The Conditions of Independence

Israelis block aid trucks entering Gaza (Yair Dov/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

There is no traditional Jewish holiday which celebrates Yehoshua’s crossing into Canaan on the 10th of Nisan. Nor is there a holiday celebrating the beginning of Shaul HaMelech or David HaMelech’s rule. Nor a holiday which celebrates the Jewish return during the Second Temple period. Even Hanukkah celebrations revolve around the specific military victory in Jerusalem, rather than the establishment of the Hasmonean army, which came earlier, or the full establishment of Hasmonean control which came far later. One may be led to believe then, that Yom HaAtzmauth, Israeli Independence Day, is the only expression of Jewish independence in the Jewish calendar. However, this perception is wrong.

We find ourselves currently in the period known as the ‘Omer’, a period which fills the gap between Pesah and Shavuoth and is named after the grain offering which was brought during this period when the Temple stood. The Mishnah in Rosh HaShanah 1:2 informs us that at Pesah, Hashem’s judgement regarding grain is passed, and at Shavuoth, judgement regarding specialised crops is passed. Many historians believe that much of the grain in ancient Israel derived from foreign import, either from Mesopotamia or Egypt, whilst specialised crops were more likely to be native (and used for trade to purchase grain). Grain, for which we were dependent on foreign nations, is ruled on at Pesah, whilst specialised crops, which we independently grow, are ruled on at Shavuoth. Pesah recounts the story of how God lifted us from Egypt, yet Shavuoth celebrates the giving of the Torah. From the Exodus narrative until the giving of the Torah, Bnei Yisrael had to rely on direct communication between God and Moshe; for rule of law, we were entirely dependent on God and Moshe. Yet, Shavuoth celebrates us receiving a document containing God’s law, allowing us to independently administer it. I also heard recently in the name of Rav Chizkiyahu Nebenzhal shlit”a that the period between Purim to Pesah is filled with God’s providence upon us, yet the Omer is a period of having to build merit ourselves.

Indeed, the argument I wish to make, is that Shavuoth is the true Jewish ‘Independence Day.’

Independence, in the Jewish sense, does not involve freedom from an object, such as the British, in the case of Yom HaAtzmauth, but rather commitment exclusively to the laws of the Torah. As many Religious Zionists sing in the Hallel processions of Yom HaAtzmauth: “I am your servant, the son of your maidservant, You have undone my chains.” (Tehillim 116:16) In order for one to have their chains undone, they must become a servant unto God and to follow His laws.

Indeed, entry to, and remaining in, the land, is conditional on following the laws of the Torah; God warns us that should we reject His laws, He will “scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.” (Wayiqra 26:33) and later reiterates that “Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live in and occupy the land that Hashem, your God, is giving you.” (Dvarim 16:20)

It subsequently becomes clear why there is no celebration of the first entry or second entry into the land, or establishment of rule, because celebrations of such actions, being conditional on following the Torah, can only be truly celebrated via a celebration of the Torah, as performed on Shavuoth. Furthermore, any celebration seems inappropriate as these kingdoms were ultimately abolished, due to a lack of care for the laws of the Torah.

We must be prompted then to consider why we celebrate now, and if such celebrations are appropriate. Indeed, they most certainly are, provided that we are following the laws of the Torah, but if not, then not only is celebration inappropriate, but, as God Himself warns, our position in this land is at stake.

On the night of this year’s Independence Day, a group of Jewish terrorists set fire to aid trucks headed towards the Gaza Strip. This follows months of protests against the aid vehicles, and a recent attack on one at the Tarqumiya checkpoint on Remembrance Day. ( In light of what has been discussed above, it is clear that the timing of these attacks is incredibly salient.

