Yom Haatzmaut: Potential for Independence

The 48th Independence day has passed. Forty-eight years ago we were granted the POSSIBILITY FOR INDEPENDENCE. But one year after another passes by, and we still refused, or are too frightened to be independent!

What is independence of the Jewish Nation? It is that we OURSELVES, ALONE, do not rely on any other nation. This is the deeper meaning of the concept, “a nation that dwells alone”. And how do we arrive at a situation where we become a nation that dwells alone? Only when we put our trust in God, and not in the gentile.

Certainly it is scary when one is surrounded by hundreds of millions of Arabs who want to wipe us out, and on each and every action we make, the entire world condemns! But it is only scary for one who is lacking faith; it is only frightening for those who deep in their souls are still slaves and not capable of being independent!

And so, how embarassing it is to hear from our “leaders” year after year on Holocaust Day, the same tired, empty phrases. Like a dog returning to his own vomit, they repeat, “that if the State of Israel and the I.D.F. had been around ten years earlier, it could have prevented a Holocaust”. Really? Then why doesn’t the same State and army of Israel dare return fire in a war against an enemy who sits within her, and who slaughters its citizens daily? They would have dared act against the Nazis? Why, that might harm “diplomatic relations”…

Without a doubt, Israel was supposed to be a State who defends Jews wherever they are! That is the rason detre of a Jewish State. And if she was really independent, she would be able to successfully do so. But the fact is that even her own agent, Jonathan Pollard, was thrown to the dogs out of fear! After all, the slaves need confirmation from Clinton on every bomb dropped in Lebanon, and on every action taken against the Hamas.

There is no Jewish independence without total trust in God. The Master of the Universe gave us the POTENTIAL for independence – but we still refuse to actualize it.

Let us finally do what must be done so that we can cry out real independence, “Lo it is a people that dwells alone, and among the nations shall not reckon itself”.

Lag BaOmer: Rabbi Shimeon Bar Yochai: the Scholar Warrior

As Log B’Omer rolls around, one is reminded of the holy Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi). The multitudes of Jews from all sects of Israeli life who flock to his grave site in Meron is testimony to the deep admiration that that the Jewish People have for this very special Jewish figure. The question may be asked: What makes Rashbi so special?

Rashbi was the prized student of Rabbi Akiva who was one of the Ten Martyrs of the Jewish Kingdom. Not for nothing did the Romans punish Rabbi Akiva with the death penalty and torture, for he played a central role in the organization of Bar Kochba’s rebellion. The Rambam, at the end of Hilchot Milachim even says that Rabbi Akiva was Bar Kochba’s “armsbearer”. The 24,000 students who went in Rabbi Akiva’s footsteps and fell in the war against the Romans, died during the “Sfirat HaOmer” period, and the traditional restrictions we practice today are an expression of the struggle of the Jewish nation for spiritual independence. Rabbi Akiva himself sat in prison for several years for denying the Roman decrees by holding public Torah rallys. For this he was eventually tortured and executed.

These were the two sides of the leadership of Rabbi Akiva: The willingness to go out and sacrifice for national sovereignty as well as the ultimate self-sacrifice for Torah. The fierce combination of nationalism and Torah that burned in his bones was passed on to his students, and the greatest of them all was the scholar-warrior Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who was ordained by his Rav after the rest of the students were killed in the revolution.

Rashbi established the basic Torah foundations of the Oral Law as we know them today. His Yeshiva put out the likes of Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi who arranged the Mishnah. But just like his “Rav”, Rabbi Akiva, Rashbi went beyond the learning and teaching of Torah. He never stopped trying to bring back Jewish sovereignty to Eretz Yisrael, and abhorred with all his soul the Roman occupation. His belligerent attitude towards the Romans he made no secret of, even when it meant putting himself in danger for just expressing such opinions. We are told in Trachtate Shabbot, 33: “Once Rabbi Yehuda said, ‘How fine are the works of this nation (Rome). They have made streets, they have built bridges, they have erected baths’. Rabbi Yossi remained silent (from fear). Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai answered and said, ‘All that they have made they have made for themselves; they built market places to put harlots in them; baths to rejuvenate themselves; bridges to levy toils for themselves’.” When these words got to the Roman authorities, a price was put on his head and he was forced to go underground for 13 years. During this time, he and his son Elazar were miraculously kept alive, and to them were revealed the wonders of the hidden Torah (which was collected in the “Zohar”). These difficult times did not break him, but only reinforced his hatred for this evil empire and he continued his struggle against the Romans to liberate the Jewish People.

