5/12/2005

Yom Ha'atzma'ut Part III: The Theme of the Day

I left off the last post by floating the idea that it may be true that YH is very religiously significant, yet it's inappropriate to say Hallel. I'd like to develop that further.

In the first YH post, I suggested that the establishment of the State of Israel is a kiyum of God's promise to Avraham at the brit Bein Ha-Betarim. Baruch Shomer Havtachato le-amo Yisrael.

However, that wasn't the final covenant that God makes with Avraham. In addition to the first, unilateral convenant, there's a second, bilateral one - brit milah. Ths one requires much more from us. It ties our remaining in the Land of Israel to our living up to that covenant, a covenant which was given form by the commandments of the Torah.

The first covenant ties Jews together by a common fate. The second by a common mission. The first envisions the Land of Israel as a refuge, the second as the stage upon which the Jewish people fulfill their Divine mission to found a nation upon the principles of justice and righteousness.

The first covenant can be fulfilled even if we are undeserving. But the second cannot. How long will the first last without the second? I certainly don't know, but thinking about it definitely makes me nervous.

Therefore - my attitude to Yom Ha'atzma'ut is a strong combination of joy and trepidation: Deep gratitude for the salvation and opportunity, but serious stock-taking regarding the fulfillment of the mission. Thus, the comparison to Rosh Hashana: the birthday is the natural time to reflect on one's past - what have I done with my life? Can I do more? Hello, Reality check - is that really important? Is that what's worthwhile? On RH, humanity as a whole, but as individuals, revisits the circumstances of our creation, rethinks our mission and the 'endgame scenario' that we're working toward, and examines the current state of affairs in light of that.

YH, IMHO, presents the same opportunity and challenge on the Jewish national level. Is our society a good one? A compassionate one? Do we care for the widows and orphans? To we take care of the workers? The environment? Do our laws and regulations express concern for the little guy?
I feel it's entirely inappropriate to celebrate the day without this type of stock-taking. Of course - I'm speaking and thinking as an Israeli, not as an American as I write this, and I accept charges of hypocrisy until I move back (which will be w/in 2 years).

There's room for joy - there's a heck of a lot to be proud of. The compassion displayed by the army on the institutional level when deciding not to bomb Jenin from the air, rather to fight hand-to-hand, endangering its own soldiers in order to protect enemy civilians, not only displayed unheard-of compassion, but has actually raised the bar for the behavior of other armies. I'm damn proud of that.
Israel itself has improved on so many levels virtually uninterrupted from the inception of the State. It really brings joy in the sense that we ARE moving in the right direction.

At the same time, there's still far to go. Maccabee bridge disasters and wedding hall collapses are symptoms of systemic flaws that need correction. East European sex-slaves in Israel is inexcusable.

These are examples that come readily to mind - of both successes and failures - and there's a lot to discuss on both fronts. The point is, I think that this type of reflection is entirely appropriate for Yom Ha'atzma'ut.

So is Hallel appropriate? I think that if we recognize the implications of the second covenant, then we can celebrate the fulfillment of the first and the historic opportunity that it has granted us.
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