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Yom HaAtzmaut 5777

By: Rav David Milston

as given over to the class of 5777 at their Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebrations

The Talmud in Massechet Sanhedrin (94a) maintains that Hamelech Chizkiyahu, who is known to us as being a righteous Judean king, had the potential to become Mashiach but the dream was never realized because he failed to religiously celebrate (literally “sing Shira”) after the miraculous liberation of Jerusalem from the siege of Sancheriv.

There are those who wish to suggest, in his defense, that Chizkiyahu's inability to sing to God in gratitude was due to the fact that the exile of the Ten Tribes of Israel occurred simultaneous to his victory (see Tsafnat Paneach of Rav Yosef Rozhin's commentary on Shas), however, the Talmud appears to judge his lack of song as inexcusable in any event.

We are "Yehudim". Our title is a derivative of the name "Yehuda", as our Matriarch Leah pronounces at the birth of her fourth son: "on this occasion I will thank Hashem" (Bereishit 29:35). Inherent to our being is our capacity to both acknowledge and appreciate our lives and our reality.

The past ten days have been both exhilarating and straining.

Almost within a week of Pesach we confront a more recent episode in our history that becomes more and more shocking as one accumulates more knowledge.

The Holocaust is by far the most outrageous, cruel and unparalleled occurrence since the creation of the world. It represents an all-time low point in the history of man. It is beyond the capacity of human imagination to even begin to perceive what happened to the world during the years between 1933 and 1945. The more one learns about National Socialism, its emergence and consequent successes, the more one rubs one's eyes with disbelief; how, why?

By May 1945, the Jewish people were, to all intents and purposes, "a thing of the past". But as Rabbi Berel Wein said so eloquently in an address at Yeshiva University this year on Erev Pesach - no destroyed nation, or empire for that matter, was ever resurrected except for Am Yisrael. This bunch of tailors and shoemakers somehow came back from the dead to build a State; not the Romans, nor the Greeks, not the British. Empires come empires go, but the Jewish people were decimated and came back – it is unprecedented. It is the valley of the dry bones (Yechezkel 37), a prophecy come true - and we have lived to see this with our own eyes.

So when we juxtapose Yom HaShoah with Yom Haatzmaut, we literally realize verses that we have been reading in hope, despair or even disbelief for close to two millennia. For two thousand years היינו כחולמים, but now הזורעים בדמעה ברינה יקצורו.

And just hours ago, we stood at Har Hertzl together, in memory of our soldiers, of our friends and family who have fallen at the hands of the enemy – 23,544 kedoshim. Courageous soldiers who gave their lives so that others could live in peace in our homeland; Regular citizens who have offered the ultimate sacrifice for having chosen to be a real part of Shivat Tzion.

Rav Mikki Yosefi commented a few days ago that when 7 million Jews stand silently twice for two minutes on Yom Hazikaron, it is probably a unifying experience that is second only to Maamad Har Sinai. Every year at the same hour, 95% of Am Yisrael Hayoshev Betzion stop together in their tracks and recognize that sacrifice. We all must pay tribute to those who have paid the highest price of all.

So last week, on Yom HaShoah, we experienced the notion of a decimated Am Yisrael. But today, just hours ago, you saw our people in their element, standing together with only love and caring, not disdain and hatred, in their eyes. On one day, once a year, we stop and remember that all bets are off, that we are one nation, we share the same destiny; we are together exactly as we were before we received the Torah.

For these two minutes we truly comprehend that just as true unity brought us the Torah, it is that same selflessness that will ultimately bring us real "peace in our time".

If the juxtaposition of Yom HaShoah to Yom Haatzmaut underlines the greatness of our times - the miraculous phenomenon that we call Medinat Yisrael - then the juxtaposition of Yom HaZikaron to Yom Haatzmaut reminds us of the unparalleled sacrifices that we have made and continue to make in order to make our dreams come true.

And it is in the context of Yom HaShoah, and Yom HaZikaron, that we are gathered here now in total religious celebration – טוב להודות לה' ולזמר לשמך עליון.

We cannot and will not repeat the mistakes of years gone by!

Chizkiyahu could have been Mashiach, but he was not because he refrained from saying Shira – and why did he not sing? Because the salvation was imperfect, because ten tribes had simultaneously been exiled. Yet the conclusion of the Talmud is that he should have sung "Shira" nonetheless, even if the liberation was not yet perfect.

