Shimon Apisdorf

From Mah Nishtanah to Yom Ha’atzmaut

History or Holy Day?

The Exodus and Pesach.

The Omer and the Temple in Jerusalem.

Mount Sinai and Shavuot.

Rabbi Akiva and his students.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the Romans, and Lag b’omer.

The seven weeks from Passover to Shavuot are saturated with Jewish history, and Jewish history is saturated with the eminently graspable and simultaneously unfathomable threads of a tapestry portraying the epic story of God and the Jewish Nation.

The very first words God spoke to the Jewish nation were, “I am Hashem your God, who took you out of the land of Egypt.” Consider this: In that moment when God first launched His brand, would it not have been more dramatic to associate Himself with the totality of His masterpiece rather than just a detail? If, in 2007, Steve Jobs could have said “Today Apple is going to reinvent ALL of communication,” and not just “Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone,” would he have not done so? Of course he would have, but he couldn’t.

God however could have gone ultra-big with His launch. Wouldn’t “I am Hashem your God, the Creator of the heavens and earth,” have been the most monumental introduction possible?

What says “God is awesome” more? The Exodus, or the something-from-nothing totality of creation?

From Partnership to Exodus and Back Again

Our sages tell us that with the creation of Adam and Eve, God didn’t merely cap off His work with the most remarkable of beings, rather He concluded with a dramatically different kind of being, one known as shutaf b’maaseh beraishit, “God’s partner within creation.”

Sadly, Adam and Eve dropped the ball of partnership and as a result history took a detour that eventually led to Abraham and Sarah, their descendants, Egypt, the Ten Commandments, and beyond.

This seminal detour explains why with the first commandment at Sinai God branded Himself in terms of the Exodus, and not creation. It also explains why the Exodus only reached its crescendo with the revelation at Sinai and the great declaration embodied in “I am Hashem your God, who took you out of the land of Egypt.”

The Exodus is about God’s relationship with the Jewish nation within the context of world history. All human beings can long and reach for a deep connection to the transcendent God of creation, but the Jewish nation has a unique partnership with the God of history; the Creator whose heavenliness is manifest on earth most clearly through the grandeur, vicissitudes, wonder, horror, prophetic flow, impact, and breathtaking sweep of Jewish history. And this history has a purpose—

The covenant with Avraham was never about what any individual Jew would do or achieve, it was about the mission of a unique family-nation becoming and fulfilling, “And through you will be blessed all the families of the earth.”  (Genesis, 12:3)

“I am God; I called you for the purpose of righteousness … and I made you a covenant people, to be a light to the nations.”  (Isaiah 42:6)

“The purpose of creation could not be fulfilled until the Jewish nation left Egypt and received the Torah at Sinai. It was then that they would achieve the potential for being a ‘light to the nations’ and bring an awareness of God to the entire world.”  (Netziv, Introduction to Exodus)

“The Jews started it all—and by “it” I mean so many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us, Jew and Gentile, believer and atheist, tick. Without the Jews, we would see the world through different eyes, even feel with different feelings … and think with a different mind … We would set a different course for our lives … there is simply no one else remotely like them … We can hardly get up in the morning without being Jewish. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact—unique, individual, person; time, history, future; freedom, progress, spirit; faith, hope, justice—are gifts of the Jews.”  (Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews, p.3 & 240-4)

From October 7th to Mah Nishtana and Yom Haatzmaut

On Jewish holidays, when we dwell in a sukkah, light a menorah, or eat matzah, it’s as if we are clicking on spiritual links that take our hearts, minds, and the core of our being to a different domain, a different sort of soul-embedded space and consciousness.

Just three weeks ago at our Seder tables we were transported to an encounter with historic events so fundamental to our peoplehood that we focus on them not just on the night of Passover, but in our daily prayers, when we affix a mezuza to our doors, and every Friday night when we lift a cup to recite kiddush.

The Exodus from Egypt not only changed Jewish history, it changed human history.

The tablets received on Mount Sinai not only forever shaped the Jewish nation and our journey through history, but they also profoundly impacted world history. Those events that we commemorate and celebrate are events that happened. The same with the lives of Rabbi Akiva and Shimon bar Yochai. Real people, real events, real threads in the grand tapestry that depicts our long and winding road.

Yes, the seven weeks from mah nishtanah to Shavuot are saturated with Jewish historical events imbued with Jewish meaning. Yet, though we do link up with “those days in this time,” and though we strive to deepen those connections, the reality is that they exist in a dim past far beyond our personal experience. At best it’s been two millennia since a Jewish grandmother told her grandchild “I was there. I remember what it was like before: before the sea split, before the tablets, before Rabbi Akiva.”

And then comes last week, today, and tomorrow.