Despite the religious garb of many present at both events, the rule of Torah was entirely absent from these acts. The Ramban zy”a writes: “We are commanded that when we besiege a city, we must leave one of the exits open so that if [enemy soldiers] want to escape, they may do so. Through this, we will learn to behave with compassion even with our enemies during the war. Additionally, this act prevents them from rising against us, and instead facilitates escape.” (Hasagoth HaRamban, Sefer HaMitswoth, Excluded Positives 5) When the Torah teaches us the importance of kindness towards even enemy soldiers, how much more so is kindness essential towards the civilian populace of the enemy?

Yet of course, for these terrorists, the rule of Torah is not what matters, but rather the rabid, unfettered worship towards their second god of Israeli nationalism. Their qorban (sacrifice) to this false god are the innocents of Gaza.

In previous articles, I have made frequent reference to the Zionist views of Former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, HaRav Baron Immanuel Jakobovits ztz”l. And once again, his remarks of yesteryear remain crucial today. Writing of Religious Zionism’s neglect of the Palestinian people, he notes:

“Ideals such as peace, conciliation, tolerance, sympathy for the sufferings even of one’s enemies, and simple faith in the eventual triumph of human understanding—all so deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition—were virtually obliterated from the religious vocabulary of virtues. This religious insensitivity to Jewish moral values continues to baffle and trouble me to no end” (If Only My People, 1984, page 262)

Indeed, HaRav Jakobvits felt that Yom HaAtzmauth itself should serve as a drive towards this ideal:

“The deliverance of Yom Ha’Atzmaut in our times summon us to set our national sights on the essential ideals still unfulfilled: the striving for peace, the continued ingathering of our exiles, the promotion of righteousness in human and international relations, the search for Jewish identity and unity of purpose consonant with our historic traditions, and the resumption of our role as the People of the Book that, living ‘‘not by might nor by power but by My spirit,’’ will advance the moral order and spiritual commitment of mankind at large.” (From Tears to Joy, Address at the Special Service to Celebrate 25th Anniversary of Israel’s Independence, 1973)

This is not the first time in which Am Yisrael has been plagued with terrorists who do not care for the rule of Torah, but rather give in to the evil urges of their own revenge fantasies. In 1939, Rav Yitzhak Herzog ztz”l and Hakham Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel ztz”l jointly proclaimed:

“Despite the shock and the indignation caused to us by everything we suffered from [Arab-Palestinian] gangs murdering and ambushing our people, during three years of distress that is almost unparalleled in history – despite all this, God forbid no person from Israel so much as harbours in their heart the thought of revenge without trial and of shedding innocent blood in order to take revenge for the shedding of pure Jewish blood.

God forbid! God forbid! May the current situation move us to the opinions of our holy Torah, and move those of our brothers and sisters who shed blood, and desecrate the name of Israel and who desecrate the honour of our national building and revival work in our Holy Land in the eyes of those of the nations of the world whose care for honesty, justice and honor and who have not yet faded in regards to their esteem for the people of Tanakh who heard the mitzvah “Thou shalt not murder” on Har Sinai, in regards to a people whose teachings were so severe in regards to murder that their Sages said that any Sanhedrin who killed a soul once every seventy years was called bloodthirsty.” (Thou Shalt Not Kill, 1939; Against Terrorism: Pamphlet Rabbi Binyamin and Rabbi Yaakov Patrazil, 1939)

As I celebrate Israeli Independence Day, and all the potential that our current situation brings for a full and total redemption, the thought will still remain in the back of my mind, fearing that the sinful and idolatrous actions of such misguided brethren will damn our nation to a third and gloomy exile.

As I look towards Har HaBayith, seeing how a Beith HaMiqdash is absent, I make note of how in each generation in which the Temple isn’t rebuilt, it’s as if it was destroyed anew, and I intensify my prayer: “Dwell within Jerusalem Your city, as You mentioned, and the throne of David, Your servant, speedily prepare it within it and build it an eternal structure speedily in our days.”

About the Author
Ya'aqov Shenkin is a British-Israeli Jew residing in Jerusalem with a passion for Jewish history, Jewish politics and Torah knowledge.
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