So too, today we must sing Shira at the top of our voices - we have come from Shoah and Zikaron, and we are therefore obliged to celebrate, because we are Yehudim and inherent to our name, part and parcel of who and what we are, is our ability to acknowledge and appreciate.

Indeed, we can sit and bemoan all the things that are wrong with our State, matters that need improving. The list is a long and tiresome one, and it is our custom as Israelis to emphasize the contents of that list on every other day of the year. But not today; no, today we will sing Shira; we must acknowledge and appreciate:

·        That close to 7,000,000 Jews live in Israel in the year 5777, as opposed to the 40,000 that lived here during Bayit Sheni.

·        That we have been witnesses to a progressive ingathering of the exiles from Europe, the Americas, Africa even Asia.

·        That we have an army, a police force, a Government – Malchut Yisrael.

·        That we are surrounded by countries that are immersed in devastation corruption and dictatorship, whilst our small haven on earth is moral, democratic and stable.

·        That none of us even know what it means to be a people without a homeland, a people without Jerusalem.

·        That we are celebrating 50 years of Yerushalayim!

·        And we appreciate that we have been lucky enough to be part of Shivat Tzion. What Rabbi Akiva dreamt about is actually our reality. What Yeshayahu told us would happen we have seen!

·        We are the "dry bones" of Yechezkel, we are a prophecy!

·        We are not taking the picture; we are not reading the prophecy; we are the picture, we are the prophecy!

·        The voice of our beloved is knocking at the door, and we have jumped from our beds and opened the door – קול דודי דופק וקמתי לדודי!

There was a time almost seventy years ago when this day was celebrated by the entire nation without exception. Here is an excerpt from HaModia (A Right wing Orthodox newspaper May 1951):

"Throughout our country and the Diaspora, we are celebrating the third anniversary of the State of Israel. With Military displays, formal celebrations and gatherings throughout the Jewish world; hundreds of differing types of festivity reflecting real joy, expressing enthusiasm regarding this huge historical event.

This commemoration of the State is celebrated by all of the citizens of Israel, and indeed by every Jew wherever he may be. This day is rejoiced by anyone who considers himself a member of Am Yisrael. On this day we will lay aside differing ideologies. Political arguments will be buried, and the nation will emerge together as one.

Because we all experienced the traumas leading up to our independence; we all paid a price with the blood of our young children, and we all, together, carry the burden and responsibility of gathering in the remaining exiles of our nation, indeed this is the ultimate purpose of our State."

In 1951, every one realized the uniqueness of our historical predicament. It is hard to imagine the same newspaper writing this editorial today - but why not?

The answer can be found in a Talmudic discussion in Massechet Sanhedrin (92b). The Gemara is discussing what happened after the dry bones described in Yechezkel actually came to life:

Rabbi Eliezer states that they stood up sang to God and consequently died….

Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yossi Haglili said that the bones went to Israel, married and had children.

Thereupon Rabbi Yehuda ben Betaira stood up and declared, “I am a descendant of those very bones and the tefillin I am wearing now are from my grandfather who was one of them!”

Chatam Sofer, when explaining the above Gemara, maintains that all the views are correct.

Everyone experienced and appreciated the miracle when it happened, but there are those who almost as quickly as they come to life return to their previous predicament. They are unable to maintain their euphoric state and regress into complacency and mediocrity. On the other hand there are others who never let go - they keep the dream, the euphoria, alive.

Sixty-nine years ago, just three years away from Holocaust, the greatness of the day was simply undeniable. It was celebrated by absolutely everyone - but as time passed some of those bones simply lost their perspective.

We, ladies, are not those bones. We follow the comments of Rabbi Yossi Haglili. We are the bones who went to Israel, married and had children.

Our role today is to spread our excitement, to help our brothers regain that perspective, to bring those bones that lost their perspective back to our reality.

Far from fading into the horizon, the miracle today is no less. The miracle grows by the moment, but we are simply required to look a little more carefully.

You who have seen what you have seen; those of you who have stood in the gas chambers of Maidanek, the forests of Lupochowa and the barn of Yedvavne. You who have seen the tragedy, the sacrifice and the glory that is Har Herzl – I say to you – join us, wake up from the dream and start living the prophecy!

Chag Hatzmaut Sameach

David Milston


Midreshet HaRova

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