Israel's Independence Day.
(photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
As in years past, Israelis are celebrating the 68th anniversary of our national rebirth with all the pomp and ceremony they can muster.
Colorful fireworks will illuminate the night sky, festive concerts and performances will grace various locales throughout the country and inordinate quantities of beef, chicken and other carnivore treats will be consumed and at least partly digested in a multitude of barbecues across this great land.
Independence Day is an occasion rife with merriment and collective bliss, and that is how it should be, as the Jewish people revel in the freedom that was denied them for so long. But this very special date on the Jewish calendar is far more than just a blue and white version of the fourth of July, marking the date a feisty group of brave upstarts declared their independence from British occupation and tyranny. And if all we do is focus on hamburgers, harmonies and the hora, then we will be missing the point entirely.
Sure, Independence Day is about bliss, but it is also steeped in blessing. The establishment of the modern State of Israel was a Divine gift to a beleaguered people who crawled out of the ovens of Europe to rebuild their national home. It marks one of the greatest turning points in all of Jewish history, and a critical signpost on the path of Jewish destiny.
Amid our daily routines, when we sit in traffic on the way to work, have difficulty finding a parking space, or stand in interminably long lines at the post office, it is easy to overlook the miracle that is staring us constantly in the face.
After all, the very fact that our roads are crowded is itself a sign of redemption, for it means that against all the odds, the Land of Israel is once again filling up with Jews.
Religious Zionists view the birth of the state as “the beginning of the flowering of our redemption.” This infuses Independence Day with majestic meaning, underlining the spiritual grandeur of the day and the historic events that it commemorates. And that is why our merriment should be crowned with at least an element of contemplation, if only to better appreciate the splendor of this momentous day.
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Over 2,500 years ago, the prophet Zechariah (8:4-5) foretold, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: old men and women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem.... And the streets of the city will fill up, with boys and girls playing in its streets.”
Next time you see an old couple sitting quietly on a bench in Independence Park, or schoolchildren at play in the grassy fields of Sacher Park, think back to this verse and realize that without the renewal of Jewish sovereignty this might not have been possible.
Independence Day is the handiwork of God, and for reasons which only He can grasp, our generation has merited seeing it.
Consider this tidbit of information: the State of Israel was reborn in 1948, which was the year 5708 on the Hebrew calendar. And the 5708th verse in the Torah is Deuteronomy 30:5, which reads as follows: “And the Lord your God will bring you to the Land that your fathers possessed, and you will possess it, and He will do good unto you and multiply you more than your forebears.”
Skeptics will dismiss this as mere coincidence, but I prefer to see it as the Creator’s way of reminding us of the supreme significance of this special day.
Yes, we are still beset by enemies at home and abroad, surrounded by those intent on our destruction, and under constant criticism from the international community. But despite all the challenges, we must never for a moment lose our sense of awe and wonder about the miraculous times in which we are living.
In one of his many books, the author Simcha Raz recounts a beautiful story told by Yiddish journalist Dr. Hillel Zeidman about the great Rabbi Aryeh Levin, who was known as “the Tzaddik of Jerusalem,” which took place in 1949 on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day.
Zeidman describes how he and his wife went out into the streets of Jerusalem to join in the celebrations. “I was surprised,” he says, “to bump into Rabbi Aryeh dancing with youth in the city streets. His face beamed with joy as he danced with religious fervor.”
When Rabbi Levin saw Dr. Zeidman, he explained what prompted him to participate in the festivities: “After the sea of tears and the flood of hardships that befell our Jewish brethren in the Holocaust, we finally have the good fortune to see Jewish children dancing with joy in their hearts. You tell me, isn’t this alone sufficient reason for us to give praise and thanksgiving to the Lord of the Universe?” Indeed, it most certainly is. Have a happy and meaningful Independence Day.
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