What exactly do we celebrate on Yom Ha’Atzmaut? The day does not celebrate the end of a war, in the same way as, for example, Purim. Neither does it recall any great miracle, such as the miracle of the oil on Chanukah.
How, then, was it chosen to be a special day, with religious significance worthy of reciting the Hallel prayer?
The prophet Yeshayahu describes what will happen in the final redemption using the following words: “On that day God will take the remnants of His people for a second time” (Isaiah11:11).
In Jewish history there were already two redemptions: the exodus from Egyptian slavery and the return to Israel following the exile in Bavel. If this is the case, then the final redemption that the prophet refers to in this verse should be the third redemption. The prophet should have said that God will redeem us “for a third time” and not for a second time. Why does Yeshayahu call the final redemption the second and not the third?
Rashi mentions this discrepancy and offers the following suggestion. “The redemption during the second Temple period was incomplete because [the Jews] were still subservient to Koresh” (Rashi ad loc.). Rashi explains that in truth there will only be two redemptions, that of the Egyptian exodus and the final redemption. The middle one, that of the second Temple period following the Babylonian exile, is disqualified. The reason that Rashi gives is enlightening. The geulah was incomplete and was ignored because one crucial element was absent, namely, true freedom in the form of Jewish autonomy in the Land of Israel. The prophet ignores, or at least disregards, any period of history during which the Jews did not enjoy autonomy and self-rule in their own land.
Without autonomy and self-rule, there can be no valid redemption. The opposite assumption of this is also correct. One of the signs that the deliverance is upon us will be autonomy in the Land of Israel. The Rambam agrees and states the following, based on a passage in the Gemara. “The Sages said that there is no difference between this world and the time of the Messiah except for the fact that the Jewish people will be independent and will not be subservient to the other nations of the world” (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 12:2).
Since the time of the kings and the first Temple the Jews had never been autonomous in Israel. Possibly the first people to strive for this, were the Maccabees towards the evening of the second Temple period, but they were only marginally successful in this effort. The first time since then that Jews achieved self-rule and a Jewish government in Israel was on a Friday in May, 1948, the 5th of Iyar, 5708. When David Ben Gurion had the courage to declare a Jewish State in Palestine and call it Israel, he realized the dream of more than two thousand years, to be able to govern ourselves in our own land.
This event, the establishment of the State of Israel, would dramatically change the entire Jewish world, and it would never be the same again. One can accept and embrace the State of Israel or disagree with her, but it is impossible to deny that she exists and that she is a Jewish State, the only one in the world, and the first for millennia.
May we all merit to recognize God’s hand in our history and to rejoice together in the land and in the State that He has given us.