Dvar Torah delivered by Mike Garmise on Yom Ha’atsma’ut, 6th Iyyar 5775, 25th April 2015
It never rains but it pours we like to say, and thanks to the weather these past few weeks I understand that saying much more clearly. But the same applies to the season we are in as well. It began with Adar, with Purim, as we celebrated the rout of Haman the wicked back in the days of ancient Persia. The man who would have had us annihilated simply because Mordechai disrespected him, and because he wanted our money and possessions, got his comeuppance and we celebrated with wine and food and masquerades.
A month later we slipped back a couple of millennia to relive the nation-shaping story that set the foundations for us as a people: exodusing Egypt, leaving slavery behind and striding (albeit unwillingly) into liberation, then receiving the Torah with its mitzvoth and its total life-style that set the scene for all that has followed, to this day.
This past week we commemorated one of the darkest moments of our history, a history replete with many dismal hours, as we as a people raised the memories of family and friends and communities and villages and cities, of men, women and children who were, and then weren’t.
And this week we skip forward, not centuries, not millennia, but a few years, a mere 70 years, first to commemorate those who fought to assure our future in Israel. And then, the high point – Yom Haatzmaut. The establishment of our state.
How strange that in a period of just over a month we run the gamut from the profoundest depths of despair to the most dizzying pinnacles of success – in each of the holidays. Perhaps it is a reflection of spring with its eternal rebirth, its revitalization of our lives, our aspirations and our spirits. Even our parsha hints at that, with laws pertaining to childbirth.
Over the years some people have complained that the back-to-back linking of our days of mourning and celebration – such as Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron followed without a blink by Yom Haatzmaut – is too severe, too much of a shock to our systems. It does not allow us to mourn fully and it does not allow us to celebrate fully.
It’s easy to understand this logic. But the reality of the heart nullifies such reasoning. Those who mourn – mourn every day. And no amount of time would be sufficient to express the never-ending sorrow that these people feel – whether for those lost in the Shoah or those lost in battle.
As for the celebration, the declaration of the state was indeed a high point, a phoenix-like renascence that stunned and continues to stun the world – Jews and non-Jew alike. I saw that Chief Rabbi Kook addressed the question of what makes Yom Haatzmaut such a miracle. After all, wasn’t the miracle in our ability to survive the onslaught of the invading armies and the efforts, yet again, to annihilate us?
Yes, he answers, that too was a miracle. But first we needed the miracle of the leaders of the time, to show the audacity to actually declare the state under the conditions that existed. And so yes, it is a miracle that the state was declared, no less than it is a miracle that the state has survived.
The question now is: are we as a country doing the job we are supposed to in the present constellation of affairs and events? That’s a hard question to answer, especially as I have no intention of getting into politics.
Overall, we can unequivocally say that the existence of Israel has served to strengthen the Jewish people around the world. It created problems for some, who either had to leave their homes (in North Africa and Arab countries) or to live a little below the radar. But for most, Israel has been a source of pride, of inspiration, of security – knowing that there is a place for them.
Has it handled its internal affairs properly? We have absorbed waves of immigrants from dozens of countries. Many of them have succeeded with the help that was provided. Many others have succeeded despite what was done. Still others hang on at the fringes and don’t fit in. but we haven’t done our best to provide the best and receive the best to and from the newcomers.
Are we caring about our fellow citizens? To some extent, and especially if they are like us. But that is human nature. When John Lennon sang Imagine there are no countries and no religions too – you may call me a dreamer. I could think of many more appellations for such thinking. Studies have shown over and over that people like to belong to groups with specific traits and characteristics, which differentiate them from others. For the good and the bad.
Are we caring about our countryside, our environment? We love our countryside and to hike and drive through it – but give us a car any day! Asphalt! That’s the winning element. Buildings! Concrete monuments that replace orchards and fields because there are so many of us now.
In short, we have a lot to do to make our country a better place for everyone. There are factors that continue to limit our options, such as our neighbors near and not so near.
There is also the worrisome trend in this country, and elsewhere in the world, towards extremism. For years, one of the wonders of Israel was that with all the pressure we were under, there was relatively little civil violence outside of wars and terrorism. We were tense but controlled.
But this control has taken a toll, and today, aided and abetted by violence on the screen and in the news and in the press, our lives have become more violent too. People don’t hold it in any more. They let it out. Against spouses, children, neighbors, and against those who don’t agree with them. Regaining some control over ourselves will be one of our greatest challenges in the coming years.
But now it is time to celebrate, and so Yom Atzmaut Sameach. And may we celebrate many more in happiness and in peace in our country.