Yom HaAtzma’ut: The Hand of God

High on buildings of
rugged Jerusalem stone,
flags flutter, brightly etched
against the cobalt sky.
Our eyes are drawn aloft
as when the hand of God reached out
and darkness turned to light.

Night-time dreams are banished
by the rhythmic beat of drums
and the sound of gladdened voices
is borne upon the wind.
Our mouths are filled with song
as when the hand of God reached out
and fear turned into hope.


In Itturei Torah – a selection of wisdom and ethical teachings, collected and annotated by Aharon Ya’akov Greenberg*, he notes that Yom HaAtzma’ut always falls on the same day as the seventh day of Pesach that year, and points out that this is hinted at because the gematria for Yom Chag HaAtzma’ut (the day of the Festival of Independence) equals that of be’yom bo chal hashevi’i shel Pesach (the day on which the seventh day of Pesach falls)!
There are, however, some notable similarities between the seventh day of Pesach and Yom HaAtzma’ut. Tradition holds that the parting of the Red Sea took place on the seventh day of Pesach. The Children of Israel were hemmed in by the hostile army behind them, and the sea ahead of them. God miraculously brought a strong wind which split the sea and the people passed through unscathed. In 1948, the tiny nascent Jewish state was surrounded by hostile armies threatening to push all the Jews into the sea, and God wrought a miraculous delivery. The creation of the modern state of Israel under independent sovereignty, free from an alien regime, parallels the emergence of the Children of Israel from the sea as a newborn nation, on its way to creating an ethical society. Both times, the people were called upon to play their part in their own deliverance.

In the same book, regarding Yom Ha’Atzmaut, there is a short section entitled, “Concerning Flying the Flag” in which the author writes: “It is customary to fly the country’s flag on the top of the houses on the eve of Independence Day before sunset.” He cites the Ramban who comments on Shemot 14:5, “And it was told to the king of Egypt that the people had fled…” The Ramban is explaining what the Pharaoh was told that caused him to ready his chariots and horsemen and set off in pursuit. He says that it was reported to the Pharaoh that “The Children of Israel went out with a high hand.”(Shemot 14:8). This, according to the Ramban, means that the Children of Israel made themselves flags and banners to wave, and they went out joyously, singing with drums and instruments, as befits people who have been redeemed from slavery to freedom, as opposed to slaves who will soon return to their previous enslavement.

In a further section in Itturei Torah on Yom HaAtzma’ut, Greenberg brings some commentaries on Psalm 126:1-3, from a number of rabbinic sources, all of whom pre-dated the establishment of the State of Israel, yet are extraordinarily prescient.
When the Lord brought back the exiles of Zion, we were like people who dream. Then our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with song. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord did do great things for us and we rejoiced…
Rabbi Shaul Yedidya Elazar Taub** of Modzitz comments on the first phrase, “”When God restores the exiles of Zion,” – it will become patently clear to us that up until now in the diaspora, wherever we have lived, even though we have been rooted, as it were, in a life of Torah and Judaism, with all the wealth and honour in the diaspora – “we were like dreamers” – all our life there was “as a dream that floats away” – without foundation, without the grounding of reality beneath it.”
Rabbi Yisrael Yehoshua Tronk*** of Kutna quotes Rabbi Menahem Azariah da Fano**** on the difference between laughter and rejoicing in the verse above, “Here is the difference between laughter and rejoicing as explained by the Rema MiPano in his book Asarah Ma’amarot (Ten Articles)…laughter is about the budding of salvation – its beginning and the expectation and hope that it will come to fruition. Rejoicing is about the completion of the salvation. So when God restores the exile of Zion, we will only be laughing. We will be happy in our salvation as at the beginning of redemption, but we will hope and yearn for its completion when the prophets’ missions will be completely fulfilled.”

*Aharon-Ya’akov Greenberg (1900 – 1963) was an Israeli politician.
Born in Sokolow Podlaski in an area of the Russian Empire which is today Poland, he made aliyah to Mandatory Palestine in 1934 and in 1949 he was elected to the first Knesset and was Deputy Speaker in the fifth Knesset at the time of his death.
He is probably best remembered in Orthodox Jewish circles for his authorship of “Itturei Torah” a commentary upon the weekly Torah portion, drawing from wide-ranging sources from Hassidut to Mussar, which he published weekly in the newspaper HaTzofeh under the pseudonym “Y. Halevi”. After his death, these columns were collected and published in book form in seven volumes.

**Rabbi Shaul Yedidya Elazar Taub (1886–1947) was the great-grandson of the founder of the dynasty of Modzitz, Poland. The dynasty started with Rebbe Yechezkel Taub of Kuzmir (1755–1856), who was a disciple of the Seer of Lublin and the Kozhnitser Magid. His son, R’ Shmuel (? -1888) excelled in Torah scholarship and was also known as “menagen mafli pla’ot – a wondrous musical talent” creating the hasidic songs which subsequently characterised the Modzitz dynasty. Rabbi Shaul Yedidya, the grandson of R’ Shmuel, was forced to flee Poland in 1938 due to Nazi persecution. He wandered through Vilna, Lithuania and Russia, and from there to Japan. Finally he reached the US and settled in New York in 1940. He was able to rebuild Modzitz Chassidut. He too was a gifted songwriter and wrote over 1,000 hasidic melodies. He had an intense love for the Land of Israel, and foresaw the establishment of the State of Israel. He did not live to see the fulfilment of his vision as he died on November 29, 1947, the day the UN voted to create the State of Israel. He was the last person to buried on the Mount of Olives until it was liberated in 1967.

***Rabbi Yisrael Yehoshua Tronk of Kutna (1821-1893) was born in Plotsk and from an early age his giftedness was apparent. His father was his first teacher but he died when his son was 11. Married at 14, Rav Yisrael Yehoshua spent the next few years studying while supported by his father-in-law. At 19 he became the Rav of Shrensk where he founded a yeshiva and remained for seven years. At age 29 he became Rav of Vorka, and his fame as a halachic decisor grew. Ten years later he moved to Kutna where he remained until his death. He had a close relationship with other great Polish Hasidic rabbis of the era, among them the Chiddushei HaRim and the Sefat Emet. He published several books. R’ Yisrael Yehoshua was known for his love for the land of Israel and he visited with his son-in-law in 1886, in an attempt to encourage settlement. He issued a call to buy etrogim from Israel rather than from Italy and Greece. In 1889 he was one of the signatories on the first heter mechira (permit of sale) developed for the Shmita year of 1888-1889, which enabled Jewish farmers to sell their land to non-Jews so that they could continue to work the land and avoid impoverishment of the Jewish settlement. His only son, Rav Moshe Pinchas Tronk, succeeded him as Rav in Kutna. The demise of the Kutna community came when the Nazis liquidated its remaining Jews on March 26, 1942.

****R’ Menahem Azariah da Fano (the Rema MiPano, 1548 – 1620) was an Italian rabbi, Talmudist and Kabbalist. The Rema MiPano’s authority as a Talmudist is evident in a collection of responsa containing 130 chapters on various subjects connected with religious law and ritual questions. He composed 24 kabbalistic treatises which originated partly in addresses delivered by the author on festivals, especially on Rosh Hashanah.

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