The sanctity of Independence Day – by virtue of observing the mitzvah of settling the land, sanctifying God’s name, and salvation from our enemies • Anyone who does not admit that the State of Israel saved the Jewish people from secularization and assimilation – is ungrateful towards God and Zionism • It is fitting to visit the new settlements on Independence Day, and even more appropriate to dedicate the day to studying about the People, the Land, and Redemption • Inheritance of the Land is contingent on the fulfillment of the mitzvah of procreation • In the days of Yehoshua, the Nation of Israel found it difficult to inherit the land because of a lack of people • Today as well, if we strengthen the birthrate, the State of Israel’s situation will improve immeasurably
The Three Sanctities of Israel Independence Day
Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Israel Independence Day) is crowned with three sanctities:
1) The mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel). At the time of the proclamation of the establishment of the State, the Jewish people returned to observe the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, whose main point is for the Land of Israel to be under Jewish sovereignty (Ramban, Beit Yosef, Bach, O. C. 561; M.A. 1, M.B. 2).
2) The sanctification of the Name of God in the eyes of the nations – through the fulfillment of the words of the Prophets who prophesied about Israel’s ingathering to their Land, as it is written: “For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land” (Ezekiel 36:24), and in numerous other verses. Our Sages said: “The Ingathering of the Exiles is as great as the day upon which the heaven and earth were created” (Pesachim 88a). And as Rabbi Abba said: “There is no clearer sign of the End of Days than this verse: ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, will give forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they are soon to come” (Ezekiel 36:8) (Sanhedrin 98a).
3) The sanctity of the saving of Israel from their adversaries, for on Yom Ha’atzma’ut, the People of Israel were rescued from slavery to liberty, from enslavement to foreign rulers with all that entails, to political independence. As a result, the Jewish people were also saved from actual death to life, for until then we were unable to defend ourselves against our enemies who persecuted us, but since then, with the grace of God, we defend ourselves and are victorious.
Some people find it difficult to rejoice on Yom Ha’Atzma’ut because they accept the falsehood that the Zionist movement caused the abandonment of Torah and mitzvot. However, the truth is the exact opposite. Although many disbelievers operated within the framework of the Zionist movement and one of their goals was to secularize the nation, in practice, thanks to the Zionist movement and its activities on behalf of the ingathering of the exiles, the Jewish people were saved physically and spiritually.
Secularism was caused due to many reasons – mainly because of the difficulty in dealing with enlightenment and modern society. Aliyah (immigration) to Israel was not the source of the problem, but rather, the solution. Consequently, in all Diaspora communities the percentage of assimilation and secularism is immeasurably greater than in Israel. Anyone who refuses to see this, and slanders the State of Israel, is an ingrate – unthankful for the goodness God has bestowed upon us, and unappreciative towards the activists of the Zionist movement over the generations.
Therefore, despite weaknesses and occasional wrongdoings by Ministers and Prime Ministers, all the same, our joy and thanksgiving for Yom Ha’atzma’ut remains firm and valid, for all three sanctities of the day have not changed.
The Mitzvah to Set a Yom Tov over Salvation
It is a mitzvah to establish a Yom Tov (holiday), to rejoice and praise God, on a day Jews were delivered from distress. This is what prompted the Rabbis to establish Purim and Hanukkah as eternal holidays. Even though it is forbidden to add mitzvot onto those already written in the Torah, nevertheless, on a day in which Jews were delivered from distress, it is a mitzvah to fix a day of joy and thanksgiving. The Rabbis derived this from a kal va’chomer (a logical inference): When we left Egypt and were delivered from slavery to freedom, God commanded us to celebrate Pesach and sing praise to Him every year; all the more so must we celebrate Purim, when we were saved from death to life (according to Megillah 14a, and also explained by Ritva, ibid).
The Chatam Sofer explains that since this mitzvah is derived from a kal va’chomer, it is considered a Biblical commandment. However, the Torah does not give detailed instructions exactly how to observe the holiday. Therefore, one who does anything whatsoever to commemorate the salvation fulfills his Biblical obligation; it was the Rabbis who determined we read the Megillah, prepare a festive meal, send portions of food to others, and give charity to the poor on Purim, and light the candles on Hanukkah (Y.D. end of 233, O.C. 208).
Establishing a Yom Tov on Yom Ha’atzma’ut
Thus, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate headed by the foremost Rabbis of Eretz Yisrael at the time – lead by two of Israel’s illustrious Torah scholars – Rabbi Herzog and Rabbi Uziel, established Yom Ha’atzma’ut as a Yom Tov. This was also the opinion of the majority of Rabbis in Israel.
Similarly, the illustrious Gaon, Rabbi Meshulam Roth, wrote in his responsa ‘Kol Mevaser’, that it is a mitzvah to establish a Yom Tov on Yom Ha’atzma’ut, explaining this obligation based on Ramban, Ritva, and other Rishonim and Acharonim. He clarifies that this is not in violation of bal toseef (“You shall not add”), for the prohibition against inventing a holiday refers only to holidays that do not commemorate a salvation. Based on the kal va’chomer, however, we are obligated to institute holidays that commemorate salvations.
Israel’s Custom for Generations
This is not a new minhag (custom) introduced for Yom Ha’atzma’ut, rather, this was the practice of numerous Jewish communities who instituted days of joy in commemoration of miracles that happened to them. Many of them used the name Purim in reference to these days, such as ‘Frankfort Purim’, or ‘Tiberias Purim’. Some communities had a custom to partake in festive meals, to send portions of food to one another, and to give charity to the poor (see Maharam Alshakar 49, M.A. and E.R. 686; Chayei Adam 155:41; Yaskil Avdi, vol. 7, O.C. 44:12).
