"As If He Had Gone Out Himself" -
"As If He Had Gone Out Himself:"
Integrating Past, Present and Future
in Observing Yom Ha-atzma'ut
by Harav Aharon Lichtenstein
Translated and adapted by Rav Dov Karoll
Yom Ha-atzma'ut has been integrated into the calendrical cycle of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel. It is therefore fitting to compare and contrast it with other festivals, especially Pesach, which is the holiday most connected to the history of the Jewish people. By examining three levels of our observance of festivals, we may learn about the nature of Yom Ha-atzma'ut.
We observe every festival in accordance with its inherent nature, and in accordance with our current situation. Clearly, there are specific halakhic and philosophical aspects that remain constant. Nonetheless, there is an aspect that relates to the circumstances of each era. In the Haggada, we proclaim that "In every generation there are those who rise up against us, and the Holy One saves us from them." Even when one drinks the same four cups, eats the same matzot, and reads the same Haggada, one should relate, at some level, to the salvation and dangers that exist in that specific year, in that generation, in the particular historical context in which one finds oneself. This is one aspect: the contemporary, the existential, celebrating in light of one's current situation.
On the opposite extreme, we do not look at our current situation, but rather at the events of the past, at the beginning of the journey, the roots of the process. We examine the source of the holiday's significance and message.
have taught us through the contents of the Haggada that one must relate to two
historical aspects of the holiday.
On the one hand, there is the original situation of servitude, suffering,
and hardship, and on the other hand, there followed redemption, salvation and
upliftment. The Mishna (Pesachim
116b) teaches that "In every generation, one must see himself as if he has gone
Rambam's formulation of this law (in his Haggada at the end of Hilkhot Chametz
u-matza) sharpens this aspect even more.
Unlike the usual version, in which each person must "see himself as if he
went out of
I believe there is also a third aspect to our observance of the festivals. The opening verses of Parashat Bechukkotai (Vayikra 26:3-13) describe a calm and quiet period that stands in stark contrast to the two aspects of which we just spoke. The Egyptian exodus and the birth of the State of Israel, both tempestuous and dramatic periods, presented manifold challenges faced courageously by the Jewish people. In our time, too, like many other periods of Jewish history, we are constantly called upon to gird our loins to take on the challenges and threats confronting us.
verses at the beginning of Bechukkotai, on the other hand, describe a world
devoid of all these challenges, a pastoral, peaceful existence. The Prophets portray such an ideal time
as one of "Each person under his own vine and under his own fig tree" (Melakhim
I 5:5, Mikha 4:4). I ask myself: in
the midst of such a prosperous period as described in these verses, how would
one observe the holidays? Would one
emphasize only the original exodus from
Since the Torah presents this pastoral scene as a reward for "follow[ing] My laws and faithfully observ[ing] My commandments" (Vayikra 26:3), apparently this scenario is desirable. Clearly, this parasha does not speak of spiritual stagnation and desiccation; spiritual growth and vitality are the order of the day in such a situation as well. Rather, the calm is promised with regard to the material aspects of life, relieving the pressure in those areas to allow for greater emphasis on the spiritual. However, this does not tell us that one should relate to the festivals with less dynamism.
Beyond that, it seems to me that this peaceful, pastoral element should remain a component of the festival experience even during more difficult periods. I do not subscribe to the dream of "normalization" that exists in certain schools of Zionist thought. We have no interest in the Jewish people or the State of Israel becoming just like the other nations. We wish to experience that which has characterized the Jewish people throughout its history, namely, growth and creativity despite the crises and difficult times.
The State of Israel came into being amidst the tempestuous reawakening and revitalization of the Jewish people, and this renewed energy has contributed to its continued existence. However, we yearn for stability and want to feel that our existence here is enduring.
The Torah tells us, "For God's portion is His people" (Devarim 32:9), and the Ramban emphasizes several times in his commentary on the Torah (Bereishit 17:1, 28:12; Vayikra 18:25; Bemidbar 23:23, Devarim 32:7) that this means we are under God's direct supervision. As such, we have no guarantees for ongoing stability if we do not continue to deserve it. Yet we do not strive for precariousness, and we learn from the aforementioned verses that we need not strive for it. Rather, we strive for an element of stability in our existence. Unfortunately, circumstances demand that we constantly fight to maintain this.
