The Megillat HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Declaration of Independence has become very popular in Israel lately. It was read by many communities on Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) this year and even distributed free in the newspaper. Some believe that the recipe for Israel’s democracy can be found there.
The Megillat HaAtzmaut was not an easy document for Prime Minister David Ben Gurion to put together in 1948 as not everyone agreed on the content and it was especially difficult to get both religious and secular leaders to approve it.
One area that was specifically challenging was whether or not to include God’s name at the end of the document, right before the signatures. The religious leaders, Haim-Moshe Shapira and Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon wanted God’s name included, while Aharon Zisling of the secular Mapam party opposed it.
In the end, a compromise was made. The phrase “Tzur Yisrael”, “Rock of Israel” was used: “Placing our trust in the Rock of Israel, we affix our signatures to this proclamation…”
Does “Tzur Yisrael” refer to God? Where have we heard these words before?
The word “Tzur” is found seven times in Parshat HaAzinu (Dvarim 32):
Verse 4: “The Rock! Perfect is His work, for all His paths are justice.”
Verse 15: “…And it was contemptuous of the Rock of its salvation.”
Verse 18: “You ignored the Rock who gave birth to you…”
Verse 30: “…If not that their Rock had sold them out…”
Verse 31: “For not like our Rock is their rock…”
Verse 37: “He will say, ‘Where is their god, the rock in whom they sought refuge.”
Rambam explains in Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed) 1:16:
The Almighty is called “Rock” as God is the origin and the efficient cause for all things besides Himself…Be firm and steadfast in the conviction that God is the source of all things, for this will lead you towards the knowledge of the Divine Being.
In King David’s final speech (Shmuel II: 23:3) we find the phrase “Tzur Yisrael”:
The God of Israel had declared: The Rock of Israel has said to me: He who rules men justly, he who rules in awe of God…
We also find “Tzur Yisrael” in Yishayahu 30:29 in a depiction of what the End of Days will look like:
The song will be yours like the night of the festival’s consecration, and heartfelt gladness like one who walks with a flute, to come onto the mountain of God, to the Rock of Israel.
And of course, every morning we say “Tzur Yisrael” right before reciting the Amida prayer where we pray for the liberation that is yet to come:
Rock of Israel, arise to the aid of Israel and liberate as you pledged, Yehuda and Israel.
A day before the end of the British Mandate, David Ben Gurion said to Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon and to Aharon Zisling:
Each of us believes in “Tzur Yisrael” as he understands it. For you, HaRav Maimon, it is the God of Israel. And for you, Mr. Zisling, it is the might of our people.
Ben Gurion did not put it up for a vote knowing that it was still going to be opposed by Zisling and that is how they were finally able to move on to complete the document.
We learn from here the importance of trying to work out compromises which everyone can live with, even if they may not be agreed upon by everyone, in order to work towards a common goal. We also see how important it is to go back to our roots in the Tanach which the foundations of the Megillat HaAtzmaut are based on.