Since one is obligated to thank and praise God for the miracles He performed on our behalf, consequently, it is a mitzvah to recite Hallel on Yom Ha’atzma’ut, the day we were delivered from the greatest trouble of all – that of exile and subjugation to foreigners, which caused all of the terrible decrees and massacres we suffered for nearly two thousand years.
Similarly, the Talmud states that after the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea, “the prophets among them enacted that the Jews should recite Hallel for each and every time, and each and every trouble – may it not come upon them! – and when they are redeemed, they should recite it in thankfulness for their redemption” (Pesachim 117a). Rashi explains that according to this, the Sages of the Second Temple era enacted the recitation of Hallel on Hanukkah (this is also explained in Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:6, Shemot Rabbah 23:12, and Megillah 14a).
The Gaon, Rabbi Meshulam Roth, wrote that it is a mitzvah to recite Hallel with a blessing, and this is our custom. Nevertheless, there are Gedolim (eminent Torah scholars) who, owing to various concerns, instructed to recite Hallel without a blessing, and those wishing to do so have a valid source to rely upon. However, those who believe that one should not thank God for the establishment of the State of Israel and all the positive things which occurred as a result of it have no halakhic basis to rely on, deny the goodness of HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and distance the Redemption (Sanhedrin 94a).
Torah Study on Yom Ha’atzma’ut
As in all of Israel’s Yamim Tovim (holidays), it is a mitzvah to set a time for Torah study on Yom Ha’atzma’ut. There are two main reasons for this. First, in days in which holiness is revealed, this sanctity must be expressed by the study of Torah, which is the highest and most exalted mitzvah. This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “Shabbat and Yom Tov were given solely to study Torah on them” (y. Shabbat 15c). Second, each day has its own character, and it is a mitzvah to study Torah concerning affairs of the day. As our Sages said, “Moses laid down a rule for the Israelites that they should enquire and give expositions concerning the subject of the day — the laws of Pesach on Pesach, the laws of Atzeret (Shavuot) on Atzeret, the laws of Chag (Sukkot) on Chag” (Megillah 32a).
Four Levels in Celebrating Yom Ha’atzma’ut
In addition to the thanksgiving prayers and festive meal, there are four various levels of celebrators on Yom Ha’atzmaut.
The lowest level is going out to a park and having a barbeque. Although such actions are devoid of spiritual content, nevertheless, if the participants are happy about God’s salvation of His People – their festive meal can be considered a se’udat mitzvah.
On the second level are those who tour sites where the rebuilding of the State of Israel’s can be observed, such as national industries, museums about the history of the settlement of Israel, and military bases.
The third level are people who take trips to visit the communities in Judea and Samaria, to observe the continuation of the settling of the Land, and recite the blessing “matziv gevul almana” (“Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who sets a limit for a widow”). Concerning a settlement that one has visited previously, although thirty days have passed since one’s last visit, the custom is not to recite another blessing. However, if in the meantime, more houses were built in the community, a blessing should be recited.
The fourth and highest level are those who study Torah on Yom Ha’atzmaut, dealing with subjects related to the mitzvah of settling the Land, the mitzvah to serve in the army in order to protect the nation and the country, and matters connected to Clal Yisrael and the Redemption. Together with this, they enjoy a festive meal, accompanied by thanksgiving and happiness for the salvation we merited in the establishment of the State of Israel, and the Ingathering of the Exiles.
Yishuv Ha’aretz and the Mitzvah of Puru u’Revuru
One of the important subjects that should be dealt with on Yom Ha’atzma’ut is the mitzvah of puru u’revuru (procreation), by means of which Israel inherits the Holy Land, as it was said to our forefather Yaacov: “I will give to you and your descendants the land upon which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth. You shall spread out to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south. All the families on earth will be blessed through you and your descendants” (Genesis 28:13-14).
When Israel was about to enter the Land, the Divine instruction was to inherit only the western side of the Jordan, despite the fact that the eastern side of the Jordan River is part of Eretz Yisrael and had already been conquered, as explained in the Torah portion ‘Massey’. This was because the ‘Dor HaMidbar’ (the Generation of the Desert) despised the Land of Israel and was negligent in the mitzvah of puru u’revuru, and consequently, during the forty years of wandering in the desert, they did not continue to multiply and increase as they did in Egypt. This created a situation in which there were not enough people to properly inherit the eastern side of the Jordan as well (see, Ramban, Numbers 21:21).
The price paid for not having enough Jews to settle all of the Land of Israel was that our enemies remained, and the Torah’s warning, “If you do not drive out the land’s inhabitants before you, those who remain shall be barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, causing you troubles in the land that you settle” (Numbers 33:55), came to fruition.
The State of the Country Depends on Birth
About 120 years ago, at the time of the establishment of the Zionist movement, all the Jews of the world numbered approximately 12 million. The number of Arabs living in all the regions surrounding Eretz Yisrael, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, was similar. The Arabs in Eretz Yisrael on both sides of the Jordan numbered only a few hundred thousand. Had the Jewish nation merited immigrating in millions to Eretz Yisrael, our situation today would have been immeasurably better. However, we failed to do so, and in the meantime we were thrashed through the Nazi holocaust, Communist annihilation and assimilation, and today the number of known Jews worldwide is approaching 14 million, while the Arabs surrounding us number more than 200 million.
And yet, the future is in our hands. If we strengthen ourselves in this mitzvah and give our children a good education, within a few generations we will be able to make up for what we have lost. God-willing, I hope to expand on this in my next column. (If one of the readers is a historiographer who can help by providing accurate data on the number of Jews and Arabs in the past and present, I would greatly appreciate it).
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.