This stability and tranquility does not often come to fruition, and is rarely reflected in reality. How many generations experienced "And you shall lie down untroubled by anyone"? Nonetheless, we must not feel that our existence is entirely precarious, but should sense an aspect of permanence and rootedness in our land, in our state, in our daily lives.
above considerations and feelings should accompany us in all our celebrations of
special occasions, but they have special applicability to Yom Ha-atzma'ut,
especially in our current situation.
On the one hand, we should celebrate Yom Ha-atzma'ut in light of our
current situation. On the other hand, we ought to develop a strong experiential
connection to our history, along the lines of "In every generation one must see
himself as if he has gone out
other words, we must grasp the difficulties and suffering we underwent along the
winding road of our two thousand years of Exile, as well as the challenges faced
it is not physical salvation alone, the deliverance of those who were in peril,
for which we are thankful. To apply
the model of the exodus from
In order to appreciate the significance of this salvation, we must comprehend what came before. This is especially difficult for those who were born after the founding of the State. It is hard to imagine what would be if there were no State of Israel, but this thought demands our attention.
point deserves consideration. The
State of Israel is a unique country.
However, part of what we desire is that there be stability and rootedness
in our existence here. We wish that
the arrival of each Yom Ha-atzma'ut not be cause for astonishment. We wish for a certain measure of
normality, and the ability to celebrate Yom Ha-atzma'ut with confidence of our
endurance. While the celebration of
Yom Ha-atzma'ut ought to differ from the celebrations of other nations, it
nevertheless would be nice to have some parallel, in this regard, to Bastille
What do our enemies say? "A state may have risen, but what are fifty or sixty years in the grand historical picture?" They compare our existence to that of the Crusader state, which lasted a few generations and then was uprooted. The entirety of our Jewish soul, of our Israeli soul, of our Torah soul, rebels against this notion. Even when "You lie down" and you are "troubled by someone," we assert that we are set, rooted, firm, in this land. We will not allow anyone to tell us that we are a relic from the past, or a transient moment in the broad historical picture.
Admittedly, viewing Yom Ha-atzma'ut through the perspective of different time periods may be difficult. It is more complex than focusing upon a single scenario. However, I believe that if we wish to appreciate the full significance of the event, both experientially and philosophically, we must take all of this into consideration.
I have spoken about some parallels between Yom Ha-atzma'ut and the holiday of Pesach. Regarding Pesach, Chazal emphasize an additional aspect. The blessing of "Asher ge'alanu," which is pronounced after telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt, opens with thanking God for redeeming us, and for redeeming our forefathers, from Egypt, and concludes by turning to the future, asking that God allow us to celebrate in the redemption. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Berakhot 1:5, as explained by Tosafot, Pesachim 104b, s.v. chutz), in explaining why the blessing contains "barukh" at both its beginning and its end (while according to the rules of blessings we would expect only one in this case), asserts that this is because the blessing speaks of two different redemptions, one past and one future.
teaches us that our celebration of the Exodus from
brings us to another point. I spoke
about how difficult it may be for those who have merited growing up in a time
when the State of Israel could be taken for granted, to "See himself as if he
had gone out
" It requires more
effort, partly intellectual and partly imaginative. The Gemara (Ketubot 75a) cites a verse,
"And of Zion it shall be said, This man and that man [meaning everyone] were
born there" (Tehillim 87:5). Noting
the repetition of the word "ish," "man," the Gemara explains, "Echad ha-nolad
bah, ve-echad ha-metzapeh lir'otah" - the appellation "one who was born there"
applies both to those who were actually born there and to those who yearned to
see it. Each of them has a
the continuation of the above Gemara, Abbaye says that if one needs to choose
between these two, between those in
is the nature of this priority? In
what way is a person who has come from abroad to be preferred over one who was
we approach this Gemara, we should not view these approaches as mutually
exclusive. Each of us should see it
as a challenge to integrate these two elements in his consciousness. Even those who were born here should
strive for the better aspects of both.
If you merited to be born in
who were born in
[This sicha was delivered at the Yeshiva's Mesibat Yom Ha-atzma'ut, 5762 (2002).]