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Yom HaAtzmaut Address 5779

By: Rav David Milston

How is this night different from all other nights?

Just two and a half weeks ago we sat down to Leil Haseder. We invested considerable time both before and during the evening, as we do every year, endeavoring to insure that the discussions of the evening be pertinent to all those sitting around the table.

Using a medium suggested a number of years ago by Rav Medan (one of the Rashei Yeshiva at Har Etzion), a few days before Pesach I scour the newspapers looking for contemporary events that are in some way connected to יציאת מצרים.

Thirty days beforehand, we celebrated Purim, and before that Chanukah – זכר ליציאת מצרים ובימים ההם בזמן הזה

There is so much emphasis in our yearly cycle on remembering.

זכר ליציאת מצרים – is a daily, a weekly, monthly commandment to remember how, and also why we left Egypt.

בימים ההם בזמן הזה – means that, on those special days of Purim and Chanukah, we are noting that events that ‘happened then’ happened on the particular day in the calendar that we are celebrating.

As teachers, parents, counsellors, and individuals, we are charged with the responsibility of taking events that happened a long time ago and integrating them into our modern day reality. Indeed, even though we don't use the phrase בימים ההם בזמן הזה for our three Torah based festivals we, by our actions, either around the Seder table or in the Sukkah, "go back in a time machine" as such, to re-enact events that occurred three millennia ago.

But perhaps there is an alternate way of looking at our yearly calendar:

At the very start of our journey to Eastern Europe I often suggest the following idea to our students:

We regularly refer to the Almighty as “היה הווה ויהיה – Was Is and Will be”. The most obvious way to understand this ‘description’ of God is that He is Eternal; He was in the past, is now, and will be in the future.

But perhaps we could suggest an alternate idea –

As human beings we are bound by time. Irrespective of our time keeping manners, every one of us is bound by the past the present and the future. These are three distinct elements of our reality that cannot be confused – yesterday, today and tomorrow. In stark contrast the Almighty, though involved in this world, is above and beyond time. So when we describe the Almighty God as “היה הווה ויהיה”, we are saying that He is past, present and future concurrently. The minute one leaves the reality of this world time becomes irrelevant.

If we accept this idea then if, for example, we are standing at the entrance to the Warsaw cemetery in January 2019, from a Heavenly perspective it is also January 1942. The place is the exact same place; the difference is time, but time is only relevant to those of us living in this world. Similarly, in essence, the 15th of Nisan every year is the Exodus – the Exodus is actually happening as we sit at our seder. The two different days are divided by time, but outside of this world time does not exist.

If we approach בימים ההם בזמן הזה from this angle we are not in fact going back in time but rather reliving the same event every year. To my mind this notion is alluded to in many Chassidic works that discuss special moments in the yearly calendar and what can be derived from each festive period.

Either way we are, throughout the year, at every event, working overtime to try and make a deep connection between what happened then and what we are experiencing today.

אבל מה נשתנה בלילה הזה מכל הלילות – All those years ago, we began this period of time, with the Exodus from Egypt – Pesach, and concluded the Journey with receiving the Torah – on Shavuot. Today, we have merited adding to that.

Today, in addition, we celebrate our contemporary exodus from Europe, from the Holocaust, with Yom Haatzmaut (juxtaposed to Pesach), and in just a few weeks, we will celebrate our contemporary spiritual redemption with Yom Yerushalayim (juxtaposed to Shavuot).

But why are these "festivals" (and they are festivals) of Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim different? Because they are not בימים ההם בזמן הזה! They are עכשיו בזמן הזה!

We are not rereading stories from three thousand years ago - we are the story! We are not trying to understand a prophecy of Yeshayahu or Yechezkel - we are that prophecy. Our younger children are the children running around the Old City of Yerushalayim that Zecharia spoke of; together with our older children we have merited to experience עוד ישמע בערי יהודה ובחוצות ירושלים! I was married in Yerushalayim and my daughter בערי יהודה. On this night, we don't need to "work hard" to find the relevance of something that happened years ago and connect with it. Tonight we are celebrating our reality.

שיר המעלות בשוב ה' את שיבת ציון היינו כחולמים – we have been dreaming about this for so many years that it is hard to realize that it is actually happening before our eyes!

