(Photo: Howie Mischel)
Yom HaAtzmaut – 75 Years: The Third Generation
BY RABBI JEREMY GIMPEL
Transitioning from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut is like folding all of Jewish history into one frame in time. From our inception as a people, we were forged into being through pain, suffering and tyranny. The first Jewish shtetl we made for ourselves in Goshen became the first Jewish ghetto of slaves in ancient Egypt. That was the dark womb that gave birth to the Jewish people.
Every day we remember, “zeicher liytziat mitzrayim,” “To remember our exodus from Egypt.” Every day is a kind of Yom HaZikaron, for everyday we remember the struggle and sacrifice it took to achieve our freedom.
Each year at the Seder, we struggle valiantly to see ourselves as though we came out of Egypt. It’s hard to truly feel the pain of suffering we never knew. But everyone in Israel knows the pain of Yom HaZikaron.
We all know the story of Exodus, and the truth of “ma’asei avot siman labanim” – that somehow, the stories of our past are templates for what future generations will experience. Indeed, that is what we have seen in the modern era. The whole world watched as the Jewish people were slaves in Auschwitz, only to witness their liberation and resurrection in the Land of Israel. From slavery to redemption, the Jewish people were saved and the oppressors defeated. In the time of Moshe they sang shirat haYam, the Song at the Sea. In 1948, we were singing Hatikvah in Tel Aviv.
But the Exodus has another deep message for us as we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut. It took three days of freedom from Egypt until we started to doubt. We doubted ourselves and doubted our victory. “Is Hashem among us, or not?” (Shemot 17:7).
Chazal say that those three days represent three generations. After liberation, freedom and independence, we must be wary of what can happen after the third generation.
Before we entered the Land of Israel, Moshe repeated the warning once again. “For when you will have children and your children will have children and you will have been long in the Land, you will become corrupt…” (Devarim 4:25). The third generation, and all “third generations” to come, are given an eternal warning: “venoshantem baAretz,” “when you grow old in the Land.”
These words would soon come true. After Yehoshua died, we learn: “A new generation arose after them that did not know Hashem, nor the deeds that He had performed for Israel” (Shoftim 2:10). With the passing of the last of the children who survived the holocaust of Egypt and later entered the Land, the next generation forgot, became corrupt, lost their vision, veered from the path, and the fall began.
Years later, when Israel finally anointed kings – Shaul, David and Shlomo – it was after the third generation that the fall began and the nation split apart. During the second Temple era, it took three generations – Matityahu the Kohen Gadol, Judah the Maccabee and Shimon – for the Hasmonean dynasty to start to decay. When the living miracle of Chanukah became mere “history” to be commemorated, the fall began.
This year we are celebrating 75 years of our freedom and independence. We are modern Israel’s third generation. In our lifetimes, the child survivors of the Holocaust will be gathered unto their forefathers. Venoshantem baAretz, we have been long in the Land. Have we begun taking it for granted?
Prophecy in our time
What is prophecy if not transcendent wisdom? It is wisdom that was true three thousand years ago and equally true today.
The warnings of the Torah and the lessons of our history point us to this moment in time. We have the task of passing on the whole of Jewish history to the next generation. That is the calling of our generation. But how do we do it?
Our parents and our grandparents witnessed unbridled evil and malevolence. They lived the nightmare, the pinpointing, gathering and annihilation of the Jewish people. Their generation saw it and knew it. They encountered evil face to face. And they certainly didn’t need a siren to remember it.
In his final vision of the exile, Yechezkel saw what seems to have been the darkest time the world had ever known, when all hope was lost. He saw mass graves of the Jewish people as dry bones and ashes. They cried out, “Our bones are dried, our hope is lost, we are doomed” (Yechezkel 37:11).
But like a burst of light from a womb of darkness, “avda tikvateinu,” “our hope is lost,” was transformed to “od lo avda tikvateinu,” “our hope is not lost.” The yellow star of our slavery was transformed into the blue magen David of our freedom. For generations, we prayed “v’sa neis l’kabeitz galuyoteinu,” “raise the flag of Israel to bring our people back to our Land!” And then, under one flag and under the Star of David, the Jewish people united.
Underground, under-armed Holocaust survivors and Jewish refugees from Arab countries, with no tanks, no real air force, no battle plan and no chance stood against five trained armies on every border. From survivors and slaves, modern Maccabees were reborn in the Land of Israel – and we won our freedom. After millennia of exile, our generation has brought the Jewish people back to the mountains of Judea and the kingdom of David, for the entire world to marvel at the greatest story humanity has ever told. It’s hard to comprehend who we are and what we are living out in this generation.
In his commentary on Chanukah, the Sfat Emet (1847–1905) shares the following tradition: “The three pilgrimage festivals, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, which are explicit in the written Torah, are mirrored by three festivals in the oral Torah… and the three festivals of the Torah illuminate them just like the moon receives light from the sun… Chanukah is illuminated by Sukkot and Purim is illuminated by Shavuot.” The Sfat Emet then writes that we are still waiting for one more festival to reflect the Biblical holiday of Pesach, as Michah says, “Like the days you left the slavery of Egypt I will show you wonders” (7:15).
Are we celebrating the third and final festival that draws its light from Pesach?
If only I could show all the Jews who lost hope in Auschwitz and Warsaw the scenes around my home in Israel, as we celebrate this Yom HaAtzmaut. They would see Jews living in the mountains of Judea, working the Land with blossoming olive trees and vineyards that cascade down the hills. They would see Jewish children speaking Hebrew tending to our flock of sheep. If they could see all this, what would they think?
If we can learn to look at Israel today through their eyes, we would squint our eyes and see that the redemption we yearned and prayed for is already here in the Land of Israel!
Whether they want to or not, every atheist, Christian and Muslim is watching the chosen people who have returned to their Land. And they are wondering: what will happen to the Jews of this generation?
All of Jewish history has culminated in our generation. Will we rise up to meet the challenge and fulfill our mission? Or will we be venoshantem baAretz? After the third generation, will we lose it all by losing sight of it all? Or will we regain our vision and learn to see with the eyes of our parents and grandparents?
We are the third generation. We have the privilege of facing the greatest challenge in Jewish history – the test that generations before us failed. As we enter modern Israel’s 76th year, we stand at the edge of a new era, the threshold of Jewish history. The prayers of the Jewish people throughout all of our history were aimed at our generation. Now, it is up to us.
As we raise the flag of our people over Jerusalem this Yom HaAtzmaut, may we, as a people, rise to the occasion of this epic moment in history. Am Yisrael Chai! Chag Sameach!
Rabbi Jeremy Gimpel is a teacher, a farmer, a pioneer and one of Israel’s premiere Jewish media personalities. He is the founder of the Land of Israel Network, with millions of views and downloads from over 120 countries, broadcasting Torah, Zionism and the beauty of Israel to the world. Rabbi Gimpel, along with his wife Tehila and their children, founded the Arugot Farm and Educational Center, which has become a global destination for people seeking to experience modern Zionism fused with Torat Eretz Yisrael.