Yom HaAtsma’ut commemorates the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948. It marks a moment in history, a turning point at which everything changed. The world was not the same place on the 15th of May, 1948, as it had been at the start of the 14th. In remembering this, in marking this day, we are presented with a challenge from both ‘א and the Nation of Israel, asking us if we are living up to our potential.
History is guided by ‘א’s hand. From the first spark of Creation through the Messianic Era, history moves according to the Will of ‘א. Great events like the Exodus from Egypt and the founding of the State of Israel are how ‘א reveals His will. Moments like the Revelation at Sinai are calls for a response from mankind. How will we respond to the will of ‘א?
The problem with this concept is that it is difficult to ever say that we know why ‘א did something. He controls history, but we do not know the specific reason why any one event happened. Thinking that we do is the kind of thing that leads to giving reasons for the Holocaust and other tragedies, which is an irresponsible and unthinkable thing to do. Unfortunately, once we say that we cannot give a reason for tragedies, we can’t honestly give a reason for any historical event. Once upon a time, Bnei Yisrael had prophets, messengers of ‘א, to tell us what ‘א intended by any event, what He wanted from us at any given nexus in history. Nowadays, all we have is the words of the prophets recorded in Tanakh and the words of HaZaL to tell us what we ought to be doing and what our goals ought to be. But in spite of this difficulty, Yom HaAtsma’ut still stands as ‘א’s challenge to us, asking us if now, in the new era of the State of Israel, we will live up to who we are supposed to be.
We face a similar challenge, perhaps even stronger, from the Nation of Israel, specifically from our fallen soldiers. Yom HaAtsma’ut follows on the heels of Yom HaZikaron, the Day of Remembrance. In cities across Israel there are transitional ceremonies that start as mournful remembrances and end as joyful celebrations. This contrast colors the experience of Yom HaAtsma’ut. The happiness of the day is diluted, tinged with a strong sense of the sacrifice required to make that joy possible.
The juxtaposition of these two days creates a strong sense of purpose for the deaths we remember on Yom HaZikaron. Far be it for us to say why they died, but we do know that their deaths helped create the State of Israel that we know and love today. However, this sense of purpose should color not just the past, but also the future; not just how we see their deaths, but also how we see ourselves, our lives, our goals. The purpose that their holy blood has served, the reason they gave their lives, cannot be ignored.
We don’t get to live our lives passively. We have to have the future in mind. This is true on the both the religious and moral levels. We have to respond to ‘א’s challenge, the challenge of history. We need to find our place in ‘א’s plan, to live up to his Torah. And we need to make sure we honor those who gave their lives for the State of Israel. This doesn’t mean that everyone should move to Israel tomorrow. Making hasty and reckless decisions honors neither the holy dead nor ‘א. But we can not pretend that the State of Israel is inconsequential or that those who died for it never existed. We have to feel the challenge. And we have to respond to it.