It is easy to miss the point of Yom Ha’atzma’ut. The main point of Yom Ha’atzma’ut is not that we were saved from our enemies and won The War of Independence; the war actually intensified as a result of the Declaration of Independence and only won a year later. It is also not the Return of The Exiles, which only occurred in subsequent years, while at its establishment there were only approximately 600,000 Jews in the new State of Israel.
So what actually happened on the Fifth of Iyar that merits celebrating it as a religious holiday?
A similar question could be asked regarding יציאת מצרים. What had been achieved at the moment of the Exodus itself? The Egyptians were not yet vanquished, we had yet to receive Torah and we were far, far away from the ideal of being a גוי קדוש, a holly nation.
The answer to both questions is similar – Birth. They both marked the birth of The Jewish People as a nation.
Because we were born in מצרים we were able to witness the final destruction of our enemy, because we were born out of מצרים we were able to receive Torah and enter Eretz Yisrael. The same is true for Yom Ha’atzma’ut. Because The State was established we were able to win the war and because The State of Israel was established hundreds of thousands of Jews could return home.
On that Friday afternoon on תש”ח ה אייר, May 14th 1948 in Tel Aviv, we, The Jewish People, stood on our feet and declared – to ourselves, to Hashem and to the world – “This is our home. We are back. We are alive.” A nation was reborn. 1800 years of tears, dreams and prayers had come to an end with the rebirth of a people, free once again to realize its communal identity in the full faculties of a sovereign nation, in the newly formed state.
That is the significance of Yom Ha’atzma’ut day. Everything else stemmed from that day – the military victories, the in-gathering of the exiles, the blossoming of the desert, the flourishing of Torah study and observance, the economic boom and so much more. And, just as with יציאת מצרים, the process may not be complete. But we now know to identify the trials and tribulations we face not merely as an exilic struggle for survival, rather, as the “growing pains” of a nation blessed from above with the rejuvenation of youth and vitality.
May we recognize the ברכה bestowed upon us by Hashem in our generations. May we always appreciate the privilege we have to witness, contribute to and participate in, the realization of the dreams and prayers of millions of Jews over the past two millennia in מדינת ישראל today.
!יום עצמאות שמח
Reprinted with Permission.
Rabbi Yair Spitz, a native of Cleveland, OH grew up in Israel and studied in Merkaz Harav affiliated Yeshivot. He also holds a BA in Education and MA in Jewish History. Rabbi Spitz has spent his professional career on the fault-lines between Israel and the US, serving as the Rabbi of The Baron Hirsch Congregation in Memphis, TN, a summer camp director in both Israel and the US as well as a faculty member of several post high school and post college yeshivot. Rabbi Spitz is currently on Shlichut in Toronto, Canada, where he serves as the principal of Yeshivat Or Chaim.