- Peninei Halakha
On Yom Ha-atzma’ut (Israel’s Independence Day), the Jewish people were delivered from bondage to freedom, from subjugation by foreign powers, with all it entails, to political independence. This also brought about an actual physical salvation from death: until then, we were unable to defend ourselves from the attacks of our enemies, but from that day on, thanks to God’s kindness, we have defended ourselves and triumphed over our enemies. Although the enemies who have risen up to destroy us have not yet been destroyed, ever since the establishment of the state we have had an army, thank God, so we have the power to fight back and triumph. And even though more than 20,000 holy souls have given their lives in wars and terror attacks since the establishment of the state, just a few years earlier, during the horrific Holocaust, more than six million holy Jews were killed in the span of five years – more than 300 times that amount. This is the difference between having the ability to fight back and not having that ability.
That day brought about a salvation for Diaspora Jews, as well. They now have a country that is always willing to take them in and that even acts on their behalf in the international arena. Before the state was established, almost no one paid attention when the Jews would complain about the murderous, anti-Semitic persecution that raged in many countries. After Israel gained independence, however, even the most evil regimes were forced to take into consideration Israel’s actions on behalf of the Jews living in their midst. Even Communist Russia had to relent and allow the Jews to leave from behind the Iron Curtain, something that was unfathomable before the state was established.
The establishment of the state also brought spiritual salvation to the Jews. The Jewish nation underwent a profound spiritual crisis in the modern era. The opportunity to integrate into the civil and national frameworks of developed nations, which Jews now enjoyed, generated a strong desire to assimilate. This is not the place to elaborate on the reasons for this crisis; R. Kook deals with the issue at length, discussing its various facets. Practically speaking, a dangerous process of assimilation and the abandonment of religion developed in all countries that embraced modernity. This process threatened the very existence of the Jewish communities in the Diaspora. Assimilation began approximately 200 years ago in Western Europe, spreading gradually to Eastern Europe and the capital cities of the more developed Arab countries. Today, most youths in the greater Jewish community in the United States marry outside the faith, and even those who marry Jews generally do not have many children. Under these circumstances, Diaspora Jewry is fading away. Only in Israel is the Jewish population growing, and intermarriage there is relatively rare. Moreover, the percentage of Jews connected to Torah and mitzvot in Israel is higher than that of any other Jewish community in the world. This spiritual salvation came about in the merit of the establishment of the state, which enabled the ingathering of the exiles and diminished the temptation of assimilation.
Thus, Yom Ha-atzma’ut is invested with three sanctities: the sanctity of the mitzva of settling Eretz Yisrael; the sanctity of the beginning of the redemption, which created a kiddush Hashem in the eyes of the nations; and the sanctity of the salvation that the establishment of the state brought for the Jewish people.