Yom HaAtzmaut is a very special day for me. I feel the significance in many different realms – the religious, the political and the personal. Especially during the prayers, I experience a range of emotions. I recently realized that these feelings are not entirely new to me, but rather make up a medley of aspects of most of the Jewish holidays. A “greatest hits” if you will. The familiarity of ancient celebrations together with recognition of the uniqueness of the events of our own time leads to the emotional crescendo that is Yom HaAtzmaut for me.
Here is what I noticed about the holidays and Yom HaAtzmaut:
Rosh Hashanah: On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate God’s kingship over the entire world. On Yom HaAtzmaut, we also recognize that God is the Master of the World via the redemption of the world from the vicious cycle of history. God is involved in this world, and cares about his creations.
Yom Kippur: On both Yom Kippur and Yom HaAtzmaut, we realize that the joy of closeness to God can only arrive after recognizing the self-sacrifice by those who dedicate themselves fully to our goals.
Sukkot: This is the holiday that appreciates the bounty of Eretz Yisrael by physically inserting ourselves into it – in both the mitzvot of the sukkah and the four minim, and our thanksgiving is considered the highest level of joy. On Yom HaAtzmaut, we also appreciate the land, immerse ourselves in the beauty of nature, and experience the joy associated with that gratitude.
Chanukah: While in later generations the focus shifted to the miracle of the oil, ultimately the significance of Chanukah is that our nation achieved political independence and was able to chart its own course. We give praise to God now for that achievement, even though that period of autonomy is long over. So too in our time – while there is still much to accomplish, we thank God today for what we have already achieved, recognizing that after 2000 years of subjugation, having an independent state is an amazing feat.
Purim: On both of these days, we celebrate rescue from annihilation and the defeat of our enemies. And just as on Purim, God was “hidden”, but we recognized the divine role and created religious content to what otherwise might have appeared as just another historical event, by singing God’s praises on Yom HaAtzmaut, we proclaim that “this is the day that God made.”
Pesach: Pesach is the holiday that we commemorate gaining freedom and becoming a nation. With it came great responsibility, but just as we celebrate a child becoming an adult, so too do we proudly take the mantle of our calling. And in our days as well, we have fully rejoined the family of nations and reentered the stage of history. It is by no means an easy burden, but we accept these obligations with joy.
Shavuot: On Shavuot, we received the Torah at Sinai and accepted its validity. Yom HaAtzmaut is also an affirmation of the Torah. In it, God promises to never abandon his people and redeem them even if they are scattered throughout the world. Before the State, such prophecies appeared ludicrous. But today, we see the fulfillment of the divine promises on a daily basis. We walk the land promised to Avraham, speak the language of Moshe and live in the cities of David. We can keep the mitzvot in ways that our ancestors only dreamed of. After so many generations, we are home and the Torah is home!