Hi I do not know why we celebrate the new festival of Yom Haatzmaut. Even if you believe the existence of the state is a good thing, then surely we celebrate our freedom on Pesach, and that should suffice. I can understand maybe marking the day as a happy day, perhaps on a similar level as tu b’shevat or tu b’av, since trees and marital love are no less important to our lives than the nascent Jewish state. However, pausing the laws of mourning, and instigating hallel, and giving people a day off work all seems a bit of over-kill for what seems to be only a very very minor festival.
Shalom Simon, It is very difficult to answer in short the importance of the greatest event in Jewish history in the past 2,000 years, the founding of the State of Israel. Each of the following points should be elaborated upon extensively, but I will be concise: 1. Our rabbis teach us that it’s not enough to celebrate Pesach, but a new holiday must be instituted to celebrate and say Hallel upon each and every national salvation which occurs in Eretz Yisrael, and ends with independence for the Jewish people (Psachim 117a and Megilla 14). The victory of outnumbered, untrained skeleton immigrants from the holocaust and from undeveloped sfaradic countries over 7 trained and larger invading Arab armies was militarily even more miraculous than the victory of Chanuka. There is just a difference of opinion whether one who doesn’t celebrate such a victory every year is an “avaryan” (sinner) midOraita (from the Torah, the opinion of the Chatam Sofer, Resp. Y.D. 233) or a sinner mid’Rabanan (transgressing a rabbinical mitzvah, the opinion of the Netziv (She’iltot, Chanuka, 26). 2. The issue of pausing the Omer mourning period is an even simpler issue, being that it’s a custom which is not from the Torah nor from the Talmud. One of the leading poskim, R. Chaim Fallagi, Moed L’chol Chai 8, even absolved the laws of mourning to allow the people in the city of Angora to cut their hair and celebrate every year on the 11th of Iyar (also during the Omer), the date where they celebrate a local salvation. Even at a circumcision during the 9 Days, the father, sandak and even mohel can shave for "it's their holiday". How much more so is it allowed for a national salvation. 3. The State of Israel ignited the feeling of Jewish Pride worldwide, only 3 years after the Holocaust, after which Jews were embarrassed to identify as such. For assimilated Jews throughout the world (whom today comprise the majority of our people), who unfortunately choose that religion is not for them, identifying with the State of Israel offers them a way to continue to identify proudly with the Jewish people and remain connected. 4. Many Jews, Christians and Muslims thought, after the Holocaust, that we can no longer claim that we are still the Chosen People? It seemed that G-d had, chas v’shalom, abandoned His people! Just in the nick of time, in the War of Independence and the Six Day War, the entire world saw that the G-d of Israel is alive and well, and living in the Land of Israel. Od Avinu Chai! 5. Jewish blood is no longer cheap. Gentiles know that the very capable Israel Defense Force accepts responsibility and will avenge the next Hitler who comes around. We still have enemies, but for the first time in 2,000 years, we can defend ourselves. The holocaust taught us that we cannot depend on gentiles, and must take care to defend ourselves. 6. The gates of aliya to the Holy Land of Israel, have, since that great day of the 5th of Iyar 63 years ago, been open to any Jew or Jewish community who wants or needs a haven. About a half million Jews already escaped from Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Morrocco, more than one million from Russia and the former Soviet Union, almost 100,000 from Ethiopia, and tens of thousand from the anti-Semitism awakening in France and the economic problems in Argentina, Venezuala, South Africa, etc. As Jews who love and care for each other, this should not be considered a small issue! The Jews from America can also sleep easier knowing that when their time in America will be up (as the Torah tells us, Dvarim, 28, 65, that every exile is temporary), they will have a place of refuge, to where they can run. 7. Many mitzvot have come back to life as a result of the rebirth of the State of Israel, such as living in the Holy land, speaking Hebrew (the Holy Language), using the Jewish date, serving in the Jewish army (milchemet mitzvah), in addition to the fact that working in Israel is mitzvat yishuv haAretz, and every second that you’re in Israel is a mitzvah (Sefer Charedim, ch. 59). We have the opportunity to fulfill the myriad of mitzvot bein adam l’chavero (towards one’s fellow Jew) towards every bus driver, bank teller, hitchhiker or driver on the highway! 8. The Torah has undergone a renaissance as a direct result of the State of Israel, which generously funds all of the yeshivot in Israel, which has clearly returned to being the Torah center of the world. 9. In addition, for most of the 1.5 million olim over the past two decades, their return to Israel has also been a return to religion, where they have met for the first time with kosher food, Pesach, Sukkot, Yom Kippur, etc. The State-funded and enabled aliya is the greatest return to Torah the Jews have ever witnessed. 10. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 94a) teaches us that Hizkiya the king of Judea was supposed to be the mashiach, but G-d changed His decision because Hizkiya did not sing His praise after they were saved from Assyria. This is written forever in the Talmud to teach us that if a similar occasion arises, we would be pretty stupid to repeat the same mistake of lack of singing thanks to Hashem. If so, the question is contrarily, how can any Jew not celebrate Israel Independence Day?! In addition, may I suggest that as all of the mussar sfarim suggest, focusing on the good and positive and not on criticizing the negative, for a believing Jew (who knows that Hashem runs the world) is not only true but also beneficial. It brings a lot more happiness to life, marriage, interpersonal relationships and really everything. All the best! Mo’adim L’Simcha! Rav Ari Shvat