אשרינו מה טוב חלקינו ומה נעים גורלנו ומה יפה ירושתנו! We could have been born in Spain 1492, or in Germany 1933, but we weren't – we were born now. We are living in the State of Israel. We have lived to see Malchut – we have lived to see מקימי מעפר דל מאשפות ירים אביון. Who could honestly deliberate about reciting Hallel today? Indeed whether or not to read Hallel on Yom HaAtzmaut is not the real question. The question is why don't we recite Hallel twice a day, every day?! Especially those of us who work and live in the Old City of Yerushalayim.

All of those Great Gedolim that we, who were on the trip to Poland, visited a few months ago, the Vilna Gaon, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, the Rema, the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman to name but a few – what would they have given to be sitting where we are today, minutes away from Har Habayit?

Tonight we are celebrating the chesed that the Ribbono Shel Olam has given us – a State of Israel.

On Erev Pesach a famous church in Paris burned down, the Notre Dame. A number of religious Jews pointed out the connection between this event and the burning of the Talmud at that very same place over 700 years ago. The conflagration in Paris then was compared by the contemporary scholar Rabbi Meir b. Baruch of Rothenberg to the destruction of the Temple in an elegy Sha'ali Serufah ("Ask is it well, O thou consumed in fire") included in the kinot of the Ninth of Av. The Maharam then cursed the said church and said that it would burn down. Over seven hundred years later that is what happened. Personally I have yet to fully understand this comment but it is clear to me that if there are those that see a connection between the curse of a "Rishon" and an event in the 21st century, then קל וחומר  we should see the connection between the words of our prophets and what is happening before our very eyes!

For years we read the prophecy of the dry bones in Yechezkel without being able to fathom its significance, yet when you stand at the enormous pile of ashes and bones at Maidanek with your Israeli flag, what was for so many years an enigma seems so clear.

Holocaust survivors, Yemenite Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Soviet Jewry – וקבץ פזורינו מבין הגויים!

This year we have had the zechut of two Days of Independence, ימי העצמאות.

At the beginning of the month of Nisan we had elections in Israel. I have had the zechut of living here for 29 years so these weren't my first elections, but what made this day even more special for me was the fact that it was the first time that my parents could vote here.

 

So I drove to Netanya, early on the Tuesday morning of elections, and took my parents to the polling booth. It was such a significant moment for me and for them; it transformed the day into a chag. I was on a high all day, essentially turning the day into Yom Haatzmaut. We even did a BBQ at the end of the day to wind things up.

Specifically our generation, who really don't know what it is to be without Israel, to be without Jerusalem, we have to stop, look and realize on this day at the gift that we have. We cannot take this for granted; we cannot take anything for granted.

On Yom Hashoah my sister in England sent me a poster with the following words:

 

Jews have two memorial days:

Yom HaZikaron is there to remind us of the cost of having Israel.

Yom HaShoah is to remind us the cost of not having Israel.

 

The end of Yom HaZikaron marks the end of what I can only describe as being a holy day. So many people sacrificed their lives so that we could be here celebrating tonight. Our celebrations are incomplete without them. But nonetheless one cannot help but contrast the predicament of Am Yisrael this evening to the state that we were in on this same day 74 years ago.

I have thought this so many times, said this so many times, but I can never get tired of saying it:

אני עומד על החומה
עומד בגשם לבדי וכל העיר העתיקה
מונחת לי על כף ידי אני מביט בה מאוהב
אני עולה לכאן תמיד סתם להביט
אבל עכשיו אני נמצא כאן בתפקיד
אבל עכשיו אני נמצא כאן בתפקיד


כן, כן, מי חלם אז בכיתה
כשלמדנו לדקלם על חומותייך ירושלים
הפקדתי שומרים
שיום יגיע ואהיה אחד מהם
שיום יגיע ואהיה אחד מהם
שיום יגיע ואהיה אחד מהם

אני חלמתי על ירושלים שהייתי ילד באנגליה, התפללנו על ירושלים, וכבר 25 שנה אני נמצא כאן בתפקיד! דקלמנו על חומות ירושלים, ועכשיו אני מגיע כל יום לכאן. אנשים משתדלים להגיע לכאן בחגים – איזה עומס, אבל אנחנו נמצאים כאן – מי חלם אז בכיתה!?

There is a beracha that is so pertinent tonight – שהחיינו וקיימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה!

We need to say these words with so much כוונה, we are alive and kicking, and we are here tonight. Unbelievable!

חג עצמאות שמח

 

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