Celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut: From Barbecue to Beit Midrash

The Sanctity of Yom Ha’atzmaut

Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) is endowed with three sanctities: 1) the mitzvah of settling the Land, which is accomplished by means of Israeli sovereignty over the Land; 2) the fulfillment of the prophetic return of Israel to its Land – which also includes an immense Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God) in the eyes of the nations; 3) the sanctity of Israel’s salvation from its enemies.

Therefore, despite all the occasional weaknesses and wrongdoings of government officials and Prime Ministers, our joy and thanksgiving on Yom Ha’atzmaut is firm and valid, because all three sanctities of the day endure.

The Mitzvah of Yom Ha’atzmaut

It is a mitzvah to establish a holiday, to rejoice and praise God, on a day when Jews were delivered from distress. This is what prompted the Rabbis to establish Purim and Chanukah as everlasting holidays. The Chatam Sofer explains that since this mitzvah is derived from a kal va’chomer (an a fortiori argument), it is considered a Biblical commandment. However, the Torah does not prescribe exactly how to perform the holiday; therefore, a person who does anything to commemorate these great salvation’s fulfills his Biblical obligation. It was the rabbis who determined that on Purim we read the Megillah, prepare a festive meal, send portions of food to others, and give charity to the poor, and on Chanukah, light candles.

Many Jewish communities throughout the ages kept this mitzvah of instituting days of joy in commemoration of miracles that happened to them.

The great gaon, Rabbi Meshulam Roth (Rata), wrote:

There is no doubt that we are commanded to rejoice, establish a holiday, and say Hallel on the fifth of Iyar, the day which the government – the members of the Knesset who were chosen by the majority of the people, and most of the greatest rabbis – fixed as the day on which to celebrate, throughout the Land, the miracle of our salvation and freedom.” (Responsa Kol Mevaser1:21)

The Mitzvah to Recite Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut

It is a mitzvah to recite Hallel on special occasions, in order to thank and praise God for the miracles He performs on our behalf. Similarly, the Talmud (Pesachim 117a) states that after the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea, “the prophets among them instituted that the Jews should recite Hallel for each and every season [i.e., festival] and each and every trouble that should ‘not’ come upon them; meaning, when they are redeemed, they should recite it upon their redemption.” Rashi explains that the Sages of the Second Temple era relied on this to institute the recitation of Hallel on Chanukah.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to say Hallel over the miracle that God did for us on Yom Ha’atzmaut. On that day we were saved from the greatest tragedy of all, that of exile and subjugation to foreigners, which caused all of the terrible decrees and massacres that we suffered for nearly two thousand years.

Those who ignore this deny God’s benevolence , prevent good from Israel, and distance the Redemption, as occurred in the days of Hezekiah, who failed to thank God for his salvation, and consequently, was not privileged to bring redemption to Israel in his times (Sanhedrin 94a).

However, the rabbis of the generation were divided whether or not to recite a blessing over Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

According to Rabbi Ovadyah Hadayah, Hallel should be recited without a blessing. This was also the opinion of the Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Shapira ztz”l, Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli ztz”l, the Rishon L’Tzion, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l, and the Rishon L’Tzion, Rabbi Ovadiyah Yosef ztz”l.

Contrary to them, in the opinion of Rabbi Meshulam Roth ztz”l, Hallel should be recited with a blessing. This was also the opinion of Rabbi Zevin ztz”l. The Chief Rabbis, Rabbi Herzog and Rabbi Uziel ztz”l also believed that it was appropriate to say Hallel with a blessing subsequent to the establishment of the State, but due to various objections, they refrained from issuing such a ruling. After the victories in the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, led by Rabbi Shlomo Goren ztz”l, ruled that Hallel be recited with a blessing. Our teacher and mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook ztz”l was extremely happy with this decision.

How Should Yom Ha’atzmaut be celebrated?

In addition to prayers of thanksgiving and a festive meal, there are four levels of celebrators on Yom Ha’atzmaut:

The lowest level is that of people who go to parks and have a barbeque. Although their deeds lack spiritual content, nevertheless, if they take pleasure in God’s salvation of His People – their festive meal can be considered a se’udat mitzvah (a celebratory meal following the fulfillment of a commandment).

On the second level are those who tour sites in which the rebuilding of the State of Israel can be viewed, such as national industries, museums concerning 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 to recite the blessing “matziv gevul almana” (“Blessed are You… who sets a limit for a widow”), the blessing recited on seeing houses inhabited in Israel. Regarding a settlement previously visited, even if thirty days have passed since one’s last visit, the custom is not to recite another blessing. However, if in the meantime additional 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, specifically issues related to the mitzvah of settling the Land, the mitzvah to serve in the army to protect the nation and the country, and matters connected to Clal Yisrael and the Redemption. Additionally, they enjoy a festive meal filled with thanksgiving and joy for the salvation we merited in the establishment of the State of Israel, and the In-gathering of the Exiles.

