A heavy weight rests upon my heart as I cannot help but feel guilty, sitting here, in ארץ ישראל.
For roughly the past three years, I have had the absolute pleasure and distinct honor of being able to call Israel my home. I am blessed to be able to enjoy Her sights, and take great pleasure in listening to Her sounds; I roam Her lively streets and interact with Her holy sons and daughters; I learn Torah within the comfort of Her walls and live freely, as a religious Jew, within Her borders.
Yet, as we come upon the 70th birthday of the modern state of Israel, I can’t help but feel as though I take all these wonderful freedoms for granted: allow me to digress for just one brief moment.
If one were to take a quick glance at the history of the Jewish people, a recurring theme would become eminently clear: a profound, constant yearning for our homeland in ארץ ישראל. From the time that Avram, our forefather, went out and started his journey towards ארץ ישראל (Genesis 11: 31), we have been a people captivated with the goal of establishing and continuing our presence in the land. Throughout the course of the חמישה חומשי תורה, we see many examples of how our people longed and ached to come to ארץ ישראל.
However, we did not stop there.
Even after we first established our presence in the land, the Jewish people have spent many difficult years outside of ארץ ישראל. As an example, we can look to the 137th chapter of Psalms, written after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem, and see the pure pain the Jewish people felt having been ousted from their land:
“By the Rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst thereof we hanged up our harps. For there they that led us captive asked us words of song, and our tormentors asked us of mirth: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not; if I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy.”
The Malbim, Harav Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel Wisser, a very famous commentator on the Torah, notes that we were not weeping and mourning Zion for the sake of material goods that we had lost. Rather, we wept because we remembered and recalled the holiness of Zion; we wept for the spiritual elation which was lost to us.
It is common knowledge that the connection the Jewish people have with land goes far above and beyond the material.
Furthermore, if we jump forward a few years and look at more modern Jewish history, it is no secret that over the course of many persecutions, the Jewish people yearned for a land to call home. We yearned for a place in which we, the Jewish people, could be free to determine for ourselves how we are to live our lives: free of harassment, free of bullying, and free of persecution. The Holocaust is the probably the strongest example of such a time, as just a few years ago, our relatives were hunted down, rounded up, and massacred, all for committing the ostensible crime of simply being Jewish.
Still, even after the horrors of the Holocaust, we, the Jewish people, never forgot where we belonged: the prisoners at Bergen-Belsen still sang Hatikvah after liberation, and thousands of Jews boarded boats headed for ארץ ישראל; for the flame of hope has always and will always burn inside the soul of the Jewish people.
We, the Jewish people, are a very special people. We are a people who have been guided through danger and disorder by the grace of G-d, with the goal of being able to return to our homeland, here in Israel.
We never forgot it, and 70 years ago, we were given an opportunity to do just that.
In what many, including myself, believe to be the biggest miracle to occur to the Jewish people in modern times, we returned to our homeland in order to re-establish our presence in and further our connection with the land G-d promised us.
Moreover, in just 70 short years, we have transcended the limited expectations which many people of the world had put upon us from the outset: we have turned swampland into farmland, desert into oasis, and taken a country with very few natural resources and turned it into a place people from the four corners of the earth run to looking for benefit from. We have an army that is one of the strongest in the world, a booming economy, a tech-industry that is second-to-none, and are on the front lines of the medical world. What the state of Israel has accomplished in merely 70 years of existence is nothing short of phenomenal.
After all that has been said, I would like to return to my original dilemma and reveal the reason for my guilt: before I made Aliyah, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about Israel. There was very little that bothered me about the country and very little - in my opinion - that happened here which could have made me upset. Yet, a little while after I made Aliyah, I found myself falling a bit, and what seemed like an ever-lasting honeymoon turned into a cold dose of reality, as I noticed more and more issues with the place I once viewed as absolutely flawless.
So what happened?
I stopped seeing the forest for the trees: the little issues I had to deal with in the army, the endless government offices I had to visit or the countless journeys I had to make to and from my base started eating away at me until I had focused so much on the little things that I lost sight of the big picture.
I lost sight of the beautiful country I had fallen in love with and began only focusing on Her flaws, taking for granted the miracle which is the State of Israel. I would like to humbly suggest that as a people, we are sometimes guilty of the same.
Now, this does not mean that I have stopped loving Israel, and it absolutely does not mean that we, as a people, do not love Israel. Please allow me put this into perspective.
How many times when we glance at the news do we see a direct reminder of how great our country is? While it may happen indirectly, a large amount of the discussion surrounding Israel focuses on what is wrong with Israel and what needs to change in Israel: not often on what is right and what good we need to keep doing. While discourse is healthy and we should always be striving to improve what we have, we cannot lose sight of the fact that what we have is nothing short of a dream-come-true.
It is true that Israel is not perfect and we have plenty to work on. Yet, when we become so obsessed with the negative details of the country that we forget how incredibly blessed we are to be here in the first place, we lose focus of the motivation for our success: to strive to be an eternal people in our eternal homeland.
This brings us to the ultimate beauty of Yom Ha’atzmaut: a day to step back and see the forest for the trees.
Coming on the heels of Yom HaZikaron, a day where we pay our respects to the holy men and women whose sacrifices to our nation enable us to live freely in our land, Yom Ha’atzmaut is a time where we can sit back, relax, and celebrate the forest that the trees have created.
On Yom Ha’atzmaut we celebrate the beginning to the end of a long, painful Galut, and rejoice in the fact that the we, today, can actualize the dreams that so many before us weren’t able to. On this Yom Ha’atzmaut, let us all take but one day to remember that we are blessed to live in a time where we, the Jewish people, have resolutely returned to our eternal homeland, have a strong army to defend us, and a unified people to celebrate with.
יום העצמאות שמח