The establishment of the modern state of Israel and the reunification of Jerusalem are undoubtedly the most important events of salvation and deliverance in Jewish history since the time of Chanukah almost 2,200 years ago.
The remarkable reality of a sovereign Israel, only three years after the ovens of Auschwitz, and a united Jerusalem in which the Old City and Temple Mount fell under Jewish sovereignty for the first time since the Destruction in 70 CE, cannot be overstated. A handful of young pioneers and Holocaust survivors, and their descendants, overcame impossible political and military odds – “delivering,” twice in nineteen years, “the many into the hands of the few.”
Now, after two thousand years, Israel has become a place of refuge for millions of Jewish exiles from over one hundred countries, speaking more than eighty languages. Hebrew has been revived from an ancient and static language of textual study into the living lingua franca of Jewish society. The Land of Israel itself has been transformed from an arid and barren backwater into a flourishing oasis of agriculture and an ecological marvel, home to a thriving and sustainable economy built from a bankrupt and starving old Yishuv.
And Israel, by its very existence, has facilitated a world with perhaps more Torah learners than at any other time in history.
All this together creates a sovereign Israel and Jerusalem that stand at the center of Jewish religious, cultural, and political life. But perhaps more than anything, Israel has revived the spirit of a broken people, replacing despair with hope and faith, tragedy with triumph.
Yom Ha’Atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim were instituted by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel as days of great religious and halachic significance. They are intended to be days of Hallel – praise and thanksgiving to Hashem in appreciation for these momentous times.
However, despite the seemingly undeniable miraculous nature of the events upon which these days are based, not everyone has embraced Yom Ha’Atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim in this spirit.
One of the main reasons that many in the religious world have yet to do so is due to the complex spiritual, cultural, and political context in which Zionism and Israel were born. Many of the original and current protagonists in the story of Israel were and are distant from traditional Torah values, and at times even antagonistic toward them.
In many ways, Zionism was developed from the ideological “isms” of the late-nineteenth century, and at times it is challenging to reconcile the aims of Zionism with Torah and halacha. This complexity causes confusion for many and creates doubt as to the appropriate spiritual context within which to place Israel’s founding events, and hence how to relate to these days of deliverance.
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I believe the song Dayenu, which appears in the Haggadah and which we all sang so spiritedly at our Seder tables earlier this month, is a powerful guide to the art of appreciation and specifically to the appropriate attitude toward Israel in general and Yom Ha’Atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim in particular.
The song contains the first words of praise and gratitude we utter at the Seder immediately after completing the story of the exodus from Egypt. As such, it forms the basis and foundation of Hallel – praise and thanksgiving to God for our original deliverance.
And the song is all encompassing in nature. It reflects not only on the beginning of the journey to redemption, the exodus from Egypt, and the theme of Pesach, but on the entire journey of Jewish history, culminating in the building of the Temple in Jerusalem centuries later. It describes fifteen stages of this process of historical redemption and provides a critical insight into the process as a whole and what our attitude at each stage should be.