Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thoughts on Independance - Yom Ha'atzmaut 5769

Independence is really not a very Jewish notion.
In fact, we put a great deal of stock in "dependence," which is precisely the opposite term. What is independence? The dictionary defines independence as "freedom from control or influence of another or other." I get to decide. It's up to me. No one controls me, and no one tells me what to do. But Judaism teaches us that that we're as far as we can possibly be from independent.
We depend on God for pretty much everything, from the rooster's call that wakes us in the morning to the very slumber that lulls us to sleep each night. We bless God for every physical act we take during our lives, from eating to sleeping to using the bathroom. We follow "commandments" which is another nice way of saying that we do what we're told to. The very first thing that a Jew says the moment she wakes up each morning? Thank you. Modeh Ani - thanks, God, for my soul. I wouldn't have woken up without you. That's not independence. It's anything but.
All of this raises serious questions as we approach the celebration of "Yom Ha'atzmaut" - Israel's Day of Independence. Are we truly independent? Who did we declare independence from? What did we declare on the 5th of Iyyar, sixty-one years ago? And what does that say about us today?

I know - I'm kind of nitpicking about a word. But it's an important word. I've asked around, and no one can tell me why we call it Yom Ha'atzmaut. We just do. Looking at the Megillat Ha'atzmaut - Israel's Declaration of Independence, there's really not very much mention of independence at all. Sure, it announces of הקמת מדינה יהודית - "the establishment of a Jewish state" in the Land of Israel. But when the State was declared in 1948, there certainly was a need to 'establish" a state, but there was no need at all to declare our independence. The British Mandate had ended. No one really wanted Israel - other than the Arabs, of course. Who were we declaring "independence" from?

Why then don't we call it the מגילת ההקמה - "the Declaration of Establishment"? Why not call the holiday יום ההקמה - "the Day of Establishment"? Good questions. My guess is that there's no small amount of irony in the fact that Israel modeled much of itself after the United States. In the U.S., we call the document that gave birth to the country the "Declaration of Independece." We call July 4th, the day we commemorate its signing "Independence Day". So Israel did the same, despite the fact that we didn't declare independence at all. It's even a "mitzvah" (stated jokingly, but everyone still does it) of the day to celebrate with barbecues - all over the country. Sound familiar?

Today, as we celebrate our "independence", we must do so with the understanding that we're just as dependent on God as we ever were. Our enemies threaten to destroy us, and they're growing closer than ever to having the ability to do just that. While our standing in the world is relatively good, let us not kid ourselelves for a moment that it could change in an instant. So we sing Hallel to God for our dependence on Him, and give thanks to Him that He has given us the opportunity to live in a country that we can finally call our own.