Though Log B’Omer falls during the “sfira” where we mourn the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students, it is a day of rejoicing. For when all the other students of Rabbi Akiva were killed in war, Rashbi managed to survive. He symbolizes the vitality of those who fought the Romans. He represents the continuation of the scholar-warrior. He is the eternal flame that cannot be extinguished, and will remain enkindled until the final victory of complete redemption, may it come speedily in our days.

Pesach: Fifty Strides Toward Holiness

The fifty days between Pesach and Shavuot teach us the meaning of true in dependence; after fifty years of statehood, we should evolve from a “Nation”to a “Holy Nation.”

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the independence of the state of Israel, it is important to examine what the concept of independence is. This can be accomplished by studying the holiday of Pesach, since Pesach, in a sense, is our first Independence Day. Indeed, Pesach is termed, “Chag HaCherut” – the Holiday of Freedom. For on this day we were liberated for the first time, from the yoke of foreign rule and bondage. Subsequently we were able to proceed towards the actualization of our national destiny. However, this was only a beginning. Another fifty strides were necessary -the fifty days it took to reach Mount Sinai. Only then was our independence complete.

There are two conditions which must be met in order for the Jewish People to achieve true independence, and the fulfillment of only one will not suffice.These conditions are: 1) Liberation from the rule of the gentile – whether it is liberation from his land, or from actual slavery. 2) The acceptance of the yoke of Heaven, the G-d of Israel.

What is Bondage?

The first condition can be better understood when analyzing the essential part of the story of our exodus from Egypt which we read in the Haggadah.”We were slaves to Pharo in Egypt…Had not the Holy One Blessed is He, taken our fathers out from Egypt, then we, our children and our children’s children would have remained enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.” Is this statement not a bit far-fetched? How can we be sure that in a later generation, a merciful king would not have arisen and “emancipated” us? The answer is, that it is indeed likely such a thing might have occurred, but this would not have been considered liberation from bondage. For the essence of bondage is living as a minority under the rule of gentiles in their land. Certainly there are various degrees of exile and bondage. Sometimes, the Jew is humiliated. At other times, he is an actual slave. Still, other times, he is sent to the gas chambers. But it is all just a matter of degree, since in each case he is in exile, lacking independence and at the mercy of the gentile. In other words, even if there is a certain period where Jews livein an illusion of comfort in the exile, this is still “bondage”, since they are prevented from fulfilling their destiny as the Nation of G-d!

No Pesach Without Shavuot

The second condition is expressed in the fact that although Pesach is the”Time of Our Freedom”, this only made us into a nation like any other. Another fifty days were needed until we became a “Holy Nation”, and this occurred on Shavuot, when we received the Torah. In order to teach us that our purpose is to be a holy nation and not merely a free nation, G-d connected our national liberation to the giving of the Torah. This connection was made by the counting of the Omer. By counting the days between Pesach and Shavuot, we are made aware of the connection between these two holidays.

A Jew needs two legs to walk. If he only has one leg, he is a cripple. That is, if he meets only one of the aforementioned conditions, he hobbles on one leg. Unfortunately, this situation is quite prevalent. On the one hand,there are those Jews who believe that Jewish independence is entirely realized through sitting and learning Torah. For them, it does not matter ifthis learning is done in Germany, Morocco, Israel, or a ghetto in Poland. It does not dawn on them that there can be no freedom – physical or spiritual -while under the rule of gentiles.

On the other hand, there is the other kind of cripple: those who seek only physical freedom. For them, the “Holiday of Freedom” suffices. They are not interested in holiness. But when you remove the “Holy” from the “Holy Nation”, what is left? A “nation”, no different than any other. And the situation gets worse. Today, we see that those who rejected holiness in order to be a free nation, are losing their physical freedom as well. Because of their lack of faith in G-d, they have become completely dependenton the gentiles! We hear from them how they must accept the dictates of the United States, as one of them recently said, “Our entire existence depends on America.” How tragic to hear this after 50 years as a state!

Moment of Truth

Fifty years! This reminds us of the fifty days which connect Pesach to Shavuot. Just as the freedom and independence of Pesach is meaningless without it’s connection to the holiness of Shavuot – so too the independence of Israel is meaningless without the faith that only G-d can bring us salvation.

This season should serve as a warning for us. We can no longer sustain a freedom which is detached from holiness and faith in G-d. We are nearing the end of the period of “Giula BiEta” (the slow, painful redemption), and we are approaching the moment of truth. Our very souls are at stake. Will we choose: “Repentance” and “Holy Nation”, which will bring a glorious redemption; or will we remain in our sorry state of lack of faith in G-d andtrust in the gentiles, which will lead to untold suffering until the redemption finally arrives?

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