Last week was Yom HaShoah. The Holocaust was a history altering, heart butchering, soul assaulting, consciousness shaping event. Today there are still many grandparents and great-grandparents that tell us all, “I was there. I can tell you about that world. About what once was and is now gone, and about how radically different our world is in the wake of that beyond fathomable event.” When that Yom HaShoah siren sounds and our entire nation stands in silence, we touch, and are touched by, events that for many still seem like yesterday. And then comes Yom Hazikaron, and shofar like, the sirens wail again. Standing as one, our hearts are pierced and ravaged. This year, in a way unlike any before: So many precious souls that we embraced just yesterday; the yesterday of October 6th, the yesterday of our sons and daughters leaving to do battle, the yesterday of a few years or decades ago are once again with us. It all feels like yesterday, because it was yesterday, even if that yesterday was seven years or seven months ago. Just yesterday they were with us; dancing in a Beit Medrash, at a festival, a synagogue—all our beautiful Jewish children, sisters and brothers in a timeless circle of life-embracing joy—and today they are still part of us all. Singing and weeping and living and hostaged amongst us. And today, suddenly something has shifted, something around us and deep within us. Life is no longer what it seemed to be, just yesterday. And now …

… Yom Ha’atzmaut

“You shall take possession of the land, and you shall settle it, for to you I have given the land to possess it.  (Bamidbar, 33:53)

The Ramban articulates the command to possess the land as follows: “We were commanded to take possession of the land and not to leave the land of Israel under the dominion of other nations.” The simple meaning of this mitzvah is that if the Romans, the Turkish, or the British are ruling the land of Israel, and if we can liberate it and establish Jewish sovereignty, then we must. Liberation and sovereignty are long dormant national mitzvot come to life.

After forty years in the desert—or was it four years in Bergen Belsen—the nation of Israel was commanded to fight for possession of the land. King Saul was a warrior. King David was a warrior. Maimonides codifies the Jewish obligation to wage war in The Laws of Kings and Their Wars. Indeed, regarding success in battle, our sages have a wartime message that must ring loud in all our post October 7th ears.

“The generation of Achav was victorious in battle, despite being idolaters. Why? Because they had peaceful relations with one another. The generation of King Shaul, however, was vanquished in battle despite their righteousness? Why? Because of those who slandered their fellow Jews and sewed dissension among the people.”  (Yalkut Shmoni 2:213, Medrash Bamidbar Rabbah 19:2)

The undertaking of liberating the land and establishing Jewish sovereignty in our time is an act imbued with particular sanctity. You see, while most mitzvot are fulfilled and actualized by individuals, the act of liberating Eretz Yisroel and thus replacing an unnatural foreign body with the natural sovereignty of the nation of Israel upon the land of Israel, is a mitzvah that involves the entire nation. When 660,000 Jewish souls liberated Eretz Yisroel in 1948, they were the messengers, representatives, and indeed the extension of the entire nation as it embarked on the holy mitzvah of possessing the land and reestablishing Jewish sovereignty. And in 1967, the same would be true on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, at Shilo and the Tomb of Rachel, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and elsewhere. These were sanctified events, in a sanctified historical era; events we had long dreamed of, could never imagine how they would unfold, and have been privileged to witness with our own eyes, and fulfill with our own hands, and blood.

One Layer of Time Within the Other

For a hundred generations, the seven weeks from mah nishtana to Shavuot have been seven weeks of majestic time. And now, at this very moment, we are again amid this uniquely resonant period. These seven weeks have long been a spiritually contextual period woven from threads of Exodus, desert travels, Revelation, Omer in the Temple, Akiva, and Bar Yochai. Today, implanted within these seven weeks are other days marking events that are as history altering and soul stirring as any ever experienced by our nation. These days are new threads that give magnificent, painful, breathtaking, and soaring meaning to the tapestry of the emergent story that isn’t only Jewish history, but is literally the Jewish dawn to which we awaken every day.


May we be blessed to soon see our “Partner with God in creation” nation, upon the stage of our liberated land, via our sovereign country, fulfill the full hope and dream that has been at the core of our peoplehood ever since God charged Abraham with the nation-centered mission of—

And through you will be blessed all the families of the world.”

From within the many layers of profoundly singular Jewish inspiration these weeks contain, may there finally emerge—

“It will be in the conclusion of history that the mountain of the House of God will be established as the most prominent of the mountains, and elevated above the hills, and nations will stream to it. And many nations will go and say, ‘let us go up to the mountain of God, to the House of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths,’ because from Zion will come the Torah, and the word of God from Jerusalem … They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning blades; nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they study war anymore.”  (Micah 4:1-3)

Moadim l’simcha,

l’geula shleima.

About the Author
Shimon Apisdorf is the founder of Operation Home Again, the first organization solely devoted to community-based Aliyah. He has also authored ten books that have sold over a quarter million copies and have won two Benjamin Franklin awards. The Apisdorf's made Aliyah in the summer of 2012.
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