatever we do, we must not press the snooze button; wake up, wake up; the time has come to realize our dream!

"֤ ֢ ֡ ֘ ֪ ֥֫"

"Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing."

If on Purim we celebrate, the annulling of a decree, and the death of a rabid anti-Semite, should we not laugh and sing today, when we rejoice in our return to Israel, Malchut Yisrael? ! True, these are days of "Sefira", a time when many students of Rabbi Akiva died, but if we break from our mourning on Lag BaOmer because the epidemic ceased is it inconceivable that we stop mourning for a day to rejoice in the miracle of Medinat Yisrael? We have received such a wondrous gift - should we respond by falling on our faces and reciting or by reaching to the skies in the songs of ?

Rambam declared a family festival to mark the day he visited Jerusalem and Hebron. What would the Rambam say if he came here today, and saw Knesset Yisrael, the IDF, the hundreds of Yeshivot and Seminaries? Is it plausible to assume that he would refrain from celebration from ? Rabbi Akiva himself, who dreamt of redemption, would he not celebrate this miraculous return after two thousand years?

Of course there is still much to do. We have been dispersed and attacked for two millennia - what did we expect? But where would you rather be - in Warsaw, in Kiev or in Jerusalem? Do you prefer to live on the outside criticizing ceaselessly, or on the inside making a difference, making it happen?

It is so easy to see the half empty cup, but after years of "dehydration", for years of emptiness and shattered fragments of glass, look what we have here! Our cup is filled overflowing with joy! Our mouths are filled with laughter, and we will sing throughout the day!

֭ ֣ ֑ ֥ ' ֥ ""

"Then they said among the nations, The Lord has done great things for them"

The United States of America, initially, refused to support the establishment of the State of Israel. They thought we would be decimated by our neighbors. Prior to the Six Day War the world predicted a massacre – "last one out turn off the lights". Who could have imagined the raid at Entebbe, the aliyah from Ethiopia? West Germany almost collapsed when it was reunified with the East, yet our country integrated Soviet Jewry! The growth, the economy, the technology; the countries of Europe struggle, yet we are, baruch Hashem, doing so well! Time and again the world has seen the Almighty perform miracles for the Jewish Nation in Israel. At West Point, where they study strategy and tactics, they aren't even prepared to discuss the 1967 war - it simply does not make sense. Often in life others see in you what you cannot see for yourself. The nations see and they cannot believe. They spend so much time discussing this little dot on the world atlas; they are preoccupied with Israel, and our nation - true, not always in the positive sense, but time and again, they recognize the miracle that is Israel, even if they refuse to publicly express that wonder.  

֣ ' ֥ ֗ ֥ ""

"The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad"

We are called "Yehudim" – "Hodaa" – it should be our nature to thank the Almighty, to appreciate what we have. How many Jews returned to Zion during the times of Bayit Sheni, and how many Jews live in Israel today? How many Yeshivot were there in Eastern Europe, and how many are there today? How many times in the last two thousand years have we been able to enjoy true independence? When was the last time we had a Jewish army and Police force? When was the last time that we could stand and fend for ourselves?

Tonight is not a night to see what is wrong - we do that every single day of the year. We don't stop criticizing and complaining. But for 24 hours a year, we must stop and see and thank. We must be happy, because however bad we may think it is we have not had it so good for a very long time! Do not look through the keyhole – open the door and see the picture for what it truly is.

֣  ' ֑ ֥ ""

"Bring back our captivity, Oh Lord, like the steams in the Negev"

We are here because the Almighty has helped us. It would be a terrible mistake to think that we have done this alone. Israel is an ongoing miracle, and it is with this in mind that we turn to the Almighty and ask that he help reach the finishing line. We ask that He help us complete the return to Zion.

The redemption of Israel requires all of Am Yisrael, we need all of our people together with us here, and we need to make this happen.

For so many years we have become used to two terms – the individual, and the community; but there is a third term – "Am Yisrael" – Israel the nation. God sees us as one nation. He does not differentiate between religious and irreligious; He does not have different sections in Olam Haba for Ashkenazim, Sefaradim, and Teimanim – that would be unthinkable, absurd. The Almighty sees us as one, and we must act accordingly. We need all of the "tribes of Israel" in the land of our forefathers. And we pray to the Almighty that he help us in our task.

"֥ ֗ ֥ :

֤֮ ֨ ֘ ֪ ֥֫ ֥֬ ֑ ֝֗ "

"They who sow in tears shall reap in joy.

He who goes weeping on his way, bearing a bag of seed,

shall come back with a joyful shout, carrying his sheaves."

God helps those who help themselves. Yom HaZikaron is such a hard day, so many have fallen in battle, so many have been victims of terror. For a large part of our population Yom HaZikaron is an everyday occurrence. Their lives will never be the same. Indeed, we returned to a swamp land, a third world country, and turned it into a dreamland. But this has come at a price; yesterday we remembered the sowing in tears, the weeping on the way. We spoke of how Yom HaZikaron is an inherent part of Yom Haatzmaut. Yes we have our State through the grace of God, but not only through the grace of God, also through the blood sweat and tears of "HaAm hayoshev Betzion". The courage of every family, of every citizen, to stay here and fight, to relentlessly build and make it work, are an integral part of our celebration. So many immigrants could have remained in the Diaspora and had an "easier life', but instead they chose Shivat Tzion, they chose to be a part of a greater scheme; they chose not to simply excel as individuals, not just to unite as a community; but to play a role in Am Yisrael BeEretz Yisrael! They sacrificed their individual aspirations; they have given it their all – all for the dream of nationhood.

We turn to the Almighty and ask Him to return us, but he says to us first you return to me. The time has come and the time is now!


Chag Atzmaut Sameach

Rav Milston


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