Thus, I invite readers visiting the heart of Samaria on Yom Ha’atzmaut to participate in Torah lectures to be held in Yeshiva Har Bracha from the morning until the early afternoon, and thus, merit both the third and fourth levels at the same time.

The Virtue of Settlements in Judea and Samaria

Q: Rabbi, what makes the settlements in Judea and Samaria more preferable, to the point where there is a special mitzvah to live and visit there?

A: There are three reasons. 1) Judea and Samaria are located in the heart and core of the Land, as God said to our forefather Isaac when he was forced to leave the center of the Land (Judea) because of the famine:

Sojourn in this land [the ‘Lower Plains’]” – for although the land of the Philistines is less sacred, nevertheless, it is also considered Eretz Yisrael. And as Rashi wrote on the verse:

And Isaac sowed in that land” – even though it was not considered as esteemed as the Land of Israel itself” (Genesis 26:12).

2) The commandment to settle the Land of Israel means that the Land must be in our possession and not in the hands of any other nation, and consequently, it is a greater mitzvah to settle in areas under threat of being surrendered, God forbid, to another nation.

3) The strengthening of communities in Judea and Samaria can prevent the most serious, existential threat to the State of Israel – the danger of the establishment of an additional Arab state in Judea and Samaria. For if, God forbid, such a state is created, its main goal will be to bring about the destruction of Israel. With the huge funds the U.N. and the Arab states will allocate, another five million Arab refugees will be brought to Judea and Samaria from all Arab countries, and every Israeli city will be threatened with rockets and all types of dangers, until life becomes unbearable, and most of the current “peace” supporters will abscond to other countries.

The Mitzvah of Settling the Land Depends on Procreation

The mitzvah of procreation is an immense commandment, because through it, the Jewish nation inherits the Holy Land. And as God said to our forefather Abraham:

For all the land that you see, I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like dust of the earth; if a man will be able to count [all] the grains of dust in the world, then your offspring also will be countable” (Genesis 13: 15-16).

And following the trial of the Akeida (the binding and near sacrifice of Isaac), God said to him:

I will bless you greatly, and increase your offspring like the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your offspring shall inherit their enemies gate” (Genesis 22:17).

God also said to our forefather Isaac:

I will make your descendants numerous as the stars of the sky, and grant them all these lands. All the nations on earth shall be blessed through your descendants” (Genesis 26:4).

Additionally, God also said to our forefather Jacob:

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).

Lack of Procreation Prevents Fulfillment of the Divine Promise

When Israel was about to enter the Land, despite the fact that Transjordan is part of Eretz Yisrael, the Divine instruction was to inherit only the western side of the Jordan, as explained in the Torah portion ‘Massey’. This was because there were not enough people to properly inherit the eastern side. Consequently, the plan was to first inherit the main parts of the Land, and only after proliferating, to also inherit the eastern side of the Jordan (see, Ramban, Numbers 21:21).

Similarly, in regards to expelling the nations inhabiting the Land, it is written:

I will not drive them out in a single year, however, lest the land become depopulated and the wild animals become too many for you [to contend with]. I will drive [the inhabitants] out little by little, giving you a chance to increase and [fully] occupy the land. I will set your borders from the Red Sea to the Philistine Sea, from the desert to the river. I will give the land’s inhabitants into your hand, and you will drive them before you” (Exodus 23: 29-31).

And the price for not having enough Jews to settle all of the Land of Israel – 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) was fulfilled.

Similarly In Our Times

Today’s situation is similar to that of the past: the fact that only six million Jews presently live in Israel, and not twelve million, brought on all the Arab demands which threaten the existence of the State of Israel.

If, from the time of the establishment of the State, every Jewish family had one more child, today, there would be another five million Jews living in Israel. If a few hundred thousand more Jews had made aliyah before the Holocaust, we would number more than twelve million.

Criticism of State Leaders and the Head of IDF Manpower Branch

It would be appropriate if our elected officials were to encourage Jewish birth, and speak the praises of women privileged to raise large families. Why is it that among the 14 women selected to light a torch on Yom Ha’atzmaut, not one mother blessed with a large family was chosen? Is having a large family not considered a female accomplishment worthy of praise?

It would be fitting for the Head of the I.D.F. Manpower Branch, Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai to devote a few hours a year visiting and encouraging families blessed with many children, to kiss the beloved mothers who raise the next generation of soldiers. It’s not enough to complain about the lack of manpower in the I.D.F. – gratitude and appreciation must be shown to the precious mothers who raise families for the glory of the nation and the Land.

May we witness the fulfillment of the words of the Prophet:

Thus says the Lord God: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock. They will be as numerous as the sacred flocks that fill Jerusalem’s streets at the time of her festivals. The ruined cities will be crowded with people once more, and everyone will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 36:37-38).

This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed; The writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper; His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English; Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1